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Dates of visit:
March 28, 2007 -
April 14, 2007

We rate this trip a:

Trip Highlights:
 Revisit Bucharest
 Bucegi Mountains
 Revisit Sibiu
 Maramures Region
 Wooden Churches
 Peasant traditions
 Merry Cemetery
 Bukovina Region
 Painted Monasteries
 Railroad Excursion
 

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Poland
Ukraine
*** Romania ***
*** Maramures ***
*** City of Sighetu Marmatiei ***
*** Borsa - Spa City ***
*** Viseu de Sus -- Vaser Valley RR ***
*** Cetatae Neamt - Fortress of Neamtz ***
        Map of Romania
        Travel Route
        Maramures - An introduction
        City of Sighetu Marmatiei
               Site Gallery - Sighetu Marmatiei
        Borsa - Spa City
               Site Gallery - Borsa
        Viseu de Sus -- Vaser Valley RR
               Video - Vaser Valley RR
               Site Gallery - Vaser Valley RR
        Cetatae Neamt - Fortress of Neamtz
               Site Gallery - Cetatae Neamt
Maramures - An introduction

MaramuresLocation of Maramures

Muramures ... this Northern region of Romania has an area of 10,497 square kilometers and it is placed near the Romanian border with Ukraine. Maramures is surrounded by the Rodnei mountains (Pietrosu Peak is 2,303 m height), Gutii and Tibles mountains. The beauty of the landscapes is good for relaxing your nerves but these mountains are rich too; here one may find exploitations of copper, gold, silver and salt. Climate is continental temperate but winters last for a long time.

Visiting Maramures is like going back into Romanian history hundred of years ago. If you love traditions, here, in the Northern part of Romania is the place where you can enter in a world full of lost rituals.

According to tradition ... only in this particular area the New Year's Eve is a magic night when women are not allowed to go out of their gardens. In this night, only men can pass from house to house singing old specific wishes ("uraturi") or playing folk scenes as "goat" while wearing ugly masks to make bad spirits go away. People believe that exactly at midnight sky splits and future can be revealed if you follow a certain secret ritual. For example, single young girls can know something about their future husband. For this, every girl goes alone outside the house, near the tree trunk where pieces of wood are split and prepared for being burn in the stove. If she will first hear a cook singing - her husband will be a good man, but if a dog barking will be the first sound she will hear - her future husband will a bad guy. Also, in the morning of January 1st, before the sun rising, all members of the same family must wash their faces with water taken from a basin in which they put a silver coin and a fir tree branch. They say one by one: "All year I will be clean as this water, young as this green branch, and loved as this coin".

Traveling by car or walking by foot, you may admire people wearing their folk costumes while working out, gardening, taking care of animals or celebrating their community events. Due to its relative isolation, people living in Maramures still preserve their ancient lifestyle and strong bonds between neighbors. Each community has a particular personality. You must see with your eyes to understand this incredible fact. Local festivals are an opportunity to bring different families together, sing old songs and dance in the middle of their village - young and old people mixed in a perfect harmony.

Their music has a lovely feeling that cannot be found elsewhere in Romania. You may feel the warm hospitality of these simple people after tasting a specific drink called "horinca" (count carefully the number of glasses because it is a very strong local plum brandy).


Video recorded: March 2007
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The major cities of Maramures are Baia Mare, Sighetul Marmatiei (see below) and Borsa (see below). Sighetul Marmatiei is a little town famous in the country for its colorful Christmas parade. Listening to the carols is a real pleasure for foreign tourists despite the fact that they don't understand the meaning of the words. Sometimes these words are talking about funny things because Christmas is a holiday of joy and hope. Sighetul Marmatiei is often called "the heart of Maramures county" and lies at the confluence of Iza and Ronisoara rivers. It was first mentioned in a document dated 1334 because it had a good trade position. Nowadays, it is an important center, both cultural and economic. At the Ethnography Museum you may visit exhibits showing old work means, woven materials, carpets, masks and other interesting traditional things.

The entire Maramures area is really a museum which preserves in open-air the highest wooden buildings in Europe. These wooden tall churches are specific only for this region and they were raised between 17th and 18th centuries with no iron nails in them. They show the great talent of carving wood, skills that were transmitted from father to son, generation after generation.

These churches are placed in Surdesti (the highest one of all having 236 ft), Calinesti, Sarbi, Budesti and Sugatag. On another valley, you will find Ieud (the oldest church in Maramures county built in 1638), Barsana and Bogdan Voda. Barsana church has interior frescoes that are very similar to those of the painted monasteries of Moldavia (Bukovina).

Tourists are amazed by the tall wooden gates too. All houses have in front these specific gates that show an incredible artistic taste and the same ability of carving wood. You must know that the most respected family in the village has the most beautiful and the biggest wooden gate among all houses in the area! Look attentively at the patterns used on these gates: the sun, the moon, stars, leafs, trees, birds all try to imagine their secret meaning. It is always a secret meaning hidden there!

The great number of woven woolen carpets, blankets, rugs, and costumes will make a strong artistic impression to anyone who wants to know better people living in these lost villages. For a long time weaving was a household handicraft in Maramures region, especially during winter. You may still see in action the horizontal weaving loom and the ancient manual technique of making woolen yarns. Dyeing is accomplished only by natural pigments taken from leafs, roots or fruits.

The main colors used for decorating textiles made in Maramures are white, red, dark brown and black. A general aspect of carpets is the outline of the central field which is decorated with feminine characters dancing a huge round dance (named in Romanian "hora") or horse riders. In the central space, these carpets have a monochrome background filled with geometrical patterns. But every piece has a unique composition and chromatics.

Maybe the most famous place of Maramures region is the Merry Cemetery of Sapinta. The churchyard is unique all over the world because people living here wanted to put on their crosses funny little poems (carved or painted). There was a local artist - Ion Stan Patras - who had the idea of creating those amusing rhymed epitaphs. One single example of poem depicting with humor the bad sides of the person's personality buried there:

"Here lies my mother-in-law
If she had lived another year
I would have lied here."

Source: http://www.meetromania.info
(Text copyright 2006 Felicia and Adrian Popescu)

See "Merry Cemetery" for more information and a gallery of images.

City of Sighetu Marmatiei

Sighetu Marmatiei Location of Sighetu Marmatiei (map 1)
Location of Sighetu Marmatiei (map 2)

Sighetu Marmatiei ... inhabited since the Hallstatt period, the urban area was situated on an important route that followed the Tisza Valley. The first mention of a settlement dates back to the 11th century, and the city as such was first mentioned in 1326. In 1352, it was a free royal town and the capital of Máramaros comitatus of the Kingdom of Hungary. From 1556, the settlement was a residence of Transylvanian Princes; from 1570 to 1733, the town and the county were part of the Principality of Transylvania. In 1733, King Charles III returned it and Máramaros County to his Hungarian domain. Sighetu Marmatiei was one of the Romanian, Rusyn, and Jewish cultural and political centers in the Kingdom of Hungary.

It became part of the Kingdom of Romania at the end of World War I, and was again under Hungarian administration during World War II as a result of the Second Vienna Award. The latter lasted until 1944 and in these years more than 20,000 Jews from Sighet would be sent to Auschwitz (including the Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, born in Sighet) and other Nazi extermination camps. Nowadays there are only about 100 Jews living in Sighetu Marmatiei. The Treaty of Paris at the end of World War II voided the Vienna Awards, and Sighetu Marmatiei returned to Romania.

In the 1950s and 1960s, after the establishment of the Romanian communist regime, the Securitate ran the Sighet prison as a place for political repression of public figures that had been declared "class enemies". The former prison is now a museum, and a "Memorial for the Victims of Communism".


Video recorded: March 2007
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Memorial for the Victims of Communism Location of Communist Cemetery

A cemetery, part of the museum called "Prison of the Ministers" (Inchisoarea Ministiriilor), includes a memorial of the Victims of Communism and anticommunist Resistance. The Memorial was opened in 1997. The prison, which was active from 1897 until 1977, takes its name from the period during the 1950s when it held many political prisoners (former government ministers, generals, academicians, and religious leaders - the cultural and political elite of Romania) in terrible conditions - brought here because it was thought to be particularly secure since the town was just 2km from the Soviet frontier. 180 prisoners were held in terrible conditions in 72 cells. Many were elderly but this didn't save them from beatings and punishment so it is no surprise that many died.

These included one of the most respected prewar politicians, Iuliu Maniu who orchestrated the 1944 coup, Dinu Bratianu - leader of the National Liberal Party and Ion Mihalache - founder of the Peasants Party. All of them who died in this prison are buried in this cemetery. (See gallery)


Video recorded: March 2007
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Site Gallery - City of Sighetu Marmatiei
 
City of Sighetu Marmatiei
Sighetu Marmatiei Sighetu Marmatiei Sighetu Marmatiei
Sighetu Marmatiei Sighetu Marmatiei Sighetu Marmatiei
Sighetu Marmatiei Ethnographic Museum
Sighetu Ethnographic Museum Sighetu Ethnographic Museum Sighetu Ethnographic Museum
Sighetu Ethnographic Museum Sighetu Ethnographic Museum Sighetu Ethnographic Museum
Sighetu Ethnographic Museum Sighetu Ethnographic Museum Sighetu Ethnographic Museum
Sighetu Ethnographic Museum Sighetu Ethnographic Museum Sighetu Ethnographic Museum
Sighetu Ethnographic Museum Sighetu Ethnographic Museum Sighetu Ethnographic Museum
Sighetu Marmatiei Village Museum
Sighetu Village Museum Sighetu Village Museum Sighetu Village Museum
Sighetu Village Museum Sighetu Village Museum Sighetu Village Museum
Sighetu Village Museum Sighetu Village Museum Sighetu Village Museum
Sighetu Village Museum Sighetu Village Museum Sighetu Village Museum
Sighetu Village Museum Sighetu Village Museum Sighetu Village Museum
Sighetu Marmatiei
"Memorial for the Victims of Communism"
Memorial for the Victims of Communism Memorial for the Victims of Communism Memorial for the Victims of Communism
Borsa - Spa City
Borsa - Spa City Location of Borsa

Borsa ... is situated at Maramures' eastern extremity, 80 km from Vadu Izei and next to the Prislop Pass (1,416 meters) in the Rodna Mountains. In 1774 Borsa was a commune and a parish, but the parish was divided into two parts. In 1653 the two sections united into one parish lead by Popa Ioan. The parish church was painted in 1775 by an anonymous artist.

Borsa is best known for its alpine tourism. There is skiing at Borsa and also places to rent equipment for various winter sports activities. Just above Borsa's alpine resort lies the National Reservation, Pietrosul Rodnei, a pristine alpine wilderness rising to an altitude of 2304 meters. Borsa is Romania’s new playground for the moneyed few and for the adventurous foreigner seeking low-cost holidays.


Video recorded: March 2007
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Site Gallery - Borsa
 
Borsa Borsa Borsa
Borsa Borsa Borsa
Viseu de Sus -- Vaser Valley RR
Vaser Valley RR Location of Vaser Valley RR

VISEU DE SUS ... (formerly CFF, then Viseuforest, now R.G. Holz) ... close to the Ukraine border, in the Maramures, it is the only remaining, working narrow gauge forestry railway of many that were constructed to transport timber from the vast, remote forests of the Carpathians and their foothills. This 760mm gauge forestry system starts at the timber yards and sawmill to the north of this town with a long tradition of woodworking and logging. The railway climbs for 41km following the often very narrow Vaser valley deep into the forests of the Maramures Mountains. Logs were originally floated down the river aided by a series of sluices which were used to regulate the flow and level of the river. The railway was constructed in 1932 and follows a course which soon becomes little more than a ledge above the river, and in one place there are a series of short tunnels.

Like many of these lines, trains would leave Viseu at dawn, dropping off foresters and bolster wagons at various sidings along the line, then return in the afternoon collecting felled timber. The Monday morning trains were always the most numerous as they also carried lumberjacks to their camps where they would stay and work during the week.

This has always been difficult work and it is not unusual for trains to become derailed or lines to be blocked by landslides. The foresters have their own methods to deal quickly and effectively with these problems and in the winter snow ploughs are used to clear lines. The biggest risk is that of flooding, especially when the snow melts in spring. In the case of Viseu, the construction of a forest road would have been costly and extremely difficult so the railway survived. Operations declined during the 1990s from having four working locomotives in 1990 to just one usually working by the end of the decade.

The CFF was privatized in 1999 and operations were shared between 'Viseuforest' which occupied the former shed and workshops, and a private Swedish-owned company, 'R.G.Holz' which established sidings and facilities about 1km further along the line and brought in two former CFF diesels and a steam locomotive. At the same time a dedicated group of enthusiasts from Switzerland became involved in the preservation and running of the railway. The 'Wassertalbahn' group has subsequently been influential in rejuvenating the railway, and establishing projects to attract enthusiasts and tourists with a view to increasing employment in the valley.

 

Site Gallery - Vaser Valley RR
 
Vaser Valley RR Vaser Valley RR Vaser Valley RR
Vaser Valley RR Vaser Valley RR Vaser Valley RR
Vaser Valley RR Vaser Valley RR Vaser Valley RR
Vaser Valley RR Vaser Valley RR Vaser Valley RR
Cetatae Neamt - Fortress of Neamtz
Fortress of NeamtzLocation of Cetatae Neamt

Cetatea Neamt ... Among the most representative historical monuments from Romania we find the Fortress of Neamtz (or Neamt) in the sub Carpathian zone of Moldavia. The fortress of Neamtz was built in the period of consolidation of the Romanian medieval state on the east side of the Carpathians. Along the centuries, the history of the fortress has been tidily combined with the history of the whole Moldavia, for the fortress marked some important moments of this history, keeping on its walls the traces of the days of glory or those of sorrow of the past times.

Built from the order of Peter the 1st Musat (1375-1391) the fortress of Neamtz was initially composed by the central fort which was enclosing a court guarded by four towers. Situated of the way which connects Suceava, through Baia, to Piatra and other cities of Moldavia, the fortress is documented for the first time on 2 February 1395. Aiming to get Moldavia under the authority of Hungary, the mean King Sigismund de Luxemburg gave a chancellery act "ante castrum Nempch" shortly after a battle which ended with the victory of Steven the 1st Musat.

The commandant of the fortress had larger military and administrative attributions. Under his power was the village, which formed the neighboring area of the fortress, named by the documents "right of the king". Certainly, the habitants of these villages had some obligations concerning the maintenance of the garrison and the supply of guard contingents (the so-called "hunters") beside their obligations to pledge "the work at the fortress".

Only after Steven’s the Great (1457-1504) coming, the fortress of Neamtz will be integrated into the whole country. The great organizer and military commandant understood very well the role which was to be given to the fortifications system. In order to reinforce the capacity of defense of the country and of the King’s power, there was reason enough for him to dispose the reinforcement of the old fortress and the building of new one. Due to this constructive program, the fortress of Neamtz has been rebuilt, changing its look completely. The works was done between spring of 1475 and the summer of 1476. This work contributed to the raising of the old walls and the construction of the exterior court with defense bastions and the suspended bridge on eleven stone piles.

Reinforced in this way, the fortress of Neamtz heralded one of the most heroic pages from the history of Moldavia. Lead by Arbore, the garrison of the fortress resisted the siege of the Turkish army. Defeated, in fact, by the impossibility of conquering none of Moldavia’s fortress and harassed by the Moldavian army, the sultan was obliged to end the siege and to retreat his army.

As the Turkish domination becomes rougher and their progress in the battle techniques begins to increase, the role of the fortress diminishes. After the partial destruction of some interior constructions during the rule of Alexandru Lăpuneanu (1564) and the renovations ordered by Ieremia Movilă in 1600, the fortress of Neamtz will open its doors to him who realized the first political union of the Romanians: Michael the Brave.

Transformed into monastery by Vasile Lupu and than partially destroyed by Dumitrasco Cantacuzino in 1675, the fortress of Neamtz will have the force to write one more heroic page in 1691, when, defended by a small group of soldiers will resist for a few days to the siege of the Polish army lead by Ian Sobieski. After that period the fortress of Neamtz will totally loose its political and military importance.

In the two following centuries the fortress of Neamtz continued to degrade which made the fortress at the middle of the 19th century look pale, contrasting with the impressive image of the citadel it was once.

Site Gallery - Cetatea Neamt
 
Cetatea Neamt Cetatea Neamt Cetatea Neamt
Cetatea Neamt Cetatea Neamt Cetatea Neamt
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