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MARAMURES  

Maramures Countryside Beautiful Maramures is the most remote of our destinations, located in northwest Romania, bordering the Ukraine along the Tisa river. This is the most isolated and undeveloped land in Romania. It is also the only region never occupied by Romans, and its rural inhabitants pride themselves on their ancient Dacian heritage. The region consists of low mountains, green hills and long river valleys extending across northern Romania to Bucovina.

Its inhabitants are mostly peasants living in small villages throughout the valley, still abiding by the same traditions as did their ancestors of hundreds of years ago. Many still have no electricity or running water; few own telephones or automobiles. The region is famous for its wooden churches and elaborately carved gates, its colorful peasant costumes of red, white and black, and hand-dyed and woven rugs.   Map

Baia Mare Sighet Marmatiei Iza Valley Viseu Valley

Baia Mare
This is the only sizable city in Maramures, an old mining town, known in the 14th century by its Hungarian name Nagybanya (Great Mine). Today it best serves as the southern gateway to the Maramures countryside. Baia Mare's old section centers around Piata Libertatii's charming park. Surrounding the piata are Iancu de Hunedoara's house Casa Elizabeta, built in 1416 for his wife; the County Museum and Hanul Veche, or Old Inn. 15th century Stephan's Tower (a Clock Tower) was part of the old fortifications; Sfinta Treime (Holy Trinity) Cathedral, was built by Jesuits in 1720.

Sighetu Marmatiei
Known simply as Sighet, the northernmost town in Romania, a mile from the Ukrainian border. A quiet farming town, first mentioned in writing in 1328, and the starting place for exploration of the valleys of Maramures. Its charming old center, Piata Libertatii, has shops, restaurants, and the 18th century Prefecture, now the State Archives. Nearby are the 16th century Reformed Church and Roman Catholic Church.

Elie Wiesel house, childhood home of 1986 Nobel Prize winner and writer, now a memorial museum. There is also the Synagogue and a monument commemorating Jews deported in 1944 by the ruling Hungarians.

The Museum of Arrested Thoughts & International Study, is in a former prison, where Romania’s intellectual and government elite were tortured and killed by communists from 1948-1952

Merry Cemetery, Sapinta Maramures Ethnographic Museum contains local handicrafts, including handmade rugs, woodcarving, icons painted on glass, costumes, masks and household objects. It has an open-air Village Museum of old rural architecture on Dobales Hill, overlooking the valley.

The first Monday of each month is the livestock market day when peasants come in from the surrounding villages with their horsecarts and cows.   Sighet holds its Winter Carnival from December 24 to January 6, when the local folk dress up in costumes and masks.

The Merry Cemetery, in neighboring village of Sapinta, honors its deceased with wooden grave markers, carved and painted with images depicting them at their trades or pastimes, and inscribed with humorous rhymes (in Romanian) about their lives.

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The Iza Valley
The Iza Valley follows the Iza river from Sighet Marmatiei, 37 miles (60 km.) to its source in the Rodna Massif. The valley is lined with small villages where daily life has not changed for centuries. They are famous for their old hand-built houses, elaborately carved gates and tall wooden churches. When not at work in the fields or at home, the villagers like to sit on the benches of their fancy carved gates to socialize, and on Sundays everyone promenades along the streets.

Vadu Isei, the first village south of Sighet, has a tourism information office where you can buy maps of the region, crafts or hire a local guide for the day to show you the wooden churches and weaving workshops. They also arrange overnight accommodation in private homes.

Wooden Church, Botiza At Nanesti and Birsana, the carved gates and churches begin to appear.
Strimtura was the site of a battle against the Tatars in 1717.
Rozavlea's church was made of fir tree trunks, also in 1717.

Botiza's wooden church is next to the new church and local priest's house. His wife revived the original vegetable dyes and design motifs of Maramures' traditional carpets. The village has a tiny mill where the rug weaving takes place.

Ieud village, on the Ieud river, is home of the most famous wooden churches in the valley. The Church on the Hill dates from 1364 and contains 15th and 16th century paintings. The lower church was built in 1718.

Bogdan Voda, is the birthplace of the first ruler of Moldavia, Bogdan I, who in 1359 led a revolt against the Hungarians. Its wooden church there dates from 1722.

Wooden Gate, Maramures All of the old wooden churches are very small inside (women must stand outside if the service gets too crowded with men), but their high shingled steeples seem to point toward the heavens. The craftmanship of these centuries-old buildings is evident in the canti­levered joints and wood-peg nails holding it together.
The skill of the local wood carvers is displayed on large wooden gates with intricate designs that have symbolic meanings.

Dragonmiresti, Salistea de Sus and Sacel are the last three villages in Iza Valley.
At Sacel, a route north leads into the foothills of the Rodna massif.

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The Viseu Valley
Prislop festival The Viseu Valley runs parallel to the Iza Valley, but farther north, along the Viseu river, extending from Sighet to the Prislop Pass at the eastern border of Maramures county. Trains from Sighet run through this valley to Viseu de Jos, where an eastward branch continues as far as Borsa.

Borsa has a hotel, as well as an 18th century wooden church. Seven miles farther east, is the Borsa Turist Complex, a spa and ski resort with a hotel and chalets. North of the complex is Prislop Pass, a 4,645 ft. (1,416 m.) corridor between the Maramures mountains to the north and the Rodna mountains to the south. This is a beautiful area for hiking through the Rodnas and the site of the annual Hora la Prislop festival.

Much of the Viseu valley is uncharted, but explorers who venture into the fir, spruce, oak and beech forests may see bears, stags, roebucks, wild boar, chamois and mountain cocks. There are also glacier lakes, waterfalls, volcanic mountains, caves and the geological reserve Creast Cocoslui, or Cock's Comb.

Traveling northeast, back towards Sighet, you pass through Borsa and Moisei, to Viseu de Sus, which has a small hotel. In the morning an old steam engine hauls lumberjacks up the Vaser Valley to their camps farther north, and returns them to town in the late afternoon.

Viseu de Jos, is the next village east, then Ruscova, and then Leordina and Petrova, picturesque villages known for folk costumes and architecture.

The road continues to the Ukranian border, then cuts south to Tisa where there's a private museum in the Pipas family house with a collection of glass & wood icons, pottery, woven fabrics, coins, paint­ings, sculptures and hand-woven rugs. Sighet is just 2 miles farther east.

Maramures home

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© 2005 Rosemary Rennon
All photos were taken by Rosemary Rennon, unless otherwise noted.