Located in the historical region of Transylvania, just outside Cluj-Napoca, Romania’s second most populous city, the Hoia-Baciu Forest has a global reputation for strange phenomena.
The origins of the Hoia-Baciu legend
Its international infamy can be traced back to August 1968, when a respected military technician from Cluj by the name of Emil Barnea alleged to have witnessed and photographed a UFO over the forest’s Poiana Rotundă (The Round Meadow). Barnea was with his girlfriend and two others at the time. It was around 1pm when all four claimed to have seen a round, metallic craft hover in the sky above the clearing. Before the bizarre machine accelerated and disappeared into the clouds, Barnea was able to take four photographs.1
Whilst various tellings differ in their details, Barnea’s story no doubt had a profound impact. After publishing his images, others came forward claiming to have seen and experienced other, similar, things.
UFOs are by no means the only strange phenomena reported in the forest. Visitors to Hoia-Baciu Forest, both local and global, have described encountering apparitions; electrical malfunctions; witnessing different coloured lights; and, the inability to escape the sensation of being watched.
It is for this reason that the area is also referred to as the Bermuda Triangle of Romania.
Even the name of the forest itself is reported to have a story behind it. The word “Baciu” is said to come from a shepherd who disappeared with his flock of 200 sheep while passing through the now notorious Poiana Rotundă.
Academic study of the Hoia-Baciu Forest
Since the 1950s, several professors have conducted studies and observations in the forest. Adrian Pătruţ, a local professor of chemistry and president of the Romanian Society of Parapsychology, has presented what is often pointed to as the most comprehensive work on the forest. Building on the discoveries of his friend and colleague Alexandru Sift, who died in 1993, Pătruţ has written about something he calls “bioplasma” and the unconscious projections of psychic energy.
Many sceptics, however, have been left less than impressed with Pătruţ’s studies. A common critique is the lack of solid data and theory, as well as the accusation that Pătruţ appears to have abandoned all his knowledge of chemistry in his discussion of the forest. 2
“He does not appear to have applied his chemistry background to any of his Hoia-Baciu work at all. I was left without any sort of solid information”3
Truth or tourism?
With such controversial evidence, some take the stance that reports of the paranormal in the forest are purely for entertainment. One certainly gets the sense that many of those who write about Hoia-Baciu deliberate inflate its scary and haunted reputation, suggesting that imagination plays a large part. Indeed, its notoriety for paranormal phenomena has led to the creation of many urban legends in Cluj, and contributes to its popularity as a tourist attraction.
During our visit to Hoia-Baciu we met with Marius Lazin, the president of the Hoia-Baciu Project. He began by explaining the role of the organisation.
“We are trying to promote the Hoia-Baciu Forest and to include it in the local tourist circuit.”
Arranging activities, such as guided tours, team building exercises and photography workshops, make up a large part of the work he and his team does. Whilst attracting foreign tourists is important, the Project also puts a lot of work into increasing awareness amongst the local community.
When asked what he believes makes the forest special, Marius referred to its “legends and history”, as well as “the feelings you have when you visit the forest, and your personal connection with the forest.” To him, the forest’s natural beauty and calming energies are also worthy of celebration, indicating that it has much more to offer to visitors than merely its paranormal reputation. Indeed, on my numerous visits into the forest, I was left in awe of its fauna and flora.
Next we spoke about the inexplicable phenomena reported there.
“They started with UFOs in 1968.
“Between the late 60s and 90s, there were a lot of researchers – Romania and foreign researchers – who came to the forest and did a lot of research work. They caught on camera all kinds of apparitions.”
There is no doubt that Hoia-Baciu has carved out its niche in the dark tourism industry. When speaking to paranormal enthusiasts from almost any location, the forest’s name is recognised and known as the ‘most haunted in the world’. However, it still amazes me that a relatively small forest on the outskirts of a seemingly ordinary city could command such an international reputation. I asked Marius about this global appeal, and where in the world visitors were most likely to come from.
“Most of them [who have contacted the Project directly], at the beginning, were from the United States, from Australia and New Zealand. Lately, also from Europe.
“The number of Romanians visiting the forest has increased in the last couple of years.”
For local people, however, the forest’s infamy is less apparent.
“For some of them [local people], Hoia-Baciu means mystery. For some others just a place for a picnic – of nature. For some others, just nothing. Just pure nothing. Just a place like any other place around the city.
“I would say that you don’t really need to get scared of the forest. But still, there are some people who know other people who have had different unusual experiences in the forest, who are scared of the stories and of the place. There are other people who have had their own scary experiences in the forest. They might be scared.
“I wouldn’t say I have had a scary experiences. I have experienced some troubles with electronic devices.
“Tourists I have been with in the forest have had all kinds of feelings, or they could – let’s say – feel or connect with the energies of the forest.
“I remember visitors talking about different voices they have heard. Or, some sort of energies present – the feeling of being watched.
“Just a strong feeling that something is different in the forest”
However, Marius is quick to state that imagination no doubt plays a large part in people’s experiences.
“When you go there, you already know some of the stories and legends. Even if you don’t want to be involved in something like that, your subconscious is playing an important role.”
That being said, even a frequent and experienced visitor into the wooded area of Hoia-Baciu such as Marius concedes that there have been a few occasions when he himself has felt strange things within the forest.
Whether or not Hoia-Baciu Forest is deserving of its infamy as a paranormal destination and the world’s most haunted forest remains to be seen. What is for certain, however, is the dedication of Marius and his organisation to promote and preserve the forest, not just as a dark tourism location, but as a place of natural wonder as well.