Wooden Churches of Maramures (1999)

Back to index

These eight churches are outstanding examples of a range of architectural solutions from different periods and areas. They show the variety of designs and craftsmanship adopted in these narrow, high, timber constructions with their characteristic tall, slim clock towers at the western end of the building, either single- or double-roofed and covered by shingles. As such, they are a particular vernacular expression of the cultural landscape of this mountainous area of northern Romania.

Districts of Bārsana, Budesti, Desesti, Ieud, Sisesti, Poienile Izei, Tārgu-Lapus; Maramureş County, Region of Transylvania. 

The most elaborate structures of the Maramures-region are the wooden churches, mostly built during the eighteenth century when this Gothic-inspired architecture reached its height.  Originally founded upon huge blocks of wood rather than stone, they rear up into fairytale spires or couch beneath humpbacked roofs, and are generally sited on the highest ground in the village to escape seasonal mud. 

There is a strong tradition of building wooden churches right across Eastern Europe, from Karelia and northern Russia all the way to the Adriatic, but in terms of both quality and quantity the richest examples are in Maramures.  From 1278 the Orthodox Romanians were forbidden by their Catholic Hungarian overlords to build churches in stone, and so used wood to ape Gothic developments.  In general, the walls are built of blockwork (squared.off logs laid horizontally) with intricate joints, cantilevered out in places to form brackets or consoles supporting the eaves.  

The location of the six wooden churches depicted on stamps is shown on the map.

Most of the Maramures churches were rebuilt after the last Tatar rid in 1717, acquiring large porches and tall towers, often with four corner-pinnacles, clearly derived from the masonry architecture of the Transylvanian cities.  

Romania 1997. Surcesti Wooden Church. Romania 1997. Plopis Wooden Church. Romania 1997. Bogdan Voda Wooden Church. Romania 1997. Rogoz Wooden Church. Romania 1997. Calinesti Wooden Church. Romania 1997. Birsana Wooden Church.

Since 1989 there as been a renaissance of the Uniate (Greco-Catholic) faith, repressed under Communism and forcibly merged with the Romanian Orthodox Church;  many parishes have reverted to Greco-Catholicism, reclaiming their churches, while in other villages one church is now Orthodox and the other Uniate.  In addition many villages have started to build large new churches;  because services are so long, it's not possible to cope with demand by having several services on a Sunday, and thus most of the women and children have to remain outside the small wooden churches, following proceedings inside either by pressing an ear to the wall or by a small loudspeaker. 

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in Romania (on this web site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Romania-Section, for further information about the individual properties. 

Back to index

Revised 21 jul 2006  
Copyright © 1999 Heindorffhus 
All Rights Reserved