Transylvania's Medieval Legacy:
Voices of Culture Set in Stone
Photo : Wikicommons
Recently, I was given the opportunity to see for myself some of the richest cultural heritage Romania has to offer, in the form of four different fortified structures; Parohia Saschiz, Sighisoara and Harman fortified churches, as well as the medieval tower at Sighisoara. It’s incredible to think of all that these ancient historical landmarks have stood through - surviving demolition by communist regimes, attack in medieval conflicts and hundreds of years’ worth of different generations all sharing in the history of these great places. It’s amazing to imagine what these buildings could say if we could communicate with them, all of the history they have seen. These structures themselves offer a silent, unreplicable insight into times gone by. They were all an utter pleasure to visit.
The first church I visited was Parohia Saschiz: a huge, white washed and crumbling structure, surrounded by beds of flowers and ivy climbing up each wall. A little wooden gate opens onto a dirt path, leading into the stone entrance. As I sit outside, a horse and cart draw up next to me - culture is just oozing out of every corner of this place. Walking in, I am constantly surrounded by Romania’s touch. A giant green velvet altar stands pride of place at the wall, framed by white cherub faces with dark hair and red eyes, almost vampiric. A gilded gold stand holds a dusty bible. The church is full of underground passageways, hidden and private from the outside world. I’m not told what they are for, or why they are here, but one can only imagine their uses throughout history; perhaps storage, or a hiding place. These walls hold so many secrets that the church can never tell, so many mysteries I can only guess at. Maybe that mystery adds to the charm of the place.
Next, I found my way to Sighisoara, an ancient Romanian town that is built upon it’s rich cultural heritage. Founded in the 12th century by Transylvanian Saxons, the town itself is a UNESCO recognised World Heritage sight, displaying some of the most beautifully preserved medieval buildings in Europe. Whilst I am here, I had the opportunity to walk around the Medieval festival. The festival itself was formed on the castle, which was mainly formed by well worn cobbled streets, all lined by stalls and curiosities. There were also many teenagers around, dressed up in medieval outfits and having pseudo sword fights, eager to get involved. Although it was exhausting to walk around the steep hill based castle, it was utterly worth every step. After reaching the top of the stairs, we were exposed to a beautiful panoramic view of Sighisoara and it’s surroundings. Although I couldn’t envy the children who attend the high school here because of the amount of walking they must have to do every day, I am very jealous of the environment they have to learn in here.
I was very eager to escape from the heat in Sighisoara ‘Bisera Evangelica’ that stands on the highest point of the town. The ancient building, existing since medieval times, is comprised entirely of stone, making it nice and chilly inside. Everywhere is covered with no photo signs, protecting the many wall hangings, shrines and pieces of furniture that have survived the test of time in this building. Along one wall stand many different engraved tombstones, inscribed with latin text, either in memory of a loved one or showing ancient religious scripture. I am also able to admire an ornate 17th century organ, as well as Transylvanian renaissance altar and baroque pulpit. It is obvious from the carefully preserved articles in here that the community of Sighisoara still respect religious practices just as much as their ancestors used to. This church shows a perfect example of a culture that won’t die out.
Another example of the careful diligence of the locals here toward the sharing and preservation of a historical lifestyle is shown to us is the Sighisoara clock tower. Inside, I am met by a long and winding set of stairs, curling up to several small rooms filled with artefacts from life here hundreds of years ago - sets of furniture, surgical instruments, portraits and traditional crockery all line the walls, giving us a genuine insight into the history of the tower. The tower was built and designed in the 14th century in times of economic prosperity to protect the material wealth of the town. Infact, the half a mile long wall surrounding the town was built expressly to protect the tower and the treasures inside it that are still on display today. At the very top of the tower, it is possible to look at the view from all different directions. It is easy to imagine from this height protectors of the town being able to watch over from above.
Last of all, I was able to visit Harman fortified church. Based on German influences, this structure was perhaps the biggest of all the churches I have seen on my cultural tour. Build in an oval shape and lined with a restored whitewashed brick wall, the church stands huge and majestic in the middle of it’s own fortress. Stepping into the church is like taking a step back in time. Much like the other churches I’ve been in, an organ sits directly opposite the altar lavishly decorated with various inscriptions in German, since Harman has traditionally had a predominantly German population. The benches in the centre are all low and made to be stood on rather than sat, since worship here is in the traditional orthodox style - attendees at mass stand in front of the altar as if they were in the presence of a king. Only the wealthy and the elderly are allowed to sit. The church is designed by the religious in full devotion to God. It is still obvious to visitors today that this is a building erected and maintained out of pure respect, a pureness of faith that has survived decades and still thrives in a modern environment.
Buildings like these command a certain sort of respect. Surviving through decades worth of weathers, wars and silently watching thousands of human cultures as they slowly evolve, they represent a resilience that is difficult to find in this day and age. They are, in essence, culture writ large. They are capable of communicating to us, wordlessly, years of heritage that we exist beyond human access. A voice that can penetrate the barriers of time itself. Seeing this for myself here in Romania, I am reminded of the importance of preserving heritage sites like these for future generations so that they, too, can communicate with the voice of culture.