There are many regions in this world that are worth a visit, and very often we Europeans tend to travel overseas to see something exotic or visit people who still lead a life that perhaps our grandfathers knew. Rarely it occurs to us that it is not always necessary to travel far to be able to experience “time travel” or to see how people from the past have built their buildings. And one example is Wooden Churches Maramures
Maramureș in northern Romania is one of such little known corner of Europe. Amid beautiful rolling hills and lush river valleys live people who for the most part still follow the traditional agrarian way of life. Their life might seem hard and simple as they are dealing with the millennial fight against the weather, to grow the crops, to raise the animals, to work from dawn until sunset without the many mechanised and electronic comforts we think are essential.
But, that life can be rewarding in all its simplicity, as each day shows the results of work, and family and friends guarantee that there are often reasons for celebration. The seasonal festivities, like Christmas and Easter or local festivals and weddings, have retained their real value of breaking the everyday routine, and feasting lasts several days and is done with gusto.
Maramureș it is considered by many to be the heart and soul of rural Romania. With its beautiful landscape, small villages, hills, and meadows full of wildflowers, Maramureș illustrate all that of the rural lifestyle cycle. Maramureș visitors have the unique opportunity to travel back in time and experience simpler times and simpler lives, with genuine contentment and happiness.
We can say that Maramureș is a small and unique place in the geographical heartland of Europe that has carefully and independently preserved the culture, traditions and lifestyle of a medieval past. Maramureș stands as a testament to traditional; to a romantic era of simplicity, pride and moral values that many of us can only read about or hear from our grandparents.
For Maramureș little has changed in the centuries. Families remain in the same villages as their ancestors. Traditional skills and crafts are passed down from generation to generation. Traditional hand-woven clothing continues to be practical. The church continues to be the soul of the village. Neighbours know one another and continue to lend a helping hand.
Life in Maramureș is like a mystery. Visitors to Maramureș drive through mountain passes and descend into the valleys of life where the mystery of rural traditions unfolds before the visitor as a living museum that is at once within reach yet simultaneously beyond the grasp of the whimsical traveller.
Maramureș is located in the northern part of the country, being bordered by five Romanian counties: Satu – Mare, Slăj, Cluj, Bistrita Năsăud and Suceava, and the North being border by Ukraine. Maramures county has a surface of 6.304,4 km, which is 2.6% of the whole country surface.
The Wooden Churches
Why is the Maramures region considered unique and those who have been there all wanting to return?
The answer is a mixture of the following three things:
- amazing landscapes,
- genuine people and
- the simple civilisation of wood usage, with the famous wooden churches whose towers can be seen from far.
Nature, people, houses and churches are spiritually connected and have maintained this link to the present.
But most of all is the uniqueness of the architecture, and especially the inclusion of eight wooden churches in UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. These eight outstanding beautiful structures are unique in shape and ornamentation standing still as a testament over time and inviting us all to blend in with the beauty, nature and the higher-self.
The church of the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple in Barsana
The Church of the Presentation of the Virgin is located in the Barsana commune. It is one of the wooden churches that are located in the Maramureș which are considered a World Heritage Site. The church was built around 1711 and the inside painting are dating back to 1806. It is said that the church was originally standing in the Monastery Of Barsana.
The church has been shaped by the influence of Gothic architectural style and religious traditions. Also, this house of worship has an enormous collection of religious books and glass painted icons. Furthermore, what is most impressive is that the structure was built without any nails and it is kept together with wooden pins and corners. See pictures here
In the year of 1999, the church was inscribed on the Unesco World Cultural Heritage List along with other wooden churches in Maramureș.
The church is it open to visit Monday – Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm and it is free to enter. Here are some reviews by the Tripadvisor
The church of Saint Nicholas in Budesti
The church of St Nicholas of Budesti of Maramureș was built around 1643 and all the wall paintings date back to 1762. The church was dated by an inscription on a gate from 1643, but the inscription was lost during the restoration of the gate in 1923.
To verify the inscription it was used the dendro-chronological method of the log structure which was firmly dated back to 1642-43. It seems that the church was built by the same carpenter that has built other wooden churches in the area.
From an architectural point of view, an element specific to the area stands out beautifully, so keep an eye out for the bell tower with a helmet and 4 turrets. The entrance to the church is made through a beautifully decorated wooden gate and the whole construction rises up at the highest point to 38m.
Besides its spiritual value, the church from Budesti is one of the most important historical monuments of this type in Maramures, never being modified or extended. Therefore, what you will see it is the original form as it was intended to be and built accordingly.
Entrance fee is 3 RON (Romanian currency) which is the equivalent of £0.60. In order to be able to visit the church, you need to pay the tax at the Budesti Town Hall located in the immediate vicinity. Also, if you travel there by car, you can use the Town Hall car park as the Church does not have one.
You can see some reviews and pictures by Tripadvisor
The church of the Birth of the Holy Virgin in Ieud Deal
This wooden church was build in the year 1620, although there are discussions between several historians that the church would have been build earlier, sometimes in 1364. The church was built from pinewood and the architecture is similar to other wooden churches from the area.
There has been found 2 books from the 16th century describing the structure, therefore are proof of the existence of the church in this place. It is a well-preserved architecture, slightly repaired and modified in the 18th century. Inside the place, there are paintings made by the end of the same century and they are the best-preserved existence of post-Byzantine mural paintings in Maramureș.
Entrance fee is 3 RON (Romanian currency) which is the equivalent of £0.60. In order to be able to visit the church, you need to call at the numbers that they’re being displayed at the church entrance.
The church of the Holy Archangels in Plopis
The Church of the Holy Archangel in Plopiș is it a successful example of the wooden churches of Maramureș. Built by Greek-Catholics between 1796 and 1798, it acquired paintings from 1811 onwards. Restorations were carried out in 1961, 1981 and 1990.
For building the church, there is a story that has been told the families from the village paid for it. At the time, there were 49 families in the village and every family paid 1 gold for the church. The church is one of the most taller of the wooden churches, rising at 47 metres and also is the church is among the few of the serving as the only church in the village.
You can visit the church at any time. there is no entrance fee, however, it would be appreciated some donations to help with the maintenance.
Check out some reviews and pictures from Tripadvisor
The church of Saint Parasceva in Poienile Izei
The Paraskeva Church it is another wooden church from Maramureș. It is situated in the village of Poineiile Izei and it was built in 1604 on a hill and the church is considered to be the most well preserved wooden architecture from Maramureș.
The church also owns a valuable collection of religious writings and books from the centuries Xvii and Xviii and many old religious books are kept at the Museum. There are numerous icons on glass representing heritage values of this religious chain, between them, is the icon of Saint Nicolas painted on manuscript glass. There is also the icon of the holy Mucenic Dimitrie saint which is one of the oldest icons in historical Maramures.
There is an analysis of the paintings writing in the International Journal of Conservation Science
The church of the Holy Archangels in Rogoz
Rogoz Church shares the same patron saint with Plopis Church, St. Archangels. The church was build in 1633, it stands out for its asymmetrical roof and multitude of ornaments, which was confirmed by the inscription that you will find at the entrance. In 1661 the village was invaded by the Tatars, they have destroyed almost everything. The church has survived for which we can also find proof in the writings.
In 1883 it was moved from Suciu de Sus to the centre of the village of Rogoz on the site of St. Paraskeva, an existing church built-in 1701. In 1834 the size of the nave windows was increased. In 1960-1961 a major renovation of the structure was undertaken and the floors were renewed.
The painting in the church is made over 100 years after the building was up, by Radu Munteanu and Nicolae Man, and is excellently preserved. Among the hidden treasures of the church are a beautiful wooden chandelier and a series of icons painted on wood and glass of great value.
It is free to enter.
The church of the Holy Archangels in Surdesti.
The tallest wooden church in Romania is located in Surdesti and rises up to 54 m. The church with a two-story roof and a helmet with four turrets is a sign that in the village there was an old council at the time of construction. The place of worship was built in 1721 by the Greek-Catholic community of the village and is dedicated to St. Archangels Michael and Gabriel.
Built-in mountain oak, this church is particularly high compared to the other wooden churches of Maramureș. The wall paintings, executed on wood, were made at the end of the 18th century.
The painting was made in 1783 and is not completely preserved, and the original has been changed. Next to the church is the cemetery which contains a series of extremely old stone crosses.
It is free to enter, but they accept donations.
Where To Look For Information
Our guidebook: Maramureș – A Travel Guide to Romania ‘s Region of Wooden Churches is an excellent full-colour book on a wide variety of cultural heritage subjects from mural paintings and archaeology to architecture and local traditions. It also gives practical information and tips on travel to and within Romania, what to see, where to stay, what to buy and to eat, generally how to get the most of Maramureș.
Why a guidebook and not another type of book? Because we consider that a cultural guidebook addresses those who, while enjoying a memorable holiday, can also help such a special region develop and maintain its specificity and character.
To assure the preservation of regions like Maramureș, it is necessary that they do not fall into total oblivion. It is necessary that young people can remain in the area, find work and live there with their families while being at the same time aware of the importance of their inheritance. Cultural tourism can be a mutual investment that can bear fruit for everyone. The visitor’s joy and the host’s joy are both real experiences and therefore are considered a priority.
Other Things-To-Do In Maramureș
Don’t you worry, there are plenty of other things to do in Maramureș. After you have visited all the wooden churches and if you love to have an active but also quite a holiday, this is the best place location for walking, cycling or hiking. As many will say, you should visit Maramures at least once in your lifetime. This place is famous because of its authenticity, unique architecture and also for its crafts from the local artisans.
The best time to visit Maramureș is starting with April until late October. However, many who have visited Maramureș in winter said that it has its special charm, especially if you love skiing. Also, during winter you could have the opportunity to observe and participate in the winter traditions which will give you a real taste of the area.
For walking lovers, there are local routes that villagers are using it for generations. Those routes are far away from the busy roads and busy cities. You will go through forest, fields and haystack pastures, enjoying the tranquillity and beauty of nature. Spending some time there will totally help you recharge with energy.
Let’s go and see what other things you can do in Maramureș.
➡ Walking on the trails of Creasta Cocosului (Rooster’s Crest)
Creast Cocosului or Rooster’s Crest / Ridge – a relic of an old large volcanic crater (caldera), stretched towards the top of Mount Gutâi (1443 m); natural reservation founded in 1954, located in the Gutâi Mountains, Maramureș, and named after the Cocoș Ridge – a sharp, crenellated hill, about 200 m long, located at an average altitude of 1200 m.
It is ok to go all seasons but in winter is risky due to heavy snow and the risk of avalanches.
It is best to not climb on the Rooster Ridge if you do not have adequate climbing equipment, experience and practice and if you do not have a professional guide able to provide you about the habitat of common bears and vipers, and also pastoral areas – watch out for aggressive shepherd dogs who are protecting their owner and the sheep.
➡ Meet the local artisans
Include in your plans when visiting Maramureș some trips to the local artisans that are bringing to the present old crafts techniques. All over the Maramureș, you will find the best artisans and you can meet all of them by walking from village to village. In Sarbi, there is an open-air exhibition of traditional installations powered by water. It is a must-see attraction.
Discover some collection of hand-made and artisanal products from Romania. Old and new, decorative and practical, for special moments or for your daily routine, these handicrafts are the perfect gift for yourself and your loved ones.
➡ Visit Sighetu Marmatiei
First time in history when Sighetu Marmatiei was mentioned it was in 1325 and for a very long time, it was the only town in Maramureș. It is still a small town and it is easy to walk around. Here you can visit The Village Museum, The Memorial of Victims of Communism which is organised in the former communist prison. You may need a day for this.
Sighetu Marmatiei is the starting point for many tourist attractions. However, it is a beautiful place to walk at least a whole afternoon. The city centre can be easily reached in 30 minutes or less, but you should take your time to admire all the remaining buildings from the interwar period.
➡ Visit The Merry Cemetery
Stan Ioan Patras har founded the cemetery in 1935 and it is located a few kilometres from Ukraine. Over the year, the cemetery had become a world unique attraction and thousands of people are visiting it annually. The cemetery is actually famous because of its unique way of looking at death.
Villagers describe the cemetery as a place where death is portrayed in shades of blue with funny words about the life of the dead.
Also, the picture on the cross depicts an image representing scenes of life or a job had by the dead. I mean, when you go to visit, you mostly laugh all the time spent in there, as each grave cross has written on them a funny poem to describe the life of the dead person.
➡ You Must Try The Local Food
The dishes from Maramureș are a mouth-watering delight. But, if you are on a light diet, it is best to have a moderation of foods as they tend to be quite heavy on the stomach. The most well-known dishes are from meat and cheese-based. You must try the sausages which are made by the locals. They are very tasty, organic and traditionally made.
Other meat specialities are toba, caltabos or slanina. Also, they have a local stew made with a mix of meats served with polenta. It is just perfect. Even more, they made horinca, a strong and a local version of plum brandy and it is considered offensive to refuse it. It is a traditional drink and they are very proud of that.
➡ Mocanita – Take A Ride With An Old Train
A 60 km long railway built 90 years ago is still functioning smoothly on the Vaser Valley, from Vişeu de Sus station to Coman station. It takes about 10 hours total to make the train trip back and forth. Therefore, due to the long distance, the touristic steam train goes only 9 stations, up to Paltin station so it gives the visitors the opportunity to sink in the breathtaking panoramic views and grab some food before returning to Viseu de Sus.
Mocănița is the name of the traditional steam train and is one of the main attraction in Maramures. The steam train was used to transport timber in the past but starting with the year 2000 is used to transport tourists on a 21.6 km route from Viseul de Sus station to Paltin station. One way trip takes about 2 hours and you can spend the time exploring around the Paltin station before catching a later train back.
Mocanita will take you on a beautiful journey on one of the last forestry railway in Europe. You must not miss this lifetime opportunity as the steam train running on a narrow-gauge track of 760 mm deep, into the virgin charming valleys and along the river Vaser, makes the experience truly unique and adventurous.
More details and the schedule of Mocanita.
We hope our guide to the best things to do in the ‘land of wood’ will help you make the best of your time in this beautiful destination. To visit Maramures is one of the best vacation options in Romania, whether you want an outdoor adventure or a more cultural journey.
We all need to recharge our energies from time to time, so what better way to do so than stepping back in time for a while, admiring the beauty of nature so well preserved in Maramures area as well as being part (even for a minute) of the traditional way of life.
Get inspired by the Maramures area to find a way of sustainable living, promoting real values and strong communities.
We hope that you will enjoy your travel to Maramureș!
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Until next time,
Oana & Paula