Barsana is a large village situated in the Iza River valley in the region of Maramures. However, ‘bârsana’ also means a sheep breed with a long and close hair. The inhabitants of Bârsana are said to have earned their living by inbreeding these animals, so it is quite possible that the name of the village came from this activity. On the other hand, it cannot be ruled out that the opposite was the case and that the sheep breed was named after the village where it was so popular while the place itself was named after its owner. We do not know which version was true but what we do know is that the name Bârsana was already used in the Middle Ages when the village belonged to the duke Stanislaus, the son of Stan Barsan. This information can be found in preserved records from the 14th century. It might have been around this time when an Orthodox monastery was founded here. The monastery existed till the 18th century where the village acceded to the Union of Brest. Today the village has a population of circa 6000 inhabitants1 and it has been a very popular place of visits of pilgrims and tourists attracted by a small old church and a new, magnificent monastery built in old style.
Bârsana might be proud of having a site inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is a very small (I haven’t seen a smaller one before) but beautiful Eastern Orthodox wooden Church of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple. It was built in 1720 as a part of Barsana’s monastery. Around 1800 it was converted into a parish church and relocated to a hill where, surrounded by a marvelous orchard, it has been standing till the present day.
The church was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999 together with seven other Orthodox wooden churches of Maramures: Budeşti, Deseşti, Ieud, Plopiş, Poienile Izei, Rogoz and Şurdeşti.
The church in Bârsana was erected on a rectangular plan. Some time later an open-air porch decorated with arcades supported on wood columns was additionally built. A steeple is the culmination of a two-storey roof covered with shingles. The interior is covered with colorful, well preserved wood and canvas paintings. They were painted by Toader Hodor from Vişeul de Mijloc in 1806. In the vestibule there are i.a. scenes from the Last Judgment and in the nave some scenes from the Book of Genesis.
After the government of Nicolae Ceaușescu had been overthrown, a new monastery was built in Bârsana. Interestingly, it was built in the style of old Maramures churches. While entering the monastery complex, I let myself deceived by that impression and I was convinced that the buildings were at least 100 years old. Later, while visiting the monastery I was informed that it had been built in 1994, this is, only 16 years ago!
Although the buildings are very young and have, thus, not such a major historical value as the Bârsana Monastery of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, one should absolutely not miss this place while visiting Bârsana. We are entering the premises of the monastery through a specific gate with a high tower; at the gate we are paying the admission fee. Persons wearing shorts or skirts have the opportunity to borrow long scarves in order to tie the bare parts of their body; it is, namely, not quite the thing to enter this place with bare knees and shoulders. At the gate there are also icons, bracelets and other souvenirs.
Behind the gate, on the left side, we will see the monastic Church of the Twelve Apostles. Its soaring tower is 56 meters tall and it is the tallest one in the region. If I correctly understood the guide who was showing a group of tourists around, the builders of the temple hadn’t used any nail to erect it, instead they took advantage of traditional methods. Opposite the church there is a beautiful garden shed covered with a quite unique rippled roof. A little bit further we will see some housings and farm buildings and between them some alleys covered with stones and loads of flowers.
Within the boundaries of the monastery there is also a very interesting museum of ethnography. On three floors, within very pleasant, wooden interiors, we can admire old icons, old clothes and tools. It is a must to visit this museum. The entrance fee is very small.
Maramures is a land on the border of Ukraine and Romania, partially situated in the Eastern Carpathians which invite the tourists to hike in here. Unfortunately, we had to forgo any walks in the mountains because we were limited by time and a two-year-old boy was traveling with us. Still, we could watch Maramureș through the car windows and we made the promise to visit this place once again in order to ‘penetrate’ the mountain routes.
While traveling through this region we could see booths being literally overloaded with watermelons, we saw grandmas, young girls and boys selling along the road ‘palinka’ (traditional fruit brandy in the countries of the Carpathian Basin) or fresh fruits. From time to time we took a look at the impressive, specific Maramureș gates which had laboriously been carved. Sometimes we condemned the roads being in a very poor condition in this one of poorer regions of Romania. If we hadn’t been limited by time, this wouldn’t have disturbed us at all- something to be treated as a part of the local landscape imposing a speed limit of 10/20 km/h. The bad thing was, however, that because of this we had to spend more time inside our car and had less time to take a walk around the graves of the Merry Cemetery in Săpânţa or to walk around the already mentioned monastery complex in Bârsana. Once again the old truth turns out to be right that you can travel without money and map, without a schedule but what you really need is time, much time! While being in hurry we let many things just go.
We are approaching the Prislop Pass which separates Maramureș from Bukovina and the Maramureș Mountains from Rodna Mountains. At the pass there is a wooden Orthodox church, a hostel and a lot of souvenirs booths. This place is said to have a beautiful view…, too bad, but exactly at that moment we were surprised by rain and dark clouds. In general, the rain accompanied us for about one hour on that day and, barring a short drizzle during our stay at the seaside, it was the only rainfall which we experienced within two weeks of our holiday in Romania.
A belief has been widespread in Poland that Romanians and Romani people are the same. We often think that people with swarthy complexion that we meet in the street are incomers from Romania and we create on this basis our imagination of the inhabitants of this country. The truth is that, as a percentage, there are, for instance, less Gypsies in Romania (2,5%) than in Slovakia (10%). Romanians look, in fact, in the same way we do. During our stay in Albania people used to address us in English, German or Italian which means that we were being recognized as foreign guests yet before we said anything. In Romania, on the other hand, everyone thought we were native people unless we started to speak. Apart from the language and the number plate there was actually nothing to make us distinguished.
On the way through Bukovina we noticed a Roman camp situated by a river. We couldn’t resist slowing down and taking some pictures. Suddenly a Gypsy man who was probably living inside the camp appeared in front of the car bonnet. For a little we became stereotypical and were truly afraid that an unpleasant situation would be the result of our curiosity. However, the man was only friendly smiling at us (showing his wide, golden grin) and waved. We continued our travel.
In 2002 there were 6352 inhabitants in Bârsana, 87% of them were Orthodox, 7.8% - Greek Catholics, and 3.1% - Pentecostal adherents.
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