All About Carpathian Mountains: Puzzling Words, History and Musical Bonus

All About Carpathian Mountains: Puzzling Words, History and Musical Bonus

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Hiking

What & Why

All this would be far poorer had I not exchanged countless Carpathian messages – in English - with Peterbud who lives on the other side of the Carpathian Arc, whose 'character' page has proven to be a tool of great help that I took advantage of all along the way, along with his critical remarks and the links he has provided me with.

It's not all about climbing, it's about mountains!


This article, along with the attached Carpathian Picture Dictionary, is aimed at people thinking of backpacking, hiking and/or climbing in the Carpathians. It is supposed to make you feel more comfortable while reading the non-English maps/guidebooks/TR's, not to mention being able to understand and perhaps use the words listed. Nearly all of these words fall into the following categories: what is usually in the map key, words that often form part of the name of a landform (e.g. 'ridge' or 'rock'), the most basic gear, emblematic animals and plants, cardinal directions, colours, weather, seasons, pastoral life and obviously 'hi/thanks!' The words are given in English and the official languages of the seven countries (Serbia is included) the Carpathians are divided among. NB The languages/dialects of the stateless peoples or ethnic groups - such as the Carpatho-Rusyns - have not been included. The same goes for the languages of the other minorities, much more numerous before World War II, whose settlements/homes are scattered throughout the Carpathians: the Roma (Gypsies), Jews (who before World War II were a majority of town residents in many places, especially in the north-east), Armenians, and others. If you would like to taste the ambience, please see the Musical chapter

Hargita mountains

I hope this article will also be interesting for anybody feeling like learning a little about the history of the area as well as its characteristic toponyms. For years, I just enjoyed wandering through the Carpathian Mountains, but recently I got interested in the land's human history also. As the Internet has made it possible to access information that used to be hard to find, I have spent quite a while studying TR's and other pages about both the mountain ranges of the Carpathians I have been to and those I have always dreamt of visiting. Meanwhile, I have also read contemporary works on the history of the Carpathian countries and the nearby Balkans, these days often written at American, Canadian or British universities. The history is complicated indeed and just a few words is obviously not enough to understand it, but some of the rows of the dictionary do manifest the common - often forgotten as is the Poland-Ukraine case - past. (In fact just a glance at the very last row can tell you a lot.) Surely, the history has been subject to both political manipulation and folk's imagination for dozens of decades, which results in the Internet pages as well as history books being packed with ridiculous myths. It does take time to sort the wheat from the chaff, and sometimes this is plain impossible. I am far from saying I have studied everything that is to be found by clicking the history-related links I have gleaned. I can just say that I believe I have learnt the basics by reading the stuff and I would recommend it to the intrigued.  

Shepherd village in Chornohora
Shepherd settlement in the Chornohora
Here man's imprint on landscape is just as natural as that of its flora or fauna; we have after all, been here just as long. The cultivated valley floors and villages of Switzerland are not part of a "designed wilderness", but are part of man's interaction with his environment, a process which has been ongoing since the Palaeolithic.
Nanuls (commenting on In Defense of the Wild)
despite this not being a true wilderness it is possible to escape the entrapments of 'civilisation', and be forced to rely on one's fitness, ability to navigate, and if need be, survive.

White out - going to unknown
Whiteout in the Iezer-Păpușa Mountains

Surprising Carpathian Blend & History Behind It

Hello Welcome to Transylvania
Spis castle over the clouds
Hungarian castle in Slovakia
Székelykő from the Szentgyörgy castle
Rock of the Szeklers

Today nearly all of the area of the Carpathian Mountains belongs to Romania and several Slavic states: Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic in the north; and Serbia at the southern end (if we count the mountains of the north of eastern Serbia among the Carpathians). But for several hundred years, until the First World War, the great Carpathian arc formed the frontier of a multi-ethnic kingdom of Hungary, which occupied all of the land inside it. (From 1867 to 1918, Hungary was part of Austria-Hungary, where 12 languagues were oficially recognised.) The very heart of what is now Romania, namely eastern Transylvania (which is Latin for a Hungarian expression meaning "the land beyond the forest") is still inhabited by the Szeklers, who speak Hungarian, and is dotted with medieval towns and fortified villages built by the "Saxons". On the other hand, virtually all ranges of the Carpathian Mountains have at least for a while been home to the shepherds and herders of oxen who spoke Romanian (or whose forefathers spoke Romanian). They migrated west as far as the Czech lands, utilising the least hospitable terrain, including the highest ridges. Outside Romania they were usually known as Vlachs (the name derives from an old Germanic word for speakers of diverse languages; e.g. in Polish 'Vlachs' translates as Wołosi, in Czech - Valaši

Call It Backpacking In 1981
On the ridge Romanian shepherds
Hostýnské vrchy By Valašská Bystřice in Czechia

In the Northwestern Carpathians - a long way away from Romania – one comes across toponyms that sound Romanian. One of the most common toponyms across the Carpathians, is a Romanian word (borrowed from some old Slavonic) for a 'hill', namely măgură. In Slovakia and Poland, magura is used to name both single mountains and groups of hills, such as Magura Spišská. In the Beskid Niski, there is a mountain named Piotruś. This word is a Polish diminutive for Piotr (i.e. Peter) and was probably created a couple of centuries ago from the original name of the hill - Pietros. Many a Carpathian summit bears the name of Pietros since this is the Romanian word for 'rock'". Bryndza - a kind of salty cottage cheese made of ewe milk in all of the Carpathian countries is simply the Romanian word for 'cheese'.

The Tatras from Spišská Magura
Tatras from Magura Spišska
Mount Piotrus ( 728m ) Piotruś in Low Beskid
Pietrosul, view from meadow... Pietros in Rodnei Mts

While the Slavic languages are mutually intelligible (the tough bit can be the Cyrillic alphabet, which is still used in Ukraine and Serbia), Romanian is a Latin-based language which has the same Latin roots as languages such as Italian, French or Catalonian. And Hungarian is completely different and belongs to the Finno-Ugric (Uralic) family despite sharing very few, the most ancient words with the Finnish language. Despite two languages being originally diverse, several centuries of sharing territory will lead to borrowing plenty of words from one another. A case in point can be the Romanian language, which by a renowned Romanian linguist of the 19th century was classified as Slavic, since - according to his estimate – up to forty percent of its words had been borrowed from Slavic languages (see pages 53-54 here), such as Bulgarian, Serbian and Ukrainian. As modern Romanian was created, the number of its non-Latin-sounding words decreased dramatically but many are still alive as you can tell by looking at the rows of words in the attached dictionary. Similarly, centuries of the common past of Poland and Ukraine transpires through their vocabularies although diverse spelling systems mask the fact. Perhaps the best preserved legacy of the multi-ethnic Carpathians is the language of the Rusyns who live on the inner, southern side of the Northwestern and the Northeastern Carpathians, within the borders of Ukraine and Slovakia.

Plystsye meadow
Ukrainian trail sign
Romanian trek
Romanian village
Early summer in Kotan
Lemko (Rusyn) church

German speaking people arrived in the south of Transylvania in the 12th century. (Without doubt, some of the several peoples inhabiting the area between the time that the Romans left and the Slavs, Turkic peoples and Hungarians arrived were Germanic tribes like the Goths or the Gepids but they disappeared without much trace.) The German settlers - usually called 'Saxons' by the others - were invited by the kings of medieval Hungary in order to develop the sparsely populated areas at the foot of the Carpathian ranges. After the Mongol invasion which had ravaged most of Central Eastern Europe in the first half of C13, the numbers of German settlers in Transylvania increased, and others found their new home around the opposite high end of the Carpathians, i.e. the Tatra Mountains, and in many other locations. The names of the towns such as Kežmarok (once Käsemarkt) in the historic land of Spiš attest to this. The Germans or Saxons were often the first to set up mountain clubs, such as the Siebenbürgischer Karpaten Verein founded in 1880. Most of Transylvania's Saxons left for Germany towards the end of the communist era. In the towns and the mountains, some of their names have remained though. For example, the most difficult hiking trail in the Piatra Craiuiui range, marked by Friedrich Deubel, is still referred to as the Deubel route.

In Vaser valley
In Vaser valley
Polski Grzebien lost equipment
Polish Crest inside Slovakia
Long tarn and Polish saddle
Polish Crest in 19th century
La Zaplaz/Deubel Holes
Deubel Holes

Contrary to the widespread stereotype, not all of the 'exotic' - i.e. strange to the ear of the lowland citizen of a given country - words used by the local mountain folk are Romanian or German. Vatra (PL spelling: watra) does translate as "fireplace" in Romanian (and Albanian), but juhas (Polish spelling) turns out to stem from the Hungarian word for "sheep", baca/bača (Polish/Slovak for "chief shepherd") seem to derive from the Hungarian bácsi ("uncle"), and gazda - to Polish people known to mean the owner of a farm in the Carpathians - literally means "farm owner/householder" in Hungarian. The embroidered ornament on the highlander's trousers - known as parzenica in Poland and commonly identified as native to the mountain folk - is actually a copy of the pattern found on the trousers of Hungarian soldiers or policemen (another interesting question is where the army took it from). When I see a picture of the bizarre "Transylvanian wooden washing machine" (below) called either vâltoare or ştează by the Romanians, my native Polish makes me think of a kind of "water path" and my speculation seems to be confirmed by the Serbian word for "path". Coincidence? Perhaps (just have a look at the first three letters of the Czech, Slovak and Polish words for "fog" and apart from having a laugh you'll see how easily and unpredictably letters wander through languages), but anyway Romanian potecă for "footpath" is a copy of its Bulgarian counterpart - no wonder given the fact that the so called second Bulgaria - founded towards the end of C12 by Peter and Asen, who may have been Romanian (then called Wallachian/Vlach) - was defined as the country of the Slavs, Wallachians and Cumans.

Carpathian Traverse 2015
Juhas :-) in S. Carpathians
Ieud, Maramureş
Maramureş folk
Valtoare  rustic wash
Carpathian washing machine
Folkloric costumes of the region of Gorce
Parzenicas below belts

One of the highest ranges in the South Carpatians is called the Iezer, which seems funny to a hiker speaking a Slavic language, since it makes one think of a lake - just have a look at the 'lake' row in the attached picture dictionary. But the name is well-deserved, as the masssif has only one decent tarn. The name of the highest summit in the Căpăţînii Mountains is Nedeia. I climbed it over thirty years ago, but only recently did I realize that this word, which has always sounded familiar to me, must have originated from a Slavic word for Sunday (nedelya). The origin and meaning of the name of the highest peak in Ukraine, Hoverla, is not known, it's usually thought to derive from some Romanian as many summits nearby bear Romanian names. But not so long ago Hoverla rose on the Hungary-Poland/Galicia border, and the Hungarian name of the peak is Hóvár, which can be easily translated as "snow castle/fort", however, this name doesn't appear until the first half of the last century: More about the mystery and my attempts to sort it out can be found here. Anyway, within the Carpathians, most of the time it is impossible to answer the question who has borrowed what, how much and who from. The only reasonable assertion can be that it all comes down to centuries of sharing the beautiful mountainous land. A very personal example of the people having migrated and mingled around the Carpathian Mountains is my surname, Hungarian in origin and the most common surname in Slovakia, which literally means a native of one of the countries bordering on Hungary, although the country in question is neither Poland nor Ukraine, where my parents were born, but Croatia.

Piatra Craiului - South Ridge The Iezer in background
HoverlaMysterious Hoverla
Idyllic pasture

Spellings and Sounds

This is a real pain. The problem is that the Carpathian languages use diverse characters - mostly diacritics - to represent the same, or similar, sounds in writing. For instance, the Hungarian "a" - unlike "á" - sounds more or less like Slavic "o", which is close to the British "o" sound in "pot". I must admit not until I saw the Hungarian alphabet did I realize the Hungarian word for a mountain stream - patak - is the same word as my native Polish, or rather Slavic, potok. The following little table displays some of the most common sound-versus-spelling problems.


English Czech Slovak Polish Ukrainian Hungarian Romanian Serbian
ch (church)
c before e/i
y (yep)
  • The ways the sounds are spelt can also change. Throughout most of the second half of the 20th century the last vowel in the name of the second highest mountains in Romania was represented by "î" but now it has been replaced by the previously used "â" Still, many Romanians prefer to use the former character for the sound which - in fact - is close to the French "u", German "ü" or Greek "upsilon/ypsilon".
  • The Ukrainian script is a transliteration from Cyrillic, therefore a speaker of English will find it very easy to pronounce the Ukrainian words listed below:), except for the "l" which most of the time sounds like the Polish "ł" or the English "w". The "yy" represents a cluster which is similar in sound to "ey" in "key".
  • There's often an "unexpected" ending to a Romanian noun, e.g. an "-ul" for masculine nouns. Here's an explanation of the mystery.
  • The Slavic adjectives are normally listed in their masculine form, whose last letter is an "y"or "i" (pronounced more or less like "y" in "happy"), whereas the feminine ending is an "a".
Weather pattern of  Parângul  Mare (2519m)
Parângu/Parângul Mare, once Parîngu/Parîngul Mare

Select External Links

YouTube Musical Videos

Online Dictionaries


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 56

yatsek - Jan 31, 2010 7:07 am - Hasn't voted

Re: under construction

Thanks Eric - I guess you appreciate it as much as the Bieszczady pages then. :)
But I didn't forget: "...the Roma (Gypsies), Jews(...), Armenians, and others." Just focus on the last word.:D


yatsek - Feb 1, 2010 4:07 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Only one word

Let me reply in just three words: Multumesc foarte mult!


yatsek - Feb 4, 2010 4:38 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Only one word

That is a Carpathian surprise! Multumiri!


yatsek - Feb 1, 2010 4:13 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Very Nice!

Thanks a lot. Pleased to see you great Mental grin in here! Your kind and constructive comment has made me write a subtitle. Which/What kind of stuff would you like to see extended/introduced?


dmiki - Jan 31, 2010 4:14 pm - Hasn't voted

a better hun-eng dictionary


yatsek - Feb 1, 2010 4:18 am - Hasn't voted

Re: a better hun-eng dictionary

Köszönöm – I'll try it out when I've taken a little rest from all that dull dictionary work. :)


visentin - Jan 31, 2010 4:16 pm - Voted 5/10


I read it again, more carefully and after construction (did the fact of being selected on the front page accelerate the finition ?). Just one word, WOW. About the music in the end, why not putting a sample of Carpathian-inspirated classic music, like this ?
And, Yatsek, VHAT's your surname ??? (since you mention it :)


yatsek - Feb 1, 2010 5:12 am - Hasn't voted

Re: vyborne

Merci. Delighted to see you study it all:) - - I hope you read the Czarnohora trilogy by S. Vincenz one day as well. (no, I just managed to force myself to stop getting lazy, at the last sec). As to the music, it's just supposed to be a sample/bonus and a guide leading to places where there are more tunes - the page is focused on the words and history. When it comes to my family name, you have as many as four options:
1 re-read the line about it, then use a map of Central Europe along with the attached dictionaries
2 study the area page carefully
3 visit Niedzica Castle and look at the inscription above the portal
4 watch the old Polish Janosik serial


visentin - Feb 1, 2010 7:09 am - Voted 5/10

Re: vyborne

I do have pictures of few doors of Niedzica but nothing on it :)
So let me give a couple of tries... Jacek S?owacki ? Jacek S?owacki ? Jacek W?gierski ? (but it would be a bit too easy I guess...) Unless it is "Walach" ? :)


yatsek - Feb 1, 2010 8:05 am - Hasn't voted

Re: vyborne

That's a shame! It should show in pic 6 but it looks like they've covered the inscription with some kind of plaster. I wonder why - Polish nationalism or just stupidity (?)


lcarreau - Feb 2, 2010 8:15 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: vyborne..

In America, they call it being "politically correct!" : )


andreeacorodeanu - Jan 31, 2010 4:53 pm - Voted 10/10

Wow, wow!!!!!!!!!

Its just perfect and so many informations that make us to know our neighbours better! I love it!


lcarreau - Jan 31, 2010 6:55 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Wow, wow!!!!!!!!!

I was born in America (of Czech ancestors who immigrated across
the Big Pond), and this is truly fabulous.

I mean, I gotta ECHO Andreea's comment! I feel comfortable knowing I can rely on "Google translator," but it's also nice to have the information and important links to get me "in the mood for the mountains."

In fact, I feel I've become much more intimate with my European

Thanks, Mister Yatsek, for putting together such a comprehensive
and well-written report!

BTW, the question regarding your surname? ??

Inquiring minds want to know ... : ))


yatsek - Feb 1, 2010 4:15 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Wow, wow!!!!!!!!!

Thanks a million, Andreea!!! Your comment – especially its second half – is just a dream comment on this recent job of mine.


yatsek - Feb 1, 2010 5:22 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Wow, wow!!!!!!!!!

Thanks, Sir Larry of Az, for your kind comment and the attached Gothic (Eastern Gothic?:)) song. As for my surname, please have a look a bit above, at my reply to our Polish Gaul's query.


lcarreau - Feb 1, 2010 6:46 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Wow, wow!!!!!!!!!

Being born in America, I am really confused with all the "historical" terms you are using.

Can we just keep it simple, and I'll refer to you as Mister Yatsek?

: )))


yatsek - Feb 2, 2010 4:05 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Wow, wow!!!!!!!!!

Relax Larry, Az is just Oz spelt the Hungarian way. :)))


lcarreau - Feb 2, 2010 8:20 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Wow, wow!!!!!!!!!

RELAX? How the hell do you expect me to relax ???

(1) Economic collapse

(2) Political scandals

(3) Higher taxes

(4) Pork-barrel spending

(5) Severe budget cuts

(6) The End of the World (in 2012)

And, that's just going on here in Arizona! : )))


yatsek - Feb 3, 2010 4:51 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Wow, wow!!!!!!!!!

Give it a rest, Larry. We've had it all here since time immemorial and we still keep smiling :))) although some, such as myself, wish they'd left for the Wild West, or at least the Appalachians.

Romuald Kosina

Romuald Kosina - Feb 1, 2010 7:51 am - Voted 10/10


********* :-)

Viewing: 1-20 of 56



Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.



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