The Wooden Gates Maramureș

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The tourists visiting Maramures cannot but admire one of the most impressive sights of this ethnographical universe: the monumental wooden gates of the traditional homesteads to be found especially in the Mara, Cosau, or Iza valleys, and also in some villages of the Lapus Land.

Generally, they are made of oak wood, of three posts supporting the upper part of the gate that is covered by a shingled roof. The gates of this region have often been compared to real triumphal arches through which the peasants used to pass with dignity, proud of their noble origin. The series of monumental gates are a living testimony of a particular historical reality. During the feudal period, in the communities of Maramures, a number of princes (cneaz) appeared who periodically elected their voivode. In time, the nobles power and privileges had been attentively fragmented and distributed to a growing number of families.

For centuries, the members of this caste (with the dimension of a real co mmu nity! ) resisted the attempts to deprive them of their privileges. This is the explanation of the amazing result of an 18th century Austrian statistics that situated Maramures on the first place in the whole empire as concerns the reported percentage of noblemen of the county s population. The number of the registered noblemen with their rank certified by authentic documents was no less than 15, 000, most of them being descendants of the local princes families.

This fact is extremely important because only the nobles had the privilege to raise high gates in front of their homesteads, while the simple people had the right only to a simple gate. For a period, Maramures had been a unique imperial enclave populated by pea sants of noble origin. The shingle covered gates with carved posts are relics of a social organization that had functioned up to the 20th century due to the persistence of local traditions and the people s inborn conservative tendencies.

The attachment of the local people to these valuable constructions, deeply rooted in the cultural and artistic traditions as well as in the social and political history of Maramures, is illustrated by the fact that the ranking of the homesteads after their gates has been preserved until our days. Even now, when asking them about a man living in their village, the old peasants will point to the gate of the house where the person lives, the gesture signifying the way they rank him (Francisc Nistor, 1977). The construction, the carving of the decorative elements, and the passage through the gate had to respect particular rituals based upon a deep faith (with mythical rather than religious connotations). Thus, the cutting of the oak tree had to be in a night with full moon in order to keep away any misfortune and all the evil hours from around the homestead. Then, the transportation of the timber from the forest had to be done on one of the weekdays when people did not fast (on Tuesday, Thursday or ...

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