Maramureş is, even for Romanians, a place of which many have heard of but very few have ever set foot into. Those who have, never forget it. They could not, for Maramureş is a place unlike any other in Romania, of for that matter, in the world. It is, perhaps, the last living museum of Europe, where time has been, for centuries, almost frozen and traditions, values and way of life have remained largely unadulterated. Geographically isolated in the northernmost part of the country, the small region of Maramureş was the last part of Dacia to be occupied by the Romans two millennia ago. Its isolation has endured over centuries (even today it takes more than 14 hours by train from Bucharest) and explains the presence of traditions long disappeared in other parts of Romania.
The tourist daring to venture that much North in Transylvania will be dazzled to discover not only a beautiful, largely still intact nature, but a veritable land of wood that comes to life through wooden houses, gates and churches - and their inhabitants. They - morosenii, as they are called - are uniquely known for their hospitality. They may look very poor by any modern standards - after all they live an agrarian, almost subsistence life, centered upon the hard working of a land that does not let itself easily cultivated. However, visiting Maramureş, you get the opposite view: a land rich not only in splendid natural beauties and cultural life, but also teeming with activity and with an unbridled love of life, hard as it may be.
I left Maramureş when I was 18, heading to places with more opportunities. Ironically, as a child, I hardly had the chance to stroll around the many villages strewn across the valleys of the many rivers crossing the land. Back then, Maramureş seemed a huge place while my native town, Sighetu Marmaţiei, looked like the center of the world. After all, it was surrounded by several dozen villages which regarded it as a central hub for their trade and life.
I never gave up on the hope of being able to visit the region one day: the summer of 2009 gave me the window I had always hoped for. Together with my wife Cristina and my two trusted Nikons, I strolled across the county for more than two months in the summer of 2009, by foot, absorbing as much as I could of the people and a land which I knew are too beautiful to last indefinitely.
It has been an unforgettable journey, mixed with joy and sorrow. Joy, for having rediscovered the people of the land, the beauty of the still largely unspoiled scenery and of the myriad wooden crafts of the locals, like wooden houses, gates and century old churches. Sorrow, for realizing that what centuries and communism have not managed to alter is quickly being destroyed by just two decades of savage, post-communist, ill understood economic and touristic development.
But ultimately Maramureş is so beautiful because of its people - the preservers of traditions, crafts and century old ways of life. I have met artisans, wood sculptors and carvers, priests and regular locals with whom I have shared a glass of pălincă, a talk on the edge of the village road or a hitch-hiking ride back to Sighet at the end of a tiring but beautiful day. I have learned something from each of these simple, good natured people. This photographic journey is about them.