History Made Flesh:
How Brasov City Maintains its Historical and Cultural Identity
Photo : The Black Church / Asger Skovdal Jepsen
The feeling I get from wandering around Brasov City is that of a city aware of its history. Brasov has endured a lot throughout its existence, and is not afraid to show the worst parts of it - indeed, the people of Brasov have been very eager to preserve and tell the history of their city to anyone who might be willing to listen, whether it be through the reconstruction of their old bastions or public events, Brasov is willing to keep their history of their city to anyone who might be willing to listen, whether it be through the reconstruction of their old bastions or public events, Brasov is willing to keep their history alive. By observing the whole of the city, from the dreary cement blocks of the Soviet flats, to the ornate and fairy tale like Saxon houses, I quickly realised that the city of Brasov doesn't have history - the city of Brasov itself IS history.
Brasov City was established as a German mercantile colony named Kronstadt by Teutonic knights in the 13th century on an ancient Dacian site. During this time, the Saxon settlers built ornate churches and townhalls surrounded by a massive wall, built to defend the city from Turkish attacks, while the Romanians were banished to the Schei quarter in the southwest of the city. One can still clearly see this societal and cultural imbalance today, by passing through the Schei Gate, which marked the entrance to the quarter from the walled city. By passing through the gate, the ornate Teutonic houses changes into smaller, simpler houses from the Romanian settlement. This means that even walking from one part of the city to the other, takes you back in time and makes you relive and experience the native Romanians' past plights and history in the area.
Along the wall's southeast corner, past the Schei Gate, the Weavers' Bastion is found. Follow the road, called Aleea Tiberiu Brediceanu, and one can find many similar bastions, including the former bastion for storing gunpowder. Following this trail, in the shade of Mount Tampa's massive forest, I really felt the spirit of medieval Brasov. It was breathtaking, walking along the remnants of the old wall that has been standing for hundreds of years, and which the people of Brasov have been very diligent in preserving. Observing these bastions and reading about their functions and history on the signs posted along the road, it was like something from a fairy tale - or from history books.
Walking up the main street of the city, the Str. Republicii, one finds the memorial to the victims of the 1989 revolution. You can even see the bullet holes from that fateful day, when thousands of disgruntled workers took to the streets and demanded basic food and basic rights from the Ceausescu government. As a response, Ceausescu called in the troops and three people were killed in the ensuing scuffle. Across B-dul 15 de Noiembrie, the Heroes' Cemetery is situated, where 69 local victims are listed on a memorial slab. Even with this large number of casualties the people would not be deferred, and this protest would only be the spark that ignited the flames of revolution which quickly swept across the nation, until Ceausescu and his wife were executed on the 25th of December. I remember feeling a sense of awe and quiet reverence when I first saw these bullet holes. It was surreal, seeing an artefact from such a tumultuous period in history up close. I got the feeling that I was actually in the middle of history itself and could actually watch the events unfold before my eyes.
The Black Church, not too far from the main square, is Brasov's main landmark and the largest gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul. It is still being used by German Lutherans to this day. Built between 1383 and 1480, it got its name from a fire in 1689 which changed its appearance to the blackish exterior we see today. Walking around the church, one can clearly see the history of the city etched into the stonework that comprises the foundation of the church, and one gets the sense of this church being the very heart and soul of Brasov. The city of Brasov revolves around the Black Church, and the church nicely sums up the history of the city: it is old and has endured its fair share of hardships in the past, but it is still standing regardless and has moved forward because of it. That was the impression I got from watching this magnificent building. I have sadly not yet gotten a chance to visit the interior of the church, but I look forward to do so in the near future.
At the centre of the old city is the grandiose Piata Sfatului, a wide square filled with cafes, boutiques and of course, lots and lots of history. In the centre of the square stands the council house, or Casa Sfatului, from 1420, topped by the Trumpeter's Tower, where town councillors, otherwise known as centurions, would meet. These days, musicians appear at the top of the tower and trumpet at midday, wearing traditional costumes. If the Black Church is the heart of Old Brasov, then Piata Sfatului is the heart of Modern Brasov. Here the collective spirit of the Brasovians can really be felt. People from all over Brasov come here to gather and enjoy the city in its fullest. Parents bring their kids here to play with them, the elderly feed the pigeons here, students drink coffee at the many cafes here and people enjoy the weather and the day at the fountain. In my mind, this is what Brasov is all about; this square, in the middle of the city.
It is quite strange coming from Denmark, where we don't really have that kind of relationship with our history, to arrive in Brasov and suddenly be surrounded by history in such an organic and lively way. We do have history in Denmark, and it is there, but you actively have to search for it in order to really experience it. The Danish history is part of the Danish culture and the Danish cultural identity, but it is not something that is easily felt or accessed. In Brasov, the history equals the cultural identity, and you can see and feel it everywhere. Combined with the fact that the Brasovians are keeping their history, culture and traditions alive, I was definitely made aware of the differences between Danish and Romanian attitudes towards tradition. We Danes do keep traditions alive as well, but in a different, more subtle way. Regardless, I have been pleasantly surprised by the culture and history of Brasov, and Romania by extension, so far. The Romanian spirit is a fascinating myriad of history, culture and traditions that I am looking forward to explore in the future.