Baia Mare is a municipality in northwestern Romania and the seat of Maramureş County. The city is situated about 600 kilometres from Bucharest, the capital of Romania, 70 kilometres from the border with Hungary and 50 kilometres from the border with Ukraine. Administratively, four villages are attached to the city: Blidari, Firiza, Valea Neagră and Valea Borcutului.
Before the Second World War, Baia Mare had a community of more than 1.000 Jews, out of which only around 130 still live in the city, due to the deportation and extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust by the occupying Hungarian regime. Along with Rădăuţi, Gura Humorului and others, Baia Mare was one of the country's shtetls. There is a synagogue dating from 1885.
The city is situated in the vicinity of the Gutâi and Igniş Mountains. Altitudes reach 1400 meters in some peaks. The area is famous for its outstanding landscapes, and the mountains are easily accessible from the city, famous routes being: Igniş (1307 m), Mogoşa (1246 m), Gutâi (1443 m), Creasta Cocosului (1450 m), Piatra Soimului (839 m), Plestioara (803 m), Dealul Bulat (683 m), Murgau (633 m), Dealul Crucii (500 m) etc. Some of these mountains provide skiing slopes, most notably the one at Mogoşa, which is the most difficult slope in Northern Romania. The city is situated in the Baia Mare valley and is encircled on all sides by hills and mountains, which makes the climate in the city milder than the rest of the surrounding area. Proof of this is that the outskirts of Baia Mare are the only areas where you can find chestnut trees that usually need Mediterranean climate to grow. This is the northernmost reach of the chestnut tree. However, abrupt temperature changes take place and, during the winters, the temperatures may occasionally drop below -20 degress Celsius. The summers are mild, cooler than in the rest of the country. The precipitations in this area are quite high, due to the mountains in the north and east which do not allow the air masses to pass beyond the region's limits, the average rainfall being almost 1000 mm/year. The city of Baia Mare is the most populous of Northern Romanian cities (Satu Mare, Suceava and Botoşani), with a population of approximately 149,735. It also has high a level of culture and education, being home to theatres, schools, museums and art galleries. Not far from the city there are a few very important natural reservations, among them Creasta Cocoşului, Cheile Tătărului, Lacul Albastru etc. Because of its privileged location in the Eastern Carpathian mountains it is considered one of the most picturesque cities in Romania.
The city's placement on the middle course of Sasar River, in the middle of a plateau with a warm Mediterranean-like climate, facilitated living conditions since the Palaeolithic. During the Bronze Age the region was inhabited by Thracian tribes. Later, Baia Mare was included in the Dacian kingdom formed by the King Burebista when the mining exploration begun, as the area is rich in gold and silver. Baia Mare is first mentioned in written documents released by Charles I of Hungary in 1328 under the name of Rivulus Dominarum (English: Ladies' River). Later, in 1347 the town is presented in documents released by Louis I of Hungary as an important medieval town with a prosperous mining industry with rules of organisation characteristic of the free towns of that time. In 1411 the town and its surrounding areas, including the mines, were transferred into the property of the Hunyadi family by the Sigismund who recognised Janos Hunyadi's contribution to stop the Turkish invasion towards Western Europe. Thus, the town entered in a period of prosperity, when St. Stephen Cathedral was built. Today the cathedral tower is one of the best-known of the town's landmarks. The first school, named Scoala Rivulina, was opened in Baia Mare in 1547 by the Reformed Church. In 1703 Pintea Viteazu and his band managed to free the town for a short period of time. Since then Pintea is seen as an important figure in the town's history, representing the dream of freedom. The city’s mining industry made a leap forward in 1748 when the Austrian authorities created The Superior Mining Headquarters.
In 1919 Baia Mare become part of the Kingdom of Romania. It was occupied by Hungary between 1940-1944. A quick and dynamic development started shortly after World War II when Baia Mare started to grow in both population and inhabited area. A new town centre with modern architecture buildings and structures was built in the late '70s and early '80s.
The economical activity of Baia Mare has been built around the mining activities located in the surrounding areas. However, after the 1989 Revolution these mining activities have decreased visibly, being replaced with several activities which have improved the city's economy in recent years. Nowadays, Baia Mare has become one of the most economically evolved cities in the region. As a result, several supermarkets have been built in the city and at least 2 shopping malls are due to open for the public no later than December 2010. As well, the largest sofa manufacturing plant in Eastern Europe, Italsofa, is located near the Baia Mare city ring.
The road infrastructure within the city is changing to be able to better connect the city and absorb the traffic on the express road which is to be built between Petea (at the border with Hungary) and Baia Mare, a project for which the feasibility study has just completed. The express road will connect the cities of Baia Mare and Satu Mare to the Hungarian motorway M3 and thus to the whole European motorway network.