As the western entrance gate into Cluj county, the group of villages collectively known as the commune of Negreni pleasantly surprises and impresses the traveler on European road E60. The traveler’s attention is first attracted by Negreni’s first village, Bucea; even from its entrance, Bucea warmly welcomes visitors with the Romanian national flag and a welcome board in Romanian, Gentian and English, a proof of the hospitality and tolerance of the people who inhabit this region. The houses and well-kept yards, and the outstanding churches, including a well-preserved wooden church in Bucea, show the care and good housekeeping of the inhabitants, well guided by their priests and local authorities. The villages of Negreni are doing their best, with the help of priests and educators, to keep their unique traditions alive, despite the modernization sometimes necessary and inherent to the development of this region.
We began this monographic study having at our disposal only a few historical facts about the villages in Negreni; once the research began, however, with a little hope and faith, the documents started to come together and the study took shape, bringing to light the history of these people who have been blessed by God with such a lovely place, situated along a road linking Eastern Europe with the center and west of this ancient continent.
Situated along the river Crișul Repede, the commune of Negreni is the “newest” commune in Cluj county, having separated from the commune of Ciucea after a referendum in 2002. Administratively, the commune is separated into three areas, the villages of Negreni, Bucea and Prelucele; it is interesting to note, however, that the commune in its entirety is formed of 30 hamlets or groves, most of them situated in the hills at a high altitude. The communal centre, the village of Negreni, is located on the road connecting the city of Oradea, in Bihor county, and Cluj-Napoca, at an equal distance (75 km) between these two county seats.
Historically speaking, the territory of Negreni has been inhabited for more than 3.000 years, since the Bronze Age. We have a storehouse of bronze objects from that period, consisting of tools and more than 400 pieces of jewelry found hidden in a vase.
During the time when Dacia was a part of the Roman Empire, there were a series of fortifications along the Empire’s border. Negreni was located outside this border, but at the village’s northwestern end, at a place known as “the Fortress of Cimpuca,” there was a Roman fortification (known as burgus), a fact which shows that the Romans did, in fact, control the territory of Negreni. Part of a Roman road was discovered in the northern part of burgus, and an observation tower was found in the western part of the village of Negreni.
Around the end of the 9th century and the beginning of the 10th century, Negreni was part of the principality ruled by Menumorut. After this was defeated, the dukedom of Menumorut became the possession of the Hungarian royal family. Since the birth of the principality of Transylvania, the villages belonging to the commune of Negreni have almost constantly been under the ownership of Bihor county.
The locality of Negreni (under the Hungarian name Feketeto, meaning The Black Lake) is first mentioned in documents from the second half of the 12th century, in reference to donations made by the Hungarian king Stefan III (1162-1172).
After the Tartars invaded the area between 1241 and 1242, a number of fortresses were built in the region, but only in the northwest of the commune, with a fortress named the Hawk’s Stone (Solvomko in Hungarian) being built in the second half of the 13th century at Peștiș (Bihor County). Under its ownership were the villages which have now been a part of Negreni for many centuries.
In the 14th century, Negreni belonged to the principality of Borod, but at the beginning of the 15th century, Negreni and the territory of Șinteu were donated to the Lack family of Santău by Sigismund of Luxembourg, the king of Hungary.
According to tradition, after Ștefan the Great was defeated at Baia in December 1467, the Hungarian king Matias Corvin visited these territories to create order. It is certain that in January 1468, Matias Corvin halted in Oradea, and as the legend says, the pass between Negreni and Borod was named “The Stone of the King” („Piatra Craiului”), because the hoofprints of Corvin’s horse remained imprinted on a stone.
The village of Negreni, due to its beauty and well-known fair (with both goods and animals), attracted foreign visitors passing through it and is mentioned in their writings as a Romanian village. In contrast, the scholar Nicolaus Olahus wrote about Negreni in his work “Hungary.” In 1550 another traveler, the Saxon Georg Reichersdorffer, mentioned the village as being inhabited by Romanians and surrounded by mountains and hills. The papal delegate Antonio Possevino, around the year 1584, conscripted Romanians from Fechetau (Negreni) to defend the pass.
In 1598, the Austrians arrived in Oradea, and the county of Bihor (to which Negreni belonged at the time) passed into the hands of the Habsburgs for a short period. During this change in rulers, Negreni is again mentioned in historical documents.
From among the rulers of Șinteu Fortress (and, by implication, Negreni) in the following years, it is worth mentioning the Bathory family and former Romanian rulers Gavrilaș Movilă, Constantin Șerban Basarab and Gheorghe Ștefan.
During the period of Turkish domination in Oradea (1660-1692), the Șinteu Fortress was home to the Turkish Flag, and the villages of Bihor were likewise subjugated to Turkish rule, including those from the Crișul Repede valley and Negreni. Following Turkish ownership was a period of Habsburg rule, which engendered more improvements and greater order.
In a report from 1777, the village of Negreni is mentioned again, and this is the first time when the village of Bucea (Bucsa) appears in a document as well.
During the peasants’ revolt in 1784, the name of Negreni is associated with that of Horea’s, the leader of the peasants’ movement in Transylvania. But information about Horea’s presence in a place called “Puturoanca”, at the border of Negreni, under the hill of Magura, appeared before the revolt broke out. To this day, people refer to Horea’s Valley and Horea’s Well, and elderly residents tell stories of Horea coming and going from his house in Vanatori.
On November 28th, 1784, the county leader from Cluj wrote that he took the security measure of raising an army from Negreni “to stop the thirst for noble blood and the plundering of noblemen’s fortunes and properties”. On December 9th , 1784, the aristocratic vice- judge from Alejd reported that there was no danger of the peasants’ revolt reigniting, and suggested that the army retreat from Negreni. Elderly people today still remember what their parents told them about mountaineers from Horea’s army who settled down in Bucea after the revolt had been put down, in order to hide from Austrian authorities.
The years passed, and Negreni is mentioned again, during the revolution of 1848-1849, when Hungarian troops entered Transylvania with the purpose of annexing it to Hungary. At the end of November 1848, villagers from Negreni and Ciucea had to fight to defend their home territories; historical documents offer evidence of the strong resistance of both the Austrian troops, and those led by Avram Iancu’s men. The Hungarian army, however, being superior in number, succeeded in taking Negreni. Frenzied fights occurring in Negreni and Ciucea the next month, from December 6th to December 8th, are also mentioned in the historical documents.
In the first years of the 20th century, the proportions of the peasants’ movement continued to grow in nearly every commune in Transylvania where there were landowners, church lands, and forests. In Bihor County, the greatest degree of unrest occurred in the Valley of Criijul Repcde, including in Negreni, the main reason being the lack of land. Among those who incited the peasants to rise up was Gheorghe Gabrian from Negreni.
The First World War brought misfortune to the villages in the commune of Negreni, the worst of these being the recruitment of men to the army, and the absence of food. Taking advantage of the chaos created by the imminent end to the war, the peasants revolted in the fall of 1918 in Negreni, at the Negrii Valley, against the Hungarian aristocrat Kobos. Overwhelmed by the situation, Kobos called upon the Hungarian army, which for the moment re-established order, but sacrificed the lives of four men and one woman.
When the Romanian National Council from Oradea and Bihor (of which Dr. Nicolae Poenar, a lawyer from Negreni, was a member) called for participation in the National Assembly in Alba Iulia, on December 1st, 1918, in order to vote for the union of Transylvania with Romania, many Romanians from Negreni responded. Among them were loan Cohut from Negreni, and Mihai Sărăcuț from Bucea .
In January 1919, the Dirigent Council passed to the administrative organization of the territories united with Romania, but the Hungarian Government refused to withdraw its army from the wartime line of Braișoru – Poieni – Ciucea – Crasna. Beginning at the end of November 1918, the Hungarian army committed a series of offenses, terrorizing the entire population of the area, until the middle of April 1919, when the Romanian army forced it to withdraw from the pass.
In the period between the two World Wars, the lives of Romanian peasants from Negreni began to improve both materially and spiritually. In the year 1924, in Fechetau, under the aegis of ASTRA, a rural library was founded. Another library appeared in Bucea in 1936, inside the “National House”, which also contained the “Sfantu Gheorghe” House of Culture, founded in 1939.
The surrender of northwest Transylvania to Hungary on August 30th, 1940, affected Negreni, which was part of the surrendered territory. It was in this context that the priest Vasile Romitan of Negreni was banished by the horthyste authorities in Romania, and the new priest, Augustin Dejeu, arrived in 1942 and was decreed forced residence and imprisoned, being compelled for a time to flee from his home and wander in the surrounding hills.
After more than four years of Hungarian domination, the commune of Negreni gained its freedom on October 13th, 1944. However, the end of the war didn’t bring Negreni’s inhabitants the peace and calm they longed for. The joy of soldiers returning home from the battlefield, and the hope of returning to normal life, were short-lived. Immediately after the war was a period of hunger and need. Slowly, people began to realize that the communist regime which had been established was not in their favor. The so-called “Kulaks” those with greater wealth and assets, were identified. They were forced to give up their livelihoods – their land, animals, and farming equipment – or (as in Negreni), their “means of exploitation” such as windmills and thresing machines. The list of “Kulaks” from Negreni includes Rusalim Raita, Vasile But, Gheorghe Cristea and Cristea Petru. From Bucea, Teodor Codoban appeared on the list. “Kulaks” who had professions other than farming were forced to leave their jobs, and any “Kulaks” children who attended different schools also bore the persecution of the Communist Regime. The most revealing example is that of primary school teacher Teodor Codoban, who died in the communist prisons as a political detainee, and whose family was banished from their home.
Freedom came only after the revolution in 1989, when the inhabitants of the commune of Negreni could freely voice their thoughts, and what they really wanted. The return to a democratic regime made possible the unveiling of a monument in the center of Bucea dedicated to political prisoners and fallen heroes from the two World Wars. This event took place in 2000, and provided an opportunity for a reunion of villagers who had left. In 2003, approximately seventy years after the “National House” was built, a modern house of culture was inaugurated in Bucea, with the help of friends from Lorsch-Hessen in Germany.
A true entrance gate to Cluj county, the commune of Negreni, with all its natural beauty, offers an extraordinary touristic potential. The customs and traditions kept alive through the centuries make Negreni a rich source of folklore and ethnography. Negreni, in addition to its well-known fair, also has numerous material and spiritual riches waiting to be discovered by visitors, and it is our belief that this work will be of true value to those who want to learn more about this region.
– preluat din monografia comunei Negreni –