There is a strong tradition of building wooden churches across Eastern Europe, from Karelia and northern Russia all the way to the Adriatic, but in terms of both quality and quantity the richest examples are here, in Maramures. The Wooden Churches of Maramures are unique in shape and ornamentation and eight of them – Barsana, Budesti Josani, Desesti, Ieud, Plopis, Poienile Izei, Rogoz and Surdesti, have been recognized in 1979 by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. There were built using wood as a response to the Habsburg prohibition against stone Orthodox or Greek-Catholic churches.
The characteristic high roofs and tall, narrow, pointed steeples are often collectively described as the Gothic Style of Maramures. The primary wood material used by the artisans was local oak, which has survived the elements with sturdy elegance until today. The interior walls of the churches were painted by local artists, with biblical scenes often juxtaposed against the familiar landscape of the village. Most of these houses of worship have stood proudly since the 17th -18th centuries, some even older, although majority have been destroyed by the Tatar invasions (ended in 1717), then rebuilt after.
In Maramureş today 42 wooden churches remain, about one third of their total two centuries ago. Besides the extant wooden churches, a major source of knowledge is still saved by a number of practicing senior carpenters with relevant knowledge and skills in traditional carpentry.
The craftsmen from Maramureş who were able to reach such levels were not simple peasants but well specialized church carpenters who inherited and maintained this advanced knowledge to exclusively build houses of worship.