Today’s journey is going to take us to Maramureş, one of Romania’s most traditional regions. It became very well known, in particular because of the wood-culture and the many ethnic minorities living here for centuries. The dense forests – the Carpathian Mountains used to be called the Forest Mountains – have been the source of livelihood for many generations. Each and every house and church used to be built out of wood, as woodcarving is still one of the most popular occupations in this area. Almost each and every house has a wooden gate, a loom and a small sitting area, where people gather every evening to catch up with the latest gossip, play cards or weave to passersby.
We will drive on a very small and almost unknown road, through picturesque villages and next to herds of water buffaloes, we will reach the small village of Poienile Izei. It is one of the most picturesque villages of the area and people still live here, the way they used to, centuries ago. We will visit the local wooden church (a superb 300 year-old monument, UNESCO world heritage) and be guests of a local musician, where lunch will also be served.
From here, we will drive to Săpânţa. An old tradition, dating back 2000 years ago, gives the locals the belief in life after death. This is the reason why death is seen as something normal, as a next step in life. This was the starting point of the cemetery 50 years ago, when a local artist decided to paint funny scenes on the cross of a deceased, something that would later on turn this cemetery into a unique resting place across the world. The tradition is still being continued today, as the cemetery is full of crosses telling funny, uncensored stories about boozers, Lovelace and communist party members.
From here, our journey will take us to Şurdeşti. For a long time the local church was considered to be the religious building with the highest tower in the Maramureş. The interior of the church is of a rare simplicity and beauty: on the walls one can see many scenes from the Old and New Testament, such as the life and works of the Prophet Elias and the Judgment Day. Although the church is under UNESCO patronage, it is still being used each day by the local community, who has decorated it with several handmade carpets and towels.
Leaving Şurdeşti behind, we will return to Cluj.