The Romanian Village with Over 1,000 Wine Cellars
Wine culture and tradition can be found in pretty much all small villages across the Western Plains of Romania. Wine barrels are kept in hundreds-of-year-old cellars, dug right into the cliff face. One such place is Sălacea village near the border with Hungary, in Bihor county. This is an old settlement with archaeological evidence dating back to the Bronze Age. Over 94% of the entire population is now of Hungarian ethnicity, with the community being made out of two smaller settlements: Sălacea şi Otomani (Ottomans in English). Sălacea was first attested in 1067, and in 1215 appears again under the name of Zolos.
When the Hungarians settled in, there was already a Slavic community living here, involved in the salt trade. This is where the name of the village comes from. During those times, salt was an important trading commodity, on the account of it being a perfect food preservant and, of course, because there were no refrigerators around. By 1217, Sălacea had a large stockpile of salt and became a flourishing trading hub in the region. This is what made the first Hungarians settle here in the first place.
Over time, the salt trade diminished and was slowly replaced by wine making. In more modern times, wine growing has become one of the principal activities in the area. Today, Sălacea is known as “The village with 1000 cellars”. On the surface, however, it looks like any other village in the area, but once you go on any of its seven branching alleys, you begin to take a glimpse at the entrances of the 300-year-old cellars.
Suddenly you feel as if you were taken to another place in time, with these colored gates covered in ivy, and the utter silence of the countryside, only disturbed by the chirping of the birds. Within these many cellars, the villagers store their grains, potatoes or barrels of wine. Taking a stroll on these narrow streets, you’ll come across many of these century-old cellars, some under lock and key, while others without an owner and resting under an old walnut’s shade.
“The oldest of these cellars dates back to 1803. They have a length of at least 100 feet but can reach as much as 265. Their size is a direct correlation to their owners’ wealth; the bigger the cellar, the wealthier the family. The wines produced here in the Ierului Valley are kept clear, savory and cool. These cellars were built as to be as close to their owners as possible, either straight into the cliff face or with the possibility of them being partially covered with soil.” said Béla Horváth, mayor of Sălacea
Those who decide to visit the village will be able to see a 160-year-old household dating back to around 1850. This old house has since been restored and made into a museum. It’s made out of compacted earth and a reed roof. Everything was kept as they were during the 19th century, from the old house complete with family photos, ethnographical objects and religious artifacts to the barns, as well as the farming and wine making equipment.