The Wooden Churches of Maramureş in the Maramureş region of northern Transylvania are a group of almost one hundred churches of different architectural solutions from different periods and areas. They are Orthodox churches. The Maramureş churches 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.
Maramureş 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 Maramureş as near to a living museum as can be found in Europe.
The wooden churches of the region that still stand were built starting in the 17th century all the way to 19th century. Some were erected 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, some are quite small and dark inside but several of them have impressive measures. They and painted with rather "naïve" Biblical scenes, mostly by local painters. 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.
Eight of them have been listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999, for their religious architecture and timber construction traditions. These are: Bârsana, Budeşti, Deseşti, Ieud, Plopiş, Poienile Izei, Rogoz, Şurdeşti.
The historical Romanian region of Maramureş, 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 Maramureş 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 Maramureş today almost 100 wooden churches still stand, 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 Maramureş 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.
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