The Wooden Churches, Maramures, Romania

By |2018-03-12T12:33:13+00:00November 16, 2015|Categories: Europe, Photo of the Day, Romania, Unesco World Heritage Sites|Tags: , |10 Comments
wooden church of maramures romania plopsis

The Wooden Church at Plopsis, Romania

The history of the wooden churches of Maramures, which dot the villages of north western Romania is an interesting one. The Maramures region is primarily an Orthodox, or Greek, Christian enclave. But while the region was under the domination of the Roman Catholic Austria-Hungarian Empire from the 17th to 19th Centuries, the Orthodox were prohibited from building stone churches.

Their reaction was to build over 100 wooden churches in all the villages of the region. Eight of those churches are now on the Unesco World Heritage list.

We drove over a lot of Maramures, which, believe me, is not easy, and managed to see two. One of them, the one above, at Plopsis, was closed, with no caretaker in sight, even though there was a visitors center built just down the hill. The second one, at Surdesti, was also closed. But as soon as we drove up, a young woman popped out of a nearby house and promptly opened up the church and waved us inside.

interior painting wooden church surdesti romania marmures

One if the interior paintings in the Surdesti Wooden Church.

Unfortunately, photography was not permitted inside, which I wasn’t aware of until I’d snapped one shot of the primitive painting on the walls. Here’s the one shot of that.

The inside was decorated with this sort of painting all around, along with several more sophisticated Greek style icons and an altar piece not unlike what you see in many small Orthodox churches.

More interesting though was that the floor and rough wooden pews were covered with thick patterned blankets, which undoubtedly were there to protect the worshippers from the mountain chill. Indeed, the interior of the church was much cooler that outside on a sunny November day.

outside wall wooden church maramures surdesti romania

Master woodworking: the lock and key joinery of the Surdesti church walls made the joints tight, and kept the wind out.

From the outside, two characteristics are distinctive. One is the very size of the logs that were used to build the churches, along with the lock and key joinery at the corners that keep them together. Also, note the contrasting delicacy of the hand made wooden shingles that decorate the roof of the nave, and all the way up to the top of the steeple. Amazing example of the wood workers’ art. Built of political necessity and left for all the rest of us to be amazed.

The wooden church at Surdesti, Romania.

The wooden church at Surdesti, Romania.

wooden church plopsis romania 2

The wooden church and graveyard at Plopsis, Romania

The Wooden Churches of Maramures are, collectively, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Click the link to see all the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Romania.

To see a list of other UNESCO World Heritage sites we’ve visited, click this link.

Romania celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2018. True Romania Tours, a sponsor of this and other Romania posts on Travel Past 50, offers a range of centennial, food, genealogy, rural, and custom tours throughout the country.


  1. Marybeth Tawfik November 16, 2015 at 8:31 am - Reply

    Ah, craftsmanship. Beautiful.

    • Tom Bartel November 20, 2015 at 5:30 am - Reply

      Yes, the quality of the woodwork was amazing. Especially considering the age and the crude tools many were working with. A lot of shaping done with saw and axe.

  2. Amy (Two Drifters) November 16, 2015 at 9:50 am - Reply

    Ah, these are so awesome! Romania is at the top of my list. Hoping to get there in 2016!

    • Tom Bartel November 20, 2015 at 5:31 am - Reply

      Romania is worth the trouble. We were a little exhausted with it, mostly because of the driving. But we would go back. There is a lot to see there.

  3. Emily November 16, 2015 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Wow! Fascinating architecture and superb craftsmanship..

    • Tom Bartel November 20, 2015 at 5:32 am - Reply

      Especially given the history that they were forbidden to build stone churches in this part of the country.

  4. Jared November 19, 2015 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    Superb images Tom. I haven’t visited Romania, but just spent some time with a Romanian friend who told me the real story about Dracula (yes, he was a real person. No, he didn’t suck people’s blood). I’ve heard the countryside and mountains are spectacular so it’s on my list!.


    • Tom Bartel November 20, 2015 at 5:36 am - Reply

      Yup, Vlad the Impaler was real, and the country is full of his image. Mostly on t-shirts. I actually just read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and it’s a pretty good book. His descriptions of Transylvania are eerie and terrible.

  5. Corinne November 21, 2015 at 1:04 am - Reply

    Marmures and its churches are just one of many reasons we’ll be heading back to Romania. Beautiful.

    • Tom Bartel November 21, 2015 at 9:40 am - Reply

      The two we saw were beautiful and well worth the visit.

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