When visiting for the first time a region, the tourists’ expectations are to benefit of good services, find suitable accommodation, and enjoy the picturesque landscape. In order to learn about the most interesting material and spiritual goods of the local people they will certainly plan to visit the existing museums.
Those who come to Maramures will be surprised to discover that almost each village is in itself a living museum, populated with people whose life unfolds quite naturally among the “exhibits”. Each settlement seems to be a “village museum”, with unpaved lanes, guarded on either side by farmhouses and outbuildings made entirely of wood – genuine monuments of folk art and architecture.
The traditional homestead in Maramures bears the specific local stamp (as concerns materials, architecture, and ornaments); it is a brand due to its originality and unique character in comparison with “reservations” of this type from other regions. And it will continue to be a brand when the rural traditionalism disintegrates in the future (as certain tendencies already predict), and the tourists will admire these homesteads only in the enclosures of specialized open-air-museums.
The traditional farmhouse and the associate buildings were usually placed on two or three sides of the farmyard forming an architectural whole. Everything, from the base to the shingle roof, was made exclusively of wood.
Ethnologist Francisc Nistor (1977) writes that the buildings of the homestead are arranged according to precise rules which take into consideration first of all functionality, and it is the arrangement of the buildings that creates the architectural complex with an evident aesthetic effect.
For those who would like to approach with empathy this ethnographic micro-universe of Maramures, we will offer some technical, descriptive details and refer to the function of each component part of the homestead.
The barn and the stable become a complex construction only if the farmer’s social and economic status allows it. The wooden structure is always set on river boulders (or from a stone quarry), and the roof has invariably in four slopes.
The stable floor is made of thick wooden beams and the loft is placed only above the lateral compartments of the barn.
The barns have usually monumental doors so that a cart stacked with hay could freely pass. The barn serves also for storing tools and agricultural equipment: pitchforks, rakes, ploughs, harrows, yokes, accessories of the cart, and the vessels in which the fruit collected during the summer or autumn are fermented, becoming the raw material for the twice distilled alcoholic beverage called “horinca de Maramureş”.
The shed is a wooden construction made of four poles joined with oak twigs and covered with a two-sloping roof. It is used to store fire wood, the log for cutting wood, but also the cart, tools and agricultural equipment.
The hay store is made of four, about 7 meter long, wooden poles, joined on the upper and lower parts with square wooden bars. The roof has the form of a pyramid and slides up and down the poles according to the quantity of the hay. It is interesting that ethnologists have found such constructions (hay stores with sliding roofs) also in Nordic countries. For instance, in Holland they have the same structure as those in Maramures (P. Petrescu, 1969).
The wickerwork maize shed has trapezoidal form and is made of woven hazel or cornel wickers. The roof has four slopes and is made of twice fixed shingles.
The larder is used for storing foodstuffs and household objects. It has the form of a miniature (mono-cellular) house, with a porch, a door, but has no lateral windows.
On a homestead you can find one or two square draw-wells, set with round river boulders, either with a shadoof (usually), or a lifting wheel. There are also wells that are used by two households.
The traditional fences surrounding the farm are made of wickerwork (in the form of a braid or crown) and are covered with hay and shingle.
Riverside Technical Installations
“The life of a village does not unfold only in its cult buildings but also in the places where its living inhabitants can meet in order to remember and worship their ancestors; it does not unfold only on the farmstead or in individual houses, but also in the places where there are installations that belong either to a family or to the whole village community. These are: mills, fulling mills, and whirlpools etc., which used to play an important part in the life of the villagers in Maramures and they still do nowadays” (Francisc Nistor, 1980).
Whatever makes these installations spectacular and famous is the ingenuity of the technical systems made entirely of wood, even in their mechanical parts.
The most simple and archaic installations were those worked manually and used for milling the grains (hand-riding mills). For the crushing of the seeds and the obtaining of edible oil there were manual presses with either a ram or a screw.
As old as these and used on a large scale are the hydraulic installations due to the existence of many rivers and streams in the region. Among these the grain mills, the whirlpools and sawmills are of most interest.
Usually, the mills and the whirlpools make a complex and are situated on river courses with a reduced flow of water. In the middle of the 20th century, in the basins of the rivers Tisa, Iza, and Vişeu, 276 such technical installation were registered, while in the basin of Lăpuş, 144 mills. There are documents from as early as the 14th century in which they are mentioned as part of “an ancient hydraulic civilization in the north of the Danube” (Corneliu Bucur, 2005).
The technology of the construction of mills was identical with that of house building, with the only exception that the foundation of the wall near the wheel was higher. The water was brought to the wheel by a deviation of its course. The wheels (with pots and teeth) were fixed on an axel. The diameter of the millstones was about a metre.
But what mostly impress visitors are the whirlpools, genuine A+ class washing machines. These are installed in the historical Land of Maramures (in the Cosău valley, at Rona de Sus, Dragomireşti and Glod) and also in the Rona – Lăpuş area, and in the Land of Chioar at Preluca Nouă, Boiu Mare, Şişeşti, Şindreşti, Coplanic, Fânaţe, Ciocotiş, and Chiuzbaia.
The whirlpools, traditional installations which function on the hydraulic principle, are used for the washing and rinsing of large dimension textiles. They are conical constructions, made of wood logs, in which the water produces a powerful current (A. Viman, 1989). The water is collected from a mountain stream and is brought to the whirlpool with the help of a dam, so that the flow can be regulated periodically, according to the seasonal rainfall. The water falls in the wooden washtub where the various woollen textiles are cleaned and fulled. Many townspeople have lately taken their jute, woollen or synthetic carpets and also their winter clothes made of thick fabrics to be washed in the whirlpool. This entitles one to hope that the traditional whirlpools will remain of interest in the future, integrated in a profitable economic system.
The advantage of these installations, besides their belonging to tradition, is the ecological aspect and principle of their functioning and exploitation: the use of “green energy” as an alternative source. The more so, as recently, with the installation of upstream micro-hydroelectric stations which could provide homesteads with the necessary electric energy, the whirlpools have been integrated in a complex energetic system.