Maramureș, Romania & Ukraine

Maramureș – North Romania, West Ukraine

A general, tourist-oriented pictoral on Maramureș

Maramureș is the name of a county in Romania, and a region spanning Romania and Ukraine, with a contiguous geography, but a chequered history. Wikipedia says:

Maramureș is a valley enclosed by mountains – Oaș, Gutâi, Țibleș and Rodnei (northern section of the Inner Eastern Carpathians) to the west and south, Maramureș Mountains and central section of the Outer Eastern Carpathians to the east and north, with a thin opening at Khust. Several dozen small mountain rivers and creeks flow into the river Tisa. It is forested and not easily accessible…The mountains surrounding this region occupy more than half of the area. A few peaks reach above 2,000 m, such as Pietrosul (2,303 m) in the Rodnei Mountains to the south and Hovârla (2,061 m) in Muntele Negru (Cernahora) to the north…

In ancient times, this area was settled by Celts, Dacians, Sarmatians and Germanic peoples. In the first century BC, it was part of the Dacian Kingdom under Burebista, while in the early Middle Ages, it was ruled by the Hunnic Empire, the Kingdom of the Gepids, the Kingdom of the Avars, the White Croatia and the Kievan Rus’. The territory was part of the Kingdom of Hungary from the 11th century and was nominally divided between the Gyepű border region, comitatus of Szatmár and comitatus of Borsova.

In the 16th century, medieval Kingdom of Hungary was invaded and destroyed by the Ottoman Empire, and area came under administration of the semi-independent Ottoman Principality of Transylvania and later (in the end of the 17th century) under administration of the Habsburg Monarchy (later known as the Austrian Empire). During Habsburg administration, region was firstly part of the Habsburg Principality of Transylvania, but was later (in 1732) included into the Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary. In 1867, the Austrian Empire was transformed into the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary and the region was included into the Transleithania or Hungarian part of the Monarchy. [The westernmost part of Maramureș County was part of Hungary’s Szatmár County – see; The rest was in Hungary’s Máramaros county- DB]

After the First World War, the region was divided between Romania and Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovakia between 1920 and 1938, with Subcarpathian Ruthenia shown in blue.

John Uhlemann wrote: After WWI, the new Czechoslovakia had an eastern- most province not mentioned in the narrative here – Ruthenia. That province, now called Zakarpatskie Ukraine, was attached to the new Czechoslovakia because it had been part of the old Austro-Hungarian empire that had just been carved up, and it had a central European outlook. It had no majority population – there were Western Ukrainians, to be sure (mostly Lemko dialect), but they were less than 50%, the rest being Jews (the majority in many large towns), Romanians, Germans (not just in towns), Slovaks, and Roma. When Hitler removed the Jews (whose cemeteries I photographed about 20 years ago), that made the Ukrainians the majority, so the Soviets took the province and added it to Ukraine; that gave them the all-important corridor to Hungary, as well as Poland and Czechoslovakia, that could (and did) use to suppress any breakaway movements. The Ukrainian population, usually called Carpatho-Rusins now, have many excellent wooden churches in Slovakia as well as in neighboring southeastern Poland. They are mostly “Greco-Catholics” (orthodox rite Catholics). Steve Kotansky’s ancestors came from that community, and he and Susi are leading a dance tour to Northeastern Hungary and that part of Slovakia, where we will be learning some of the dances from the Rusins.

In 1940 the whole area became part of Hungary again and was controlled during World War II until 1944. After World War II, the southern section remained within the Romanian borders and is now part of Maramureș County; the northern section was incorporated into the Soviet Union and is now part of Zakarpattia Oblast of independent Ukraine.”

Zakarpattia Oblast, Ukraine, formerly Ruthenia, pre-formerly Hungary –
all in the 20th century!


In the southern area, the majority of the population are Romanians. There are also some Hungarians, Rusyns (Ukrainians), Zipser Germans, Jews, and Roma. In the northern area, the majority are Ruthenes, with smaller Romanian, Hungarian and German communities.

In the northern area most people speak the Ruthene language, while in the southern area most speak Romanian, which is why the region was split into two parts. [Also why was to provide the USSR direct access to Hungary without having to go through another country – access it exploited in crushing the 1956 Hungarian revolt. – DB] Since the 1940s there have been villages cut in two by the state border. There are some villages in the north (within Ukraine) that have a sizeable Romanian population, as well as some villages in Romania that have a sizeable Ukrainian population.

Jewish culture thrived in Maramureș from their first recorded appearances in the 1700’s. In some areas Jews comprosed up to 30% of the population. Almost all were shipped to concentration camps during WW2 and of the few who survived, most reurned briefly to the ghosts of their villages, then left; most went to Israel. During Ceaușescu‘s tenure, Israel paid a bounty to Romania “about 1,500 Jews a year were granted exit visas to Israel in exchange for a payment of cash for every Jew allowed to leave, in addition to other Israeli aid. The exact payments were determined by the age, education, profession, employment, and family status of the emigrant. Israel paid a minimum of $2,000 per head for every emigrant, and paid prices in the range of $25,000 for doctors or scientists.” – Wikipedia

Maramureș Traditional Culture

Maramureș is often cited in Romanian tourist literature as a region where traditional Romanian culture is best preserved and maintained.

A good documentary about the current (1999) state of traditional Maramureș culture.
Wedding in Breb
Breb, circled left; Ieud, circled centre; Săcel, circled right.
View of Săcel
Women’s singing group from Săcel, Maramureș, Romania – 1990
Săcel is about 30 km East of Ieud Here the local performing group sings Joc de Leagăne


Here’s a link to an interesting article about Klezmer-Gypsy collaborations in pre-war Maramureș;

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