THE COUNTRY BETWEEN THE MOUNTAINS
If the steps will ever take you to the Banat region, try to get to the two “countries” of Mountainous Banat: the Almaj Country and the Gugulans’ Country.
The Almaj Country is the “land of hills” floating on the middle course of the Nera river, in the depression between Almăj Mountains (to the south), Semenic Mountains (to the North), Anina Mountains (to the northwest) and Locvei Mountains (to the southwest) .
Seen from the heights, the Almaj Valley stretches in the shape of an ellipse with a 30 km long axis, between Borlovenii Noi and Şopotu Nou and a small axis, 12 km, near the “capital” of the Almaj villagers – Bozovici.
The Almăj Country has a population of over 16,000 inhabitants and it comprises 16 main localities on an area of 1114 km²: Borloveni Noi (Breazova), Borlovenii Vechi, Pătaş, Putna, Prigor, Prilipeţ, Eftimie Murgu (Rudaria), Bănia, Bozovici, Gârbovăţ, Şopotul Vechi, Lăpuşnicul Mare, Dalboşeţ, Moceriş, Bârz and Şopotul Nou (Buceaua).
“The Valley of Miracles”, as it is called by the Almaj poet Iosif Bacila, is a valley of rivers, stones, mills and flowery meadows, evoked by the Almaj inhabitants in their folk songs, longing “doina’s”, “they shared tears in poetry”, stories and legends of the place; they were caught in the fiery Almaj dances and embroidered them in the traditional folk costumes.
The Almăj rivers gather their waters in Nergani, as the Nera river is called by the locals: Prigor, 26 km long, which springs from the Almăj Mountains and passes through the villages of Putna and Prigor; Rudaria, with its spring under the Peak of Svinecea Mare (1224 m) in Almăj Mountains, 22 km long, passing through the village with mills, Eftimie Murgu (Rudaria); the largest tributary, the Miniş (27 km), which springs from the Anina Mountains and, after receiving the waters from the Poneasca River, forms the charming Minis Gorges, afterwards it divides in two the village of Bozovici before flowing into the Nera River, and the Rachita river, springing from Almăj Mountains and flowing into Nera, at Sopotul Nou.
Each stone bears a name: Svinecea, The Lion’s Hem, Adam and Eve.
The mills are “an image of the ever flowing time” [Jurma Gh, 1994] which “grinds the same time from the beginning, but with other people, and under the temporary guard of other rulers.” [Ion Marin Almăjan, 1994]
Nature in Almaj is so beautiful by its simplicity and perfection that it cannot be rendered easily in words. Everything is flowery meadow where the good fairies come. Every season it changes its colours in a charming chromatic harmony.
In spring, you can admire the freshness of nature in the Almaj Valley, resembling the “Semenic” white pinkie flowers, borrowing in their smile the fresh green of the forest.
In summer, in the Nergani everglade, the meadow is full of mysteries; where the youth are seeking their right to privacy, while the elders are reminiscing about good old days.
In autumn, “The land of apple flowers” enchants you with its sweetness enveloping you from all sides; it comes “from beneath the hills covered in plumtrees and appletrees”.
In winter, Almăj is the “cold pole” in Mountainous Banat due to the thermal inversion phenomena; unlike the Danube Shore or Caraş Valley, where the “foehn” wind is blowing, there is no wind here and everything becomes “an ice castle”.
It is not the mountain that scares the people, but the endless secular forest; they are not afraid of the wild animals (“joavine = wild beats”), but of “getting lost”, as the forest reproduces its shape at every step. The desire for disobedience, however, has often led to an escape from the area.
The Almaj Country has always been a place of refuge and resistance in times of oppression, a “vultures’ nest in the middle of the mountains”. [Andrei N., 2007]. From the constant batlle with the two empires, the Ottoman and the Austrian one, the “captains” and “otulaws” were born in Almăj.
Almăj County’s most famous son was Eftimie Murgu – the “captain of Banat”. He is the most important historical figure in Banat, like the “toupee” Avram Iancu is for the Transylvanians. “Historian I.D.Suciu was absolutely right when he claimed that Murgu was destroyed by the emperor with his prisons, and Avram Iancu by his lies” [Sitaru D., 2003].
“The soldiers and the captains of the army and also fierce border guards were preventing the penetration of the Turks and the Austrians.” [Andrei N., 2007].
The Brigands or outlaws were ordinary peers who “followed the road of the forest” and then “robbed the rich by night and gave it to the poor by day.” The groups of outlaws were formed in Almăj Valley (Adam Neamţu), Timiş Valley (Mantu) and on the Danube Shore (“Clisura Dunării”).
At a time when “global uniformity” seems to be impossible to stop, come to the Almaj Country, resting quietly in its track, with a history without beginnings, with its traditions and customs, with its joys and pains!
Once you arrive in the Almaj Valley, look for the “Almaj local soul” and “the grain of truth” of the Almaj’s legends.
The Almăj Country is “the icon of middle-built people, reminding us of the Banat Wallachians“. [Griselini Fr, 1926].
The Almaj peasant bears in his inner self the peace and quiet of the man bearing in his sight the experience of life forged in time by the song of the river and the shapes of cliffs:
“I was a peasant from father to son,
And from these hard-worked hands,
They were always satiated, in turn,
Those without a soul and many desires. “
The Almaj man is of medium height, with a broad forehead that shadows the eyes in which the “sky has fallen,” with a slightly tanned and oval face and always with a mysterious air. In his eyes there is not only a simple attitude, but steadiness, courage and dignity, revolt against injustice, but not vengeance, exhibiting a personal charm with the longing for freedom and dreaming. It is the morality and ethics of the mountain that brought him up, in times when “we endured heavy famine in the forests, we ate crumbs of heaven.” [Nicolae Stoica de Haţeg, 1977].
The traits are supplemented by liveliness in gestures, in words and judgments.
If, when talking to Almaj people, you see the smile of the soul in their eyes then, you can be sure that you will be well received.
They say that in Romania are the most beautiful girls. The most beautiful of the beautiful ones are in Banat: the Almaj girl – beautiful as a fairy and as the princess of the Gugulans.
The Almaj girl is described as “the fairy from the meadow “, a beautiful girl “with an angel’s soul, with a spring voice and fresh thought.” [Andrei N., 2007]. She is a ravishing beauty. Her beauty is given by the simplicity of her gestures, the tenderness of her body and her charming face, as well by the spell, as the poet says:
“As beautiful as the Nera waters
With the body of fairy, woven by dreams
You wear the beauty of Aphrodite!”
(Andrei Nicolae – The Almaj Girl)
Everyone loves to live his life to the full, but today it seems to be running away from us. And there is no one to show us the way, no one to follow. That is why we offer you a trail for hiking, one day of light, which takes us to the charming country of Almaj.
Route no. 3: The Almăj Country Road
Almaj can be reached by three gates: the main gate is through Bozovici from Anina, on the Minis Valley (DN 57B), through Borlovenii Noi from Iablaniţa; through the Banat Craina, still on DN 57B, with deviation from the European road E70 Timişoara -Caransebeş – Orşova; through Şopotu Nou, from the west, from Moldova Nouă or from Sasca Montană through Cărbunari and from Stancilova Pass on the county road DJ 571B.
The proposed route takes you from Reşiţa, by coach, on DN 58, via Anina, to the intersection with DN 57B from Oraviţa, and then to the left, along the Miniş Valley to Bozovici:
1. Reşiţa – Carasova – Anina – crossroad (36 km) – by coach
2. Anina (intersection) -Bozovici (29 km) – with halt at Parallel 450
3. Bozovici – Sopotul Nou (23 km) – with halt at Bănia and Lăpuşnicul Mare
4. Sopotul Nou – Borlovenii Noi (30 km) – with halt at Rudaria and Prigor
5. Borlovenii Noi- Iablaniţa – intersection (25 km) – through Craina
6. Iablaniţa – Caransebeş (57 km)
7. Caransebes -Resita (42 km)
1. Resita – Anina coach travel. The trip will start from the centre of Resita, by coach, on the paved national road DN 58 along the Doman Valley. The road from Resita to Anina is 32 km long and passes through an area of an exceptional beauty, where the shapes created by the waters in the limestone relief can be admired along the entire valley: beech forests mixed with oak, ash and lime, among which green meadows and stone steps appear suddenly too.
The sunny, dry slopes presents the layout of the steppe with the unmissed stipa, which in the past, in the days of celebration, used to be attached in the tufts of young men hats, coming from the villages of Craşoveni.
After a long climb, on the limestone plateau of Mărculeştilor, at km 10, the road to Iabalcea leading from there to the Caraş Gorges and the Comarnic Cave branches off.
The road continues to the south, among plum orchards and numerous sinkholes dug in the limestone, till Carasova, the most important village from the seven communities of Carasova. Above Carasova, the remains of the Caraş Fortress, a medieval fortress documented since 1230, are located on the rocky and bare plateau.
Today only the stone walls, brick and rock blocks are preserved from the fortress, having the shape of a quadrilateral with corrugated sides. Alongside the five compartments of the fortress you can see the traces of a courtyard and a fountain in the middle of it, by which the contact with the outside was made during the sieges.
From the fortress, the eyes of the tourist cover the Caras Valley to Prolaz, and to the west, the Little Mountains (“muncei”) of Vrseţ. Near the Caraş River you can see the “Rooster” rock in the shape of a huge rooster.
At the foot of the fortress, in the depression created by the Caras River, lies Caraşova; here between the XIV and XVIII centuries groups of Slavs from the south of the Danube came here in three waves fleeing from the Turks. They inhabite the following places: Carasova, Nermet, Iabalcea, Clocotici, Vodnic, Rafnic and Lupac.
In the centre of the village we can see the monumental Roman Catholic Church, built in the 18th century, being considered an architectural monument. Beautiful trips can be made from Caraşova on the Caras Gorges and Gârliştei Gorges, to the Comarnic Cave and in Semenic and Anina Mountains. The surroundings are rich in caves, gorges, sinkholes and springs.
From Caraşova to Anina, the road passes through fir and beech forests with cool clearings, then through wide serpentines and among numerous valleys till Celnic, the northernmost district of Anina, offering and a wonderful view of the city. From here, after other serpentines – perhaps the hardest along the route – the road descends to Anina. Coming from Reşiţa, you will see from the distance the extraction machine from the fist pit of the Anina coal mine, the starting point of the first mountain railway in Romania: Oraviţa-Anina. At the end of the railway, look for the impressive industrial architecture of the Anina Station building.
The road is winding along Anina from the northern end, where the road to Lake Marghitaş branches off by the central area where, beside the cemetery, the road to Lake Buhui is reached, to the south end of the city, where the Steierdorf district lies, with some trails to the location of the former most popular climatic resorts – Aurora Banat.
Then, past the intersection with the road to Oraviţa (DN 57B), you will turn to the left and descend to the Miniş Valley to Bozovici.
The Minis river springs from the eastern slope of the Rolului Peak (977 m), from the Anina Mountains, near the ruins of the Bituminous Shale Thermo-Electric Central Crivina.
At first the source of the river seems frail, gathering the waters of the tributaries, then it masters up some courage cutting a narrow and deep valley into the white, gray or red limestone cliffs, with picturesque and varied karst shapes, with narrows and gorges of the valley, through which the road had to be cut into the rock, and widening in basins, the most beautiful one being at the confluence of the Poneasca brook with the Minis river.
The Minis Gorges covers 14 km between Crivina Canton and Bigar Waterfall (Parallel 450) with four wild sectors. The Anina-Bozovici road passes through most of these gorges, except for the first sector.
The name of the valley derives from the name of “a fearless, strong man of old times, born in the midst of the forests and a very good hunter. They say that Minis would have raised the wrath of the Mountain Fairy by hunting her deer from the Charmed Valley to the Deer Pond. Thus, the valiant was punished, being turned into a river, with flooded waters, proud and restless, resembling to the valiant’s nature, passing through the gorges and among the obstacles to the Almaj Country. “[Neagu V., 2011].
Right from the entrance to the gorges, the fresh air with a fresh smell of woods and wet moss awakens your sinuses and urges you to open the car windows. We are in Nera Gorges – Beuşniţa National Park.
After 12 km from the Oraviţa – Anina – Bozovici intersection, you reach the Gura Golumbului Lake (750 m long). Here you will see fishermen who are trying their luck with casting their fishing rods, and others who are telling fishermen stories, while confortably cooling in the Deer Cabin on the opposite shore of the lake.
Gura Golumbului Lake is the first storage lake built for a thermal power plant, and not for a hydroelectric power plant. Its waters and those of Poneasca Lake were to be used to cool the instalations at the Crivina thermal power plant.
If you stop at the dam, you will see an ingenious curved staircase consisting of small water basins on which, after the construction’s restoration, the fish will leap to the lake and further up on the Minis River. The view will be delightful.
We are at an altitude of 420 m.
In the downstream from Gura Golumb, the valley narrows again and the road continues through the third sector of the Minis Gorge, with a length of more than 3 km.
Of the two pipelines that accompanied the road, one remained at the dam, and the trail of the second one will be seen as a “border” on the side of the road to Poneasca mouth. After the spring that trickles the water on the left wall of the valley, from a height of 10 m, it follows the narrowest and the most bordered area of the gorges. The rock walls approach up to 12 m, barely leaving any place for the riverbed (5-6 m wide) and for the road.
The slopes are covered with wild lilacs, and the river water, which never sees the sun, flows either tumultuously among the limestone rocks, either quietly in the depths of nearly 2 m deep, in which fish swim freely.
Throughout the Minis Valley, numerous caves are opened on the right and on the left in the stone wall. The most famous are the pair of caves known as Adam Neamţu’s caves, where the famous outlaw retreated from the police. “There are two caves facing each other, perpendicularly on the Minis Valley, one to the right, another to the left of the river. Their face-to-face settlement made them very difficult to attack, because if any of the caves had been attacked by the police, it would have received the fire of the outlaws housed in the back of the other cave. “[Bizera M., 1971].
These caves are also known as the Miloi’s Mouth, after an old legend about the inhabitants living in Taria Valley. Thus, “it is said that once upon a time on the upper course of the Taria there lived some giant people, very strange in appearance and behaviour, called jidovs (” židovŭ – huge beings in the Slavic language). The people of the Taria Valley attacked the jidovs to occupy their territories, but they were defeated by the giants. The fury of the giants determined the persecution of the people, who took refuge in caves and forests. An old man named Miloi led them to the two caves, where people hid in order to come out alive. “[Neagu V., 2011].
Flying through fantasy, on the road passing successively beneath the man-carved or pierced by circular holed walls, look for the caves of Adam Neamţu to feel for a moment the longing for “freedom, justice and faith” when hard times came. Gradually, the gorges “are hidden” again, but the slopes remain tall and wooded to the foot. The river continues its work and flows either by bouncing on the white gravestone that it had polished itself, or among the gravel islands on which the water mints or the coltsfoot are spoiled. From time to time, it fills a long dorn with green water.
At km 15 of the Anina – Bozovici road, in the place where the Minis waters unite with the Poneasca brook, the river’s meadow gets wider and the most beautiful basin of Minis is reached, the land being suitable for camping.
Right at the mouth of the Poneasca River into the Minis River, to the north, we leave the Nera Gorges -Beusnita National Park and enter the Semenic – Caras Gorges National Park. From the confluence, on the left, a mountain road opens, leading to the village of Poneasca (3 km) where, in the past, there was a beautiful climatic resort and a summer camp for youth, right in the middle of the fir and beech forests. Located at 380 m altitude, the Poneasca climatic resort lay in the middle of the fir-tree and beech forests at the confluence of the Guşec brook with the Poneasca River. There were chic villas, a children’s camp, a summer theatre, sports grounds and a small swimming pool. Today only the traces of the Poneasca storage dam can be seen, from where the water was intended to be taken on a distance of 20 km to the Crivina thermal power plant.
Only beautiful trips can be made in these picturesque surroundings that leave the visitors some unforgettable memories. Look for Bologa’s Creek, dark and rather narrow, about which the locals say it is the place where the outlaw Bologa found his end, old and blind, trapped and walled up alive in the cave now bearing its name. “The elders say that in the late autumn nights there is a dark shadow coming in and out in the moonlight. It is said to be the shadow of the outlaw Bologa, inseparable even by death from the places he used to wander about.” [Neagu V., 2011].
On the Anina – Bozovici main route, the road continues down the Minis Valley and, before entering the gorges again, “A rock appears in the shape of a giant lion sitting across the road with its head eastward. The forest between the “head” and the “body” has the appearance of a scary hem.” [Bizera M., 1971].
The rock is called, obviously, the “Lion’s Hem”. There are crenelated shapes of the rocks that the waters, the wind, the frost and the rains imprinted in the limestone mountains in the irreversible flow of time.
A few hundred meters below, we enter the last sector of the Minis Gorges, which, although less than 1 km long, is the wildest and the most magnificent. Between the 200-250 m high walls of the Zăgrad Hill (on the left) and Cărşia Goznei (on the right), the Minis waters flow through a canyon with terraces close to the water level and deep marmite in the riverbed, comparable to the one on the Nera Gorges.
We shortly reach the 450 Parallel (km 17), where a bridge crosses the Minis water towards the Bigar spring and waterfall (Coronini). Being halfway between Anina and Bozovici, make a halt at the most peaceful place of all the hikings through the Mountainous Banat. On a paved path you reach the Bigar spring coming out of the limestone rock with a height of 50 m, forming such a clear water that you can see your face in its mirror. On the right, you can climb to the Bigar cave, situated in the rock. At the flowing of the Bigar brook into the Minis river there is a beautiful “limestone fungus” suspended over the Minis riverbed, called the Bigar waterfall. The waterfall was called Coronini in the past, after the name of the 19th century Banat’s former governor, Johan Baptist Coronini.
The waterhole located under the twisted limestone crests, from which the Bigar waterfall trickles like a tear, is the joy of nature for the man who is not its enemy, but instead it gives him a wild lilac that took the colour from the smile of the clear sky in the shining of the sun rays and the rare flower of the Turkish hazelnut.
If you are “strong”, go down to the river to see how the Minis is digging the rock underneath. Beauty. Experience. Danger. It would be a pity for the limestone rock to collapse one day. Maybe you have an idea how to protect it. After all, we are in the protected area of the Bigar Nature Reserve in Nera-Beusnita National Park.
From Parallel 45, the valley gradually opens up among the lower and lower hills and enters the “Almăj Country”.
You pass next to Minis Trout Farm and Bradut Nursery of the Bozovici Forestry School, created through a European program called “Life Nature”, and after that you leave the Nera Gorges – Beusnita National Park. Both sights are on the right.
Further downstream, the river Minis receives the Taria River from the left, and from here, after 6 km, it reaches Bozovici.
The commune of Bozovici is the most important settlement in Almăj Country, being named by locals “the capital” of Almaj. It was mentioned first in ducumentaries in 1484, during the reign of King Matthias Corvinus.
The name of the locality comes from the word “danewort” (bŭzŭ-boj, in the Slavic language) – the name of a plant with white flowers and small, round and black fruits, which grows abundantly in these places.
At first impression, Bozovici has an urban look, representing the traces of a city they would have liked to be before 1990.
For tourists, the commune of Bozovici is the place where the Bust of Eftimie Murgu (1805-1870), the great captain of the inhabitants from Banat in the revolution of 1848, is raised. The bronze bust is the work of the sculptor Oscar Hahn and was unveiled in 1929.
It is the settlement where testimonial monuments are placed in remembrance of the “black soldiers” of the imperial army regiment no.13, who fought against Napoleon and sacrificed many lives in the “great battles” of the First World War. Climbing up the Bozovici Hill, in front of the Monument of the “Almaj Heroes” you will understand the “love for the fatherland” of these people. The monument is made of stone, in the shape of a regular pyramid with a square base and a 6 m side and a height of 5 m, with a bronze eagle on the top. On the marble plate it is written: “In memory of the 818 heroes from Almaj, Banat, killed in the First World War 1914-1919“.
Near the monument, inaugurated on December 1st 1931, the church spires from Almăj Country can be seen in the clear days.
The most famous monument is also the most recent one. The Monument to the “Unknown Hero, unveiled and sanctified on the 8th of October 2006 on the occasion of celebrating the “Heroes Day”, in the park situated in the centre of the commune. It is a true “pattern of reconciliation and urge for understanding after 62 years from the bloody events of the autumn of 1944, when anonymous soldiers, standing in front of each other, but enemies till the end, found peace and reconciliation in a common grave, after completing the only certainty of life, death.”[Magiar E., 2006].
The monument was donated by the “Black Cross” of Styria, Austria, and has four sides decorated with black marble on which the following text is written in English, German, Russian and Romanian: “The Austrian Black Cross raised this monument in 2006 in remembrance of all the soldiers who fell in September 1944 in Almăj Valley as a warning and symbol for peace and understanding among peoples in a United Europe.“
The six flags raised next to the monument signify the past and the future. From the past, they represent the four opposing countries: Soviet Union, Germany, Austria and Romania. For the future, the hope for peace in a United Europe, through the flag of the European Union, regardless of religion, Orthodox or Catholic, through the flag of the province of Styria.
The village of Bozovici is also the spiritual and cultural centre to where all the roads from each Almaj village lead to, for young people to attend the “Eftimie Murgu” High School, where humanity, understanding, faith, common sense and love for the native place are cultivated in their flight to a world impoverished with “fights and misunderstandings.”
You should look for the Almăjana Magazine and you will find the “povața” (meaning advice) that any mother in Almaj gives to her son when he goes studying or working in the wide world, as Cumbria did with her son, Eftimie Murgu: “Stay away from temptations, many and petty of them will stand in your way, do not stray from the path that I have chosen for your sake. And do not forget, not for a second, until the end of your days where you came from, where your roots are. As no man is more pitiful than the one who has no roots, neither nation nor country! May God be with you! “[Ion Marin Almăjan, 1994].
These words are more current and true today than ever for any traveller in the world! It is the key between being”famous” for a moment and being “prominent” with a reason.
Still in Bozovici there are two species of protected trees, declared monuments of nature: the pagoda tree and the tisa tree. Still here was born Ion Luca-Bănăţeanu (1894-1963), one of the great violinists from Banat.
In the other villages, one more beautiful than the other, customs and traditions are still preserved in their authentic form and will always be the main touristic attractions of the place.
The journey can continue along the entire “Roman road” in Almăj Country, which connected the two Roman main roads in Banat:
Arcidava (Vărădia) – Sasca Montană – Stăncilova Pass – Sopotul Nou (Buceaua) – Moceriş – Dalboşet – Lăpuşnicu-Mare – Şopotul Vechi – Bănia – Eftimie Murgu (Rudăria) – Prilipat – Patas – Prigor- Borlovenii Vechi- Borlovenii noi (Breazova) – Parvova-Lapusnicel- Mehadica – Ad Panonias (Teregova) – Roman fortress located at 3 km from the Domaşnea hills. The road is also known as the “imperial road” or the “Maria Theresia road”. From Lapusnicel the road branches off through the Craina County (Globu Craiovei, Petnic and Iablaniţa) and through the Iablaniţa Pass we reach Ad Mediam (Mehadia).
The Almaj Country can escape the fate of Banat “Cinderella” only through tourism, through rural tourism. If you see the sheep flocks on the hill and you hear the cows’ bells, the barking of the shepherd dogs and the blue doina songs of the shepherds, emotions and unspeakable memories will sneak into your soul.
Every village, every place uploads your soul for the moment:
“At Almai in the clearings,
Like in a fairytale realm,
Only sun and green spots
Which urges you to live.“
“Traditions, customs, habits,
have been moulded from the sacred clay,
Through tears and suffering,
Confessing them by song, play and words.”
At Şopotul Nou (Buceaua) you will see Nera’s spectacular “bend” towards the gorges and the serpentine road to the Bufeni area (Cărbunari, Ştinăpari, Padina Matei).
In the forests of Sopotul Vechi you will learn the craft of collecting fir resin in the settlement where the Bishop of Caransebes, Traian Iosif Badescu was born.
Dalboşeţ is the longing village for all the Almaj writers: Ion Marin Almăjan, Iosif Băcilă, Ion Budescu, Nicolae Dolângă and others.
At Moceriş you can eat the best salats and the most delicious snail dishes, according to secret recipes known only by the locals.
The Lapusnicu-Mare Brass Band, founded in 1911, leads the fame of this locality; here was erected the oldest stone churchfrom the Almăj Country, dedicated to the “Descent of the Holy Spirit” (1770-1780).
Bania can be recognised by the white and red colours of the folk costumes and by the authentic traditions and beauties. Make a stop at “Stăjări” – the intersection of the commune road from Bănia with the county road DJ 571B. This place in the middle of Almăj Valley (km 15) is marked by five young oaks, which were planted in 2004 instead of the old oak tree that “fell and kissed the land that had fed it and maintained it for 600 years. The oak was planted in 1330 in honour of the victory of Basarab I, with the attendance of the villagers, against the King of Hungary, Carol Robert of Anjou. Over time, the oak has become a symbol of the permanence of the villagers on these lands. In its shadow, the local lords used to meet in order to make the most important decisions. The last great moment that the tree lived was the Great Union of the 1st of December 1918, when the rainbow fell from heaven to earth, turning into our three-colour flag. “[Andrei N., 2003].
The legend of this place is doubled by the existence of a fountain “one –of-a – kind” in Almăj Valley and Banat. Whereas all the wells have been built in a round shape, this is built in “angle”, indicating the direction of “a great treasure” that could be found. If you have time and a sharp mind you can find it. The fascination of gold has existed since ancient times, and to this day, as people have always been attracted by the glow of the gold grains in the sands of the Banat rivers, especially in the “intercourse”, as the Almaj teacher and poet Nicolae Andrei recounts in the “Almaj’s Legends”.
At Eftimie Murgu (Rudaria) you can visit the Mulinological Reservation with its 22 mills. Eftimie Murgu was born in this place (1805–1870); he was the leader of the Revolutionaries from Banat in 1848. Also in Rudaria was born Ion Sârbu, the Banat historian (1865-1922), the author of the study “History of Michael the Brave”, written in two volumes, and rewarded in 1906 with the first prize by the Romanian Academy. The works of the great Banat historian are preserved in his memorial house at Rudaria.
The survival of the mills at Rudaria until our days, the age of the flight to the cosmos, the era of information technology, is the fantastic story of the Almaj peasants, whose nobility is in fact the common sense. The wheel of the mill charms us through its dizzying movements in order to put in motion the stone that grinds the food for the existence of the villagers. At Rudaria, you will learn how to use the smoke tree tea to treat digestive tract diseases, how to make hawthorn tea for heart diseases, how to apply arnica leaf from hot water on burns to heal them, how to prepare water lily juice for insomnia. Only at Rudaria you can eat “grilled” cheese with polenta in the wild lilac glade. The marathoners can pass through Svinecea Mare on the old Dacian road, 25 km up the hill and another 25 km downhill, to Eşelniţa, near Orşova, on the Danube Shore.
If you want to know more about the traditional folk costume of the villagers, you should chat with Professor Pavel Panduru, from Prigor, from the village that gave the great sociologist and director of the National Institute of Statistics of the Interwar Period, Anton Golopenţa (1909 – 1951).
Before you leave the beautiful Almaj Land, stop at the Monastery Putna Almăjului, the holy place where you will find the essence of life: love and faith.
Only here, in the Almaj Country, at the end of the day and of the journey, you will see almost simultaneously the “miracle” of a sunset and a moonrise, appearing together in the skies like two lovers. The return will be made through the Craina County to Iablaniţa, where we enter the European road E70 (DN6), in the direction of Caransebes.
Because the soul of the villagers cannot be caught up in the mad hustle of the restless people of today, we offer you from the calendar of traditions from Almăj Country three traditional and authentic manifestations.
The Almăj Valley Festival
The Almăj Valley Festival is held annually every autumn, each time in a different locality from Almaj.
Like any other feast in Banat, it lasts for two or three days. On the first day they organise the Symposium called “About Almaj, its villagers and their deeds”, where you can meet the most famous “sons of the land” and a monograph of a village from “Almăj Country” is also launched in this period. Everything with a unique purpose: a better knowledge of these places.
On the second day, the cultural and artistic festival begins with the parade of the folk costumes of all the Almaj villages, when the folk costumes specific to the etno-folcloric areas of the Valley are presented. It continues with the contest of the artistic band from the villages of Almăj where you can see customs and traditions kept authentically, as they always were, without any foreign influence. The folk costumes and the Almăj dances urge you to dance too in the “fairy’s horo” and tell others that “proud are the dances of Banat.”
The festival ends with the recital of the professional ensembles from Banat and other places, invited in order to “promote the traditional jewels of Banat” through play and song. [Panduru P., 2009]
While you are at the festival, take a look at the new houses, but also at the “old” ones of the Almăj villagers. If in the past the houses were made of beams and were covered with cane and shingle, today the houses are made of brick and covered with tiles, placed along the street, side by side, with a high gate at the entrance into the “stock yard” (yard). The interior of the houses is specific to the households in Mountainous Banat. From the porch you enter, to the right and left, in the two “rooms” of the house; one is the sitting room, and one is a guest room, being fancier, and used only on festive days. You should dance the Banat dances at Nedei or at weddings: girdle, hora, dance in two and Ardelean. The dance steps are not hard to learn and you are going to be rewarded by holding a Banat girl by the hand.
A typical habit of the place is the presence of the flag accompanied by two beautiful girls at the forefront of the wedding procession. The wedding banner is the three-colour national flag with the spear wrapped in a silk ribbon, adorned with flowers and a bell in the top.
The measurement of sheep
Besides the houses from the village, the locals also have “huts” spread over the hills, because one of their occupations has always been that of shepherding. The most important habit that has been preserved until today is the measurement of the sheep or the “Smalz”. The measurement of sheep is a real celebration for the Almaj people. Most of the time, it takes place on a Saturday, between Sângeorz (St. George – April 23rd) and May 1st. The sheep must be taken to the best grazing lands in order to give a lot of good milk. That is why, in spring when the “first grass arises”, the Almăj area goes through a transhumance specific to the valley, when sheep are taken from the lower lands to the huts, near the forest, where there grass is green and fat. For the grazing of sheep, several families (relatives or neighbours) gather their sheep by “mating” into one herd. The measurement of sheep on the day of “Smalz” has the purpose of establishing the “sheep queue “for grazing, milking and curd taking.
Usually the sheep are taken to the sheepfold on Friday afternoon to get used together, and the lambs are now “weaned”. When they come from the pasture, on Saturday, on the day of the measurement, at lunchtime, each master milks his sheep. The milk is placed in “scales” and is measured with “brac” or “raboş” – a wooden stick with marked levels. After the number of “weights” is completed (a weight = 1.2 litre) the “sheep queue” is established, in other words, the order of driving the sheep and how much curd is made. The shepherd with the most “weight” is the “head / baciul” of the sheepfold and he is the first to take the sheep curd.
After the measurement, a huge picnic is set up on the grass carpet next to the flock, with “roast lambs”, lamb roasted on the tray, fresh curd, red eggs painted in onion shells, cheese cake and the ever present “Banat slivovitz” made of plum. The mates and shepherds drink slivovitz; they sit for “a glass of chat” and dance listening to the fiddler’s music (Gipsy musicians). In the past they played the flute or the leaf: “And the old man was playing from his whistle some barbaric tempestuous dances or blue ballads of broken hearts” [Birou V., 1982].
In the summer, at the sheepfold cheese is made with the milk-processing instruments: the cloth for squeezing the curd, the varzob – Romanian terminology for a circle of linden wood over which the strainer for the curd is placed, the scales – a wooden pot in which the sheep’s milk is placed, the brass cauldron in which the whey is boiled to prepare the urda / soft cow cheese. In autumn, in September, sheep are “picked” and are lowered into the field. There one prepares the “balmos” from sour curd with cream and corn flour, all mixed together and put to boil.
After this little party, every shepherd takes his sheep home for winter.
The wedding of Corni
It is a habit of pre-Christian origins whereby, with the help of masks, “they stage” the ritual of a wedding. The folk feast is celebrated on Monday (The Monday of the Corni) after the “ZAPOSTAT,” when the Orthodox Cristians enter the Holy Easter’s Lent. The tradition is still preserved today in Bănia, Prigor and Rudaria. In Bania, the wedding is preceded by the “Corni’s burgain” (engagement or matchmaking) held on Sundays, where the roasted pig prepared “in BRUC” and the “BURIUL” a barrel of Banat slivovitz cannot be missed from the table. Like any wedding, you will meet brides, godparents and wedding guests. Men are masked with “LIOARFE” (cloth masks), while the ladies are not masked, but dressed in beautiful folk costumes. The departure through the village is from the godparents’house to the centre of the village, where a great HORA is formed and folk dances are danced. Like at any ordinary wedding, they practice the “cry of gifts” – a social satirical practice referring to certain villagers. On this day you can say anything about anyone.
The Almăj Fairy
It is said that, once upon a time, a long time ago, when the Sun and the Moon were walking in the sky together like two lovers, the ruler over the surrounding mountains, over the Nergana Lake, and over all their surroundings was Prince Almăj, to whom God gave a daughter named Almăjana. Beautiful as a fairy, pure as spring water and shy as a deer, the girl grew up, and the word about her beauty travelled far. Although a rich stranger wanted her as his wife, the girl married a handsome local young man and they threw a big wedding. On the night of the wedding, full of anger, the rich man made a hole in the boat carrying the bride and groom from the bride’s house to the groom’s house. The young couple drowned, and at the high commandment of Prince Almaj the servants drilled the mountain at Buceaua for the waters to flow down the valley. After three days and three nights, the water of the lake began to flow to the Danube. That’s how the gorges of today were born. On the location of the lake there grew a meadow crossed by the clear waters of a river, which the prince named Nergana. Since then, the servants of Prince Almaj have been called Almajeni / Almaj people, who through hard work have turned the old lake into a blooming garden with meadows where the “Almajana fairy” comes. In the evenings with shining moon, good fairies catch in their nocturnal hora a lad who is looking at the moon and stars in the middle of the night and … they steal his heart. Then the lad looses his wits, wanders through the woods looking for the Almaj fairy who had stolen his heart.