10 Reasons Why You Need to Visit Romania’s Maramures Region Now!
Mara…what?! Not many have heard of the remote Maramures region in Romania’s northwestern corner, nor is it exactly on most people’s bucket lists, but this area is, in fact, one of the last places in Europe where the traditional ways of life have survived (for now) almost unchanged since the Middle Ages.
Here are 10 reasons why you need to visit Maramures now and explore the centuries-old traditions of the region’s authentic village life before they disappear.
- The Maramures area is known for its pastoral and agricultural traditions. Even today, plowing, planting, harvesting, and hay making and handling are mostly done through manual labor. What better way to step back in time to experience medieval rural life!?
- Maramures’ main tourist attraction are the UNESCO-protected wooden churches. Why were they built entirely of wood (in some early examples even the nails are wooden)? In the Middle Ages, the local Romanian peasants (who were Orthodox Christian) were forbidden by their Hungarian overlords (who were Catholic) to build churches in stone. Because of this, churches were built entirely of wood and with the characteristic high and steep spires aiming to dwarf the Catholic temples.
- A very distinctive feature of the traditional Maramures houses is the massive wood carved front gate which was in the past perceived as an indicator of the family’s prosperity and status. Common motifs often found on them include grapevines, rosettes, animals (for a plentiful harvest and healthy livestock) twisted rope (so the family in this house lives in unity and harmony), and crosses (so the house is blessed and protected from evil).
- Up north and close to the Ukrainian border, the village of Sapanta is known for the Merry Cemetery with its colorful tombstones describing, in an original and humorous manner, the people who are buried there in scenes from their lives. It was in the 1940s that a local artist carved the first tombstone crosses with witty epitaphs and today there are more than 800 of them which have turned the cemetery into a local tourist attraction.
- In the towns and villages of Maramures, time is marked by the agricultural seasons (sowing, mowing, harvest) and the religious holidays (like Lent, Easter, and Christmas). Festivals and weddings are celebrated with traditional rites, dance, and music, as well as with local food and drink, and are an exciting opportunity to mix with the locals and learn about centuries-old customs.
- When visiting a Maramures home, expect to be offered a shot of a homemade “palinka” or “horinca” (plum or apricot brandy). Make sure to empty your glass before you leave or bad luck may befall the family. According to a local superstition, if a guest leaves the house without finishing their drink, the family’s young daughter may not marry…
- Sheltered by shady valleys and forested mountains, the people of Maramures have preserved traditional handicrafts which have virtually disappeared in other parts of the country. Centuries-old skills like wood carving, pottery, weaving, traditional costumes, and jewelry are still handed down from generation to generation.
- Sighetu Marmatiei (commonly simply called Sighet), is the birthplace of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, novelist, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, whose autobiography ‘Night’ was the first account ever published of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps in the Second World War, and whose home is now a small museum.
- In the very north of Maramures, the Rodna Mountains are protected as a nature reserve and are a hikers’ and mountain bikers’ paradise. Best of all, with the exception of a few locals, you will likely have them to yourself. Well-marked trails lead to several of the peaks offering splendid vistas over the region and even into Ukraine across the border.
- The region’s traditional costumes are fascinating with their beauty and practical simplicity. Women wear kerchiefs, white shirts with sleeves ending in cuffs and flounces, ample skirts, and two aprons with colorful horizontal stripes showing the region they come from and their social status. Men wear short white shirts, wide trousers, and hats. In the past, people could recognize each others’ origin by the costumes they wore.
Planning a trip to Romania? Think beyond Transylvania and the Dracula legend and schedule a few extra days to explore the unique traditional culture and architecture of Maramures! You can thank me later…