Baia Mare (Big Mine), resting below the Gutâi Mountains, is the seat of Maramures County. The town was first documented in 1329 and developed as a gold-mining town in the 14th and 15th centuries. In 1446 the town became the property of the Iancu de Hunedoara family and was later fortified in 1469, under the rule of Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus (Iancu de Hunedoara’s son).
The town has seen its share of ecological catastrophes, even as recently as 2000, when a poisonous spill from the Aurul gold mine caused one of Europe’s worst environmental disasters, contaminating the Somes and Tisa Rivers which led to the polluting of the Danube, the Delta and finally the Black Sea. Six countries were affected, the water supply for 2.5 million people was contaminated and fish stocks were devastated. Drinking water remains unpotable and fish stocks polluted all the way to the Black Sea to this day.
On a lighter note, Baia Mare recently completed a full renovation of the historic center. Piata Libertatii in particular has been transformed into a new, nightlife-focused hub of good vibrations. The city’s museums are unexpectedly excellent, particularly the History & Archaeology Museum (Muzeul de Istorie si Arheologie), and the smattering of superior hotels are a good place to reintegrate with the 21st-century after your stay in the villages.
The Chestnut Festival in September/October is the unlikely highlight of the season.