Sighetu Marmaţiei
May 5, 2014

Maramureş is situated in the North of the Oriental Carpathians, marked by the Rodna mountains and the Maramureş mountains. The Northern limit of the area coincides with the state border of Ukraine represented by the Tisa river. On its West  there is Bucovina, while on the South we find Bistriţa Năsăud county. The road from Bucovina towards Maramureş through Prislop Pass offers to the tourist a unique view of wilderness that justifies why Maramureş has been compared with a true fortress of nature.

The historical Maramureş is the teritory of  free Dacs that have never been conquered or subdued by any empire. Nowadays, Maramureş is the area where time stands still, fact proved by the numberless sights to be seen as tourist attractions included in UNESCO World Heritage List : The Wooden Churches unique in the world, the Merry Cemetery and the Memorial or the victims of comunism and resistence, a combination wich cultivates the spirit.

The Merry Cemetery, a bizzare combination of irony and bitterness, leaves tourists speechless. The short poems with a touch of irony are completed by naïve paintings of the deceased in the most representative state of their entire life. The creative spirit of the man who came up with the idea of this cemetery, Stan Ioan Pătraş, turned this monument from Săpînţa, the Merry Cemetery, into a vestige of the Romanian culture and civilization.

The Wooden Churches of Maramureş are made of fir tree and oak wood, the trees being carefully chosen by craftsmen and cut during winter when they still kept inside the sap of life. Even though they were built using rudimentary tools, without using nails, the wood joining is still in perfect shape as if time had not passed over it.

The church of Ieud is the oldest building of this kind in Maramureş dating back to 1364, built in Maramureş style, with tall tower and small windows, painted in 1782. This church represents one of the most valuable religious monuments in this area because here was found one of the oldest books written in the Romanian language, the Ieud Code, from 1391.The name of the painter is Alexandru Ponehalski. He painted the church of Ieud, probably sometime after the repairs performed in 1765. In  The Tollbooths painting on the western wall, the aerial character of the tollhouses is emphasized here through the depiction of flying angels carrying the souls in their arms. In this image the painter represented a whole group of people at one of the customhouses instead of picturing the usual depiction of one dead man. At the bottom of the scene,we can see the saints approaching the gate of Paradise on one side and the devils taking the souls of sinners to Hell on the other side. Many inscriptions on the walls are hardly readable, but some of them have a very clear message: “These people argued inside the church and that is why I don’t let them pass”, but the angel defends the soul with these words: “Go devil away because for those sins they have had a big penance, and the Lord Jesus Christ has forgiven them”. In fact exactly in the village of Ieud, a document from 1689, attests to the existence of a conflict between noble families for the places inside the parochial church. It is very interesting to notice, as some inscriptions in the Maramureş churches indicate, that every sin was considered forgiven by God if people confessed them and showed repentance following the spiritual guidance of the priests. One inscription also expresses the belief professed by the Eastern Church which says that the fate of the soul can be influenced after death “through the prayers and intercessions of the living”.

The church of Sîrbi-Sisani, was built in 1532 on a hillock near an oak forest. The church is made of oak beams with a width of more than 60 centimetres, joined in the corners in dovetail. This church is quite modest in sizes, still really charming. Around its sanctuary the master carpenter played with the consoles under the eaves purlins like nowhere else. His devotion for this sacred building can be further read in the warm way he softened the plain timber walls with the rope moulding all around, with the small cuts in the frame of the southern window and even of the precinct gate, which, although fragmentary, is probably the oldest one surviving in Maramureş. The noble founders of this modest house of worship might have been either poor or conservative, if they couldn’t afford or did not wanted bells for a tower, iron for the hinges of the doors, carved stones for the altar table or glasses for the windows. Whatever the situation was, the carpenter had to solve the shortage of resources in a very traditional way, replacing the missing materials with pieces of wood. These could have been the reasons why the church from Sârbi Susani retains the most ancient features in the local architect.

The Bîrsana church, built in 1720 is famous because here we find concentrated the craft of wood carving in the land of Maramureş. The wood carved by the hands of the craftsmen in Maramureş tells the story of these lands that seem to be taken of heaven. Situated on the banks of the river Iza, on a hill that offers an impressive landscape, the Bîrsana church guards the whole land of Maramures. A two-level portico, connected by a staircase, was added to the western facade. Because of its plan, the church belongs to the tradition of the Maramureş region, but differs in its smaller size. It features some of the most representative baroque indoor murals in Maramureş. The church has a collection of icons painted on glass and old religious books.

The Church of Şurdeşti, built in 1767, synthesises all the features of the wooden churches of Maramureş at the height of their development with, in particular, a double canopy and superposed windows. The two-level portico and its tall bell tower date to the 19th century. In 1783, three shared the task of decorating the inside of the church. The Church of Plopiş situated in Chioar village, shows certain analogies with the church in Şurdeşti, such as the flat roof slightly lowered over the sanctuary, the slender bell tower with four corner pinnacles, and certain elements of the sculpted decor outside. The decoration, painted in 1811 by Stefan, a native of the village, is preserved on the vaults.

The church of Botiza, built in 1699, and the one in Rozavlea,  built in 1717 impress the tourists due to the specific joining of fir tree wood and the painting made on canvas and glued to the inner walls: Jesus Christ’s figure can be seen on the top of the composition, the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the Parable of Dives and Lazarus, the Temptation of Christ, St. Marina killing the devil, and St. Parascheva giving her clothes to the poor.,the Last Supper, Jesus and the Samaritan woman by the fountain, Sain Nestor fighting with Lie the pagan and others various scenes from the Bible.

The Memorial of the victims of communism and resistence is located in the centre of town of Sighetu Marmatia, being a symbol of the communist repression against those who opposed the communist regime in Romania, in thought, speech or act.  In October 1998 the Memorial in Sighet was nominated by the Europe counsel among the first three places that cultivate the European memory, next to the Auschwitz memorial and the Normandy Peace memorial.

Defenetly a trip in Maramureş is a one-of-a-kind experience!