I won’t tell you what to expect when you travel to Maramures from my imagination. Last week I have actually done that for you and other guests who are planning to come for a trip in summer and fall.
We already wrote about Maramures, what is there to see and why you should go. But that was a while ago. I wanted to see how the region changed, what’s new. To be very honest, I also wanted to try out the traditional guesthouses I know had opened in Botiza, one of the villages where you can have an authentic experience of the region.
So what did we find? In a few words: beautiful landscapes, wonderful accommodation, and extremely welcoming and warm people.
We stopped for a night nearby Alba Iulia, the city known for Romania’s unification in 1918. We strolled around the Alba Carolina citadel before heading towards the mountain villages nearby.
The morning after we woke up to an amazing view of this oddly shaped mountain.
Speaking of views, the week continued with beautiful, picture perfect images that I can only wish to wake up to more often. Here are some from Viseu and Botiza.
But while driving we also came across bee keepers, visited Mr Barsan and stopped by to visit some of the wooden churches that make Maramures famous and that are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The places of accommodation we found? I’ll tell you this: you will get more than what you’ll expect when looking from the outside. Centuries old traditional wooden houses have been tastefully restored to allow guests to enjoy their stay in authentic locations while having excellent levels of comfort. Whether in Breb or Botiza, you can actually choose from the various guesthouses depending on what you expect your experience to be.
We ended our trip with the loveliest of drives coming down from Maramures into Transylvania on a narrow mountain road, crossing very few cars and enjoying the views. Our last night before returning home was in Cluj, the NW gateway into Transylvania, home to more than 80.000 students, bubbling with life, and very inviting to stay for longer.
As the week starts and so many memories from this trip are still very fresh on my mind, I can only plan to travel to Maramures again later this year. I’d recommend you do the same 😉
In the rush of today’s world, many connections get lost with time due to drastic changes that follow, or are purely forgotten because the battle of tomorrow’s worries knocks at our doors. One of those connections which has not only been forgotten, but purposely severed as well, is the one between the Romanian individual and his horse.
From immemorial times, the horse has been a friend of the Romanian individual, his companion, and a symbol of courage and freedom. From fairy tales, to songs and to the real world, the horse has accompanied the Romanian individual everywhere: fieldwork, travels, battles, or just pure walks along the plains of the earth. Thanks to this companionship between the two, the horse has become a symbol of its own in Romanian culture.
Proof of this connection and journey together throughout the times comes from early ages, where we can see the horse being present in the “Danubian rider” legend, such rider belonging to the Geto-Dacian culture, the Romanians’ ancestors, and follows the individual along in his journey until present times.
One of the most renown man in Romanian history, Michael the Brave, known not only for his great leadership skills, but for his bravery and strong spirit, who also managed to unite all the Romanians under one ruling, is always pictured along his horse.
In any parts of Romania you’ll go, when you’ll see his statue, you’ll notice that he is almost always pictured alongside his horse, riding it, once again proof between the Romanian individual and his companion, the steed. One would get to think that this connection between the two is sacred.
Likewise, the horse is omnipresent in Romanian fairy tales at all times, where it accompanies the Romanian hero – such as Făt Frumos – all throughout his challenges, and even undergoing some itself (like eating hot coals), so he can be of great use and help to the hero.
The horse is so deeply rooted in Romanian culture that we can even find songs that has it as a subject, one of the most well-known Romanian songs being “Fir-ai tu sa fii de murg”, where the artists Liviu Vasilica tells a story about how he cannot sell his studhorse, no matter how much he’d want, preferring rather to do anything else than to sell it.
We can once again take notice of this very deep connection between the two beings – the Romanian individual and his horse -, and we can observe how even though both of them come from different planes of existence, their spirits intertwine and form a profound communion, one that would become such symbol over the years, that will transcend time itself and be talked about even in the books of history.
It’s this link between the two and its sacredness that was used by the communists against the Romanians, back when the regime got installed, and the collectivization process started.
Given what the horse symbolized for the Romanian individual, and their connection, it quickly became a public enemy of the regime. If one possessed horses, not only this would mean an economical value, but given its socio-affective value it would mean that the individual possesses some sort of mental strength against the regime. People would rather separate from their lands than from their horses. And this couldn’t be possible.
That is when the Romanian individual’s spirit took the biggest hit: in order to mentally break him, thousands of horses were killed, and so what was viewed then as a symbol of freedom and resistance against the regime, was now just a painful memory.
The Romanian individual and his horse have gone through a lot since then, and even now, they still do. The last remaining wild horses from Letea forest, Danube Delta, were few years ago under great danger of being killed to serve as raw meat for the industry, but thanks to great Romanian individuals, they have been saved and now roam free.
And so, even though this special connection between the two seems very much severed, actions such as these show us that the link is still there, and whenever one is in danger, the other comes to the rescue, and for a moment, the connection is made again.
In a world where speed and technology is all we find around us, where the connection with the land beneath our feet seems to be more and more severed, many times making us look like walking zombies, there’s still someone who stands firm in his convictions and connection to the world around us: the Romanian peasant.
“Eternity was born in the village” says one of the most famous quotes by Romanian philosopher, poet, playwright and novelist, Lucian Blaga. In his poem “The Soul of the Village”, Blaga talks about the scenery of the Romanian village and its connection to the Romanian peasant, where “every thought is slower,/ and the heart throbs more slowly,/ as if it beats not in your breast/ but deep down somewhere in the earth”.
In Romania, the village is considered the heart and the soul of the country, the Romanian peasant combining simplicity in his way of living with kindness, keeping thus alive the moral and spiritual values that have been passed down from generation to generation, making him and his way of living a symbol of the link between Heaven and Earth. As priest Dumitru Stăniloaie – a great connoisseur of the Romanian soul -, used to say: “The biggest two passions of the Romanian peasant are the earth and faith (heavens)”.
The understanding the Romanian peasant has over the world and the very land he stands on, is deeply grounded in his connection with the spiritual world, given that between these two worlds there is no breach: As above, so below; as it is on Heavens, so on Earth. The Romanian peasant lives his live in accordance to these two simple rules, and this is from where his soul stillness, his balance comes from. Ovidiu Papadima emphasizes that the Romanian peasant “considers God’s right both the earthly world, and the heavenly one. This is why he will never see them fighting, but harmonizing in a deep interpenetration”.
This culture the Romanian peasant has built still remains strong in Romania, like in no other parts of Europe. Here, the traditions along with the traditional craft and original customs, the music and folk costumes talk about an intense spirituality, that together with the rich history and landscapes to die for, gives Romania a unique, special and irreplaceable environment.
The Romanian peasant considers, quoted by Ernest Bernea in a collections of sayings, that: “The world is as God left it; as it is, that’s how it holds itself, has a natural order, can’t you see?”. From here, we can see that he feels deeply about the natural order of things, and his role within it, as he is an observer of this order and tries his best to not meddle with it, but do his part in the process of harmonization.
That is why, the Romanian peasant never considered himself owner of the land he possessed, but saw it as a gift from God to work with, in order to keep the good living and natural order of things, a good that was to be used for him and his community, as he was taught that the owner of everything he has it’s not him, nor his neighbor, but God itself, this teaching making out of the Romanian peasant a person with a great sense of sharing and belonging, at the same time. Is this very connection with both the Heavens and the Earth that gave birth to the well-known hospitality of the Romanian people.
Sadly, nowadays, with the rapid development of technology and urbanization, this connection is at risk of being severed for good, as the Romanian peasant is forced to transition to a new status. It’s not the first time this has happened, as the same thing happened back when the Communist regime was installed.
The Romanian peasant was stripped away of his land and forcibly displaced to the city, where he would become nothing more than a “production unit”, the system thus severely rupturing the organic connection between the Romanian peasant and his land, turning him into something that he was not, something that was against his own natural self.
Although Communism has long fallen, the Romanian peasant’s status still remains the same: he is at great risk of losing that connection he had for millennia because the world nowadays is too preoccupied with speed and technology, something that stands in antithesis with the organic connection between the Romanian peasant, the Earth beneath his feet and the pace at which the natural order of things happens.
Is he a “species on the verge of extinction”, is his connection to Heaven and Earth going to be severed for good? That is something we cannot tell for certain, and all that remains for us is to witness how these changes that we’re undergoing nowadays, are going to take effect.
But what we can tell for sure is that, if his connection is severed, the symbol of the link between Heaven and Earth will disappear, and along with it, the harmony that for so many millennia he has fought to preserve.