Ocnele Mari

Between Govora and the municipality of Râmnicu-Vâlcea (seat of Vâlcea county), one can visit Ocnele Mari. Ocnele Mari is a town from the south-central part of Romania, built in a depression at an altitude of about 320m. The principal activity for this small town is extraction of salt and fossil mud for treatment. Ocna means salt mine and this vast resource (a salt layer that's 600m thick) has made Ocnele Mari famous, as have its spa and ancient ruins.

This area had inhabitants since the Stone Age and archaeologists have discovered evidence that 2000 years ago a Dacian fortress, Buridava, was found here and it was even mentioned in the writings of the famous Greek historian Ptolemy. Near the ruins of Buridava experts uncovered a necropolis, where many archaeological artifacts were found, mostly pottery and an important storage room for cereals. In the same spot a fountain was also discovered and local legends say that it was built in very remote times and that is was used to power up some sort of old sewage system that brought the water to the local settlements. The most important discovery at Ocnele Mari is a couple of ceramic artifacts with "BUR" etched on them, either related to the name Buridava or even to the great Dacian ruler Burebista. Also, on some other pottery items archaeologists found the inscriptions "REB" and "MARK", which seemed to have been made by geto-dacians.

The name Ocnele Mari was first mentioned officially in a document signed by the ruler Mircea cel Bătrân and written between 1402 and 1418. In fact the area where Ocnele Mari is today was exploited by the Cozia Monastery, that sold the salt for profit, with the approval of Mircea cel Bătrân. Salt was extremely important in the Middle Ages, bringing an important profit to any state, in this case Wallachia. The exploitation of this then very useful resource was carried out with the aid of enslaved gypsies, which were at that time the only slaves from the country. The criminal residents of the jails were used also as forced labor in the salt mines. In more recent history, Ocnele Mari was mostly known for the penitentiary with the same name, where many political prisoners were sent during the communist regime. The penitentiary is now gone, due to the crumbling of the salt mine. Soon after the communist regime was officially installed, the Ocnele Mari penitentiary became one of the most important concentration camps for the prisoners taken from the members of the national movement of anticommunist resistance.

A particular aspect of post-mining activities in Romania is related to the frequent occurrence of salt mines, wherein numerous lake pits occur as a result of ancient salt exploitation. Filled with meteoric water or due to groundwater rising, they are now extensively used for balneology. It is to be mentioned that Romania contains the largest salt resources/reserves throughout Europe. Starting from 1812, Ocnele Mari became renowned for its clorosodic and iodinated waters, plus the fossil mud baths, used for many treatments in the local spa. This establishment uses the old salt mine entrance Balta Roşie, which is 120m deep. The curative water and mud are used to treat rheumatic diseases or gynecological illnesses. The water of the lake is so salted, that there is no need to know to swim, the water supports you at surface! (from Unseen Romania)