Next Stop – Salistea de Sus, Maramures
After the dramatic Transalpina road and the various cities along the way, it was time to reach our Northern destination, Maramures. For years I have heard accolades about the traditions and the people here and it was time to discover for ourselves. We spent three days around the Iza Valley and lodged in the village called Salistea de Sus. Being new to the area there were plenty of things to see absolutely everywhere. The scenery alone was a beautiful green with hills and mountains surrounding the place. We only scratched the surface of what can be done but there were enough highlights to share:
Merry Cemetery – Sapanta
We started the tour with a visit to the now famous Merry Cemetery in Sapanta. My experience with facing anything related to death has usually been extremely sober, heart wrenching and painful. If there was a balance scale with pain of losing someone on one side and celebrating their life on the other side, traditionally the pain would weigh the scale in for a long time. The transition from one side to another seems long and painful and the traditions in most of the other parts of the country would sustain this. Here, it felt different and original to see the poetry on each cross depicting the person, their job or the way they died. The colors as well brought a celebratory feeling to the place and subsequently to the people resting there.
Wooden Churches – Barsana and Salistea de Sus
Romania has a rich collection of Unesco monuments. The region Bucovina is famous for the outside painted monasteries and images from here are often used in travel brochures. I think Maramures is catching up with its different style from any other part of Romania I have visited. If anything is a sign of this being true, then the buses of tourists flocking around the area and being taken from one monastery/church to another is a sure tell. The churches we visited were wooden with really tall towers hovering over and as whole structures, quite elongated. They were built in beautiful spots usually surrounded by lots of green spaces, or on top of a hill. The new Barsana Monastery complex was indeed gorgeous, beautifully adorned with flowers and a location where young married couples come to shoot their wedding photos on a Saturday. In the Barsana village there is also the old Barsana Monastery, Unesco monument, well worth the visit for the paintings inside, slightly faded but quite powerful. The paintings in these locations seemed lighter, with an off white base that made them quite luminous and more open for admiring.
Folk Music Festivals – Hora de la Prislop in Borsa and Dor de Casa Parinteasca in Salistea de Sus
We didn’t plan to attend these events it was just a stroke of luck for our trip to coincide with them and take in a heavy dose of traditionalism. There is a worry that the new generation lost direction and there is no respect for tradition and history. Well I have good news for everyone: tradition and beauty is very much kept alive if you were present at any of these two events. There were multiple groups of young people ranging from 6 or 7 years and up at both events looking stunning in traditional wear from various regions of the country. They were happy and joyous to be representing a side of Romania that is not as popular as Dracula. I am sure if you want to help traditions be kept alive might as well give a donation to a folk group and invest some useful resources so teachers, kids and teenagers can continue with their endeavours. I went click happy around them and I took hundreds of photos of their clothing and dancing. The younger kids, the girls were absolutely stunning and they were so sweet to smile for me and pose a bit. The festival local to the village we were staying, in Salistea de Sus, was smaller in scale but still impressive. The occasion was an annual celebration for all the people with roots around the area to come back home and share music and dancing. With a great number of young people looking for opportunities in bigger cities either in Romania or internationally, it was great to see they would try and come back from all corners of the world to celebrate their original homes.
A couple of selections to celebrate the beauty of the young and of the wise.
When we set off from Satu-Mare, our friends there gave us a hand-written itinerary. It was put together by Vasile Leschian, a professor in Baia Mare with great passion for history and ethnography. He took the time to create a package for us full of suggestions. Next time we are around there I will make sure we meet him because I imagine he is a great source of interesting and fun stories. When I go to a place like Maramures I always have visions of great things to buy and bring them home to keep the travel alive. But when I get there, the many stalls or markets inundate me with merchandise and I can’t decide, ending up giving the whole thing up. This was not the case now since we had recommendations and we followed the suggestions given to us with excellent results. One is Sacel Ceramics – Ceramica Sacel for Dacic inspired ceramic. A sweet elderly lady let us in to look around and buy a couple of things. We also found out that what keeps her strong and active was a minimalist diet when she was young and did not have access to more food. The second one was Victoria Berbecaru in the village Botiza. We were looking through some of her work and she was kind to give us the story of each piece and its motifs. Together with group of ladies from the area, they revived the traditional ways of creating and weaving beautiful rugs with natural colours and with a 200 year life expectancy.
My romanticized vision of Maramures remains pretty intact and I will be more than happy to revisit and discover more in the future.
I asked Chris which photos he likes better for the post and he was adamant that the colored versions are better. And he was right there is no point losing the richness of the colors. But there was something about the B&W that reminded me of Ion by Liviu Rebreanu and I thought they deserved a show as well.