©Baia Mare seen from Igniș (copyright: creative commons)
While people have inhabited the area for thousands of years, Baia Mare was mentioned in a document for the first time in 1329, under the name Rivulus Dominarum, which is Latin for “Ladies’ River”.
The legend of the name
Legend has it that the name comes from the wives of the local miners, who used to wash the ore extracted by their husbands in the waters of the Sasar River.
The city of gold
The region was a major center of gold mining, and starting with the 15th century, the town was granted to the family of Iancu of Hunedoara, a ruler of Transylvania, who fortified it to protect it from invaders.
A city of great culture
Today, Baia Mare is an important cultural center, home to museums, theaters, and libraries, and a hotspot of higher learning in the area.
The School of Painting
One of the unique cultural attractions of the city is the renowned Baia Mare School of Painting, established in 1896 by Hollosy Simon, one of the few such schools in Europe to function continuously since its founding.
One of the landmarks of Baia Mare is Turnul lui Stefan (Stephen’s Tower), which towers majestically over the historical center of the city. Reaching a height of 45 meters, the tower was built between 1446 and 1468 under the leadership of Iancu of Hunedoara, and served as the bell tower of the St Stephen cathedral, which was later destroyed in a fire.
Another significant medieval building that survives to this day is Bastionul Macelarilor (Butchers’ Bastion), located nearby Piata Izvoarelor (Izvoarelor Marketplace) in the vicinity of the historic center. Built in the 14th-15th centuries, the bastion was given in the administration of the butchers’ guild, who had the obligation to man it when the city came under attack. The bastion is the only surviving tower of the seven that were originally built to defend the city.
Baia Mare’s historic center (locally known as the Old Center) was the place where the weekly fair was held in the town. The historic center hosts about twenty of the oldest buildings in Baia Mare, built between the 15th and the 19th centuries, and it’s indisputably the most beautiful part of the city.
The oldest building in the historic center is Casa Elisabeta (Elisabeth House), built in 1446 by Iancu of Hunedoara for his wife Elisabeth.
Other historical landmarks are the former Minorit Monastery, erected in 1734, and the building where Schola Rivulina, the town’s first school of higher learning, functioned between 1547 and 1755.
Other interesting old buildings
Also worth mentioning are the Lendvay Marton house, birthplace of the actor that gives its name, the Black Eagle inn, St Anton’s church, built in 1402 by the Franciscan order, and the Holy Trinity Church built in 1766 by the Jesuits, which are all historically and architecturally significant edifices.
If you love the great outdoors, from Baia Mare you can easily reach one of the several nearby nature reserves for a fun-filled daytrip in the nature. Among them is Creasta Cocosului (accessible on bicycle), the Limpedea Columns in the Ferneziu district, and the Edible Chestnut Grove Reserve, which stretches on 50 hectares on the foothills of the Gutai Mountains.
The town of Cavnic, about 30 kilometers from Baia Mare, and its beautiful natural surroundings are good destinations for a day of hiking in the summer or skiing in the winter. There are two excellent ski slopes in the area, making Cavnic one of the best winter sports destinations in northern Romania.
Around Baia Mare
The mountainous landscape offers nature lovers the opportunity to hike through unspoiled forests of wild beauty. All these, and much more can be seen in historical Maramures, roughly 60 kilometers from Baia Mare. Outdoors enthusiasts can spend an exciting day rock climbing, hiking, rafting, or biking. The hills around Baia Mare are crisscrossed with biking trails and hiking trails are clearly marked.
Baia Mare is home to several museums that exhibit ancient objects, documents, and other historic artifacts that are a testimony for the long Romanian presence in the area, the mastery of the local folk craftsmen, and the culture of the places.
The History and Archeology Museum is located on Monetariei Street, in the building of the city’s old mint. Established in 1904, the museum is home to hundreds of historic artifacts, from medieval weapons and tools, to official seals, documents, old photographic equipment, and numismatic collections.
The Art Museum, housed in a 17th century building, exhibits works of artists from the local school of painting, but also important works from artists elsewhere. Also worth a visit is the Mineralogy Museum, the biggest and richest of its kind in Romania, found in the modern area of the city, on Traian Boulevard. The museum owns a vast collection of over 16,000 crystals, ore samples, and gems collected from the mines in Maramures County, many of which are unique in the world.
The Village Museum
If you’re looking for a primer in the traditions of Romanians, the Village Museum, located on the Dealul Florilor (Flowers’ Hill), invites you to discover its beauty. Old traditional homes with thatched roofs, the world famous wooden churches, traditional clothing, handmade wool carpets, various woodwork and traditional household items are a few of the fascinating exhibits that can be admired here.
On George Cosbuc Street, you can find the first planetarium in Romania, built in 1969. Astronomy enthusiasts can admire a unique collection of 650 astronomy-themed stamps from over 65 countries, and get guided tours and presentations of various astronomical phenomena.
The historic Maramures
Baia Mare is a great starting point for a trip to the so-called historic Maramures, situated across the Gutai Mountains, one of the last places in Europe where a traditional lifestyle is still preserved. The wooden churches of Desesti, Surdesti, Plopis or Ieud are famous around the world for their intricate art work and towering spires.
A trip to the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta will give you a taste of the humor of the people inhabiting historic Maramures.
How to get there: You can easily get to Baia Mare by train, bus, or car, or if you prefer it, you can fly in from Bucharest. Rent a car services are available.