Frontieres – Architecture between the sacred and profane (Transylvania) Pt.1


The interview presented for this workshop comes as a reflection on the extensive body of research on the topic of dwelling and habitation, authored by ethnographer and museum curator Maria Lobonţ-Puşcaş.

Conducted in the North-West of Transylvania, a place of threshold par excellence, it analyses the material and spiritual creation of Romanian rustic architecture, where we find: “technical ingenuity and craftmanship, the power to adapt to the weather, to the socio-historical and economic conditions, the concern for comfort, as well as love for beauty of many generations” (Stoica, 1989).

This research is covered in her recently published book, Dwelling, Habitation and Mentality in the Border Area (The Norh-West of Transylvania) (2015) where it explains the evolution and dissolution between vernacular architecture and contemporary rural architecture, its effects on the perception of space and the cultural influences and borrowings of the area under study.

The interview was conducted on 15.01.2016 with the author Maria Lobonţ-Puşcaş, at the Satu Mare County Museum (Romania) and was recorded through writing, followed by a museum tour. The following is a translation in English from Romanian.


Introduction – understanding the characteristics of the area in question

Ioana Tamas: Your recently published book focuses on the evolution of Romanian vernacular architecture and liminality, but it uncovers so much more: places, mentalities, rituals, portraits and stories of a fascinating world. As I understand, your background is in ethnography and anthropology – what drew you to architecture?

Maria Lobonţ-Puşcaş: This research started with my interest in family relationships in the rural area; I was conducting studies on the national patrimony in the geographical and ethno-cultural area of Țara Oașului when the opportunity arose to collaborate with a professor from the Faculty of Architecture in Oradea. The module that he is teaching is called “Culture and Civilization – Traditional Architecture”, so one of the requirements was that I would focus on the built environment in the rural area.

IT: In regards to the setting of the study – could you please describe what are the main characteristics of the geographical area in question, and what makes it so unique?
MP: The area that I focus on is multicultural – alongside Romanians, there are communities of Hungarians, Swabians (German) Ukrainians and Hebrews. The North-West territory of Romania includes the counties of Satu Mare, Salaj and Maramures, which in specialist literature is known as the Upper Tisza Basin and it also includes land now situated in Hungary, Ukraine and Slovakia. Along the millennia, this area has had unitary economic, social, cultural and spiritual bonds. The first civilization to live here were Dacians, which later on were annexed to the Roman Empire. After the Romans retreated, Slavic-Romanian feudal cities and states were formed.
The tradition of rural, wooden buildings in the Upper Tisza Basin is very old, as the wood itself has brought up a real wood civilization with unitary elements specific to vernacular architecture. The area under study includes both plains (Romania, Ukraine) and mountains (Romania), but the presence of wooden churches, true artistic masterpieces, confirm the presence of a unitary culture and evolution of the art in question.
A major factor of influence in the material and spiritual culture was the colonization that took place in the 18th century, when German population were brought here by the nobility. These people brought with them advanced agriculture and construction systems, which had a major impact. Unfortunately, most of that population has disappeared, due to migration after the Second World War and the Hungarization of the Swabian villages. Nowadays there remain around 20 000 German ethnics who do not speak their language anymore.
In terms of architecture, the house asserts itself as a true architectural workmanship, together with all the other elements of the traditional household – carved wooden portals, monumental barns, hen-coop, wells etc. with sculpted floral, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic motifs. The clothing distinguishes itself through ornamentation, colours and originality. The folklore has many cries of joy, love, satire which are sung during dances, weddings, celebrations.
As I mentioned, across the border, in the neighbouring communities, Romanians have preserved their language and traditional customs.


3-bc_map_elznik roman_provinces_of_illyricum_macedonia_dacia_moesia_pannonia_and_thracia

The ancient population in Transylvania were the Dacians; their territory was then annexed by the Roman emperor Trajan in 101 AD.

Present-day Romanian heritage is a result of the merging of Dacians, Romans who later settled there and, later, Slavic migrations.



Above, Ethno-linguistic map of Austria-Hungary, 1910 (Austro-Hungarian empire: 1867–1918).



Transylvania, present day.




Leave a Reply