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Saturday, 27 July, 2002, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Romania maidens' fair draws eager suitors

Young Romanians gather in this remote part of Transylvania hoping to find a husband or wife.
The Maidens' Fair is an age-old tradition
Crowds of single young Romanians are gathering on a remote mountaintop in Transylvania this weekend - in search of their perfect mate.

The Maidens' Fair is an annual event in this part of the Carpathian mountains.

On the third Sunday in July, thousands of Romanians in traditional dress descend on Gaina Mountain in the hope that they just might meet that special someone.

"I am trying to find a girlfriend here. There is a good selection but I am shy," 22-year-old Dan Mihet, who camped out overnight on the mountain with his friends, told Reuters news agency.

For many, the fair is also an excuse to eat, drink and make merry, and the Saturday night celebrations in nearby Avram Iancu are often seen as more alluring than the fair itself.

Traditions
Palinca - plum brandy
Mamaliga - polenta
Folk dancing
Alpenhorns

The revellers' spirits are fortified by palinca, a potent local plum brandy, and their blood pressure is raised even further by energetic folk music.

To eat there is momoliga, a kind of polenta with milk, bacon and onion.

The next morning, as the town rubs the night before out of its eyes, a group of local maidens signal the opening of the fair by blowing on huge alpenhorns.

An age-old affair

The celebration dates back to the days when shepherds, cattle farmers and miners used to gather on the mountaintop - where they would be safe from evil spirits - in order to exchange their wares.

High on a hill was a lonely shepherd - not this weekend

In this sparsely populated area, such a gathering was not to be missed. Young virgins would climb to the summit with their parents and, dressed in their finest, would endeavour to attract a suitable husband by showing off their dowry.

However, they were careful to take precautions.

Before climbing up the mountain, they would throw a wreath of flowers on to the roof of their house to see whether marital bliss awaited them.

If the wreath stuck, they were in luck and their man would be a good one. If it fell, a more unhappy match lay ahead.

Mythical matchmaking

In this region of vampires, it is no surprise that the tradition has become shrouded in legend.

According to local myth, a rich and beautiful fairy lived on top of Gaina (chicken) Mountain. The fairy had a hen which laid golden eggs and once a year she would give an egg to a poor local girl as a dowry.

One day, a group of local lads dressed in women's clothes stole a basket of golden eggs from the fairy but, in their haste to get away, dropped the eggs into a river.

The enraged fairy left the mountain in disgust but, ever since this day, young people have climbed the mountain on the third Sunday in July in the hope that they too will find a golden egg one day.

But whether the modern-day hopefuls come back with a fiancée, a golden egg or a hangover, the fair looks set to retain its popularity.

See also:

28 Jun 02 | Europe
11 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
07 Sep 01 | South Asia
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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