In the picturesque county of Maramures, north Romania, the wooden churches mingle so much with the surrounding landscape that they seem to be planted, not constructed.  Eight of these monasteries are included in the UNESCO site list due to their original design, the interior paintings and the long resistance in time.

From the window of my guesthouse’s room in Baia Mare, I am listening to the morning mass that is taken part at the nearby church; it’s Easter time. When my mom calls me, there’s some coral music in the background. She thinks I am participating in the celebration and she’s happy about that. I feel kind of bad about not being completely honest with her about my relationship with God that day, so I want to turn things right. Before she even hangs up, I jump out of bed, pack, I do the check-out, throw the luggage in the car and I head it to a monastery.

Locals in the city of Baia Mare, dressed up for Easter time. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Locals in the city of Baia Mare, dressed up for Easter time. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

From Baia Mare, I drive some 10 km to Baia Sprie and from there another 10 to Surdesti. Slowly, I pass through small villages where the locals give me the feeling I am not a stranger to them: they salute me by weaving their head or their hand. Instead of turning on my GPS, usually, I prefer to stop and ask around if needed directions. Also, I am having a pit stop whenever a fascinating wooden carved door caught my eye.

I arrive in the village and I start searching for the old church, the one listed on the UNESCO site.

The church of Surdesti. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The church of Surdesti. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Dated 1721, this is the first building of its kind that I see. It amazes me its solidity, even though is old, its size – small, narrow but high, as well as the silence that reigns around the cemetery where is located in. Its tower ranges 52 meters and the total high is 72, which makes it the highest wooden construction in the world. I read all these information at the fence of the church, together with the phone number that visitors should call if they want to have someone opening the door for them. I call and within a minute a woman comes by. She is the one to help me to satisfy my curiosity about what was the reason for building such a tall tower: traditional local custom says that, as high the church is, as faster prayers will arrive at God. This could explain the connection between the tall monasteries and the well-conserved customs around Maramures.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Inside the church. Photo By Ovidiu Balaj
Inside the church. Photo By Ovidiu Balaj

I am sitting outside and I am admiring the surroundings when another tower caught my eye in the distance; that must be the church from Plopesti, the nearby village. I see a narrow alley that leads that way and I start walking towards.

I was not the only one admiring the surroundings of the monastery. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
I was not the only one admiring the surroundings of the monastery. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

I pass a green field, a farm and a few houses before I meet two villagers sitting in front of their houses. They confirm me I am heading in the right direction. I get to a wooden bridge, I pass it, I go further through a garden with plum trees, climb a hill and from the top of it I can clearly see the church of Plopesti.

The wooden bridge. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The wooden bridge. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The church of Plopesti. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The church of Plopesti. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Again, this one also is closed, but this time, I prefer to just watch it from the outside. I don’t feel like disturbing someone to open the church’s door for me. It is Easter, and in this time people are staying home with their families.

The front of the church. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The front of the church. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

I head it back on the same trail, following the church’s tower that rises above the village of Surdesti.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

There, I pick up my car and I hit the road to Budesti, some 30 km away. All the road goes up and down through green hills and forests with scenic views of the Maramures countryside.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

The streets of Budesti are so quite that it seems only the elders remained in the village. However, in front of the church, a few women are chatting while they are looking at some photos. Those were probably pictures with their children and nephews who came by to visit them. Many of the youngest in Maramures have left their families and went to live abroad for better salaries. Normally they would come back for the traditional Romanian celebrations and spend their holidays at home.

The back of the church. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The back of the church. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The entrance door of the church. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The entrance door of the church. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Of course, here the church is also closed at the time of visiting. But I am fine to just sit down and enjoy a picknick at the shadow of a tree nearby a grave covered with grass and flowers; this church is also located in the cemetery and, even is bizarre, I feel quite comfortable to have my lunch in there, as I remember my friend’s story about the Chinese feasts in cemeteries. There, on a specific celebration day, people are eating and drinking on their relative’s graves.

I wake up to reality when just behind the cemetery, I see a family, dressed up in traditional costumes, walking on the dusty road of the village.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Is the kind of image before I used to watch it only on TV. But here, this is common, is just part of the authentic local atmosphere. Again, I am wondering how come I’ve been waiting so long before coming and watching live this interesting movie.
I feel I’m beginning to discover and appreciate this lively and colorful rural life of Maramures…

 

The first part of the trip you can read it here – http://garlictrail.com/on-the-wooden-monasteries-trail-in-maramures/

Showing 2 comments
  • brexit victim
    Reply

    dude, maramures is like an free-range alternative to a shrink or yoga…I was so impressed how easily I found tranquility. must do in life better then Moldova 🙂

    • Ovidiu Balaj
      Reply

      Should I organize a session?

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