Wooden Churches of Maramureş

The Maramureş wooden churches in Northern Transylvania are a selection of eight examples of different architectural solutions from different periods and areas. They are Orthodox churches. They 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 famous wooden churches of the region were built during the 17th and 18th centuries, on the place of older churches. They are a response to a prohibition against the erection of stone Romanian Orthodox churches. The churches are made of thick logs, are quite small and dark inside, and painted with rather "naïve" Biblical scenes. 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.

Some of them have been listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1999, for their religious architecture and timber construction traditions.


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 42 wooden churches remain, 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.

Since the local tradition to erect wooden churches depended on those who built and used them, it is fundamental to identify the local builders and founders. The earlier blurred distinction between them veiled their separate roles in shaping the wooden churches and hindered us from a clear understanding of the results.

The extant wooden churches from Maramureş reveal the existence during the 17th and 18th centuries of at least two main family schools of church carpenters. There are further distinguishable three main itineraries and numerous smaller ones, indicating the work of some of the most important church carpenters ever active in the region and in some cases even shifts among generations. In general, the church carpenters stood for the technical performances, the high quality of the wood work and the artistic refinement.

In a long perspective, the true creators of the local wooden churches were actually the commissioning founders. Especially the role of the noble founders of Eastern Christian rite was decisive in the formation of a regional character among the local wooden churches. The wooden churches from Maramureş closely mirror the local society of modest country landlords, manifesting themselves along several centuries in their double condition of Eastern Christians and Western nobles.

The wooden churches from Maramureş open necessary connections with similar performances throughout Europe. Seemingly the local distinction made between sacred and profane rooms was characteristic for many other rural regions on the continent. The highest knowledge in log building seems to have had a sacred purpose with wide continental circulation and therefore in many places requires distinction from the more regionally rooted vernacular one.

(Source: Tracing a Sacred Building Tradition)

With the resurgence of church construction after the Romanian Revolution of 1989, there are new churches built in the traditional style.

Wooden churches

The list shows extant wooden churches in bold and also includes some known vanished ones. For those now in Ukraine, Romanian and Hungarian names of Ukranian villages are given in (parantheses). In Romanian, Susani denotes "high-dwellers" and Josani "lower-dwellers". Thus the names distinguish the churches of those large villages which had more than one.

Cosău valley

Mara valley

Iza valley

Vişeu valley

Ukrainian side


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