Among the lush forest of the Apuseni mountains of Transylvania, with no signs of human population in sight, it seemed impossible that what we were looking for could be nearby: The cyanide laced artificial lake created in the seventies as a dumping ground for the waste of the nearby Roșia Poieni copper mine. And especifically, the ruins of the town of Geamăna which use to lie in the middle of the valley which is now a toxic swamp.
After we saw what google maps had deemed a regional road turn into a muddy forest trail, we decided to ditch our rental car by the side of the path and continue by foot. As we turned a corner without notice out path was cut short by a blue-gray body of water flooding the road. The scene was eerily beautiful in its contrasts, like an alien landscape had fallen from the sky into this tranquil forest landscape.
However, what we were looking for was still out of sight: the flooded ruins of Geamăna. We headed back and on our way caught sight of some movement on the side of the road. A small farmhouse lied barely on the shore of the toxic lake. As we headed closer a nervous but friendly golden retriever jumped out to greet us. He stood out for his cleanliness among the muddy chaotic landscape. A farmer came out from behind a tractor, smiling. We tried to communicate with him by hand gestures, as he couldn’t speak a word of English, making the shape of a church with our hands. Finally he retorted “Capela!” and pointed back up the road and to the left.
We headed up the road and back into our car, hoping that the road would not be as bad as what we had seen during our hike. As we followed the bumpy gravel road massive pipes appeared from nowhere and start running parallel to our path. At one point one diverted down the side of the hill. We stopped the car on the side of the path and opened the doors to a thundering noise. To our surprise, it seemed like waste was still being pumped, despite having read online that the disposal operations had been halted a couple of years ago. As we looked down we saw the open pipe spewing ash colored sludge into the forest, all the trees and landscape around it transformed into a monochromatic wasteland. The lack of discreteness of the whole thing was dazzling, I figured not many people make it down this road…
As we continued down the path a clearing opened up among the trees and we caught sight of what we were looking for: The top of the bell-tower of the church of Geamăna standing tall in the middle of the lake, rising among the mountains.
It is incredible to think that under this soot colored lake lie the ruins of what once was a lively mountain village. 400 families were forced to relocate when the exploitation of the nearby copper deposits started in 1977. Even the cemetery were left when the area was hastily evacuated to make place for the waste deposit of the mines.
We headed down to take a closer look. As we got to the shore and poked the liquid with a stick, we realized the consistency of the water was denser than expected, like thin mud.
A brand new church was built just over the hill where the flooded town lies, too bad there is no one living here anymore to use it. As we headed back down the road into the forest our thoughts kept turning, wondering how something of this scale can go unchecked so close to home.