The History of Maramures

Maramures' history is ancient, enchanting and beautiful. It is a civilization and culture carved in wood and stone in word and soul.

There is evidence that this region was first settled as far back as 35,000 BC, the Superior Paleolithic era. Archaeological discoveries of this primitive society have been uncovered in the Iza Valley near the village of Nanesti.

Remnants from a Neolithic culture were discovered in many regions of Maramures. Artifacts were found around Sighetu-Marmatiei, Costiui, Oncesti, Cornesti and Giulesti. Some discoveries can be dated to 6,000 BC.

By the Bronze Age the region of Maramures was well settled, though due to the geography the population was quite sparse. Major archaeological discoveries have been found in more than twenty locations from the Bronze Age. This cultural establishment provides the first proof that the settlers of this region were of Gaeto-Dacian ancestry. During this time the lands of Maramures and much of modern Romania was the kingdom of Dacia.

At the height of the Roman Empire's power the Emperor Traian fought for new lands to feed his growing armies and subjects. With overwhelming numbers and the latest armaments the Romans invaded Dacia. Dacia's King Decebal led his people into battle to defend their land. The Dacians are said to have fought bravely, but in the end they could not match the might of the Romans. In 106 AD Dacia fell to the Roman Empire.

Maramures, defended not only by men but by mountains, remained free. These "Free Dacians" stayed in contact with their defeated brothers. They supported each other in exchanges of spiritual ideas as well as material goods.

During the following millennium most of modern day Romania was held in bondage by the Romans and other, no less ruthless, landlords. Maramures, hidden and well protected by its natural surroundings, flourished. Life continued here in an unchanging cycle of seasonal and spiritual events. Many of these ancient traditions continue undisturbed to this day.

The oldest known written document referring to Maramures was a deed written in 1199. The Hungarian King's Chancery, while hunting in Maramures, was nearly killed. A man named Comitele Lawentii saved the chancery's life. As a reward he was given title of the lands of Maramures.

Through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the presence of documents regarding Maramures increased substantially. From these documents it's been established that the population was organized into small feudal communities known as a "voievodat" (principality). The princes of these estates would send out dispatches and declarations to one another regularly referring to "Tara Maramuresului" (Maramures Country).

The most famous and most revered of these princes was Bogdan of Cuhea. In 1359 Bogdan led an army made up of Maramures villagers and crossed over the mountains to Moldova. There, Bogdan confronted another Maramures Noble, Blac. Blac's tyranny of the Maramures people was supported by the Hungarian King. Blac's influence and oppression had spread throughout Maramures and Moldova. After many fierce battles Bogdan was victorious. Blac was banished. Bogdan proclaimed himself prince and declared Moldova to be an independent state. In honor of his victories the town where he was from changed its name from Cuhea to Bogdan Voda.

Bogdan Voda thus became the first village in Maramures with a Romanian name. Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the majority of villages in Maramures changed or translated their names from Hungarian to Romanian as Bogdan and his descendants influence grew. By the seventeenth century the Chancery's documents note that the rest of the village names in Maramures were translated into Romanian.

Prince Bogdan had many homes in Maramures. In some of these villages where he lived were built great stone churches. In Bogdan Voda and Giulesti the remains of these churches can still be seen. And in Sighetu-Marmatiei its fifteenth century stone church still stands at the western end of the town center. Since its construction it has been rebuilt and is no longer Romanian Orthodox but Calvinist. None the less, it is one of the most impressive buildings in the Romanesque style of architecture.

Even older than these churches however are many of the wooden churches of Maramures. Those in Iued (1364) and Barsana (1391) are particularly impressive, as is the Peri Monastery (1391) in Sapanta.

During the fifteenth century increasing pressure was put on the people and the land of Maramures by their Hungarian overlords. In an attempt to weaken the local faith a decree stated Romanian Orthodox churches were not to be built of anything sturdier than wood. This gave rise to the most impressive architectural development in all of Maramures, the wooden churches. A culture of wood workers and craftsmen was born that lives to this day. From out of the ugliness of this law arose a uniquely creative and beautiful solution.

Recent arrivals of Hungarian and German colonists were stripping the land of its trees and salt leaving many areas barren and unusable by the local peasants. At the same time they evicted the peasants from their homes and farms. By the sixteenth century the number of peasants without land had increased to an angry and unstable number. Life became terribly difficult for the Maramures peasants.

As the situation worsened peasant uprisings became the norm. This culminated in the "Peasant War" of 1514 led by Gheorghe Doja. The revolt was brutally crushed by the occupying powers. Harsher measures were then implemented to extinguish future outbursts from the peasants.

In 1538 Maramures was fully annexed by Hungarian Transylvania, furthering the strong-armed tactics put in place after the "Peasant War." These new measures included forced religious conversion of the people to Calvinism.

In 1601 Mihai (the Brave) Viteatul, the ruler of Walachia ("Romanian Country"), united the three major principalities of Romania: Moldova, Transylvania and Walachia. To many it was the fulfillment of a dream, but it was not to last for long.

The fifteenth century had brought yet another occupying force to the horizon. Hungary began to lose its colonies including Maramures and then its own country to the Turks. By 1526 the nation of Hungary was defeated at the battle of Mohacs. For the next 150 years Transylvania and Hungary were controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Though Turk control was limited in Maramures it still had a great influence on the region's development.

By 1700 religious oppression was intensifying. To save Romania's Christian beliefs it was agreed to make the Romanian Orthodox Church a part of the Greco-Catholic Church. Doing so, it was believed, would bring Romania under the umbrella of the far more powerful church. It was protection that never came.

The eighteenth century was a time of constant battles and uprisings. Romania, like much of Eastern Europe, was trying to break free from the manacles of the Ottoman Empire, the Hapsburg Empire and many other powers. One of the most heroic and important of these uprisings was that led by Horia, Closca and Grisan. They led a brave fight against the Hapsburg army, but could not succeed against such overwhelming odds. They were captured, jailed in Vienna and brutally executed in Alba Iulia. They were the first martyrs of the newly emerging Romanian Nation.

The wave of revolutions that spread through Europe in 1848 crashed upon Romania as well. Never having completely succumbed to outside rule the Romanian people were eager to pull off the yoke of their occupiers. The revolution was ignited in the "Great Popular Crowd" in the town of Blaj.

On the 24th of January 1859, with the Turks losing ground, Moldova and Walachia were united into one Romania. By 1862 the Romanian government was installed in its new capital of Bucharest.

After 1860 Maramures underwent a massive campaign of cultural discrimination against non-Romanians. Schools only used the Latin alphabet and Romanian became the only language taught. Most importantly, at the college for teachers in Sighetu-Marmatiei, these practices were indoctrinated into the curriculum of each emerging teacher.

Outside of the schools, organizations were formed to promote Romanian nationalism. Two of the most prominent organizations were the Society for Romanian People's Culture and the Romanian Reading Society. Together with the schools Romanian nationalism was spreading throughout the new state all the way to the far off regions of Maramures.

Most people in Maramures participated in the Romanian Independence War from 1876 to 1877. The people willingly gave the effort anything they had, including their lives. Local heroes of the war included Captain Titus Dunca who was decorated with the Romanian Star and Filip Mihalca who received the medal of Military Virtue.

After three centuries of Turkish domination Romania had won its independence and was a free and sovereign state.

At the beginning of the First World War Maramures was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To regain its lands Romania fought against the German and Austro-Hungarian forces. For its support Romania was granted a part of Maramures at the war's end in the treaty of Alba Iulia. This treaty gave Romania its greatest size in its history.

For Maramures, however, this union actually meant a division. The new border was fixed on the Tisa River thus separating long time neighbors into different countries. Though devastating to some families it was a blessing to the region's capital of Sighetu-Marmatiei. Situated on the border, it became a trading hub in both legal and illegal goods.

The Second World War brought new troubles to the region. The Axis powers took control of all of Northern Transylvania and Maramures by order of the Dictate of Vienna. The Hungarian language was required in all governmental affairs. Martial law was adopted. People were routinely beaten, jailed and executed. Most horrific, the entire Jewish population of Sighetu-Marmatiei was evicted to Nazi Germany's concentration camps. This was elaborated in the writings of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Elie Wiesel, who was born in Sighet.

An act that points to the cruelty of the time happened near the end of the war. Axis troops were retreating from the village of Moisei. Before leaving, they put 31 men from the village in a house. The troops then fired into the house with machine guns killing all but two of them. Finally they burned the remaining houses in the village to the ground leaving 125 families homeless.

At the end of the war Maramures, once again, became a part of Romania. But Maramures and Romania were far from free. The Soviet army became the occupying force. Elections were falsified and the Romanian Communist Party took power. Its political enemies were deported, jailed or executed.

The prison in Sighetu-Marmatiei became The "Ministers Prison." Here were kept the intellectuals of Romania. Priests, writers, painters, poets and scholars were starved, tortured and killed. Only a stone's throw from the Soviet border, the prison was seen as a safe location for such "dangerous" people. Today it is a museum to the brutality that communism and its jail system inflicted on the people of Romania.

1947- King Mihai I of Romania was banished and the Republic was established.
1948- All major means of production and manufacturing became property of the state.
1949- The collectivization of farming began. It was ended in 1962.
1989- The Romanian Revolution overthrew the communist government. Romania became a democratic state.

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