Transylvania

Transylvania is a gorgeous historical region in the central part of Romania, which represents a very special and uniquely rich cultural landscape. Transylvania, with its name coming from Latin „ultra silvam” – beyond the forest, is one of the most interesting and surprising regions of Romania. Transylvania possesses some of the breathtaking landscapes offered by its mountains such as Rodna Mountains, Retezat Mountains, Călimani Mountains, Bucegi Mountains, Ciucaș Mountains, Făgăraș Mountains and Apuseni Mountains. Transylvania is bordered on the east and the south by the Carpathian Mountain range, but it also encompasses the historical regions of Crisana, Maramures and the Romanian part of Banat. Romanian Transylvania is the place for slow living, the place for stories, things still made like once upon a time or like grandparents used to. If visitors have the time and the eyes open enough, they might discover surprising stories in Transylvania. Bearing the mark of a centuries long mingled life of the Romanians, Serbs, Hungarians and Germans, Transylvania has a unique feature and character: nowhere else in the world are there to be found, preserved, in such a narrow space, so many reinforced churches and fortress-churches, witnessing such a varied material expression of the defense technique. The origin and development of church reinforcements are, undoubtedly linked to the troubled history of Transylvania, starting from the Tatar invasion in 1241 – 1242, passing through the Turks’ repeated forays – from 1395 – to the devastating Mohacs defeat of 1526.

There is archaeological and metallurgical evidence of gold mining in the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ of Transylvania since the late Stone Age. The Olt River valley in South-East Transylvania (Romania) has always been the gateway between the Transylvanian Plateau (hence the Pannonian Plains and therefore Europe) and the Danube Basin (and through the Balkans, Asia Minor and the Mediterranean Sea). Importance of Transylvania is such that it has been continuously inhabited since the early prehistoric times, although for many decades the modern historiigraphy entirely neglected any other context for analyzing the frames of the Transylvanian state’s development. Alburnus Maior was founded by the Romans during the rule of Emperor Trajan as a mining town, with Illyrian colonists from South Dalmatia. The exploitation of gold deposits (aurariae Dacicae) began shortly after the occupation of the creation of the Roman province. The gold-mining center was in the Érc Mountains (Muntii Apuseni), where miners lived in larger settlements — Ampelum (Zalatna, Zlatna) and Alburnus Maior (Abrud-Verespatak, Roşia Montana) as well as smaller ones (Deusara, Kartum, Immenosus Maior, and Vicus Pirustarum). The community of Roşia Montană in western Transylvania is connected to a scenic landscape specific to the Apuseni Mountains and to a mining history of nearly 2,000 years that left behind valuable architectural monuments, a rich spiritual heritage and archaeological vestiges unique in the world. Archaeologists have discovered in the Rosia Montana area the ancient dwellings, necropolises, mausoleum of Romani Dacia, mine galleries, mining tools, 25 wax tablets which bear a variety of commercial texts, contracts, and accounts dating back to 131–167 and many inscriptions in Greek and Latin, centered around Carpeni Hill, which they regard of the outstanding international significance. The Romans left Dacia in 271, but remains the fact that the Transylvanian gold has kept Roman economy out of bankruptcy. Mining in Transylvania appears to have started again in the Middle Ages by German migrants – Saxons using similar techniques to the Romans. The remains of the Roman mining town include ancient industrial facilities, temples, baths, houses and tunnels. The latter have been described by UNESCO as “a unique archaeological complex of underground Roman mine galleries in the world”.

The territory of Transylvania belonged to a variety of empires, indigenous and populated peoples, invaders and states, including the Celts, Scynthians, Serbs, Dacians, Romans, Visigoths, Gepids, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Wallachians and Hungarians. The colonization of Transylvania by Germans begun by the King Géza II of Hungary (1141–1162) who wanted to strengthen the most vulnerable points along Transylvania’s border with large settlements of well-armed warriors. This resulted in settling artisans, farmers and merchants of German ethnicity – the Transylvanian Saxons in Transylvania from the 12th century onward. For decades, the main task of the German settlers was to defend the southeastern border of the Kingdom of Hungary against the Ottomans, but they were also sought for their mining expertise and ability to develop the region’s economy. The colonization continued until the end of the 13th century. Although the colonists came mostly from the western Holy Roman Empire and generally spoke Franconian dialects, they were collectively known as Saxons because of Germans working for the Hungarian chancellery. For much of their history, these Saxons held a privileged status with the Hungarian nobles and Szeklers of Transylvania, especially in the period preceding the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the mid 12th century, the land stretching from east of the Tarnava Mare River, to the southeast edge of the territory under the sway of the Hungarian Arpad Kings changed hands and became the possession of Saxons from the new communities of German colonists brought from Flanders, Saxony, and the Rhineland. In eight centuries, they built an original and lasting civilization, which allowed them to form homogeneous societies. The earliest known reference to the Saxon privileges is found in a charter, dating from 1224, that concerns Flandrenses and Theutonici (the people who came to be known as the Transylvanian Saxons); by then, their settlements had spread well beyond the original district. It is likely that the original German settlers had been granted similar privileges; otherwise, they would not have changed countries, and the king could not have counted on the settlers financing the military service of several hundred knights. In Transylvania, the history of citadel-churches is one with that of Saxon settlements, these fortified ensembles having become their defining symbol. Thus, according to its economic possibilities, each community strove to erect a citadel church as unassailable and imposing as possible, to delight and awe the eyes of strangers. Transylvania is home to nearly two hundred villages with fortified churches built by the Saxons between the 13th and 15th centuries. Having to withstand constant invaders, the villages’ central areas, where the church was located most of the time, were fortified with defense walls, having the capacity to shelter a large number of people. Seven of the fortified churches have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. A visit to these quaint villages, placed amid lush farmland and green rolling hills, provide visitors and travelers a taste of the long-gone medieval times. They are Biertan Fortified Church, Calnic Fortified Church, Darjiu Fortified Church, Prejmer Fortified Church, Saschiz Fortified Church, Valea Viilor Fortified Church and Viscri Fortified Church.

The village of Biertan (German: Birthalm), first mentioned in an official document in 1283, is home to one of the largest and most impressive Medieval strongholds in Transylvania. Surrounded by quaint streets and vineyards, the 15th century fortified church at Biertan is perched high on a hill in the middle of the village. Three tiers of 35-foot-high defensive walls, connected by towers and gates, encircled the Biertan complex, making the church impossible to conquer during medieval times. Featuring late Gothic architecture with heavy doors and double exterior walls, the Biertan church boasts the largest Transylvanian multi-paneled wooden altar and a remarkable wooden door which once protected the treasures in the sacristy. The altar was built by artisans from Vienna (Austria) and Nurenberg (Germany) between 1483 and 1513. The door, a true marvel of engineering, has a particularly ingenious locking mechanism with 15 bolts that can be simultaneously activated by a key. The mechanism stirred quite an interest at the Paris World Expo in 1900, and is famous as have been completed by a local blacksmith from Sighisoara. Since 1993 this fortress church  in Biertan as well as the access paths around it, is on the world heritage list drawn up by UNESCO.

Transylvania in Romania has been named the top region in the world for travelers in 2016. The region receives the accolade in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2016, the highly anticipated collection of the world’s hottest trends, destinations and experiences for the year ahead. The bestselling, inspirational travel yearbook from the world’s leading travel authority highlights the top ten countries, cities and regions to visit in 2016. Transylvania took the top spot because the region “casts a powerful spell” and is “experiencing a renaissance.” According to the book, “Cluj-Napoca was dubbed an art city of the future by Phaidon, and Brașov is attracting as many nightlife lovers as vampire hunters. Horses and carts still rattle through the countryside … Beyond the towns, all eyes are on Transylvania’s real fang-toothed predators: wolves, lynx and the majority of Romania’s 6000-strong bear population. With the recent reintroduction of bison to the Carpathian Mountains, opportunities for wildlife watching are sure to become even richer.

 

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