The place where the history of the Romanian people began, severely affected by depopulation. The drama of Hațegului

Rich in natural resources and with numerous touristic and historical attractions, Șara Hațegului in Hunedoara did not resist the phenomenon of depopulation. Its villages full of ancient and medieval remains and historical monuments are sought after by tourists, but their population has dwindled.

Sarmizegetusa. Photo: Daniel Guță. TRUTH

There are 1,300 people left in the Densuș commune in Hunedoara, almost 20 percent less than in 2011, according to data from the 2021 Census.

Villages in Șara Hațegului, more and more deserted

Many of the inhabitants are elderly and are generally engaged in animal husbandry. Other, younger locals have set up guesthouses or holiday homes that they rent to tourists.

The commune is rich in tourist attractions, and the most famous place in Densuș is the “St. Nicholas” Church (video), built in the medieval era from ancient ruins. From the villages of the commune, forest roads lead up to the wild places of the Poiana Ruscă Mountains.

The number of villagers has decreased, but the number of visitors is constantly increasing. Some locals have been able to take advantage of tourists' interest in off-the-beaten-track places.

“In 2021, my wife and I built a tree house on inherited land with woodland. Then I set up another one, also for tourists. The tree house can bring man closer to nature and can be an experience worth living, choosing to stay here for one or two days. I published the offer on a website, and about 70 percent of the guests who arrive here are foreigners: Europeans, but also tourists from Canada, the USA or China“, says Robert, a young entrepreneur from the village of Peștenita.

The ghost village of Răchitova

The seven villages of Răchitova commune in țara Hategului (video) count together around 1,100 inhabitants, 15 percent less than the 2011 population.

The settlements at the foot of the Poiana Ruscă mountains are surrounded by forests and hills, and in the past were famous for their orchards and brandy made by the locals. The greatest pride of the community, however, remained the medieval tower that watches over the village of Răchitova, an old monument from the 14th century.

Some locals worked in the metal mine in Boita (video), but animal husbandry, forestry work and agriculture were the traditional occupations of the community.

The decline of the population also meant the end of some villages of the commune. Gotești hamlet (video) located about ten kilometers from the center of Răchitova commune, remained uninhabited and is among the few ghost villages in the Poiana Ruscă Mountains.

“We arrived with difficulty in this abandoned place for many years, climbing about two hours on foot, on a forest road over which dozens of trees fell, cutting our path. The former village was shrouded in silence, as if time had stopped here, over half a century ago“, says Lucian Ignat, a photographer from Hunedoara.

On another hill, most of the picturesque houses of the village of Mesteacăn have remained deserted. The settlement in Răchitova commune has also become more of a holiday village.

The second departure of Sarmizegetusa

The most famous historical monument in Șara Hațegului is Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa (video), the ruins of the city founded by Emperor Trajan at the end of the Daco-Roman wars of his time.

The colony founded for veterans of the imperial army was abandoned by the Romans in the third century, and was then deserted by the migrating peoples. Its remains are, along with the Prislop Monastery, the Colț fortress and the medieval Densuș Church, the most attractive historical places in Șara Hațegului.

The population of the Sarmizegetusa commune has decreased in recent decades, currently reaching 1,000 inhabitants. The communes neighboring Sarmizegetusa are better in this regard, even if they were also affected by the phenomenon of depopulation.

About 3,000 people live in Râu de Mori commune at the foot of Retezatu, and over 2,100 in Sălașu de Sus commune.

Totești commune still has 1,700 inhabitants, Sântamaria Orlea, about 3,100, Bretea Română, almost 3,000, and General Berthelot about 800.

Pui commune, with the villages guarded by Retezat and Șureanu mountains, has over 3,600 inhabitants, being the largest in Hunedoara county, in terms of population.

The commune of Baru registers around 2,400 inhabitants, and the commune of Bănita – 1,000 inhabitants. The population of the city of Hațeg – the most frequented place by tourists, fell below 9,000 inhabitants in the last decade.

The country of Hațegului from Hunedoara, full of historical vestiges

The Country of Hațegului in Hunedoara lies at the foot of the mountains Retezat, Șureanu, Țarcu and Poiana Ruscă, appearing to travelers as one of the most attractive lands of Romania.

Located in the center of this land, the town of Hațeg from Hunedoara (video) is the communication node of the Banat, Ardeal and Oltenia regions, with the roads on the Bistrei, Streiului and Jiului valleys, used since ancient times.

Pilgrims of the Prislop monastery, explorers of the Retezat and travelers interested in some of the outstanding ancient and medieval monuments of the Hațeg County pass through its roads.

The land bathed by the waters of the Strei and Răului Mare has been inhabited since ancient times, and the Romans have left their mark, to this day, on almost all the settlements, ancient estates and villages that gravitated around the Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa colony.

In the Middle Ages, the Romanian princes built imposing fortresses, intended to defend the villages around them against Turkish raids.

In the following centuries, the fortunes of the noble families who patronized the rich natural resources of the land increased, and the princes who became counts and counts built their luxurious castles and mansions, which also stood the test of time.

The fertile lands of Șara Haţegului and the vast forests have made the locals maintain an archaic way of life, dealing with agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry and fish farming.

Only a few metal mines operated over time in țara Hațegului from Hunedoara, but at the beginning of the last century, many locals went to work in the coal mines of Valea Jiului, at the southern end of the land, where they established several mining settlements .

Since the 1970s, the patriarchal way of life in the settlements of Șara Hațegului began to change, along with the large hydropower installations on the valleys of the Râului Mare in Retezat (video) and Streiului.

Part of the labor force was attracted to the hydropower plants and reservoirs established in the area (video), while in the town of Hațeg most locals could work in the Hațegana brewery, in the slaughterhouse, or in the vegetable and fruit processing plant.

The mines in Valea Jiului, the metallurgical plant in Călan, the steel plant in Hunedoara and the iron mines in Teliuc and Ghelari attracted many local people from the villages of Ţara Hațegului to the industry.

After 1990, mines and factories employing hundreds of people gradually closed, and the region lost its economic appeal. Investments in tourism remained, however, the solutions proposed by the authorities in recent years for the development of the area.