The Roșia Montană Mining Cultural Landscape comprises the archetypal example of Roman underground gold mining.
Archaeologists have discovered in the town of Alburnus Maior ancient dwellings, necropolises, mine galleries, mining tools, 25 wax tablets and many inscriptions in Greek and Latin. Metal has been extracted here since the Bronze Age.
Map of Roșia MontanăLoad map
Japan / USA / Europe - 17-Oct-21 -
Romanian people are nice!
That is the first thing I would like to say, even after the several predicaments I encountered trying to get in and get out of Rosia Montana without my own transportation.
But before I talk about Rosia Montana...
This was my 6th trip to Romania, but it happened while I'm living in its southern neighbor Bulgaria during my 2nd 3 month stay.
At this point I'm eager to finish the UK and France to finish up Europe, but due to Covid and other annoyances I couldn't make it to those countries. So I reluctantly decided to just tick off the 2 (and only 2) WHSs in Europe newly inscribed in 2021 in order to keep my European record clean (except islands and Spain and Portugal, for which I have a special plan). After spending 4 nights in Belgium mainly to visit just one new WHS (and 5 TWHSs) I flew to Timisoara, Romania.
From Timisoara I took a bus to Alba Iulia. That Thursday the bus I was waiting for at the Alba Iulia Autogara was the second to the last one to Gura Rosiei (5 km west of Rosie Montana), or so I thought. According to www.autogari.ro, it was supposed to leave at 16:00, and I saw the bus coming from the Autogara cafe at 15:45. But by the time I went out to the platform at 15:50, the bus had left! WT....??? When I went to talk to an English-speaking woman at the gara, she said the bus left on time at 15:50 and the next bus was in the following late morning! This would completely mess up my plan to visit the museum in Rosia Montana on Friday, as it closes at the odd hour of 14:30 and remains closed shut until the following Tuesday. Seeing my face turning pale, the woman made a few phone calls, and what eventually happened was that I was put on a bus at the autogara that took me to another bus hub in town where the bus to Gura Rosiei that I missed earlier was waiting for me...
This bus ride from Alba Iulia to Gura Rosiei was around 2 hours. About one hour into the ride I received an email from the owners of the guesthouse in Rosia Montana I had booked for 2 nights on booking.com, saying that, gasp, they tested POSITIVE to corona that morning! My complete vaccination status notwithstanding, I immediately went back onto booking.com and booked another place for 16 Euros more per night. Later, booking.com promised to refund me the difference (and they did). I was rather grateful that the owners honestly told me about their viral status than otherwise.
By the time I arrived in Gura Rosiei at 18:00, both my phone AND my battery pack had run out of juice. I was planning to walk for 5 km from Gura Rosiei to Rosia Montana and to find the new guesthouse, for which I would love to use Google Map. Luckily a little store at Gura Rosiei was nice enough to charge my phone for about 20 min., during which I munched on an ice cream bar that I purchased at the store for reciprocation. I was thinking, if a complete stranger from a foreign country with a wheeled backpack was wandering around without phone battery in Gura Rosiei, I would say anybody would be inclined to help...
I started walking toward Rosia Montana, but of course I remembered that the Maramures region of Romania was the easiest place ever for hitchhiking. There, as soon as I raised my hand with thumb up, the first car that came by stopped and gave me a ride. So I tried to do the same here, but it was only 5th or 6th car that stopped and gave me a ride...during the pandemic.
There are no restaurants in Rosia Montana at this time, but I had picked up some food in Alba Iulia, so I had enough to eat that night.
My exploration of Rosia Montana didn't start until late morning on Friday, as the first thing I did in the morning was to go to a nearby mini store, which they call supermarket, to stock up on food for that day and the next morning.
When I arrived at the museum a few min. before 11:00, there was a large bus with many Romanian tourists coming out, which surprised me, but the gate to the museum was closed. Then it turned out that a guide from the museum was supposed to give a tour to all the tourists at 11:00 and opened the gate for us. I didn't make a reservation for this tour, but apparently other tourists did, and I was able to join them. The tour, which lasted for about one hour, included the entrance to the Roman underground mine (top and bottom left photos), an outdoor museum with some large mining equipment, and an indoor museum with many historic photos of mining from the area. The indoor museum can be only entered as part of this tour at this time. The guide, who spoke fluent English, conducted the tour in Romanian but gave me a brief summary in English at each point of interests. At the beginning of the tour he said the tour costs 50 Lei (about 10 Euros), but when he collected it at the end of the tour, he refused to take my 50 Lei, perhaps because he felt bad about me not getting the full explanation in English. I used this money that I saved to buy a book in English with many colorful photos called "Rosia Montana Cultural and Tourist Guidebook" at the gate to the museum area.
In the afternoon I decided to walk around with the Guidebook. This somewhat circular WHS has the diameter of about 5 km, so it is possible to walk north-south or east-west in a little over one hour. I walked through the center of the village of Rosia Montana, which had another small museum, to Piatra Corbului (bottom center photo), which seems to be one of the most popular places to hike to in the area. It is my understanding that this rock has some trace of Roman gold-digging. You can actually hike to the top of this rock where you get a very nice view of the surrounding area, especially with Autumn foliage (bottom right photo). I later learned that there were actually 4 recommended hiking routes, and I ended up hiking on a very easy western half trail of "Natural Monuments Circuit" with the stop at the top of Piatra Corbului. 3 of the 4 routes pass by Piatra Corbului.
Rosia Montana WHS is about the Roman mine, but if you want to see another good, old Roman stone ruin, the place to go is a village near Rosia Montana called Corna, which is within the core zone of this WHS. The ruin, called Hop Gauri, is located near Gauri Turn/Lake, which is less than 500 m away from Corna but is higher up, and is supposed to be the best preserved Roman mausoleum in Romania. (But it is not part of the Dacian Limes TWHS. The nearest Dacian Limes is at Gura Cornei, which is not within the boundary of the Rosia Montana WHS.) To be sure, I could not find where this mausoleum was on map when I was at Rosia Montana, so I didn't attempt to go there. (The guidebook only vaguely talked about it. I should have just asked my landlord.) I only learned its exact location later.
The Flooded Church:
When I spoke with the locals about Rosia Montana having been just bestowed a WH status this year, they all immediately said, "in order to prevent the gold mining by the Canadian company."
I first became aware of Rosia Montana even before knowing that it had been nominated for a WHS when I read about a village in Romania sunk under toxic waste. This village of Geamana is located about 8 km north east of Rosia Montana. It is certainly not part of the WHS but is material to it. What happened to Geamana from the waste from the nearby cooper mine of Rosia Poieni (the size of which makes the recent gold mine in Rosia Montana look like a baby) under the direction of Ceausescu in 1977 is but one of the reasons why the Rosia Montana locals and the Romania people in general have been concerned about, or, more specifically, have been left only with choice between life and death by, the mining project of the Canadian company Gabriel Resources. (Sorry, I should stop reading James Joyce.)
Just by looking at Geamana in a Google Satellite image you can tell how bad things are even today. And the most iconic but frightening image of Geamana is this so-called Flooded Church whose spire is sticking out of the toxic waste water. This is probably the one image I was most interested in seeing in my visit to Rosia Montana, but with no car rented I was aware that I wasn't going to make it all the way to Geamana this time.
My original plan was to go back to Alba Iulia by bus in the Saturday morning, for which the landlord of my guesthouse was supposed to give me a ride to Gura Rosiei at 7:50. But the night before I suddenly discovered that the bus did not run on weekend. So I revised my plan and found a bus to take in the afternoon from Gura Rosiei to Turda, which was indeed my next destination (for a non-WHS related, super salt mine called Salina Turda). So I messaged the landlord late at night saying I no longer need a ride. But when I called her at 7:30 in the morning from my bed to make sure she got my message, she said there was another bus at 8:30 from Campeni to Turda, for which her husband could give me a ride all the way to Campeni. I had not packed because I thought I could sleep in that morning, so I had 10 min. to pack with no time to even use bathroom and to jump in his car to head to Campeni. I later learned that the landlord checked the websites of individual bus companies that operate in the area to come up with more options for me, instead of using the aggregator website like www.autogari.ro.
So I got on a bus from Campeni toward Turda and got off at Buru in order to visit the TWHS of Rimetea. From Buru I hitchhiked to Rimetea and after a few hours there hitchhiked again all the way to Turda where I stayed overnight. And returned to the TWHS of Alba Iulia after Turda. I believe both TWHSs of Rimetea and Alba Iulia are worth stopping at if you are in the area. Turda also has a quite extensive Dacian Limes only a few minutes walk from the Autogara.
So in retrospect, it wasn't all that bad. I would like to say I overcame the obstacles :) with great help from the compassionate Romanian people.
Read more from Tsunami here.
With Roșia Montană scheduled for the 2020/2021 WHC, I had made it a fixture in my travel plans for Romania. Figuring out which bus connection to take wasn't easy, but eventually I found one that would work. Plan was to arrive at 18:00h by bus from Alba Iulia, hike to my B&B, drop the luggage, get some food and finally some rest.
And then the rain came. It was at 17:30h when the road between Abrud and Campeni was closed due to flooding. It took two hours to repair the road and when I got off the bus, it was 20:00h. I still had 5km of hiking to get to town, my stomach was empty, and, how could I forget, the road leading to Roșia Montană was also flooded. To add insult to injury, I had sprained my ankle in the morning in Sighisoara; Romanian roads and sidewalks are full of potholes. A strenuous hike with luggage up a flooded road at nightfall was just what the doctor ordered.
In addition, google maps in Romania provides some rather unconventional directions. With nightfall 30min away, I was stuck in the hills of Roșia Montană looking for a trail that just wasn't there.
Side note 1: Follow the car road if hiking.
Side note 2: The "car" road may still be more a trail than a road.
Side note 3: Really consider if you want to do Romania with your own car.
Stanislaw is also right, that at current Roșia Montană has very little tourist infrastructure. You could say it's non existent. There are three sleeping options on booking.com, two of them rather overpriced. I am not aware of any restaurants, ... Having made it to town, I realized I would go hungry that night.
Eventually, my B&B hosts picked me up on some random trail with dogs barking all around. The whole town was dark, as the floods had killed the electricity. Frankly, I was a bit frustrated with the day, having to go hungry, being lost at nigh tin the hills, and my ankle hurting plenty.
But lucky me, I was in for a Romanian dinner. Fresh cow milk, homemade cheese, mushrooms from the garden, tomatoes, pickles... Lovely. I also got to learn a little about the nomination from a local's point of view.
You see, all the stress mentioned above, was in light of a 50/50 chance of Romania pulling out of the inscription process at the last minute. They had done so before and they could do so again.
Apparently, some evil Canadian mining corporation has a contract with Romania to extract the remaining gold from the hills. Romania has stalled as there are severe environmental and preservation concerns. According to my host, the locals are afraid of the deadly chemicals (cyanide) being used in the extraction and the major impact open-pit mining would have on the landscape; the impact being that the landscape would be gone. Reading the entry on wikipedia makes my stomach turn. I have a hard time fathoming this would or should be legal at all in Europe.
The Canadians and Romanians have been involved in arbitration for years. Romania is afraid to lose and having to pay out a large award in damages. By making the site a world heritage, the option for an open pit mine is essentially gone now. Let's see what happens.
The site itself according to the official map is fairly large. I think the description by Els which focuses on the Roman mines does not fully capture what the site actually is. The Roman mines are but a part. In sum, it is a mining landscape spanning from pre Roman times to today with several different periods represented.
The most prominent feature is obviously the Roman mine in town. Unfortunately, the mine museum isn't open on weekends which could have been remedied with money and calling them ahead of time to arrange a visit. But no electricity and thereby no light due to the previous day's flood was a rather hard no. Still, there was much to explore. The town boasts nice rural Romanian houses, very different from the typical central European mining town. There are two big churches (and the one I picked for my photo). In town, you can also find the house of a mining company. I liked the small rural houses best. Outside of town are several open mines up in the hills. The stones are yellow from copper I guess. There are also lakes, one shaped in the form of a heart... Plenty of hiking opportunities.
In sum, it's a nice visit, way better than e.g. Erzgebirge. With the long history of mining in the area, I think this is a valuable addition to the list and a worthwhile detour when visiting Romania.
Last but not least, the feat that amazed me most on my visit where Romanian youth repairing the road pretty much immediately after the flood was over. In Germany, everyone would have waited for the construction crew.
Assuming the streets aren't flooded, there are four connections to Abrud and/or Campeni that run at least daily: North (Cluj via Turda), West (Oradea), South (Deva) and East (Alba Iulia). As useful a resource as autogari.ro is, their bus schedules are not always correct. It's best to check at the bus station, if you can. Be mindful, that schedules may differ between weekdays and the weekend. The easiest option (and the one I chose) is via Alba Iulia. The main bus line (excellent trans) was missing from autogari. The Deva bus was also missing from autogari and it only runs between Abrud and Deva, so you would need to figure out how to get to Roșia Montană.
If your bus runs between Campeni and Abrud (all but the Deva one should), you can get off at Gura Roşiei. From there, it's a one hour hike to Roșia Montană. Alternatively, you can hike across the mountains. The rough path between Abrud and Roșia Montană takes you to the open mines, including a Roman one.
With the bus schedules as they are and without a fast way to make it to the town proper, I am not sure you can do this as a day trip if relying on public transport. If you are looking for accommodation in Roșia Montană, ... the simple B&B I stayed in (mountain sanctuary), albeit simple and at the time without electricity, is a nice experience and has a warm host. It's also the cheapest option in town, but notoriously hard to get to if night sets in as it's remote.
I returned to Alba Iulia the next day. With the flooding, I wasn't sure if my bus was running at all and ended up hitchhiking. The best pickup point - if you are hitchhiking inclined - in Abrud is at the gas station at the end of town. It also has the added benefit of saving you several kilometers of hiking into Abrud as you pass by the gas station anyhow coming down the mountain. It should go without saying: Be mindful when you hitchhike.
While You Are There
There is a steam train running between Campeni and Abrud. They have a facebook page where you can check the time schedule.
Alba Iulia (T) is worth a visit. It's a nice 18th century fortress in good state, more interesting than either Terezin or Alessandria, and with Roman roots and ruins. Around Roșia Montană the Romans built their own Limes, the Dacian Limes, another Limes tentative nomination. Apart from that, most other sites are at least a day trip away.
Visited June 2019
In my opinion this is one of the most dramatic natural and man-made landscape in Romania! Underground and open mine sites, artificial lakes, old houses and roads, industrial monuments hidden in the forests, beautiful nature, lots of walking paths through abandoned industrial scenery, history that started before the Romans came in, and that continues to our time. Two days is not enough to discover all that. But in my case, it was not about discovering gold mining history of the region, but enjoying the breathtaking beauty of the area. Be prepared if you decide to take Roşia Montană village as you base, because the tourist infrastructure in here is not very well developed; there are some places where you can spend a night or two (in old houses, of course – you’ll have a chance to see how the wealthier ones used to live, i.e Casa Petri), only one store, and no restaurant at all (there are two or three local ones and bigger shops in Dăroaia/Coasta Henţii, 3 kms to the west).
Some archaeological findings prove that gold mining in this area started well before Romans. While visiting the Roman mine you’ll hear that the gold of Thracian kings came from this region. And the Romans developed mining to the point that today the underground network of tunnels is the most extensive ever created in antiquity. Ancient dwellings, cemeteries, mine galleries, lots of artefacts, wax tablets among them – all that come from the most ancient times. And all can be seen or visited while in Roşia Montană. But this is only one part of gold mining history. Remains from Middle Ages, Austrian Empire, communist times – all is there! Different methods of mining, different tools and machines, open pits, cave-like mining corridors (photo), very rich urban planning, very interesting small architecture, including churches, bridges, villager’s houses, storages, corporation buildings, even blocks of flats from 60…
And the nature, omnipresent nature. Where green plays with earth colours. Forests, lakes, mountains, hills… (And Cariera Poieni which probably won’t be in the core zone).
And the very difficult question: to keep on exploring (RMGC) or preserve this landscape as it is?
2021 In Danger
Upon inscription, due to unsure mining future
2018 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS adviced Inscription + In Danger
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