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The region of Transylvania is located in the central part of modern Romania, bordered on the east and south by the Carpathian mountains. First referred to in a Medieval Latin document in 1075 as Ultra Silvam meaning ‘Beyond the forest’, it is a region whose relationship with the forest is inseparable.
Over the centuries the land has been ruled by many peoples, most notably from the 10 to 15th Century the Magyars, then the Ottoman Empire and more recently the Habsburgs in the 17th and 18th Centuries. After the First World War the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 placed the whole of Transylvania within the state of Romania, along with the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia.
The architecture of the region varies from medieval, through Austrian influences, Communist concrete blocks and modern glass and steel towers. The roads are dotted with small villages where life has not changed for generations and the towns share their traditional centres with more modern wider surroundings.
There is a long history of viniculture and the local wines from regions such as the Prahova Valley are of both good quality and value. The cheaper wines are often sweet but the more expensive are quite delicious. You will the food has a strong Hungarian influence with the traditional diet being based around soups, stews and a lot of pork. Everything is worth trying, especially the little sausages often grilled at the roadside called mititei.
Built in the 15th Century it is situated with a commanding view of a long valley and provided a strategic military role until the mid-18th century. Widely referred to as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, the actual place is in reality only tenuously linked to the real Vlad Tepes (or Impaler). However, it is said that Bram Stoker used an illustration of Bran in Charles Boner’s book ‘Transylvania: it’s product and it’s people’ (London:Longmans, 1865) to create the description of Dracula’s castle in his famous book about the mythical Count.
The 7th most populous city in Romania and one of the most attractive cities in Transylvania. Although the settlement dates back to the Neolithic age, the city was developed by Saxon settlers in the 13th century and fortified by Teutonic Knights in 1211.
The city features a beautiful square called Piata Sfatului, with a wide selection of bars and restaurants both in the square and radiating off of it. The square is towered over by Mt Tampa, which can be climbed by cable car, and also contains the Black Church, a celebrated Gothic site dating back to 1477. There are also various medieval gates and towers surviving from original walled defences of the city.
This Gothic-Renaissance castle is one of the largest castles in Europe and is a large and imposing structure with tall towers, bastions, an inner courtyard, diversely coloured roofs, and a myriad windows and balconies adorned with stone carvings. Originally laid out in 1446 and improved repeatedly over the centuries, the castle was restored after many years of neglect.
There remains around 150 fortified churches in Transylvania out of an original 300. Seven villages with fortified churches have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Two of these feature in our tours, either Biertan or Viscri. The fortification of churches came from the 12th century Saxon settlers being constantly under threat of Ottoman or Tatar invasions. They allowed a village to seek refuge in their church when under attack and were usually designed to withstand long sieges.
Near Sinaia, in the Prahova Valley, is this Neo-Renaissance palace, although consistently referred to as a castle. Built between 1873 and 1914, it was commissioned by King Carol I of Romania who had fallen in love with magnificent mountain scenery and wanted a summer retreat from which to go hunting. Peles was the World’s first castle fully powered by locally produced electricity and the cost of the work in modern money was estimated to be around $120million.
Archaeological research reveals that traces of fortifications can be traced bac to prehistoric times. However, the medieval citadel that currently stands at Rasnov was built in the early 1200s. Acting as a defensive position for the surrounding villages and designed to withstand long sieges, the only time the position fell was in 1612 when enemy troops found the location of the secret spring that provided water to the occupants. Because of this a well was stated in 1623, legend says that two Turkish prisoners took 17 years to dig the well 146m deep and that verses of the Quran that they wrote on the well walls can still be seen today.
Between 1692-1791 and 1849-1865 Sibiu was the capital of the principality of Transylvania. As one of the most important cultural centres of Romania it was designated the European Capital of Culture for 2007, and Forbes ranked it as Europe’s 8th most idyllic place to live. Featuring one of the largest squares in Transylvania and several smaller ones, Sibiu also features the Brukenthal Museum in the Baroque Brukenthal Palace, one of the oldest museums in the world.
Sighisoara is home to the World’s last occupied medieval citadel and as such it is another of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the region. An important centre for crafts in the region, there were 15 guilds and 20 handicraft branches in the 17th century. There are still 9 towers that can be visited in the city that were part of these guilds, and there is also the Sighisoara Clock Tower which can be climbed and is a major landmark of the city. Amongst the narrow streets winding up the hill is also the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, now a thriving restaurant.