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Wood civilisation

Mara-Cosău-Creasta Cocoșului, as with the entire historical Maramureș, distinguishes itself with the prevalence of wood in constructions (houses with specific gates and annexes, churches), in traditional machines and installations, and in objects and tools used in everyday life. The wood harvested for centuries from the vast surrounding forests, the construction techniques and the artistic work by which the wood acquired spiritual and historical values, but also the sculpting and painting offered the world a wood civilisation like nowhere else.

What does this wood civilisation encompass?


Traditional housing (gospodării)


The trademark of households and other traditional constructions in this area is their perfect integration in the village and natural landscape. The housing complexes reflect the agri-pastoral specific of the area and they are lively aggregates with the main house as a nucleus, having three main rooms and a tall shingled roof. Around the house there are usually several adjacent constructions, each having a precise purpose; they are harmoniously placed, according to ancient customs, in the yard which is surrounded by a fence made of walnut twigs. The whole complex is “guarded” by the typical Maramureș gate made of carved wood, featuring solar, zoomorphic and religious protective symbols and a frontispiece with the year of the construction and an illustration of the main family occupations.

The locals are from the oldest times free people, the majority of which having had the title of noblemen – nemeși (one of the most common names in the region is Nemeș), so they were able to lead life as they could and wished.

The housing complexes have an open character, which means we can fully admire from the alley the components and the stylistic characteristics of the constructions. The people of Maramureș are so sociable and generous that it is very likely that you’ll be invited in their garden and offered a glass of horincă – a traditional drink (a strong fruit liquor) – and some homemade cheese, as they engage you in a fascinating conversation about life, filled with words of wisdom, stories and humor which show the simple, but remarkable intelligence of these people.

Unfortunately though, the traditional constructions and architecture, which are true values of the Maramureș villages, lose more and more ground to new buildings which are impersonal and void of history, made of ”modern” materials. This is why, in order to find old housing complexes and authentic houses with their original gates, we have to look for them; the places where we can (still) enjoy these sights are Breb, Hoteni, Sârbi, Budești, Călinești, with the condition to go off the beaten track.

Wooden churches


Sacred places and gathering points for debates and important decisions for the community, but also strategic points for keeping the surroundings (the village boundaries) under surveillance in case of invasions, fires and other dangers – churches have had a central place throughout the history of the village and they are present in every settlement in this area. Some small and humble, unknown by many, such as the one in the village Mănăstirea, others imposing, but snug on the inside and part of the UNESCO World Heritage, the churches of Mara-Cosău-Creasta Cocoșului are definitely points of interest which deserve a couple of hours of your staying here, but most importantly your patience and attention in order to understand the entire world they altogether conceal and represent.

UNESCO churches


Budești Josani – Saint Nicholas church, built in 1643, which shelters the chainmail shirt of the legendary outlaw Pintea the Brave (a local Robin Hood), but also a valuable collection of glass and wooden sacred icons dating from the XV and XII centuries. Most of the indoor paintings were made in 1762 by Alexandru Ponehalschi (probably the most famous artist of Maramureș at that time), in a unique manner: miniature biblical scenes with colourful frames. The church is also known for a construction detail not to be found in other churches in the area and which functioned as a clue that in the village there used to be a Council of the Wise Elders: we leave you to find it on your own. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas (6th December).

Entrance fee: 3 RON, and you need to ask across the street, at the City Hall, for the entrance key.

Desești – a church dating from 1770, dedicated to Saint Parascheva (14th October). The narthex painting depicts The Judgment Day and the image of Moses who leads people from different nations to Judgment. The altar stone has an interesting legend, and in the church’s graveyard you can find Celtic crosses.

Entrance fee: 2 RON, and the entrance key can be found at the priest’s house, behind the church.

Monument churches


The wooden church of the Holy Archangels located in Breb (historical monument dating from the XVIII century), the wooden church „The Birth of the Virgin Mary” located in Călinești Căieni (historical monument built in the XVII century, having in the narthex a painting picturing the boundaries of the soul, represented as a leader on which souls climb to heaven), the wooden church „The Birth of the Virgin Mary” from Călinești Susani (historical monument dating from the XVIII century), the wooden church Saint Nicholas in Cornești (historical monument dating from the XVII century), the wooden church Saint Nicholas located in Ferești (historical monument dating from the XVII century).

Traditional machines and installations


To satisfy their needs related to food, clothing and constructions, the locals proved to be inventive and to have engineering skills as they conceived various wooden installations powered by water from the Mara and Cosău rivers and their tributaries. They constructed traditional mills to crush the grains and to obtain flour, oil installations to crush sunflower and pumpkin seeds, threshers to process the grains, traditional wooden whirlpools to wash clothes, machines for processing wool, installations to prepare homemade drinks and special tools to cut the logs.

These machines and installations were usually built in complexes with one of each, for efficiency reasons and to increase the income they brought to the owners. Given that the Cosău river has a grater flow than the other water streams in the area, most of the installations were built on this river. You can still see them in Călinești, Sârbi, Budești, Ferești and Văleni. As traditional occupations are not of interest anymore to the locals and due to the modernisation of the village, many of the tens of installations in the area were abandoned, disassembled or “upgraded” with metal pieces to last longer.

The best occasions to visit the churches are on Sundays, on holy days and the churches’ celebration days, when the locals gather for ceremonies in their traditional costume.

by flavius frantz | eeessential.tools