After beginning to accept the industrial grittiness of so many of Romania’s cities, and after coming to take for granted the imposing block structures of the communist era apartment buildings - Maramureş was a medieval delight!
This far northern region of Romania, nestled up against the Ukrainian and Hungarian borders, seems not to have changed much in centuries. Sheep roam the hills and the beautifully crafted wooden homes exhibit intricately carved eaves, doorways and windows. Even the fences surrounding the family compounds are often of woven wood, with branches artistically intertwined. The massive gateways that lead to each family’s compound are equally impressive with their detailed woodwork. And this is a vibrant woodworking tradition, still being practiced today by the region’s many talented traditional wood carving artists.
But for utter grandeur, the towering spire of each village’s ancient wooden church cannot be surpassed. Starting in 1278, the Orthodox Romanians were forbidden by their Catholic Hungarian overlords to build churches of stone. And so the wooden tradition began. Including powerful and brilliant wall paintings inside each wooden church. The dark and musty sanctuaries, with their traditional icons hanging in place and the engaging wall paintings, were incredibly peaceful and awe
Most of the famed wooden churches are situated on the highest point of the town with the town cemetery cascading down the hillside toward the the village. And in one of those cemeteries we experienced the essence of hospitality in Maramureş. Throughout the year there are regularly scheduled dates when the village gathers at the cemetery to tend to and take care of this hallowed ground. We were fortunate to be passing through one village on that special day. And while most the villagers cleared fallen branches and raked the falling leaves, a merry band of elderly ladies went from work crew to work crew, sharing the local doughnut (gogoşi) and the powerful local brandy (ţuică). As we approached the cemetery, they scurried over our way and in effervescent and jubilant Romanian offered us the hospitality of the village. Now 9:00 am seemed a bit early to start in on some sinus clearing ţuică, but when it comes to Romanian hospitality, you just can’t say no! And the warmth of our interactions that morning, while perhaps inspired by the ţuică, was much more deep and pleasing than ţuică could ever be.
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