Maramures is considered by many the soul of the typical Romanian village. The picturesque villages, green hills, and fields full of wildflowers will make you feel like you went back in time.
Maramures is a unique, slow tourism destination. It has carefully kept the traditions, the culture, and the lifestyle of peasants who lived in bygone ages.
Not that many customs have changed in the past few centuries in this region. The craftsmanship and the traditions are being transmitted from one generation to the next one.
In this article, we will reveal the most interesting aspects about Maramures, such as:
- The history;
- The traditional villages;
- The architecture;
- Traditional food and drinks;
- Representative tourist attractions.
Let’s get started.
The History of Maramures
The history of this region goes way back in the Superior Paleolithic era. Archaeological discoveries can confirm the fact that there was a primitive society in this area. Plenty of artifacts were found here that can even be dated 6,000 BC.
Dacia is an old term which refers to the Romanian land that is between the Carpathians mountains and the Danube river. After Dacia had been conquered by the Roman Empire in 106 AD, Maramures remained an independent territory.
The earliest written documentation about Maramures dates back in 1199, and it was a deed. Then, throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, the number of documents about this region increased. In them, there were details about how the population was organized. People were living in small feudal communities, known as a principality.
By the end of the 14th century, the entire region of Transylvania was under the Hungarian rule. It included Maramures as well.
In 1359, Bogdan, a famous prince, crossed the mountains over to Moldova to confront Blac, a Maramures Noble. Blac had a lot of influence over Maramures and Moldovia. Bogdan was victorious, proclaimed himself ruler and reshaped Moldavia into an independent state.
To honor this victory, the town he was from, Cuhea, changed its name to Bogdan Voda.
In the 15th century, the Hungarian overlords started putting a lot of pressure on the people living here. One example is a decree which stated that the Romanian Orthodox churches would be made only out of wood.
As we’re going to discover later in the article, thanks to this decree, an important architectural culture was born.
Here are some other highlights from Maramures’s history:
- In 1526, it became part of the Transylvanian Principality;
- In 1711, it was annexed to Hungary;
- In 1918, a part of Maramures was split between Romania and Cechslovakia.
In the 1960’s, due to the collectivization that occurred in the communist regime, people were forced to give their lands. Despite this, the region wasn’t affected too much because the mining industry and logging were thriving.
Also, tourism flourished in this area because of the area’s cultural value and its beautiful landscapes.
Now, let’s see what makes Maramures so unique.
The Traditional Villages in Maramures
Maramures is probably the only region in Romania where you could swear that time has frozen. This is one of the reasons why it’s a slow tourism destination you shouldn’t miss out on.
Late in the afternoon, old women rest and chat in front of their houses. Many of them are wearing the national costume. It is formed by a white shirt with ruffles, long black skirts, aprons with stripes which cover the skirts, headscarves and peasant’s sandals (opinci).
On Sundays, wearing the traditional garment is mandatory even for children. The villages are renowned for their wooden gates, which are beautifully sculpted.
The knots, the drawings, and the sun motif are the most common ornaments that you will find on these gates.
Other traditional motifs you can find on the gates are the grapevine, the acorn, the twisted rope, crosses and forest animals.
The Association of the Most Beautiful Villages in Romania says that the two most beautiful villages in the country are in Maramures. They are called Breb and Preluca Noua. Also, Breb is the most photographed place in Maramures.
Prince Charles of Wales visited this village a few years ago and was impressed by its picturesque feel.
The villages Barsana and Oncesti have the largest number of impressive wooden gates. Ciocanesti is probably the prettiest village in Romania. It’s because the houses are covered with painted flowers and geometric shapes.
Rarely you will find a village that doesn’t have a wooden church. All the churches have been built back in the 17th or 18th century and have impressive gothic belfries. They all have a common pattern, but at the same time, each of them has a distinct feel to them.
We’ve given you a little glimpse of the architecture in Maramures, but now we’ll dive deeper into it.
Maramures, The Land of Wooden Architecture
When you say Maramures, you say wooden structures, which made the region known not only locally, but internationally as well.
The architecture is one of the most original and beautiful from the South Eastern Europe.
Here are the most representative aspects of the architecture in Maramures:
- The church. The main characteristics are the high tower, which can be as high as 50 meters, and the gothic motif. The tower is made entirely out of wood, and despite its heights, it’s extremely stable even during windy weather. The wooden churches are included in the UNESCO sites in Romania.
- The gate. The gates in Maramures have become famous due to their dimensions, and their ornaments. Back in the day, people used to believe that the gate acts as a barrier against evil, and it settled the boundaries to their universe. Under the pillar which was connected to the sill, people used to put money, incense, and holy water. They thought that this would keep the evil away from their home.
- The house. The houses are made out of wood girders placed horizontally. There are two types of wood that was used for the houses: oak and timber. They also stand out because the windows’ corbels, the frames, the big gates, and the cowshed doors are beautifully carved.
- Objects. Wood is one of the oldest raw materials used by man. In Maramures, people still craft today different objects which are used on special occasions. Here are just some of them: seal engraver, canteen, or miniature sculptures.
What To Eat And Drink In Maramures
When you visit Maramures, you have to be prepared to eat a lot of fantastic food. Hosts welcome their guests with homemade bread a small glass of horinca. It is a traditional double-distilled local brandy made out of fruit.
It’s considered bad luck for the host if the guest doesn’t eat and drink everything they’ve been offered.
Maramures has plenty of local, traditional dishes. Here are the main ones:
- Balmos – an ewe-cheese, milk and polenta meal which is oven-baked and served in a wooden or clay pot;
- Smoked sausages and bacon that are homemade;
- Different kinds of cheeses made out of sheep milk;
- Soups and borsch, which the people here are always having for lunch;
- Pasca for Easter – a cake with sweet cheese;
- Piftie – pork jelly that is eaten at Christmas;
- Stew, made with pork, beef, chicken, spicy sausages, brown sauce and it’s served with polenta;
- Bonus: horinca, an alcoholic drink that is usually made out of plums and has over 50 grades;
In most of the dishes from this region, the bread is replaced with polenta. The stew is one of the most appreciated meals by tourists from all around the world.
For breakfast, polenta with cheese, cream and bacon is a staple. The rural omelet is also incredibly delicious and is made out of ham, mushrooms, and bacon.
What makes all of these dishes so tasty is the fact that the ingredients are local and usually home grown.
Now, let’s discover the main tourist attractions.
What You Should Visit in Maramures
- Sapanta Merry Cemetery. The village of Sapanta is located close to the Ukrainian border. This cemetery is unique for a few reasons. First, the crosses are painted in vivid colors. Second, the cross has a carved image that characterizes the deceased person. Third, each grave has a short, funny poem, written in the first person, as if it was a confession from the dead person.
- Sighetu Marmatiei. In Sighet, you must visit the Sighet Memorial Museum. During the communism, this was an infamous prison. It was a place where intellectuals and politicians were tortured and starved to death. This museum is dedicated to their memory, and the cells have been transformed into rooms.
- The wooden churches. We’ve already talked about their beautiful architecture. When in Maramures, you should visit the churches in the villages of Surdesti, Barsana, and Sapanta Peri.
- Joiner’s workshops. The Barsana Monastery is one of the most beautiful attractions in Maramures. In this village, you can find the workshop of the carver Teodor Barsan. He is worldwide known for his amazing creations.
- Traditional villages. Vadu Izei, Ieud, Poienile Izei, Breb, and Botiza are must see villages you should include in your itinerary.
When Will You Be Joining Us On This Slow Tourism Destination?
William Blaker wrote a book called “Along the enchanted way” where he talked about the years he spent in Maramures. It’s filled with history and rich details, so if you want to learn more about this region, we recommend reading this book.
At TravelMaker, we have a couple of dreamy tours which include visiting Maramures.
One of these tours is Best Countryside of Romania which lasts for 12 days. We also have a shorter trip that has a duration of five days, and it’s the Maramures, Bucovina & Danube Delta Tour.
If you’d like to book a slow tourism destination or request more details about them, don’t hesitate to contact us at 40 735 525 710.