The land around Rimetea is iron rich. The settlement’s development is inextricably linked to the extraction and processing of this natural mineral. Archaeological evidence indicates that there was activity in the area during prehistory. However, there is no evidence of a Roman presence within the valley. The Hungarian name for the settlement is Torocko and is thought to derive directly from Old-Slavic. This suggests that when the first Hungarian migrants arrived in the area they met with Slavic settlers.
Documentary evidence claims that the Thoroczkays, descendants of the Ákos clan, held Rimetea during the 13th century. This is when Szeklers, an ancient Hungarian ethnic group who defended the Transylvania’s eastern borders, migrated from Scaunul Chezdiului to the valleys adjacent to Rimetea. The settlement remained in the Thoroczkays’ possession until the abolition of feudalism in 1848. However, they continued to hold land and buildings in Rimetea until 1920, including two 13th century castles in the area. One was built on the top of the Szekler Rock. This was a castle comprising a bastion and walls. This fortification was later used and maintained by Szeklers from the neighbouring villages. The structure collapsed at the end of the 19th century and today only the remains of the building’s foundations survive. The other castle was used and developed by the Thoroczkay family until it was destroyed by war 1703. The walls of this structure are still standing but in a ruinous condition.
Iron mining and processing flourished in Rimetea with the colonisation of German miners towards the end of the 14th century and beginning of the 15th century. The exact origins of these early migrants are unknown. One theory, derived from a Charter by Andrew II (1291), suggests that these early German migrants descended from Eisenwürzen. However, the Hungarian historian Zsigmond Jakó recently declared this document a fake. According to Jakó, Andrew II’s Chancellery could not issue such a Charter and that this document was actually drawn up in the 18th century to prove Rimetea’s free status in a trial initiated by Rimetea’s inhabitants against the Thoroczkay family. It is more probable that Rimetea’s early German inhabitants, whose names occur in 14th century documents, originated from the north-western region of Hungary.
During the Medieval period the iron mining and processing techniques employed in Rimetea were famous beyond the region. This led to a rise in the settlement’s socio-economic development. The inhabitant’s well being, the conscientious craftsmen and a high standard of living provided a basis for a constant struggle to liberate serfs. This fight incurred several legal proceedings with Rimetea’s inhabitants using the law against the landlord. This action led to continuous tension. Finally, a battle culminated in 1702 when Rabutin, a Habsburg General, raided the settlement and slaughtered the inhabitants. Retaliation and increased suppression left indelible scars in the inhabitant’s memory for a long time.
On the 15th March 1704, during Rákóczi’s War of Independence, Tiege, an Austrian General, retaliated against the patriotic inhabitants by devastating and burning down the village and Thoroczkay’s castle in Coltesti. The War of Independence in 1848 brought about the liberation of the serfs but it was also a period of ethnic tension. Rimetea’s predominantly Hungarian population established an agreement with the Romanian troops that took the settlement under siege. Such an agreement would not have been possible in an atmosphere deprived from the ideal ethnic relationships that has characterised Rimetea’s public life at all times. This was based on trade and the mining process shared by the region’s different ethnic groups.
Rimetea’s cultural history has a distinct regional character. Most of the settlement’s inhabitants are Unitarian. There has been a school in the village since the Reformation. This educational institution acquired secondary school status in 1595. Many famous people studied here including several Unitarian bishops; the ethnographer Janos Kriza; the scientist Samuel Brassai and the Romanian historian Gheorghe Baritiu. The school later became one of the area’s most famous educational institutions. The school later became one of the area’s most famous educational institutions. The school received pupils from other regions via scholarships sponsored by Rimetea’s residents. A girls’ boarding school was established in the village in 1780.
Rimetea’s population gradually increased after 1848. Iron mining attracted many people from Scaunul Aurišului but the fields could not provide adequate provision. Economical and social welfare had a significant impact on Rimetea after the Compromise of 1867 between the Habsburg Emperor and the Hungarian nobility. This Compromise resulted in the Habsburg-Hungarian Monarchy and the establishment of the bourgeoisie. The mines became uneconomically viable and a recession in craftsmanship led to the migration of some of the inhabitants. According to the historian Balázs Orbán, Rimetea supported a population of approximately 1,500 in 1765. This figure increased to 1,800 in 1847 and by 1870 the population was 1,810. By 1930 1,310 people lived in the village but by 1993 this figure had diminished to 743 and in 2006 Rimetea’s population was less than 600. This population decrease is believed to be the result of the settlement’s unstable socio-economical and political conditions.
Post-Communism, the villages of Colţeşti and Rimetea are searching for a new way forward. Colţeşti’s recent economic success is based upon privatised agriculture. Meanwhile, Rimetea is trying to develop its economy on its rich natural and cultural resources, for example via cultural tourism.
The settlement’s dual lifestyle in the 19th century: rapid urban development on one hand and a strong connection to rural traditions on the other, is reflected in Rimetea’s architecture and form. The white houses that are aligned in a formal order on the Upper Market Row could be present in any of the small towns in the Carpathian Basin. If iron mining had not ceased then the development boom in the village would have probably continued and today we would consider Rimetea a mining town. If this had occurred then Rimetea’s traditional architecture may not have been recognisable next to the high-rise concrete blocks of flats and grey factories that were built in every industrial settlement during the communist years. Rimetea reverted to an agrarian lifestyle with the closing of the iron mines.