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  • The Romanian text content of this page belongs to "Vadu Izei şi Maramureşul" Guide, written by Ioan Borlean who kindly accepted to use it here. Thanks again!

      Maramureş - NATURAL ENVIRONMENT:

      Maramureş lies at the northern border, close to parallel 47"55' north latitude and meridian 23"55' east longitude, which situates it very close to the geometric center of Europe. Maramureş is enclosed by a chain of volcanic mountains: Oaş, Gutâi, Ţibleş to the south, by the crystalline Rodna mountain chain to the east, by Maramureş Mountains to the north-east and to the north by a land drained by Tisa river, which borders the county and also the country.
      Maramureş is surrounded by hills, terraces and river meadows, narrow valleys along Iza, Mara, Cosău and Vişeu rivers; all of them flowing into Tisa river, which has been the axis of Maramureş for centuries on end. The mountains around us are 1000-2305 m tall (Pietrosul Peak in Rodna Mountains); here there is also Pietrosul Rodnei, a natural reservation, established in 1935.
      The multitude of mineral springs used both as a source of fresh water and in medical treatements, proofs the richness of natural resources available in this land. Situated in this magnificent natural scenery are the towns that form the historic province of Maramureş.

      Maramureş - BRIEF HISTORY:

      Maramureş' history is as old as time. Proofs of this are: the archeological discoveries, dating from the Paleolithic and Neolithic, Dragoş' and Bogdan; s colonization, as well as the church which the inhabitants of Maramureş insist on taking everywhere with them, as a sign of the faith which kept them together, wherever they fled from war.


      The building material is exclusively wood, used as long horizontal beams. Time brought along different techniques of transforming wood. The old buildings were made of round beams; the new ones are made from rectangular beams. Considering the type of wood used for construction, there are two sub zones in the popular architecture - the sub zone Mara, Cosău and Iza up to Bârsana, where the wood type for constructions is oak, and the sub zone from Strâmtura on Iza River up to Borşa, where fir is dominant.
      The artistic appearance of the Maramureş rural buildings is given by the stylized and vigorous technique. Window consoles, doors, window frames, big gates, stable entrances stable entrances, all being adorned with remarkable highlighted carved motifs.

       The house cannot be fully understood architecturally, without placing and surrounding it by economic buildings. Together with the house, they form the basis of rural economy. The household must be seen as an architectonic complex, whose specific is given by the environment and the processing methods. In other words, connecting architecture to people's work, that is between economic buildings (outhouses: stables, hay bushel and wood stock), which point to the main resources and to the living standards of locals.

      A true rustic "triumph arch", which has become famous by the perfect harmony of the shapes, by observing the proportions of the components and by the dense metaphor of the ornaments.
      The people are as attached to these valuable constructions, which are artistic and cultural traditions, as to the social and political history of Maramureş. This is observed in their habit to rank their houses by the adornments on their gates. The old tradition of gates is connected to the ancient rites, when choosing wood and building gates.
      The gate is man's image from ancient times, a barrier against evil, a barrier which makes the transition to another universe, that of the house and household where the family life carries on. Under the pole which connects the threshold, people used to place money, incense and holy water, so that the plague and evil keep away. Anthropomorphic figures were carved into the gate's poles I order to protect the owner's wealth and home.
      All the symbols and adornments initially had other significance, but, as time went by, they evolved into decorative elements.

    • THE ROPE - is a spiral that points to the aspiration towards superiority; the cross knots have extremely old magical significance, pointing to the sun, symbol which was later adopted by the Christian religion.
    • THE ROSETTE - solar symbol which creates energy, warmth, which are indispensable to life
    • THE TREE OF LIFE - ornamental motif of the gates; it symbolizes endless life and fortune
    • "MAN'S FACE" or "HAND WITH SEPARATED FINGERS" - keeps the evil spirits and bad luck away from the household and the family.
    • BIRDS - present in the ornaments of the gates, as part of the composition; in ancient times the rooster symbolized the human spirit.
    • THE SNAKE - zoomorphic ornamental motif, originating in the ancient belief, of the snake of the house, which was the guardian of the household.

      The craft and art used for building the house and of the outhouse, by craftsman in the northern part of Transilvania are also found in the churches build along centuries. It is common knowledge that one of the most valuable religious buildings in Europe can be found on these lands.
      The wooden churches from Maramureş have earned their well-deserved fame, both with specialists and common public from many countries. For us, these admirable buildings are so much more interesting, as they're closely related to the art of Romanian rural buildings; the architectonic unity house-church is a living proof of the ancient art of building on Romanian ground, which is possible only on lands with ancient populations, very found of their lands.

      It is common knowledge that wood is one of the oldest raw material used by man, due to its availability, processing, even with rudimentary tools and multiple uses. There are so many objects of frequent use made from wood in Maramureş, like: the fountain, which is primordial for man's existence on earth, fences, stiles, footbridges, all common elements of our villages around rural households.
      "Furniture" - such as: "backless benches", "chairs", "wardrobes", "swings", "cases", "tables", "corner cupboards", "jug pegs", "dishes" and "spoons".

      Maramureş is the region that has preserved for generations some of the most beautiful customs related to work, to the cycle of life and to celebrations. Most of the object, artistically crafted, and most of the objects used for celebrations are made of wood: the godparents' canteen used at weddings, stamps for communion bred, which are real miniature sculptures for stamping into communion bred and Eucharist.   Crosses are also carved; they have special symbolism, but are perfectly integrated into the traditional architecture. The crosses on tombs have ornaments like a wolf's tooth and the famous ropes placed on the arms of the cross or as a ring, marking the arms' crossing point. The care for providing a tomb that will show the respect and love for the departed ones has created specialists for this type of art.
      The most remarkable of these was Ion Stan Pătraş. His genius has created a whole cemetery of artistically crafted crosses, carved in wood and painted, together with a short presentation. Also in this art branch there is the sculptural complex of Berbesti - considered an architectonic and religious monument of high artistic value.

      As all throughout Romania, Maramureş also has a vast economic development. There are villages specialized in weaving carpets or rugs.
      They are thick fabrics made of wool, used especially for covering the bed, but also as a decorative element inside the house, where the fine texture creates a valuable basis for decorative evolution. The quality of the fabric, the chromatic fabrics and the whole ornamental composition make it one of the most valuable artistic creations in our country. As all Romanian artistic creations, carpets also display a great variety of ornaments and colors, keeping all the elements of a unitary artistic style. Here we will also like to mention the table cloths, bed sheets, towels and cloth bags.

      The tradition of ceramics is old and continuous, dating since the Dacians. In terms of techniques and adorning systems and shapes, we find here almost all types of ceramics. There is red unenameled ceramics (Săcele) with archaic ornamental elements, typical for black ceramics, enameled horn, ornamental ceramics (Vama), horn and brush - ornamental ceramics (Vama and Lăpuş), graphite ceramics (Vama and Valea Izei), ceramics painted by brush (Baia Sprie and Baia Mare).
      Its centre and nationality are not precise. It started in the 19th century and linked Ţara Oaşului to Northern Bucovina; large quantities can be found in Valea Izei in Maramureş at the beginning of the 20th century. Using graphite paintings, white background and colors like: emerald green, chrome, lemon yellow and black, it makes this type of ceramics similar to the Byzantine ceramics brought through Moldavia, but also to the Slovak ceramics.

      The iconography in Maramureş has a long and rich tradition; it specialized in icons painted on wood. Though there are certain canons in Romanian iconography, the Byzantine type is special with the more humane and realist approach to characters.
      It is common knowledge that in Nicula, Cluj and in Maramureş, people painted the first icons on glass, in the middle of the 18th century. This technique is closely related to workshops for molding glass. The creators of these icons on glass are Romanian's peasants, who have little knowledge but succeeded in creating very valuable masterpieces; they are still displayed in all big museums in the country and in private collections and also abroad.

      Anywhere in Maramureş, but in other areas inhabited by Romanians, as well, spring is the season when nature comes back to life, when people begin working their lands, their main occupation.
      It is celebrated on St. George's day, April 23rd, in all the villages from Maramureş. The main custom is wetting, which is a fertility and fecundity ritual.
      The custom is still practiced today in the villages in the valley of Mara: Hărniceşti, Foteni, Sat Şugatag and celebrates the most hardworking man in the villages who has begun ploughing. He is symbolically carried on the double carriage pole which is adorned with green twigs and colored ribbons. It is pulled by lads on the village streets, up to the river Mara, where, symbolically water is sprinkled over the master of the house, while the following is said: "Mara, Mara, beautiful river, wash away all evil and bring us wellness, peace in the world, prosperity, tranquility in the country, wheat in the summer. Then, around the field, the following is said: "Majestic sun, watch over the field and warm up the seeds, so cornfields will grow." The custom then continues with a feast at the house of the celebrated one.
      The custom is present in all villages from Maramureş and it is celebrated from May 1st to May 15th, where flocks are organized, in order to go grazing on the mountains during the summer. Here, the sheep will be milked and milk will be measured; this will stand as measure for distributing dairy products from all three months, when the sheep are on the mountains. The celebration takes place on the hills around the village. People eat and drink, while listening to folk music.

      Christmas and New Year's Eve are holidays which people from Maramureş, as people all over the country look forward to and welcome openheartedly. This is why everything that is done during the 12 days of winter holidays (December 25th-January 7th) is always a good thing; there is also joy, optimism that manifests itself by beautiful Christmas carols that end with the best wishes for the host.
      Generally, the repertoire includes carols sung by children, youngsters and elderly. Some of the carols are religious and some tell of ancient customs. One example is the "A beautiful stag sings in the woods", which can be often heard in Vadu Izei.
      On Christmas Eve there is also the Viflaim - folkloric theatre played by groups of lads (20-30); it presets the moment the sheperds and magi appeared, announcing the birth of Jesus Christ and then the conflict with Herodes.
      For New Year's Eve and Epiphany, people design many masks. They measure up to 1 m in height, are placed on wooden poles and are dressed in worn-off clothes. They are then positioned somewhere very high or inaccessible in a girl's or lad's house, who was supposed to marry. These masks are like a warning; at the same time, the letter that the mask carries presents the person whom it is addressed to and makes people laugh.
      "Capra"(the goat) or "Ursul"(the bear) are present on the whole Romanian territory. They have only minor differences according to the specific area and even village. The group of masked people has 5 to 8 people; children and adults play the show and receive gifts in the end of their performance.

      The people from Maramureş still preserve some of the customs, referring to the most important events in life: birth, marriage, burial. Generally, the customs inside a family have a specific order, marking each event of one's life. The fundamental principle that structures this custom is that every man, in the essential moments of his life, goes from one status to another, form its present to a new existence that implies a new life form, another system of social relationships, other behaviors.

      These customs mark the main events in a man's life, which is the passing from the unknown world into to the white, familiar world. In order to become purified and integrated, the child must first be separated from its previous, that is the mother; this is why, in the first days after the birth, both mother and child shall be cared for by another person (the midwife) who will officiate the separation: the cutting of the umbilical cord, the first ritual bath, the swaddle, even the name of the child in special cases - if the child's life is in danger.
      In Maramureş, under normal conditions, the naming of the child is officiated at the same time as the christening; thus, the child is welcomed in the Christian society and family. The child was taken to the christening by the godmother and the midwife, then they came back home, where there was a celebration; all the friends of the family come, sing, eat and drink, wishing the health and happiness. Traditionally, the midwife and midwifery was a position, an honor, not a profession, as interpreted nowadays (nurse and she did not get any money or products).

      Nowadays, traditionally, marriage is a complex manifestation which puts together economic, legal, ritual and folk elements that form a big popular show in the village life. Any new family is an attraction for the whole rural community that participates to its success directly or indirectly, passively or actively.
      The three important moments of the wedding ceremony are: engagement (faith), wedding and wedding celebration. The engagement is officiated at the bride's house with few friends and family present. The wedding is the beginning of the wedding celebration: the bride and groom, each in her/his family gets ready for the wedding, the bride with her friends, the groom with his friends, singing typical songs for the moment.

      In Maramureş, as all over the country, the burial custom is the most conservative of all. Here we see the first 3 steps typical for any passing ceremony: departing from the living, the preparation for the passing and becoming part of the other world; reestablishing the social equilibrium that was broken by the departed one. In order to make peace with himself/herself, the dying man asks forgiveness from the family, neighbors and friends. The dying man's lasts wishes must be fulfilled out of respect, but also out of fear of unwanted consequences.

      It is 26 km away from Vadu Izei, on the Valley of Tisa River, on the road between Sighet and Satu Mare. The town is famous for its woolen handy craft, the Merry Cemetery from Săpânţa, which is famous all over the world, due to artists like Ion Stan Pătraş, who was a sculptor, painter and poet. He was very famous among fellow villagers and while still alive, sold thousands of crosses that were carved in, painted and with a brief description of the deceit's life. The vivid colors, the bass relief placed next to the description (sometimes funny or ironic), turned the cemetery into a humorous place, which makes it unique in the world: "The Merry Cemetery" from Săpânţa.

      Maramureş - ENTERTAINMENT:

      Itinerary of the Wooden Churches:Deseşti - Ieud - Bogdan Vodă - Bârsana - Giuleşi - Budeşti - Fereşti - Vadu Izei - Rozavlea - Rogoz sau pe ruta Sighetu Marmaţiei - Vadu Izei - Fereşti - Corneşti - Călineşti - Sârbi - Sat Şugatag Mânăstirea.
      Itinerary of crafts(chests making, tools and objects used for domestic purposes, carved and painted crosses, popular ceramics, wool and leather processing) throughout: Deseşti - Plopiş - Băiţa de sub Codru - Săpânţa - Vişeu de Jos- Sat Şugatag - Botiza - Fereşti - Călineşti.
      Tour trip of the treatement resorts: Ocna Şugatag - Băile Cărbunari - Băile Dăneşti - Băile Botiza - Băile Borşa.
      The Round Dance from Prislop - rural celebration and a folklore festival with the participation of bands from the counties of: Maramureş, Bistriţa-Năsăud and Suceava; in August at the Prislop Pass, situated 12 km from the city of Borşa.

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