Bătrâna – the Old Woman – is a suitable name for the Province, with only about 100 living people at the last population survey; where the wild pig is a loyal neighbor and the wolf a constant enemy; where domestic animals are free and the people live behind walls and fences; where the possibility to buy something is a privilege, not a choice and to live up there, you have to be at peace with the nature.
My first „meeting” with that land, was a few years ago when I joined a group, with no real purpose, just to travel and discover Romania. It was a revelation. People live with no electricity, no neighbors, no plumbing system* and, without school or church. There is an Orthodox Church, a building, but the Priest comes once every seven Sundays.
Bătrâna village is surrounded by miles and miles of forest, wild animals, wild birds, wild „anything”. It’s pure beauty.
There are two possible routes to arrive there: via Dobra or via Poieni. The roads are not covered with asphalt and there are not many route signs. Very close to the village, we faced a forest with trees up to 200 years old, known as the Secular Forrest, a Protected Area.
Bătrâna is also the place where the well-known story of Ali-Baba and the 40 thieves is part of local history. Fața Roșie – the Red Face –, one of the fourth villages which constitute the Province, is based on a big plateau of stone; there, the legend says that, some hundred years ago, lived 40 thieves. In that plateau with stones, you can find a cave, named Huda Roșie (The Red Hole), which was the house of the autochthonous Ali-Baba; they never showed their faces to the locals. Among those thieves, lived a woman, she cooked for them and washed their clothes. When the band of thieves broke up, the woman came to Bătrâna. The legend says that when they left, three of them were stuffed and placed riding on three barrels full of gold. One of them had a gun and when people tried to enter the cave, he shot them.
The Old Woman is so old that it’s almost dying, in Stone village doesn’t live anyone anymore. In Răchițaua lives a family, in The Red Face village lives four families and in The Old Woman, are only about ten families. The people are also old, due to the fact that the youngers went to the city with their children, in order to be closer to school and to find jobs. People still use ancient tools to cultivate their land, like the scythe and the hoe. Their houses are built after their own style, the people have fewer outside influences in their genetic code and the trade, or small business, are almost absent.
I have found out that for the first time the village was attested in 1760, twenty years earlier than the building of the Orthodox Church. Still, as per the locals’ sayings, the village may be way ancient. As per example, the Old Woman may be older than two thousand years, from the Dacian times; as a proof stands a stone ax found in one of the many caves surrounding Bătrâna.
The locals told me about the village name. Before the actual ground (foundation) of The Old Woman, the village was moved two times, the second time the villagers lived on a hill without any water source. So, they had to travel on another hill (where is the actual base of Bătrâna) to collect water. In that village lived alone an old woman and it was hard for her to go every day to collect water and take it back home, so, she decided to move on the hill with water. From that day on, the villagers talked about going to “the old woman”, when going to collect water.
The name of the Red Face Village, also comes from a legend, people say it comes from the blood of many people which were killed there in a big fight, or, others believe that the name originates from the fact that the people there, were red-skinned as the Amerindians. The truth, (they affirm so), is that in a very large cave and around it, exists iron mineral, which in the sunlight appears red color.
Bătrâna is also the village where you discover that it needed 100 years to bring a plumbing system*. The villagers say that the first native who left The Old Women to study, after a job for Cluj sewerage system, he stated that it was possible to build a plumbing system for the village. It took almost a century to implement his project. However, with or without current water, the Bătrâna Province has some interesting stories to tell.
When I was about nine years old, says an ex-local, and went to school, I had to travel through some woods alone for two years; I was afraid, but one day a neighbors’ dog started to come with me till I would cross the woods than he would return to his family. It was a blessing. Another time, I heard about a herd of seven Stags living in the woods, I went after them, hoping to see some. I didn’t see any, but I remember those times. It was about love and life.
In conclusion, traveling to Bătrâna is an experience not easy to forget. But, please take a guide with you, not only to show you the road there but to reveal the essence of this land, to you. Beyond the spectacular place, you will find people, with their own life stories. They are the „perfume” of that place. Without the presence of humans, a place is just that, a place. Legends, myths, and history are „the ingredients” that gives flavor to a land.
As far as I know, it’s possible to rent a room at one of the villagers and to acquire a guide by writing to the administrator from the Main Hall in Bătrâna, Hunedoara County.
*A plumbing system is available only in the Old Woman Village, not in all the Province.