When the Communist Regime in Romania wanted the local industry to boom, they relocated many people from villages to cities. The population, which was predominantly rural, started to shift, as more and more people moved to the country’s urban centers. When the regime fell, many things changed in Romania, but that trend didn’t – more and more people are leaving villages today, up to the point where entire villages are deserted. A new study has shown that 1% of Romania’s settlements are actually deserted – abandoned, secluded, or even buried under toxic sludge.
At a Hackaton which took place in Bucharest in February (21-22), one of the teams discovered that 126 settlements in Romania are have no inhabitants. Paradoxically, despite this, many abandoned villages still exist officially – some even have a postal code. Still, while all these settlements tell a sad story, there’s also a lot to learn – and also a lot to explore. Many countries in the world are still trying to deal with the population urbanization and we still don’t have a way to make something useful from all these abandoned places. They remain an attraction for curious explorers though, as well as those who want to take a peek into a country’s past.
Here are some of the most famous abandoned villages:
Out of the once lively streets from Lindenfeld, only the church and a few houses still stand today.
Lindenfeld was founded in 1828 by Germans from the Bohemian region – it was a time of massive movement of German populations, and much of Transylvania is still inhabited by Germans today. The most inahbitants that the village ever had is 302 in the 1920s, and since then, the population has continuously (and slowly dropped). According to existing records, the last inhabitant left more than 20 years ago.
The village was pretty much doomed from the start – there was never a mixed marriage inside the village (with a Romanian) and the youth of the village had no possibilities, as there was only a primary school with one teacher. Few kids ever learned Romanian, which greatly limited their ability to integrate into other villages or cities. The road was rough, the winters were harsh, and most of the locals lived off of the forests and fields – they worked their lands in the summer and sold wood in the winter. It was a very harsh environment, barely covering the living expenses.
After the fall of the communist regime, the few remaining inhabitants went back to Germany. But one man, Paul Schwirzenbeck, refused to leave. He lived alone, in the deserted village, until the age of 83.
Today, only the memory – and a few buildings remain of Lindenfeld; but there may yet be a future for the once forgotten village – a German man, whose ancestors came from Lindenfeld, has started constructing a touristic pension and hopes to revive the village, giving it a touristic twist. Close to the village there is a famous Jazz festival, the Garana Jazz festival – that might help.
If you want to reach Lindenfeld, the best way to do it is through the near city of Caransebes, and then through the Buchin-Poiana road. Be advised though, as the road can get pretty tough (especially if it rains). A 4×4 is advisable, though not strictly necessary.
Image source: Prin Banat.
Geamana is an entirely different story; it was a quiet and peaceful yet vibrant village, until 1978, when the communist regime decided that a nearby pit must be opened. The Geamana valley, on which the village is situated was chosen as a storage place for the toxic sludge resulting from the mining activity.
Everything started in 1977, when dictator Nicolae Ceausescu decided to exploit a huge copper deposit from the underground; within the year, everyone had to be evacuated. Today, the only thing that is still visible from the village is the church tower, rising defiantly from under the sludge.
The nearby copper pit of Rosia Poieni in the Apuseni Mountains is still the largest copper reserve in Romania, producing around 11,000 tonnes of copper. The exploration has stopped now, but the Geamana village remains a testimony of the sacrifices which were made in order to favorize industrial activities.
Some 400 families were evacuated and their village was replaced by an artificial basin. Many of the villagers thought they will get rich, as the government promised. They were supposed to be relocated in a new village, 7 km from Geamana. But they were relocated over 100 km away, receiving just land and small amounts of money.
Today, there is little hope for the area. Out of the 1000 people who once inhabited the area, 20 still live around the toxic waste. Their houses just happened to be higher up the hill – destiny placed them there, locals say.
“First time, I came here to work as a postman. But after this happened, I realized that no one here needs a postman anymore”, said Cornel Pop, a local.
Sadly, there is no future in store for Geamana. The toxic sludge means that the land cannot be grown anymore, the local springs are polluted, and living there is simply not possible – not for an entire community, anyway.
It has nice houses, clean streets, and even internet access – but no one actually lives there. No one has lived there for the past seven years, and the village only becomes alive in the summer, when the former inhabitants’ children come to visit.
The village has a rich history of over six hundred years, even winning a small defensive battle against the tatars. But the rich history and beautiful landscape didn’t stop the horrors of the communist regime from reaching Hosasău and taking away the lands and cattle. Many villagers were forced to flee, and the ones who remained slowly dwindled away.
The village remained isolated, and still is today – most of the road is totally inaccessible by car in the winter.
“The ones who used to live here come back in the summer because the road is inaccessible in the winter. But once I retire and my kids finish college, I might move here”, said Benedek Andras, who used to live there.
Authorities have tried to repopulate the village, keeping the house clean, renovating the church and even adding internet access. The village even has access to mineral waters. However, a single person was convinced – and not by these reasons.
As of late 2014, the village actually has one inhabitant. Kanya Florian was visiting the village with business, he saw a house and instantly fell in love. Florian, who has a two month daughter says he enjoys taking a walk down the always quiet streets of Hosasău. He will keep the house as a vacation spot for a few years, but hopes that he will soon be able to move with his entire family there.
“In the winter I came by foot and it’s a bit weird… no dogs are barking, there’s no smoking fireplace and it’s beautiful then, you can’t even hear the birds, it’s like time has stopped; there’s a special charm”, says Florian.
It remains to be seen if, for all its past, Hosasău will have a future.
Ada Kaleh was a pretty unique settlemen, a small island on the Danube populated mostly by Turks. Despite its name (which means “Fortress Island”), it was sacrificed “for the greater good”, again, during the communist regime. The island, located on the Danube, was submerged during the construction of the Iron Gates hydroelectric plant in 1970. The island measured 1.75 by 0.5 km and was inhabited by 600 people.
The island also has a rich history – for a very long time, it was an Ottoman enclave inside Romania, being known as a free port and a smuggler’s nest. But it has a specific charm, with its mosque built ontop an older Franciscan monastery and surprisingly long, winding alleys.
Initially, the Austrians built a Vauban-type fort there to defend it from the Ottoman Empire, and that fort would remain a bone of contention for the two empires. The island changed possession from one side to the other, until 1791, when it went into permanent Turkish possession. To make it even more interesting, the island was forgotten at the Berlin Peace Treaty in 1878, and remained (theoretically) a lawless, out-of-country place. Following the end of World War I, Romania unilaterally declared its sovereignty in 1919 and strengthened its claim with the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. On July 24, 1923, the new Republic of Turkey officially ceded Ada Kaleh to Romania
The inhabitants lived off of fishing and tobacco cultivation initially, and then started developing the touristic potential of the area. During the construction of the dam, some of the structures that were built on the island were relocated to the nearby Şimian Island, including part of the masonry of the fortress’ catacombs, the Mosque, the bazaar, Mahmut Pasha’s house, the graveyard and various other objects. The plan was to relocate the entire population there, but the people had none of it; they moved to another area in Romania (Dobrogea) or moved back to Turkey.
Today, Ada Kaleh is submerged, and while some ruins still emerge during extreme droughts, no one lives there anymore, and likely, no one will.
Ceausecu’s attempt to systematically align the Transylvanian cities (inhabited by many Germans, Hungarians and Austrians) left visible marks – like Bezid. Bezidu Nou (The New Bezid) was inhabited mostly by Hungarians.
Authorities began constructing a reservoir in 1988, although the dam had already been started in 1975, with a long interruption from 1977 to 1984. But the reservoir slowly started failing, and the village was slowly flooded.
In 1994, 5 years after the fall of Ceausescu, most of the village was under water, with only 12 houses and approximately 40 residents remaining. But even these stubborn people had to admit defeat and flee Bezid. In 1995, they raised a mournful monument, as they left the village:
“On the floor of the lake rests Bezidu Nou. Its 180 former residents, now scattered in the world, mourn it still today. Obsequious servants of the dictatorship demolished it and flooded it, thereby destroying a historically and religiously unique community, in which families of different nationalities and faiths lived with one another, full of understanding and good peace over the centuries. Now the prayers of Roman Catholics, Unitarians, Greek Catholics, and Sabbatarians have gone silent forever. Let this place be a symbol of religious tolerance.”
Ironically, or perhaps perfectly fitting, the only visible thing was the church’s spire, defiantly piercing the surface of the wateer until 2014, when it too fell, eroded and abandoned.
Francenii de Piatra
It’s a land so forgotten by time you’d have a hard time believing anyone ever lived. If it weren’t for the horses watching over the area, you’d have no clues humans are around at all. But even the horses are only half domesticated – spending most of their time roaming the hills like they did in primeval times.
There’s no sign to let you know you’ve entered the village – only two houses, on each side of the road. They’re actually among the very few houses that are still standing, most of them being swallowed by the evergrowing vegetation. Surprisingly enough, these houses are also inhabited… sort of; one of them houses an old lady, who only comes there during the summer and leaves in the winter, living with her sister. The other two house belongs to four sisters who come and take care of the house by rotation. It’s almost like a fairytale… but one that’s gone wrong.
“There used to be 80 families living in the village in the good times. Now, there’s just the four of us taking care of the house in turn. My parents’ dying wish was that we take care of it to not let the house go to waste. There’s just another old lady living here, but she leaves in the winter, and a boy taking care of Florin’s animals,” one of the four sisters told Transilvania Reporter.
Florin is a zoologist who now lives in the nearby city of Dej. He owns the horses, leaving them to run as they please and keeping them semi-domesticated. He’s working on starting a goat farm in the area. He remembers the time when the village was known for lime production – but those times are long gone. The land was no good, and with the development of material mass production (including lime), the people found themselves without a job, and with no fertile lands. The young started to leave, and the old perished, one by one.
Eerily, the horses listen to Florin and obey him. It’s like the more he lets them be free, the more they love and are attached to him. He also feeds some dogs when he’s in the village, but they have to take care of themselves when he’s away. His house also attracted a strange breed of pigs, likely a cross breed between domesticated and wild pigs. It’s not clear when this mixing happened.
The area has a huge touristic potential – the wildlife pristine and spectacular, with all the species you’d expect to find in a Carpathian forest (brown bears, wild cats, wolves, deer and a myriad of birds). There’s even a cave with a spectacular spring phenomenon – during the spring, when the snow melts, the water simply bursts out of the ground, creating several miniature springs, reaching even one meter.
Florin believes there is still a future for Francenii de Piatra. With the return to more natural, simple materials, the old lime-creating practice could still return, complemented by sustainable tourism – tourism that would care for the nature, admiring it without disturbing it.
The village may yet be reborn – that’s a possibility, but it’s still miles away. This would require huge investments and careful planning – something which seems to be lacking in many areas of the country. Meanwhile, for Florin, it’s a piece of heaven – it’s freedom, shared with the horses and animals he loves.