Romania: Maramures is a rural fairytale
Sarah Shuckburgh travels through space and time to Maramures and an ancient Romanian way of life.
I wake to the sound of crowing, clanking and lowing. As chickens peck in the dust just beneath my window, a dozen cows are shuffling through the village, their bells a discordant jangle. At each house, another cow joins the throng. Like a dog-walker or childminder, one villager is taking his neighbours’ cows off for a day’s grazing.
This is the village of Hoteni in Maramures, one of the remotest corners of the European Union, where villagers have preserved a way of life which most of the continent cast off centuries ago. Too far from Bucharest for its identity to be crushed by Ceausescu, this isolated part of Romania has clung to its rural heritage and to its unspoilt pastures and forests. Visiting Maramures is an extraordinary experience, like walking into a fairy tale or stepping back into medieval Europe.
Hoteni sits among hillsides of poplar, beech and flowering ash. Beyond, lie snow-covered Carpathian peaks and spruce forests where bears and wolves still roam. Here, in the Land of Wood, traditional houses are made of timber, with steep shingled roofs, dovetail joints, wooden pegs and no nails. Gates are enormous, topped by a shingle roof, and with intricate woodcarvings of ropes, suns and wolves’ teeth to protect the family from harm. Every household has its own well, neatly hoed rows of vegetables and colourful pots and pans dangling from a tree, a local custom which began as a practical way to store cooking utensils in a home with no cupboards.
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