Walking like a Saxon of Transylvania

Broadcast from the courtyard of a quaint Saxon Transylvanian property, recently bought by Andreea and Stephen McGrath, a young Romanian – English family who is enthusiastic about their historic house and have started its restoration process, to bring it to its former glory. The dwelling is a time capsule, with many of its original features, furniture, agricultural tools, kitchen implements, and even traditional Saxon clothing still in place. It is located in the village of Kreisch/ Cris, in Mures county, in the immediate vicinity of the famous Bethlen Castle, one of the fiefs of those famous princes of Transylvania in the period of struggle against the Ottoman Empire and Habsburg encroachment, for the cause of Protestantism.

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I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advise you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Vlad the Impaler’s birthplace

Reportage in front of the house where in 1431 Vlad the Impaler has been born, as his father Vlad Dracul, the Prince of Wallachia, together with his aristocratic Hungarian wife, took refuge from the Ottomans and internal oponents, in the powerful Saxon Transylvanian town of Schassburg/ Sighisoara.

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I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advise you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

From inside the nave of Weisskirch/ Viscri church

Reportage from inside the beautiful Weisskirch/ Viscri village Gothic church, a provincial Saxon Transylvanian architecture, which is still delighting its visitors, more or less in the same state as it was a few centuries ago.

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I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advise you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

From the tower of Weisskirch/ Viscri church

Reportage from the platform atop the tower of Weisskirch/ Viscri Gothic Church in Saxon Transylvania, built in the 14th and he 15th centuries, and surrounded by a wall fortification with chambers to host the villagers in case of invasion.

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I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advise you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Sibiu orthodox cathedral – universalist message in architecture

Sibiu orthodox cathedral, old postcard (1900s), Valentin Mandache collection

The city of Sibiu (Hermannstadt in German, Nagyszeben in Hungarian) is the second largest urban centre of historic Saxon Transylvania. It is, as its varying names show, a multi-ethnic city. The main faith of Sibiu’s ethnic Romanian population is Christian orthodox, with its centre of worship at the majestic cathedral depicted in the old postcard pictured above, inaugurated in 1904 and designed by the Hungarian architects Josef Kamner and Vergilius Nagy. The postcard was published by the Sibiu archdiocese in the period immediately after its inauguration. The crisp drawing and lively hand applied colours convey, in many ways better than a photograph, the architectural message and the monumental proportions of this remarkable ecclesiastical building. The cathedral is modelled after Saint Sophia in Constantinople, embracing also elements of local Trasylvanian architecture and baroque, the style ubiquitous throughout the Habsburg empire, whence Sibiu was then a frontier city in the vicinity of the old Kingdom of Romania. I like the universalist message of its architecture, making references to the church of the first millennium of the Common Era, before the Great Schism and the Reformation, which had its centre in Byzantium. That obvious integrative symbolism was so much in contrast with the ethnic tensions prevalent throughout the Habsburg Empire in its last decades of existence, when the cathedral was conceived and built, a situation that ultimately led to the demise of that once great polity.

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I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contactpage of this weblog.

Art Nouveau pavilion in Ocna Sibiului spa town

Ocna Sibiului (German: Salzburg; Hungarian: Vizakna) is a small spa town in historic Saxon Transylvania developed especially during the Victorian era, when the region was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Many of its hotels, restaurants and baths were designed in the Art Nouveau style, as is shown in the old postcard below (published in the early 1910s). I have not visited yet the place, but I understand that a number of those wonderful Art Nouveau edifices and decorations are still around and even “restored”, which in the context of today Romania should in fact mean aggressive renovation. I like the sight of the Saxon church bell-tower, pictured in the background of the postcard, rising over the old village and spa pavilion.

Art Nouveau style pavilion in Ocna Sibiului (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

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I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contactpage of this weblog.

Neo-Romanian architecture in Transylvania before the union with Romania

Neo-Romanian style cultural centre building, inaugurated in 1913 in Seliste, southern Transylvania, then part of the Empire of Austria-Hungary; press cut from a Romanian language Transylvanian newspaper.

The Habsburg Empire hosted an important Romanian population, especially in the provinces of Transylvania and Bukovina. After the the Compromise Act of 1867 which saw the reorganisation of the empire on the basis of a dual Austrian – Hungarian monarchy, Transylvania fell under the direct rule of Hungary, which pursued an unveiled policy of cultural and linguistic assimilation of the other ethic groups making up the province, a policy infamously known as “forced Magyarisation”, a sort of cultural identity cleansing. Those policies provoked a strong reaction from among the targeted nationalities (Romanians, Germans, Slovaks, etc.), which tried through diverse means to preserve their culture. The Romanian population greatly benefited in that regard from the support offered by the authorities of the neighbouring Romanian kingdom, entity called by the Transylvanian Romanians as Tara (the Country). That situation was not unlike that between the c19th Greek state and the Ottoman Empire, regarding the preservation of the cultural identity of the Ottoman Greeks. The Romanian state helped its ethic kin population in Transylvania in setting up a series of cultural centres or sponsored newspapers and magazines. The press cut presented in the image above dates from 1914, just before the start of the Great War, and is from a Transylvanian Romanian language periodic newspaper detailing the inauguration, the year before, of a cultural centre in the village of Seliste in southern Transylvania, near the city of Sibiu (in Romanian)/ Hermannstadt (in German)/ Nagyszeben (in Hungarian). The explanatory text accompanying the photograph points out the Neo-Romanian style architecture of the house, which by itself is a powerful ethnic identity statement expressed in architecture, mentioning that the design was by an architect named Cerna, from the Country (Romania). I like how the journalist defines the [Neo]-Romanian style as “the style of the old boyar cula [fortified yeoman house] encountered in the Country.” The harsh Hungarian cultural assimilation policies and the tensions generated within society backfired in a big way in the aftermath of the Great War, when the targeted ethic groups opted for self-determination, in the case of the Romanians, to unify their provinces with old Romania, facts that ultimately led to the obliteration of the once mighty Habsburg Empire.

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I endeavor through this series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Art Deco Spa Building in Saxon Transylvania

The 1929 Art Deco style of the 'mud-bath" pavilion in Bazna spa town (Baussen in local German dialect) in Saxon Transylvania, central Romania. (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

Bazna is located in the region known as Saxon Transylvania, traditionally inhabited by ethnic Germans from the c12th until c20th. This industrious and highly civilized community was forced to emigrate during the communist period to West Germany because of the harsh economic conditions and unbearable nationalist policies against ethnic minorities of the state of Romania. This is also an important natural gas producing area, known as the Transylvanian salt domes region, endowed with a geology that contains large such hydrocarbure deposits, which in the inter-war period made Romania one of the main European gas producers and today makes this EU region much less dependent on the capricious Russian gas supply. That complex geology favoured the development of an important spa resort town in Bazna during the Victorian period, when the area was within the confines of the Habsburg Empire. The old post card above shows the mud-bath pavilion (“Schlammbad” in German) during the brief inter-war flourishing of the local German community. It is built in an attractive minimalist, essential early Art Deco style (the year 1929 as is mentioned on the central tower). I like the “Salve” inscription on the pediment of the Art Deco doorway which greets the customers, a typical cheerful spa town decorative artefact used since the Roman times. The photograph is a glimpse of a long gone happy epoch reflected in architecture. Bazna nowadays is littered with ugly modern buildings of uncouth architecture, a consequence of the wild Romanian property boom of the last few years. It is also an expensive place, despite its run down infrastructure in terms of holiday resort. That makes even more poignant the contrast with the beautiful inter-war atmosphere and architecture depicted in the postcard above.

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I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contactpage of this weblog.

Daily Picture 16-Jan-10: Transylvania Fortress Wall Houses

Typical houses lining up the fortress wall protecting a village church in Saxon Transylvania (Harman/ Honigsberg/ Szászhermány, Brasov county), some dating from late c13th from the time of the first Tatar and Turkish raids over the  region. (©Valentin Mandache)

Saxon Transylvania is the largest rural medieval architectural region left in Europe. It has a very embattled history because of it precarious geographical location at the old frontier between Christendom and the Muslim power projected by the Ottoman Empire and their Tatar allies. The term “Saxon” is an umbrella name given to the ethnic German population, originating in what is today the principality of Luxembourg and its adjiacennt areas in France, Germany and Belgium. They settled in Southern and Eastern Transylvania beginning with c12th through royal patents issued by the medieval Hungarian kings. The devastating Tatar and Turkish raids that began after the region was first overrun during the Great Tatar Invasion of Europe that ended in 1242 (initiated by Genghis Khan and his successors), prompted the locals to build strong defences around their towns and villages. Thus, a very peculiar medieval military-civil architecture emerged in the region, with many examples still surviving today. The main fortifications were built around the village church and also the church itself was transformed in an impressive fortified building as point of last resistance. The wall enclosure had also to accommodate the village population, food and their livestock during the Tatar-Turkish raids and thus every village household had its own assigned fortress wall house and grain storage area  as in shown in the photograph above, which I took in June last year inside the citadel of Harman village (Honigsberg in German, Szászhermány in Hungarian).  There are many surviving such examples in Southern Transylvania, which would constitute an excellent restoration/ renovation project for someone with imagination and passion for medieval architecture. Unfortunately there are not many takers of that opportunity and these exceptional buildings are slowly disappearing through neglect, irretrievably damaged by ignorant locals or razed to the ground by rapacious Romanian property developers.

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I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.