In Sighetu Marmatiei, history can be seen and even studied at every corner of a street. Ever since Middle Ages, Sg. Marmatiei has been known as an extraordinary cultural center. It was known as the capital of Maramures County. In 1861, there appeared the first Transylvanian Cultural Association (known as The Maramures Romanian People's Cultural Association).
This town also hosted the first academic institution in the Maramures County. Thus, between 1838 and 1920, there was a Law Academy. At the town's entrance, somewhere quite close to the road to Baia Mare, we can find the Maramures Village Museum. Since the year 1981, the Village Museum in Sighetu Marmatiei joined the Maramures Ethnographic Museum.
It presents a unique collection of peasant architecture monuments. By its very own structure, it really re-creates the impression of an authentic Maramures village. It does indeed have straight and twisted main paths, which, like in any typical Romanian village, lead to the same central point of any community: the church.
The first museum in Sighetu Marmatiei was established in 1899. It then got re-opened in 1926. This one included some more departments. A part of the collection actually got lost during the war. It was then re-established in 1954, under the coordination of Mr. Francisc Nistor.
The objects purchased in the field campaigns will constitute the core of the present-day museum. On the 1st of March 1957, the museum was re-opened for the great public with a heterogeneous kind of exhibition, which lasted till 1967. Four years later, the museum was re-organized in several departments.
On the 20th of December 1971, the ethnographic exhibition is re-opened on a building which is placed within the town's center. The exhibition is available in open circuit rooms and it is structured on the main categories of folk culture. In the very first rooms, we are introduced to people's main occupations, such as gathering, hunting, fishing, agriculture.
We have the main pastoral occupations as working in the forest. The inventory of agricultural tools included: plows, forks, rakes, vessel for storing seeds, screw oil presse. In order to re-create the whole atmosphere of a sheepfold, the museum is provided with wooden vessels for milking sheep, wooden spoons and other traditional objects and household tools.
On the museum's ground floor, we can find an interesting exhibition of traditional icons painted on glass and on wood, some wooden sculptures, as well as a selling point for handmade artifacts and other products, together with museum's printed books and brochures.
Within the very same building we can also find the Maramures Museum's Department of Natural Sciences, together with the Department of History and Archeology.
Still in the central part of Sighetu Marmatiei we can find a most interesting, yet quite troubling museum: The Memorial of Suffering. It is about the victims of the Communist regime, including the Romanian cultural, political and religious elite of that time.
It is in fact a memory of the prison which had caused so much pain to many great minds and souls during those painful, yet unforgettable years. Many demolitions took place in Romania in the 1980s. People were forced to leave their homes and the population was only given rations of foods. All these and many more, took place between 1967 and 1989.
The prison was built in 1897, when Transylvania was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Only in 1948 did it become a jailhouse imprisoning many of the opponents of the Romanian Communist age. In the months of October and November, a number of 45-50 Catholic priests and bishops were brought to this place.
All prisoners, no matter what the reason for their detention, were kept in dehumanizing conditions. They were forbidden to rest on their beds in daytime or look outside the window. Although it claimed to be a kind of special work unit, it was in fact a place of suffering for many of the country's most valuable people.
It was closed down in 1977 and got turned into a museum, a sort of memorial for those who suffered for their own beliefs, while fighting for what could in fact be called freedom of mind and spirit.