The Land Of Nera

Between the mountains of Semenic, Anina and Almaj, to the south of the Romanian Banat, between Semenic and the Danube lies a flat land which geographers deem specific of the Carpathians. Ellipsoidal in shape, crossed by the river Nera, the land of Almas is girdled by wooded mountains. The area is often spectacular. In this sense, to mention only the stupendous Nera Gorges, the longest and most fabulous in Romania, over 30 km long. This fortress that is difficult of access has preserved over the centuries formidable tokens of the thoughts and emotions of its inhabitants, many a kin of farmers and animal breeders. Here elements of peasant household works have been saved for millennia. To mention only the biggest preserve of wooden mills (forerunners of the Kaplan turbines) in south-eastern Europe, on the RudariciiValley. Close to the source of the Nera lies the Eagles' Lake. Legend has it that once eagles used to fly here when they got hurt. Simply dipping an impaired wing in the lake would heal it. (Nowadays, nobody can manage more than two minutes in the water: the electromagnetism of the area is strange and unrelenting.) This water is cold and hot at the same time. It was also said that one could tell the future by the way eagles flew. The place has been inhabited since time immemorial, as proven by archaeological digs unearthing Neolithic objects at Cracu Otara, remains of a Dacian citadel at Gradiste, and a Roman villa at Dragomirana. In 1823, the authorities of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire colonized the region with Czechs, who formed six villages. Eibental is a village with brick and stone houses, populated by farmers and miners. Its church features an organ built by Joseph Seiber. Bigar is the most isolated of the Czech localities in Romania. Its inhabitants are woodcutters, farmers, animal breeders, tree growers, and miners. Traditions have been well kept because of the locality's remoteness. Sfanta Elena is the oldest Czech colony in the AlmasMountains (1823-1825). The area is rich in orchards and vines. It is the only Czech locality with an Evangelical church standing side by side with a Catholic church. Garnic is the biggest of the former Czech colonies in the south of the Romanian Banat. It has a beautiful church, erected at the same time as the school, between 1850-1852. The village lies in the valley of the Kamenitsa river that comes out of the rocks. Ravenska is another isolated village in the region. Colonized in 1823, it boasts a school from the same time. Sumita numbers 200 inhabitants, who live mostly on animal breeding. The traditions of the place have endured and mingled with Romanian elements. Today, these are the only Czech-inhabited areas in Romania. The cohabitation with the traditional Romanian population resulted in a most impressive intercrossing of civilizations, and thus a genuine, extremely original and beautiful page in the history of Europe was written. (The area contains more than 25,000 Romanians and 3,200 Czechs.) The border regiment of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, to which the people of Almaj belonged, contributed to the special status on this area. Its inhabitants were equally peasant, foresters, and border watches. They proved their valor in famous battles, receiving the accolades of the Austrian Kaiser and also of Napoleon. Many of them spoke German, as the administration was Austrian. Eleven generals employed by the Imperial Court came from the Almaj villages. They played an important part in preserving the ethnic identity of their native place, the liberty and traditional freedoms of the peasants. Eftimie Murgu, the first philosophy professor at the Mihaileana Academy of Iasi, was born at Rudaria. He also taught the first ethics course in the country, and was the professor of historian Nicolae Balcescu and politician C. A. Rosetti. Another important local name is that of historian and doctor Ioan Sarbu, who studied in Vienna and Frankfurt, and received the Prize of the RomanianAcademy, in 1905, for his work The History of Michael Basarab.

by Nicolae Dolângă