Maramures Villages Wooden Churches

Maramureş region is in the very northwest of Romania, and comprises several valleys in the wonderful Carpathian hills. The Land of Maramures occupies the south-eastern part of Romania, the Chioar Land the southern part and Codru Land the south western tip. The historical Maramures occupies a large swathe of the northern and western part of Romania. The varied terrain and relief of Maramures ranging from riverside meadows to highlands has highly impacted the structure of human settlements, that vary from scattered homesteads to clustered homesteads. Maramures is the large open air ethnographic museum and probably the area of Romania least touched by the modern civilization. The region of Maramures is known for its outstanding wooden churches, and archaic iconographic paintings found within them, a symbol of Romania known to the whole world as part of the UNESCO World Heritage: Rozavlea, Barsana and Ieud are some of the most important. There is the unique Maramures Route of the Wooden Churches which includes the UNESCO World Heritage wooden churches of Maramures county, but also focuses on enjoyment in the great outdoors, well-preserved customs and lifestyle and stunning landscapes of the countryside. The traditional professions and crafts like weaving, wood carving, wood and glass painting, pottery are well-preserved and practiced successfully and transmitted from generation to generation in the Maramures region.

The wooden architecture and rural lifestyle of the traditional Maramures villages of Berbesti, Barsana, Bogdan Voda, Botiza, Budesti, Calinesti, Desesti, Giulesti, Harnicesti, Ieud, Plopis, Poienile Izei, Rogoz, Sugatag and Surdesti are extremely interesting and attractive. There is a strong tradition of building wooden churches across the Eastern Europe, from Karelia and northern Russia all the way to the Adriatic, but in terms of both quality and quantity the richest examples are found in Maramures. The Maramures wooden churches represent the beautiful synthesis of the major architectural elements of Eastern and Western Europe, more precisely a synthesis of the Byzantine plan and the Gothic forms rendered according to an original architectural interpretation. The Maramures church constructions are made out of wood and their tall steeples are truly representative for the gorgeous landscape in Maramures, very solid, although they have been erected without a single nail !!! The Maramures churches show a variety of designs and amazing craftsmanship adopted in these narrow, high, timber constructions with their characteristic tall, slim clock towers at the western end of the building, either single- or double-roofed and covered by shingles. As such, they are a particular vernacular expression of the cultural landscape of this mountainous area of northern Romania. The Wooden Churches of Maramures are unique in shape and ornamentation and eight of them – in Barsana, Budesti, Desesti, Ieud, Plopis, Poienile Izei, Rogoz and Surdesti have been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

The characteristic high roofs and tall, narrow, pointed steeples are often collectively described as the Gothic Style of Maramures. The primary wood material used by the Maramures skilled artisans was locally grown oak which has survived the harsh weather conditions with sturdy elegance until today. The interior walls of the Maramures churches were painted by local artists, with biblical scenes often juxtaposed against the familiar landscape of the village. Most of these Maramures houses of worship have stood proudly since the 17th and 18th centuries – some even longer. The oldest wooden church in Maramures is the Church on the Hill in Ieud, which dates from 1364.

There are different customs in regard with traditional dishes of Maramuresh. For instance, on Palm Saturday, women from Maramures bake small loafs of bread for each member of the family. This bread is called “Wheat flower” and tradition claims that those eating it that day will see each other in Heaven. On Christmas night and on New Year’s Eve, all the members of the family must eat a slice of pork jelly (“piftie”) from a big plate where there also is the snout of the pig, which is said to bring luck.