Brashov

Brashov is town located in the central part of Romania, and a part of the wonderful Transylvania region, about 166 km away from Bucharest, beautifully surrounded on three sides by mountain peaks of the Southern Carpathians. Brashov is one of the largest cities in Romania with a population of approximately 280,000. Thanks to its proximity to the Bucegi Mountains and the Bran Castle, Braşov is one of the most important destinations in Romania. There are basically 2 parts of Brashov – the pretty Saxon old town and its square situated beneath the Mount Tampa and then the surrounding concrete jungles of tower blocks and factories. The historical core of Brasov was beautifully restored to the delight of an increasing number of visitors on the basis of this rehabilitation process of the old monuments such as churches, facades, bastions. That way, Brasov gained its position of being among the most cherished city for the leisure tourism.

The old town of Brashov is one of the best preserved old towns in Europe, with splendid architecture and old fortifications, and is well worth taking a few days to explore, best on foot. If you want a bird’s-eye view of the city, take the cable car up to Panoramic Tampa, the peak overlooking the city. Brashov has an amazing history with influences from Germany, the Austria-Hungarian Empire and the old communist state. The Brashov was founded in 1211 by Teutonic Knights and was developed by the Saxons, on the major trade route linking Transylvania and Wallachia. A mix of Vlach and Turkic (Pecheneg or Cumman tribes) originally settled in this area, and as the city suffered repeated attacks by Turks and Tatars from the east, they fortified their city in the 15th century. In 1524 a semi-circle tower was built here, since when the place ia surrounded by a wall. In 1625 the 81m deep well was rebuilt in the inside yard. The square fortress, with Italian bastions on its corners and watchtowers has got one entrance.

The Romanian name Braşov and Hungarian Brassó are derived from Turkic. The Saxons living in Brashov were mainly involved in trade and crafts. The location of the Brashov city at the intersection of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe, together with certain tax exemptions, allowed Saxon merchants to obtain considerable wealth and exert a strong political influence. They contributed a great deal to the architectural flavor of the city of Brasov. The Fortifications around the city of Brashov were erected and continually expanded, with several guarded towers, maintained by different craftsmen guilds, according to medieval custom. Part of the Brashov fortification ensemble was recently restored using UNESCO funds, and other projects are ongoing. Today the Brasov fortress houses a restaurant and it is the frequent location of festivals and cultural events in the city; views from its battlements stretch over the rich red rooftops to the Black Church (Biserica Neagră) and beyond to the Hollywood-style Braşov sign in the hills. The construction of the Black Church in Gothic style started in 1383 and today visitors can see the impressive cathedral proportions of 89m long, 38m wide and 42m high. The Hirscher House has been built in 1545 and had several names during its long history : Merchants’ House, Hirscher house…. It was the largest building in the town of Brasov and its 67.5 height represented the commercial power of the town. The former Markplatz square in Brasov obtained its right to held markets in 1520, but it has been the place for annual markets since 1364, being visited by merchants from the country and abroad. The houses surrounding the Council Square speak about a rich history.

At least two entrances to the Brashov city, Poarta Ecaterinei (or Ekaterinentor) and Poarta Schei are still in existence. The Brashov city center is marked by the mayor’s former office building (Casa Sfatului) and the surrounding square (piaţa), which includes one of the oldest buildings in Braşov, the Hirscher Haus, owned by a wealthy merchant. Nearby is the “Black Church” (Biserica Neagră) built in Gothic and Renaissance style between 1385 and 1477 on the site of an earlier church (destroyed by Mongol invasions in 1242), which some claim to be the largest Gothic-style church in South-Eastern Europe. The Black Church of Brasov is its most important landmark, probably the largest church between Vienna and Istanbul, which got its new name after disaster stuck again in 1689, when the ‘Great Fire’ leveled most of the town, blackening the walls of the church. Visitors are invited to listen to the impressive 4000-pipe organ dating from 1839 during the concerts held at least once a week. Best of all however are the 119 fabulous Anatolian carpets on display. The rugs were donated by German merchants in the 17th and 18th century, thankful to have survived their shopping trips into the barbaric lands south and east of the Carpathians. The Brasov rug collection is the largest of its kind in Europe.

Brashov basically became a German colony and the Romanians were denied several privileges by the Saxon settlers. They were no longer recognized as citizens of the city, and as such they were no longer able to continue to practice their crafts and operate their businesses. Additionally, their primary religion (Orthodox) was not officially recognized throughout Transylvania, especially during and after the 15th century. The Romanians were not allowed to live in the city and they mainly lived in the Schei district, which is well worth a visit. To enter the city they would have to pay a tariff at one of the main gates which are still visible today.

The Brashov town square is thriving with life during the summer and the open markets and numerous restaurants scattered down the streets, leading onto the square. The mountains and forests surrounding Brashov are bustling with wildlife including one of the largest populations of brown bears in Europe, wild cats and wolves. There is a large ski resort on the outskirts of Brashov and the Bran Castle home of the infamous Dracula is only 20 minutes away.

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