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Sunday, February 28, 2016


Introduction: When I began typing this blog post, I wasn't sure what direction it would take me; however, upon doing the research, I have to admit that I am positively astonished at the number of topics that could be written about this province.   Transylvania is absolutely saturated with fascinating history, pristine in nature, steeped in medieval antiquity and has a very diverse culture.  If ever I had a bucket list destination, this would be at the top of my list.  This is quite a long post, and it appears that I have only touched the surface, so it is my sincere hope that you will sit back and relax and enjoy the scroll...♥ ~Denise

Transylvanian countryside: Image source:  roughguides.com
Transylvania.  By simply uttering the name of this region, one may instantly conjure an mental image of Bran Castle, surrounded by a ethereal mist and a feeling of impending doom may crawl down your spine. 

Through cinema, he has been depicted in a variety of ways, though admittedly, I envision the romantic description of Stoker's tall, pale stranger, wearing all black, who greets us at the great Medieval door.

"His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. These protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor." - Bram Stoker's description of Count Dracula.

Thanks to Bram Stoker, author of the 1897 Gothic horror novel "Dracula", and the subsequent stories and movies from this tale, the un~dead or vampires may seem like reality.  Though this novel is essentially fiction, there are some historical facts connected with the novel such as his reference to the Transylvanian native Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia, who became known as "Vlad the Impaler" during his reign from 1456 to 1462.  

He became notorious for having killed 40,000 to 100,000 people who may have been anyone who he categorized as "useless to humanity".  The means in which he killed people was by impalement.  It is interesting to note that Vlad III is venerated as a local folk hero by Romanians, for his part in banishing the Ottoman Turks, who invaded that region.

Did you know....that prior to the publication of "Dracula", Jules Verne wrote "The Castle in the Carpatians" published in 1892.  plot synopis:  "Mysterious things are occurring in a castle located near the village of Werst in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, Romania. The villagers are convinced that the Chort (devil) occupies the castle. Count Franz de Télek, a visitor traveling through the region goes to the castle to investigate the disturbances for himself when he is informed that the owner of the castle is Baron Rodolphe de Gortz. Years earlier the Baron was the Count's rival for the affections of the celebrated Italian prima donna La Stilla. The Count thought that La Stilla was dead, but he sees her image and hear her voice coming from within the castle itself." - goodreads.com

Image source: transylvanianwolf.ro
Image source: koshertravels.com
I have only seen Transylvania in pictures that I've found on the Internet, and the region appears to be utterly breath-taking. Transylvania it is a mountainous province of the central Romania, where the southern Carpathian Mountains, known as the Transylvanian Alps, have formed a natural border.  Throughout, are rich and virgin forests that appear to be straight from a fairy tale.  Just looking at these photographs, I can smell the rich fragrance of coniferous trees, moss and simply want to disappear into its mists.  There are also vast meadows and hills mixed with lush valleys.  The highlights of visual interest include the Bucegi Mountains, Piatra Craiului and Fagaras ridges, Retezat National Park, Turda Gorges, and the caves of Apuseni Mountains.

Image source: liketowastemytime.com
Image source: forum.thesims.com

Image source: fanpop.com

It's name is Latin, and translates as "the land beyond the forest."  Today, Transylvania is described as "the last truly medieval landscape in Europe", and touts the most preserved medieval villages in the world. There are virtually untouched townships that have survived for centuries.  Romania tourism.com offers a tantalizing description of Transylvania's medieval towns as "most notably Brasov, featuring Old Saxon architecture and citadel ruins; Sibiu with its cobblestone streets and pastel-colored houses, and Sighisoara, adorned with a hilltop citadel, secret passageways and a 14th century clock tower. Tiny shops offer antiques and fine hand-made products by local artisans and artists."

Brasov:  Image source: romaniadacia.wordpress.com
Sibiu: Image source:  exeterinternational.com
Sibiu is a fortified city has been the focal point of Romania’s German minority since medieval times.  Here, you discover the Big and the Small Square, the Liar’s Bridge, fortified churches and the Brukenthal Museum, the oldest museum in Romania.

Sibiu: Image source: amicatia.com
Interior of a church in Sibiu: Image source: amicatia.com
Liar's Bridge: Image source: sun-surfer.com
Entrance to the Brukenthal Museum: Image source: jeffersonn.devianart
One of several fortified churches in Sibiu: Image source: agoratravel
Sighisoara was founded by Transylvanian Saxons during the 12th century, and it is known as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The reason for this is the site is perfectly preserved from the 6th century, and boasts nine towers, cobble-stone streets, burgher houses and grand, ornate churches that "rivals the historic streets of Old Prague or Vienna for atmospheric magic."  Of course, this city is the birthplace of Vlad Dracula.
Vlad Dracula's house is one of many fantastic attractions, which include the Church on the Hill that display 500-year-old frescoes, a "13th century Venetian House and the Church of the Dominican Monastery, known for its Transylvanian renaissance carved altarpiece, baroque pulpit, Oriental carpets and 17th century organ." -romaniatourism.com

The streets of Sighisoara (burgher houses): Image Source: flickr
Clock tower of Sighisoara: Image source: haveblogwilltravel
The Church of the Dominican Monestary in Sighisoara: google images
Medieval Citadel of Sighisoara: Image source: travelmakertours.com

The valleys and farming communities of the Transylvanian countryside can only be described as a quintessential fairy tale setting.   For many, farming is still very much a traditional and manual endeavor, where oxen are used to till the land, sheep graze the high and lowlands, vegetable gardening, chickens and cows provide food and the utilization of fire for both cooking food and warmth are the means in which many eek out a living.  Though, tractors and other modern equipment have made their way to some.

Along with cows, farms generally keep a few pigs, and on some farms, buffalo can also be found grazing fields.  The Transylvanian farmers are unique and separate from European countries as they have not changed their method of farming for hundreds of years.  They are self-sufficient and actually organic farmers - because they allow nature to simply just be nature - however, the local farmers here do not go through having their products certified due to the high cost of this legal procedure.   

Potato Harvest: photo source:  footage.framepool.com
theecologist.org beautifully explains how the past is preserved, and in it's present state:  "There's not a brightly coloured shop or advert in sight. Horse and carts clatter down the dirt track roads and cows wander freely. There are barely any cars. And behind the tall walls of each of the old Saxon houses is a self-contained ‘courtyard farm' complete with a wooden hay barn, livestock sheds and a small vegetable plot and fruit orchard."

Wolves, bears and big cats are also found with in the forests and along the countrysides of this region.  They have co-existed with the local population for centuries.

Bánffy Castle is the largest castle in Transylvania.  "From the 14th century through 1944, Bánffy Castle was occupied by members of the aristocratic Bánffy family, whose ranks included the first governor of Transylvania as well as a 19th-century prime minister of Hungary.  Throughout the centuries, Bánffy Castle was transformed to reflect the changing tastes of this wealthy and powerful family. 

Count Miklós Bánffy
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the castle acquired a regularized Renaissance facade that was further refined through the mid-18th century when the current Baroque footprint was established. During the first half of the 19th century, Gothic Revival modifications were made and the castle’s grounds were transformed into an English Romantic garden.

In 1944, the castle was burned by retreating German troops in retaliation for pro-Allied efforts on the part of its then-owner Count Miklos Bánffy. After the war, when Romania came under Communist control, it suffered neglect during the agrarian reforms in the region, and quarrying of its materials by locals seeking building materials. Vandals and natural decay further damaged the ruined castle."  Source: wmf.org - Photo source: pinterest

Bran Castle is also known as "Dracula's Castle" and is exploited in this way; however, Vlad the Impaler never took up residence here.  He may have stayed here during the 1400's but it was never his actual residence.  It's significance over time has been it's strategic location which was fortified after invasion, and later, an important location for tax collection for the town of Brasov.  

The castle was, however, was owned by Queen Marie of Romania, who purchased the property in 1920.  She set about to modernize and beautify the royal property by adding telephone lines, an elevator and a mechanical dumb waiter. She also contributed stables, a tea room, a play room for children and a chapel.

When offered the castle by deed, citizens of Brasov wrote, “the great queen who spreads her blessing everywhere she walked, thus winning, with an irresistible momentum, the hearts of the entire country’s population”.

"The Corvin Castle, also known as Hunyad Castle, is one of the most impressive medieval constructions in Romania. Many say that it is even more amazing than the famous Bran Castle.  

Iancu of Hunedoara ( aka John Hunyadi) was a leading Hungarian military and political figure in Central and Southeastern Europe during the 15th century. He started the construction of this magnificent castle. According to most contemporary sources, he was son of a noble family of Walachian (Romanian) ancestry. He was appointed voivode (highest-ranking official in Hungarian Kingdom) of Transylvania (at that time a region of Hungary) and he assumed responsibility for the defense of the frontiers against ottoman attacks. 

Later, the castle belong to his son Matthias Corvinus, one of the greatest kings of Hungary."  

You can delve more into the castle's history and its symbols (The Raven and the Golden Ring); the dungeon, the Knights hall and the Legend of the castle's well at  tourismromania.  Image source: en.wikipedia

Built around 1630, Miko Castle is  a fortified castle in Miercurea Ciuc, Romania. It is a very important monument in this city. The first written document to make reference to the citadel dates to 1631.

On October 21,1661, Turkish and Tatar troops led by Ali, Ottoman pasha of Temesvar Province, invaded Ciuc, occupying and burning the castle, it was rebuilt in 1714-1716.

At first glance, Peles Castle is  spectacular. To reach it, you must travel up a ancient medieval forest path and its grandeur is then displayed before you, atop a hill in the mountains.  The castle was founded by King Carol I, ruler when Romania gained its independence in 1877.

King Carol I "decided to approve a plan for this castle that involved creating a massive chalet-type structure that had one-hundred and sixty rooms inside, everything from bedrooms to theaters, concert halls, weapons rooms, libraries, offices, card rooms, shisha lounges, apartments, bathrooms, rooms to hang out in after you take a bath, painting rooms, tea rooms, children’s play rooms, meeting rooms, breakfast rooms and formal dining rooms.

King Carol I of Romania with his nephew the future King Ferdinand
and grand-nephew Prince Carol.
And that’s the basic part. The unique part is that every single one of those rooms, as well as the hallways and foyers, were decorated in a completely different style or theme, drawing from influences such as Turkish, Venetian, Florentine, French, and Moorish, among others.

So whenever you walk through a doorway or turn a corner, you have absolutely no idea what you’ll encounter. It’s an architecture and design fantasy-land with ornate wooden spiral staircases, interior balconies, massive decorated mirrors, odd statues, doors hidden inside of cupboards, a room shaped like an upside down boat, changing colors everywhere, a stain-glass roof that can be opened up during the summer and more....Without a doubt this was the most bizarre castle (apparently it’s actually a palace and not a castle) I’ve seen anywhere during my travels." -source: wanderingearl.com (thank you for such an amazing trip through this castle!); Photos: flickr, tumblr, pinterest, google

Pelişor Castle is another castle in Sinaia, Romania, which is actually part of the same complex as the larger castle of Peleş. Also built in by order of King Carol I, as the residence for his nephew and heir, the future King Ferdinand (son of Carol's brother Leopold von Hohenzollern) and Ferdinand's consort Queen Marie. The construction of this castle occurred between 1899 to 1902. 


Perhaps no where else on earth, than in Transylvania, are legends and mysteries more abundant.   The mysterious forests, with it's often photographed tendrils of mists that surround rugged mountains, along with the antiquated settlements along the rugged terrain of valleys and vales, provide a perfect setting for the popularity of superstition, fairies, spirits, demons and monsters.  I, for one, should I ever visit this region, would most likely peek beneath the lace bed-ruffles to ensure my own safety.

Though there are countless whimsical and ghostly tales, Mioriţa is a folklore poem, exclusive to Romania.  There are over 1,500 variants of the poem and was conceived in Transylvania.  The poem, which was translated into a ballad, is based on an initiation rite and is sung in the form of carols during the winter holidays.  It's cultural significance is that it has been shared among some of the most influential and important people of Romania.  Having been translated into over 20 languages, the Mioritic has been the inspiration for countless writers, composers and artists.It is one of the most popular of the four traditional myths of Romanian literature.  Here is the translated version:


Near a low foothill
At Heaven’s doorsill,
Where the trail’s descending
To the plain and ending,
Here three shepherds keep
Their three flocks of sheep,
One, Moldavian,
One, Transylvanian
And one, Vrancean.
Now, the Vrancean
And the Transylvanian
In their thoughts, conniving,
Have laid plans, contriving
At the close of day
To ambush and slay
The Moldavian;
He, the wealthier one,
Had more flocks to keep,
Handsome, long-horned sheep,
Horses, trained and sound,
And the fiercest hounds.
One small ewe-lamb, though,
Dappled gray as tow,
While three full days passed
Bleated loud and fast;
Would not touch the grass.
”Ewe-lamb, dapple-gray,
Muzzled black and gray,
While three full days passed
You bleat loud and fast;
Don’t you like this grass?
Are you too sick to eat,
Little lamb so sweet?”
”Oh my master dear,
Drive the flock out near
That field, dark to view,
Where the grass grows new,
Where there’s shade for you.
”Master, master dear,
Call a large hound near,
A fierce one and fearless,
Strong, loyal and peerless.
The Transylvanian
And the Vrancean
When the daylight’s through
Mean to murder you.”
”Lamb, my little ewe,
If this omen’s true,
If I’m doomed to death
On this tract of heath,
Tell the Vrancean
And Transylvanian
To let my bones lie
Somewhere here close by,
By the sheepfold here
So my flocks are near,
Back of my hut’s grounds
So I’ll hear my hounds.
Tell them what I say:
There, beside me lay
One small pipe of beech
 Whith its soft, sweet speech,
One small pipe of bone
Whit its loving tone,
One of elderwood,
Fiery-tongued and good.
Then the winds that blow
Would play on them so
All my listening sheep
Would draw near and weep
Tears, no blood so deep.
How I met my death,
Tell them not a breath;
Say I could not tarry,
I have gone to marry
A princess – my bride
Is the whole world’s pride.
At my wedding, tell
How a bright star fell,
Sun and moon came down
To hold my bridal crown,
Firs and maple trees
Were my guests; my priests
Were the mountains high;
Fiddlers, birds that fly,
All birds of the sky;
Torchlights, stars on high.
But if you see there,
Should you meet somewhere,
My old mother, little,
With her white wool girdle,
Eyes with their tears flowing,
Over the plains going,
Asking one and all,
Saying to them all,
’Who has ever known,
Who has seen my own
Shepherd fine to see,
Slim as a willow tree,
With his dear face, bright
As the milk-foam, white,
His small moustache, right
As the young wheat’s ear,
With his hair so dear,
Like plumes of the crow
Little eyes that glow
Like the ripe black sloe?’
Ewe-lamb, small and pretty,
For her sake have pity,
Let it just be said
I have gone to wed
A princess most noble
There on Heaven’s doorsill.
To that mother, old,
Let it not be told
That a star fell, bright,
For my bridal night;
Firs and maple trees
Were my guests, priests
Were the mountains high;
Fiddlers, birds that fly,
All birds of the sky;
Torchlights, stars on high.” 

Painting by Nicolae Grigorescu


•Transylvania is home to approximately 200 Saxon villages.

•Transylvania is the birthplace of the Unitarian Church that merged with the Universalist Church the United States, in 1961 which formed today's Unitarian Universalist Association, and is also where Francis David was born in 1510.

•Did you know... that Prince Charles has purchased properties in Transylvania?  "Attracted by this landscape unblemished by modern agriculture and boasting a sustainable rural life..." Source: telegraph.uk.  He is purchasing properties to renovate them for village-based tourism.

The city of Brasov is home to the largest Gothic church between Vienna, Austria and Istanbul, Turkey.

The earliest homo sapiens fossils, up to now, were discovered in 2002 in southwestern Romania (Transylvania), in the Cave of Bones. The fossil’s age is estimated at 37,800 to 42,000 years old.

Carpathian Chamois - image source: summitpost.org
The Carpathian Mountains are home to one of the largest virgin forests in Europe. 400 unique species of mammals, including the Carpathian chamois, call the Carpathian Mountains home. 60% of European brown bear population lives in the Carpathian Mountains.

•The Romanian language is 1,700 years old.

Organ at the Black church:  Image source:  isotransylvania.ro
The Black Church in Brosov, has the largest organ in Europe, with 4000 tubes. It also has the largest bell in Romania, weighing 41,000 lbs (6.3 tons).

Three clay tablets, dated to around 5300 BC, discovered in the village of Tartaria in central Romania, have been the subject of considerable controversy among archaeologists, some of whom claim that the symbols represent the earliest known form of writing in the world. click Ancient booty to read about the stash that was discovered.

Astra Museum - photo source: wiki
Transylvania’s Astra Museum in Sibiu is the second-largest outdoor museum in the world. It's land contains 300 buildings, along with water and windmills, huge wine presses, (also for fruit and oil), hydraulic forges and more. 


As a final thought to this very long post (and there is so much more to write about the province of Transylvania), I wanted to speak of the people, Roma.  When one thinks of Romania, the notion of gypsies may also come to mind, and Transylvania certainly has been, and is, home to many.  It is easy to find images of the gypsy portrayed in vibrant colors, airy skirts and head scarves, but this is a personification of the abstract. 

Image source: tmagazine/nytimes
The origin of the Romani tribes are thought to have come from India, the transient culture does actually have a prevalence in this region, as well as Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia.  It is interesting to note that one reference indicated that the term "gypsy" was influenced by their migration from Egypt.

Approximately one million Roma lived in Europe before the second World War. The largest community which totaled about 300,000, was actually in Romania. This population was known for leading a nomadic life, and their employment included trading, wood and other crafting, merchants, laborers, and of course, musicians.  Today, there are "officially" 620,000 Roma living in Romania; however, this is a controversial estimate, as leaders indicate their may be between 1 to 3 million in population.  It is believed that the controversy in numbers exist from discrimination, as the gypsies often do not acknowledge their actual ethnicity.

The Roma have existed through a long and sometimes violent history which has kept this population as largely misunderstood.  They have been characterized as social outcasts and through the existence of extreme poverty, they have been known as thieves and beggars.   This has forced the majority of Roma Gypsies to live in very harsh conditions - has affected them mentally, spiritually, physically and economically - for generations.  The reality for these folks today, particularly in northern Romania, is that they are living in make-shift houses constructed of old boards and plywood, and there are apparently political and cultural clashing and extenuating ramifications for which there has been no solution.   

Map depicting the Roma gypsy migration
Romania is not the only country which hold disdain for this population, as the gypsy culture is steeped 'twixt and 'tween all of Europe, (Great Britain, Italy, Spain, France are currently "problem areas"), Russia and pretty much around the world. 

caught in the act - dailymail.uk
According to Spain's Guardia, no less than 95% of thievery crime is committed by gypsy children who are under 14 years of age, and due to this minor status, they are forced to release them back into the community, at large.  

Final thought:  I guess the bottom line is, no one knows what to do with them. As depicted in the photos above, dailymail.uk gives the story of a mayor building a wall around an area where the gypsies live, along with many pictures of current living conditions in which the Roma exist today. Click here to view. Photos: google images