Brasov is a crayon colored 13th century town in the center of Romania that for centuries was a key commercial center linking the Ottoman Empire with Western Europe. It is one of the seven fortified citadels built by the Saxons and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Saxons settled in Transylvania in order to help protect the southern borders of the Hungarian Kingdom. In fact, Transylvania in German is Siebenburgen meaning the seven citadels. They are Bistrita, Brasov, Cluj, Medias, Sebes, Sibiu, and Sighisoara. The pace here in Brasov is relaxed and the cobblestone streets do transport you back to a bygone medieval era. Because of Brasov’s central location, we chose it as our base for our Transylvanian adventure. We stayed at the Kronwell Brasov hotel which is one of the more modern and luxurious hotels in the area and were very pleasantly surprised.
Between the 13th to 17th centuries, Old Brasov was reserved for the ruling Saxons. Romanians had to live outside the fortified walls in what is known as the Schei District and could only use Poarta Schei to gain entrance into the historic city center. In addition, they could only enter the city center at set times and had to pay a toll in order to enter to sell their produce and goods. In Schei District, you will find the painted Romanian Orthodox church of St Nicholas as well as the first Romanian school. We were told that back in the day, Russian soldiers will not even dare think of entering this area. You can still see some of the medieval fortifications which used to surround Old Brasov and the only access gate still remaining being the Ecaterina’s Gate which looks like something out of a fairytale. The four turrets on top were a sign that the town had judicial autonomy and the “right of sword” which means it had the right to sentence one to death when out of line whether citizen or visitor. There are very beautiful views from the fortification walls and at the two towers remaining, the Black Tower and White Tower. The White Tower built in 1494 is more charming of the two. The Black Tower, so named because it was struck by lightning, was renovated to include a glass roof making it very modern looking.
On the main square of Old Brasov is the Council Tower which was once the court of law and then became administrative offices. Today, it serves as the Museum of History with panoramic views over the Council Square or Piata Sfatului. During midday, the tower becomes a real life swiss clock with traditionally dressed musicians appearing at the top. The square is arc shaped and filled with cafes and great for watching the world go by. Just off the main square sits the Black Church or Biserica Neagra which is the largest gothic church in Romania and Eastern Europe dating back 600 years. There was a great fire in 1689 that destroyed much of the city and blackened the walls of the church leading to the original St Mary Church to become known as the Black Church. The sparse interior is decorated with 16th century Anatolian rugs which were once placed on pews reserved for church donors.
Did you know that Romania is brown bear country? In fact, it has the largest population of brown bears in Europe. There are over 200,000 brown bears in the world with 6,000 or so brown bears living in the Carpathian mountains in Romania. We went on a short bear watching tour from Brasov. We were driven one afternoon to a nearby forested area where there is a bear observation hide. From the car, we had to walk about 10 mins to the hideout operated by the National Forest Authority. During the short walk to and from the bear hide, I had images of Leonardo DiCarpio being mauled by the bear in the movie “Revenant” which quickened my breathing a bit. The rangers already threw food to attract the bears before we got to the hide and there were already a few bears eating outside when we arrived. We saw about 6 bears during our short time inside the bear hide. There were about 12 of us and you are not allowed to bring food or drinks and there are no toilets inside the hide. We were told that summer time is the best time for this activity and if you are lucky, you will see young bears sparring or even some cubs. No young bears sparring when we were there but we did spot a couple of cubs hiding among the trees too afraid to come down to the open area where the other bears were snacking on the rangers’ treats.
Next post will be on Sighisoara which is another one of the seven walled citadels built by the Transylvanian Saxons. Stayed tuned!
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