At a first sight, Roșia Montană is just another typical Transylvanian village. Set at a base of the Apuseni Mountains, with picturesque views and beautiful architecture (but with houses that do suffer from degradation), with a mixture of different nationalities living in it, with traditions and a feeling of time standing still.
But Roșia Montană is unique in Romania (and not only) for other reasons than the ones I already mentioned above. The village sits on top of Europe’s largest gold deposit (and a few other precious ores) and it the oldest documented settlement in the country, being founded by the Romans during the rule of Trajan (98 – 117 AD) as a mining town.
The Latin name was Alburnus Maior. The earliest reference to the town is on a wax tablet dated February 6th 131 AD discovered in the area. But there is archaeological and metallurgical evidence of gold mining here since the late Stone Age.
The ancient settlement flourished during the roman age. Gold was extracted starting from the very first days of the Roman conquest (106 AD) until the Aurelian retreat (271-272 AD). It developed into a village of miners who were brought here for their specialized skills, in order to work in the already existing gold exploitation.
After one and a half millennium, the mining operations were resumed and expanded during the Austrian rule with the support of the Imperial authorities. Because the flow of the streams passing near the mines was too low for the mining operations, around Roșia Montană people built a few ponds. These were used to break the golden ore using the force of the water.
The reality of today’s Roșia Montană is sad and worrying at the same time. Foreign corporations are drooling thinking about the huge quantity of gold they could extract with techniques that would irreversibly affect the environment and the unique historical value of the town, Romanian authorities don’t do too much to protect the village, although it has been proposed to enter the UNESCO list. People still living in the village (most of them sold their houses and left) live next to poverty, in an almost ghost village and try to make a living from tourism.
I don’t really want to go too much into details regarding the situation in the village (we have been protesting in the streets for years now), but I would want to emphasize that a solution to help this village still be alive and to allow it to tell its more than 2000 years story is to go visit it. To wander on its small streets, to hike and bike on the nearby hills, to talk to the locals, to sleep and eat in small guesthouses with hosts that will make you feel soooo comfortable, to buy products from the small farmers and producers of the village.
We were planning for a few years to visit Roșia Montană and finally this autumn we made it happen. The weather wasn’t the best for exploring the area more in detail, but that only means that we will have to go back again in the warmer months. Also we had our 3 year-old daughter with us and we had to dedicate more time to her rather than walking all day long and trying to understand the story of the place.
We chose Casa Petri as our headquarters and we couldn’t have been more inspired in this decision. A young couple owns the place and it’s their grandparents who initially owned the house. They restored the house and now it looks absolutely lovely, keeping lots of evidence of the mining activities from a couple of centuries ago. They also have a nice yard, which was exactly what our daughter needed to run around after the two cute cats the owners have.
There’s plenty to do while in Roșia Montană and I would say a full week would probably be enough to actually do all there’s around – from hiking, to visiting the mining museum and the Roman Galleries, to meeting the locals, to try their homemade meals and drinks. The guys from Casa Petri have a full list of activities to be done in the area and they also offer guided tours, either on foot or by bike (I’ve recently seen on their Facebook page that they are testing some electric bikes for their future tours).
A special mention when talking about Roșia Montană should go to the organization Made in Roșia Montană. It’s a social project helping the community of the village by selling wool products. 35 women from the village actually knit these fur caps, gloves, scarfs, socks and sweaters. So if you visit, it’s a must to check out their products and buy some for the cold days. They also have an online shop, so easy to buy even from far away.
If you’re in search of a rural experience, combined with lots of nature, beautiful landscapes and exercise every day, plus some very interesting stories about the village and the mining techniques, Roșia Montană is for sure the answer. We enjoyed this trip as we enjoy every trip into the Romanian countryside, each time the experience is so authentic, relaxing and every time we come back home filled with a inner peace, coming from the simple life the village offers and from all the fresh air and the green around.