Maramureş is a rugged and independent area in the North of Romania where traditions have lasted due to the isolation of geography and the neglect of history. The Romans conquered Romania in the early 2nd century AD but they never went as far north as Maramureş. The valleys of the Mara and Iza rivers lead nowhere, meaning strangers have always been rare. During communism many villages escaped collectivization due to poor soil and hilly landscape. Today, the proud Maramureşeni continue practicing their ancient traditions of farming, costume making and folk dancing. They also serve as a time capsule preserving old attitudes and the traditional roles in the community.
Wood is the dominant theme in Maramureş. Almost everything can be made of it: churches, houses, horse-carts, tableware and, not to be forgotten, wooden gates.
For someone was born elsewhere and has not grown up with it this omnipresence of wooden gates seems like an obsession. Gates are almost more important than houses; they seem to be the measure of importance of house owners. Often an impressive gate is standing before the house itself is properly finished; new houses can be made of stone rather than wood, the old shingle roofs are replaced by corrugated sheeting, but the traditional wooden gate remains as symbol of Maramureş identity.
Four examples of the resplendent, up to 4m high wooden gates. Often there is a bench nearby or integrated into one side, on which the family can sit together chatting with the neighbours. The extravagant carvings, often in the form of twisted ropes, include old heathen and Christian motives. The wooden gate with pictures in it is at the entrance of Surdeşti church and cemetery. On the right is an interesting model. It is principally two gate corners with wide gate doors in between, giving the advantage of unlimited height going into the farmyard. The gates are still handmade. Some of the Maramureş woodcarvers have become famous, such as Toader Bârsan from Bârsana, who built an original little Romanian wooden church in 1999 at a Folklife Festival in Washington, DC.