Romania's Fabulous Spirit
The Land Beyond the Forest
Landmarks in the history of Transylvania
Ask someone in the western world to tell you what or where is Transylvania and they answer for sure that it is a land of mystery and legend, somewhere in the southern Europe. I am a Romanian and I can tell you that Transylvania, or Ardeal as it is also called, was in the Middle Ages a principality inhabited by Romanians and it still preserves its identity as a region of modern Romania, with hard working and hospitable people.
In its early history, the territory of the present day Transylvania belonged to Dacia, a proud nation at the borders of the Roman Empire that came under the Roman rule in the 2nd century a.Ch. As a political entity, Transylvania is mentioned from the 11th century. Meanwhile this territory was under the administration of Romanian rulers or “cnezi” who fought against different peoples who wanted to occupy the territories that belonged to their ancestors, the Dacians.
The next centuries were marked by a long series of conflicts and the struggle of the Romanians to resist the Hungarian pressure. Hungarian and German noblemen and settlers claimed the land that belonged by right to the Romanian majority population. Even if there were hard times one cannot say that the inhabitants of the principality did not live in peace and tolerance of course with some misunderstandings in the course of history. The various foreign settlers that were encouraged to come and establish here by the foreign rulers of Ardeal brought with them a significant western influence, as we shall see in this paper, that transformed the region into a unique meeting place of the Eastern and the Western civilizations.
One moment is worth mentioning here when talking about the Middle Ages in Transylvania. Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) gained control of Transylvania in 1599 after the Battle of Şelimbăr and succeeded in uniting the three principalities of Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania (the three main parts of present-day Romania). The union did not last long, however, as Michael the Brave was assassinated by mercenaries under the command of general Basta in August 1601. No matter how short it last this union proved the unity of the Romanians and their will to be one single nation.
On the 1st of December 1918 the Great Union from Alba Iulia brought together in a single national state the historic principalities of Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia.
Today Transylvania is a prosperous region of Romania where different nations live together as equal citizens of a modern European state. According to the 2002 census, Transylvania has a population of 7,221,733 inhabitants, with a large Romanian majority (74.7%). In addition, there are also sizeable Hungarian (19.6%), Roma (3.4%) and German (0.7%) communities.
Cities and Historic Places in Transylvania
Transylvania still preserves today many of the historical places and cities that have significantly influenced the evolution of this region and at the same time it proudly offers the visitors the opportunity to enjoy a trip in a modern and prosperous region of Romania. Among the most important towns and cities that that one can visit in Ardeal we mention here Braşov, Sibiu, Cluj, Sighişoara or Alba Iulia.
Many of these centers date back to the time of the Roman occupation of Dacia and continued to be inhabited until today. German or Hungarian settlers came here and started a new life bringing with them their culture and way of life. Well preserved monuments such as famous castles, citadels and fortified churches and the mentality of the people testify to the intense changes between different peoples.
Considered by the foreign and Romanian tourists one of the most beautiful cities in Romania and even in Europe, Sibiu was designated the European Capital of Culture in 2007. This nomination comes to certify its importance as a European city that proves that both history and modern realities can harmoniously co-exist. The city is the administrative center of Sibiu county, in the Depression of Sibiu, near the geographical center of Romania. It has a population of 171,535 and the existing German minority (3.3%) still reminds of the former glory of the medieval Saxon fortress.
The city was founded in 1190 by German settlers, the so called Transylvanian Saxons. It was probably built near an ancient Roman settlement, one that would have come to be known during early Middle Ages as Caedonia. The German settlers called the town Hermannstadt and they paid much attention to fortifying it as it was situated on important commercial routes and was self administrating.
At the end of the 17th century, the fortified town Sibiu was one of the most powerful in Transylvania. The precint, protected by high walls, had a surface of 83 ha. The length of the walls overpassed 4 km. Four portals strongly fortified - Cisnadie, Turn, Ocna, Gusterita - five bastions, five artillery rondels and 39 towers of defense turned the ancient mediaeval town into an almost undefeatable bastion. An important part of these vestiges are still very well preserved.
It is worth mentioning some of the milestones in the history of Sibiu. In 1292 was opened the first hospital in present-day Romania. In 1896 is became the first city to use electricity in Romania. In 1989 it was the second city to take part in the Romanian Revolution that started in Timisoara.
Nowadays the city of Sibiu and its surroundings are one of the most visited areas in Romania. It holds some of the best preserved historical sites in the country, many of its medieval fortifications being kept in excellent state. Its historic center is under a process of reconstruction and refurbishment. There are 39 buildings is Sibiu that are declared historic monuments and are under the direct protection of the Romanian government. Sibiu and its surrounding area have many significant museums, with 12 institutions housing art collections, paintings and exhibits in decorative arts, archaeology, anthropology, history (Astra Museum), industrial archeology and history of technology (The Steam Engine Museum) and natural sciences (The Museum of Natural History).
Among the museums and places of interest some are very important as they offer the visitors the chance to have a first contact with the past of the city and of Transylvania. Brukenthal Palace, one of the most important Baroque monuments in Romania, lies on the north-western corner of the Large Square, in the Upper Town. It was erected between 1777 and 1787 as the main residence for the Governor of Transylvania, Samuel von Brukenthal. It houses the main part of the National Brukenthal Museum, opened in 1817. The founder of the museum left it to the Evangelical Church and it has been recently returned to its former owner. Valuable art works were taken by the communist regime to Bucharest but they are now back in Sibiu for the enjoyment of the tourists and the pride of the inhabitants of Sibiu.
The Bridge of Liars is the oldest metallic bridge in Romania. Officially named Liegende Brucke it was built in 1859 replacing an older construction called the Bridge of the Liars. People keep calling the new construction as the old one.
Many centennial churches dating back from the medieval times are other monuments that offer the tourists the opportunity to admire the genuine medieval religious art and architecture.
The Evangelical Cathedral preserves many of the elements that decorated it but many changes can be traced back by an interested professional.
Its unique position near the Fagaras Mountains and the mild climate make of Sibiu county an enjoyable destination. Paltinis is a resort situated at 32 km north-west from Sibiu. It is situated at 1442 m altitude, in a firtree forest, in the Cindrel Mountains. It was founded by the Transylvanian Carpathian Society (S.K.V.) in the last decade of the 19th century. From the initial nucleus of villas, the resort still preserves The House of the Tourists, The House of the Doctors, Sala Monaco and another villa and historic monuments.
The mountainous climate, with a strong ozone concentration, makes the resort an important place to cure asthenia, Basedow illness, lungs illness consequences, over - working, benign hyperthyroidism.The layer of snow resists about six months a year, recommending Paltinis as an ideal holiday destination for winter sports lovers. The skiing track on Oncesti Mountain has a telechair, a teleski, a baby-lift. The resort can accommodate tourists in villas, hotels, and provides tourists with high quality services in restaurants, bars and clubs. At Schit (Hermitage), near the wooden church, was buried Constantin Noica, the famous Romanian philosopher who gathered in Paltinis the elite of the philosophical domain that influenced the evolution of the thinking systems in our country.
No voyage to Transylvania is complete without a visit to Sighişoara, the last inhabited medieval citadel in Europe. The nowadays Sighisoara is a town on the Tarnava River, in Mures county.
A Dacian settlement near Sighişoara known as Sandova dates as far back as the 3rd century B.C. During the 12th century, German craftsmen and merchants, known as the Transylvanian Saxons, settled in this region. By 1280 the citadel was known by its Latin name of Castrum Sex (Fort Six). The chronicles in the following centuries referred to the town of Sighişoara using its German or Hungarian names. The city played an important strategic and commercial role at the edges of Central Europe for several centuries. Sighişoara became one of the most important and prosperous cities of Transylvania. The German artisans and craftsmen dominated the urban economy, as well as building the fortifications protecting it. It is estimated that during the 16th and the 17th centuries Sighişoara had as many as 15 guilds and 20 handicraft branches. The Wallachian prince Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Ţepeş) also known as Dracula, who was probably born near Sighişoara in 1431, minted coins in the city and issued the first document listing the city's Romanian name. The house where it is thought he was born is now an important site to visit in the old citadel. Modern times did not destroyed the old part of the town so the central part of Sighişoara has preserved in an exemplary way the features of a small medieval fortified city, it has been listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Each year, a Medieval Festival that brings together people from all over Romania and not only, takes place in the old citadel in July.
Among the wonderfully preserved monuments and cultural-tourist attractions is the Clock Tower, also known under the name of the Council Tower, because it functioned as such between the 14th -16th centuries. The Clock Tower is 64 m high; it has four turrets and a wood covered wall walk for watching from the top floor. The figurines of the clock – which was replaced with a modern mechanism bought from Switzerland -stand for various mythological or symbolical characters, such as the Goddess of Peace with the olive branch, the Goddess of Justice with the scales. Starting from 1899, the Clock Tower has housed the Museum of History, which mirrors the evolution of crafts in Transylvania. The Museum holds also a medieval pharmacy from 1670, interesting artifacts of ethnography, a section of fine arts and a collection of clocks. The solid and variously coloured houses line up along narrow lanes; around them stands a 1 km long defence wall initially provided with 14 towers, of which only nine have been preserved to the day. The most impressive are the hexagonal Shoemakers’ Tower, the Tailors’ Tower and the Tinsmiths’ Tower.
On December 1st 1918 the National Assembly held in Alba Iulia decided the unification of the three historic regions of Romania into one single state. This town remains in the history of the Romanian people al the town of the Great Union and today, many Romanians consider Alba Iulia to be the spiritual capital city of Romania. This is not a coincidence because Alba Iulia was chosen the second time as town of the unificationa. In 1600 Michael the Brave, Voievode of Wallachia, entered Alba Iulia following his victory in the Battle of Şelimbăr and became the ruler of Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia.
The city was an important Roman political, economic and social centre. During the Middle Ages it played an important role in the history of Transylvania, being an important city. Between 1541-1690 was the capital of the principality of Transylvania. Nowadays one has many interesting monuments and sights to visit. A landmark in the historic past of the city is represented by the 3rd gate of the medieval fortifications that is particularly important for the Romanians in Transylvania. In this building was imprisoned Horea, the leader of a popular revolt against the Habsburg domination. This revolt proved again the unity of the majority Romanian population and marked the beginning of a period of intense efforts to achieve national independence.
The population of 66,369 is predominantly of Romanian origin. The minorities that live together here a have a powerful identity. Many monuments in the city such as the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Orthodox Cathedral of the Reunification remind visitors that Transylvania is a meeting place for peoples that share the common values of peace and tolerance.
Every year on the 1st of December Alba Iulia hosts the ceremonies and the special events occasioned by the Romania’s National Day. It is an occasion for people from all over the country to come together and share the joy of being citizens of a proud and modern country.
This brief presentation of Transylvania and of some places and cities of interest can give the reader an idea about the beauty and the historic importance of this region of Romania. Ancient towns and medieval citadels recommend it as an ideal tourist destination. The people of Ardeal are hospitable and friendly. Guests are welcome in an area that accommodated many settlers during the millennia. The nowadays Transylvania proves its European vocation and harmoniously mixes the glorious past with the prosperous future.
Sunday, 25 March 2007
Romania's Fabulous Spirit