By now we’ve been for about two weeks in Transylvania and it is time to write a bit about this region. Transylvania is a historical region in central Romania known for Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Dracula’, its scenic beauty of the Carpathian landscape and its rich history.
To begin with the vampire Dracula – Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel was inspired by Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, who was a member of the House of Draculesti, also known by his patronymic name Dracula. Vlad III spent much of his rule campaigning against the Ottoman Empire and its expansion. He used to impale his enemies and during his lifetime, his reputation for excessive cruelty spread abroad. Dracula’s castle is situated in Bran near Brasov but we unfortunately will not be able to visit it, we have to cross the Carpathian mountains. BUT we had lunch in a restaurant in Sighisoara where Vlad III was born.
The German translation for Transylvania is Siebenbürgen which means seven fortresses and was first mentioned in a medieval document in 1075. It is not fully clear where the name originates, but it is assumed that it includes the ‘administrative chairs’ of seven cities founded by German settlers in the middle ages (Medias/Mediasch, Sighisoara/Schässburg, Brasov/Kronstadt, Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Sebes/Mühlbach, Bistrita/Bistritz, Cluj/Klausenburg). Another source mentions two other cities but the above cities are the ones quoted most often.
In the 11th century Hungary took possession of Transylvania. Hungary encouraged immigration and in the 12th century most important settlements were those of Szekelys (a subgroup of Hungarians living in eastern Transylvania) and Germans. The Germans are also known as the Saxons even though they came mostly from Wallonia and Swabia and spoke a Franconian dialect. Today there are less than 120,000 Germans in Romania, more than 100,000 left Romania in 1990.
We visited four of the seven cities and we liked all of them. Sibiu is the first town we went to. It has a very well restored old city center with beautiful medieval squares and houses and is one of the most important cultural centers of Romania. The city was designated a European Capital of Culture for the year of 2007 and Forbes even ranked Sibiu as “Europe’s 8th most idyllic place to live”. Here we sometimes felt as if we were visiting an old town in Southern Germany, more specifically Bavaria with the only difference that Sibiu doesn’t have frame houses. In the Middle Ages Sibiu was a very powerful fortified city and some of the defense walls are still preserved. We also visited the Brukenthal museum of which it is said that it hosts the best Romanian art collection. Johan is very keen on seeing a painting from Jan van Eyck called ‘Man with a blue cap/Man with a ring’ but when we finally get to that floor we have to discover that they don’t display the originals but copies and the copies are poor digital photos printed on canvas. That was a big disappointment. Strangely enough even the copies where hanging behind glass and special secured fences. We only saw a few nice original paintings, so actually a waste of money but we took it as a donation to the museum.
Southern Transylvania is also known for its many fortified churches, which are unique in Europe in terms of architecture and given that there are about 300 in this region. They were built to protect the villages against invasions from migratory people and were surrounded by ditches and earthen or wooden fences. Between the 12th and 14th century the Saxon communities built strongly fortified citadels around the churches. On our way we pass many of these churches and some of them are UNESCO world heritages. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to see any of these churches from the inside, the tourist season is over by now.
We also visited Medias, of which is said it has one of the best preserved historical center in Romania. The center is nice but we liked all other cities much more.
Sighisoara was our personal highlight, maybe also because we entered the city on a very scenic road and not through its industrial area with four-lane highways. The city has a well-preserved walled old town, very charming old houses in beautiful colors and a nice museum in the clock tower from which you can enjoy 360 degree views over the city.
We have stayed two days and three nights in Brasov of which I will write next. It is bedtime now, we’ll have to get up early tomorrow to be able to reach our next destination, Ploiesti, which is a 110km ride including 80km climbing. Keep your fingers crossed we’ll reach Ploiesti before dusk. Good night!