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Wooden Churches of Maramures

The Maramures wooden churches in Northern Transylvania are a selection of eight examples of different architectural solutions from different periods and areas. They are Romanian Greek-Catholic or Orthodox churches. They are high timber constructions with characteristic tall, slim bell towers at the western end of the building. They are a particular vernacular expression of the cultural landscape of this mountainous area of northern Romania.

Maramures is one of the better-known regions of Romania, with autonomous traditions since the Middle Ages - but still not much visited. Its well-preserved wooden villages and churches, its traditional lifestyle, and the local colourful dresses still in use make Maramures as near to a living museum as can be found in Europe.

The famous wooden churches of the region were built during the 17th and 18th centuries, on the place of older churches. They are a response to a prohibition against the erection of stone Romanian churches. The churches are made of thick logs, are quite small and dark inside, and painted with rather "naïve" Biblical scenes. The most characteristic features are the tall tower above the entrance and the massive roof that seems to dwarf the main body of the church.

Some of them have been listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999, for their religious architecture and timber construction traditions.

The historical Romanian region of Maramures, partitioned between Romania and Sub-Carpathian Ukraine after the Second World War, is one of the places where traditional log building was not interrupted and where a rich heritage in wood survives. The tradition of building wooden churches in central and southern Maramures can be traced from the beginning of the 16th century to the turn of the 18th century. Since the knowledge used to build the local wooden churches circulated throughout Europe, their understanding is of high interest far outside the region.

In Maramures today 42 wooden churches remain, about one third of their total two centuries ago. Besides the extant wooden churches, a major source of knowledge is still saved by a number of practicing senior carpenters with relevant knowledge and skills in traditional carpentry.

From the Middle Ages until the turn of the 18th century the skills, knowledge and experience to build ample log structures with plane and well sealed walls, as well as with flush joints, were performances out of the ordinary. The craftsmen from Maramures who were able to reach such levels were not simple peasants but well specialised church carpenters who inherited and maintained this advanced knowledge to exclusively build houses of worship.

Since the local tradition to erect wooden churches depended on those who built and used them, it is fundamental to identify the local builders and founders. The earlier blurred distinction between them veiled their separate roles in shaping the wooden churches and hindered us from a clear understanding of the results.

The extant wooden churches from Maramures reveal the existence during the 17th and 18th centuries of at least two main family schools of church carpenters. There are further distinguishable three main itineraries and numerous smaller ones, indicating the work of some of the most important church carpenters ever active in the region and in some cases even shifts among generations. In general, the church carpenters stood for the technical performances, the high quality of the wood work and the artistic refinement.

In a long perspective, the true creators of the local wooden churches were actually the commissioning founders. Especially the role of the noble founders of Eastern Christian rite was decisive in the formation of a regional character among the local wooden churches. The wooden churches from Maramures closely mirror the local society of modest country landlords, manifesting themselves along several centuries in their double condition of Eastern Christians and Western nobles.

The wooden churches from Maramures open necessary connections with similar performances throughout Europe. Seemingly the local distinction made between sacred and profane rooms was characteristic for many other rural regions on the continent. The highest knowledge in log building seems to have had a sacred purpose with wide continental circulation and therefore in many places requires distinction from the more regionally rooted vernacular one.

The list shows extant wooden churches and also includes some known vanished ones. For those now in Ukraine, Romanian and Hungarian names of Ukrainian villages are given in (parantheses). In Romanian, Susani denotes "high-dwellers" and Josani "lower-dwellers". Thus the names distinguish the churches of those large villages which had more than one.

Cosau valley: Budesti Susani (Budfalu in Hungarian), Budesti Josani (UNESCO), Calinesti Caeni (Felsö Kalinfalu in Hungarian), Calinesti Susani, Cornesti (Somfalu in Hungarian), Feresti (Fejerfalu in Hungarian), Sarbi Susani (Szerfalu in Hungarian), Sarbi Josani

Mara valley: Berbesti (Bardfalu in Hungarian), Breb (Breb in Hungarian), Desesti (Desze in Hungarian) (UNESCO), Harnicesti (Hernecs in Hungarian), Hoteni (Hotinka in Hungarian), Manastirea, Sat Sugatag (Falu Sugatag in Hungarian)

Iza valley: Manastirea Barsana (Barczanfalva in Hungarian), Botiza (Batiza in Hungarian), Botiza old, Cuhea (Bogdan Voda at present, Konyha in Hungarian), Dragomiresti (Dragomerfalva in Hungarian), Glod, Ieud Deal (Jod in Hungarian), Ieud Ses, Nanesti (Nanfalu in Hungarian), Oncesti (Vancsfalva in Hungarian), Poienile Izei (Sajo Polyana in Hungarian) (UNESCO), Rozavlea (Rozavlya in Hungarian), Salistea de Sus, Nistoresti, Salistea de Sus, Buleni, Sieu (Sajo in Hungarian), Slatioara (Szlatinka in Hungarian), Stramtura (Szurdok in Hungarian), Valea Stejarului (Disznopatak in Hungarian)

Viseu valley: Borsa din Jos (Borsa in Hungarian), Craciunesti (Karacsonfalu in Hungarian), Moisei Josani, Manastirea Moisei (Mojszen in Hungarian), Moisei Susani, Poienile de sub Munte (Ruszpolyana in Hungarian), Repedea (Ruszkirva in Hungarian), Rona de Jos (Felsö Rona in Hungarian), Valeni (Mikolapatak in Hungarian

Ukrainian side: Apsita (Voditsa in Ukrainian, Felso-Apsa-Apsicza in Hungarian), Apsa de Mijloc, Susani (Sredneye Vodyanoye is Ukrainian, Kozep Apsa in Hungarian), Apsa de Mijloc, Josani, Apsa din Jos, Parau (Verkhnye Vodyane is Ukrainian, Also-Apsa in Hungarian), Danylovo (Danilesti in Romanian, Sofalva in Hungarian), Dulovo (Duleni in Romanian, Dulfalva in Hungarian), Ganychi (Ganesti in Romanian, Ganya in Hungarian), Kobyletska Poliana (Poiana Cobilei in Romanian and Gyergyanliget in Hungarian), Kolodne (Darva in Romanian and Hungarian), Krainykovo (Mihalka in Hungarian, formerly Steblivka between 1919-1938 and 1945-1946, Crainiceni in Romanian), Neresnytsia (Neresnita in Romanian, Also Neresznicze in Hungarian), Nyzhnie Selyshche (Salistea de Jos in Romanian, Also Szelistye in Hungarian), Olexandrivka (Sandreni in Romanian, Sandorfalva in Hungarian), Ruska Pole I (Domnestii Mari in Romanian, Urmezo in Hungarian), Ruska Pole II, Sokyrnytsia (Saclanta in Romanian, Szeklencze in Hungarian), Steblivka (Dubosari in Romanian, Szaldobos in Hungarian), Ternovo (Tarnova in Romanian, Kokenyes in Hungarian)

Budesti Josani church
The church of Saint Nicholas in Budesti Josani ("Lower Budesti") in the village of Budesti in the region of Maramures, Cosau valley in Romania is representative of the characteristic wooden churches of Maramures with double eaves. It is one of eight wooden churches of Maramures that UNESCO has listed as a World Heritage Site.

The wooden church at Budesti Josani was dated by an inscription on the portal from 1643. Unfortunately the inscription was lost during the enlargement of the entrance in 1923. The inscription was verified dendrochronologically and the log structure was firmly dated from the winter 1642-43, i.e. the moment the timbers were felled. This church appears to have been built by the same master carpenter who built the wooden churches at Slãtioara (before 1639) and Sarbi Susani (1639).

Desesti is a commune in Maramures County, Romania. Its Church of Pious Parascheva was built in 1770 and is one of eight Wooden Churches of Maramures that are listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Poienile Izei is a commune in Maramures County, Romania. Its church of Pious Parscheva was built in 1604 and is one of eight Wooden Churches of Maramures that are listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.