Sunday, November 4, 2018

OCTOBER 29, 2018

A magnificent landscape of mountains, valleys, rolling hills, farm land, forests, castles, ancient culture and crafts, monasteries and astounding, fresco-filled churches,  a plethora of UNESCO World Heritage sites, cities with beautiful buildings...( and not beautiful communist buildings...) and a riveting history of domination and rebirth- THIS IS ROMANIA! 

Typical communist housing that was put up after tearing down the beautiful old buildings from the Belle Epoch era (1890-1914)

Romania is sometimes referred to as "Europe's great survivor," as it's been  invaded and occupied throughout its existence. It's a melting pot of  cultures. Since the fall of communism, (1989,) Romania's in a clean-up phase, both physically and metaphorically... and today, the people are speaking out about the horrors they  endured throughout the communist regime... something they wouldn't have dared speak of before. This isn't taught in our history books! It's still very raw and fresh to hear about from young people who lived through it.

For reference purposes, here's a map of Romania's provinces...many of which we visited.

TRANSYLVANIA... yes, it's a real place... the place that gave us Dracula, has no shortage of jaw-dropping castles on rocky hilltops.  There's spooky Bran Castle (...according to Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, DRACULA, the home of the vampire...but it really was never the home of VLAD TEPES, the man on whom DRACULA was based.) The castle IS in the woods and it's often foggy there... a perfect castle to house a mythical vampire! Bran Castle has survived two lifetimes- one that was medieval, during the time of Vlad Tepes ..."Dracula"... as well as rulers well before him) and since its restoration in the early 20th century, a life with  modern-day owners. 
Peles Castle, was the sumptuous 19th century home of King Carol I, the first king of Romania. Built between 1873-1914, it was furnished now as it was then. It had central heating, electricity, running water, telephone even had two electric elevators and a central vacuuming system... amazingly advanced for its time!!  VERY different from Bran Castle that was furnished quite sparsely!
In medieval towns like BRASOV, SIGHISOARA and SIBIU, the cobbled walkways continue to service residents as well as visitors. 

Transylvania's Saxon villages boast fortified (walled) churches that date back to the 14th century. These are churches surrounded by  a thick, high wall, so the area inside the wall became a refuge, sheltering and protecting people of the community when there was danger from warring countries. this one in BRASOV.

Rooms for families in the community to store food as well as to live during dangerous, threatening times of war.

The fortified churches not only had rooms for village families but also had classrooms so that children continued their education during war times.
This fortified church (PREJMER) had a defense corridor that went around the entire fortification.

For centuries, a highly productive peasant culture thrived in much of this country. The hilly geography and the lack of passable roads necessitated the emergence of several hundreds of self-sufficient villages... actually living museums, as their lives continue just like it has for centuries. This is most evident in  the province of MARAMURES, the most traditional of the provinces in Romania.  Here, my eyes feasted on an arresting tapestry of pasture land as well as old ladies dressed in traditional garb who peered at us from the benches in front of their homes;  where oversized hay racks and hay stacks appeared everywhere; horse-drawn carts clip-clopped  along at a snail's pace and stately wooden churches dominated... towns and villages were right out of the Middle Ages.

Ieud Hill Church in Maramures is one of the oldest wooden churches in Europe, dating back to at least the 1600's...a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Peri Monastery...possibly the tallest wooden structure in Europe.
Also in MARAMURES is one of my favorite places in all of Romania...a one of a kind place of rest for the dead... called "the Merry Cemetery..." Tucked away in the village of Sapanta, it's like an irreverent book about the life and death of the villagers. More than 800 strong now, this tradition was started in 1937 by a craftsman who believed that death shouldn't be a sad occasion but rather a passage to another place... and a reason to celebrate life. Famous for its colorful tombstones carved in oak and painted bright blue, they tell about the deceased with naive paintings describing, in an original and poetic way, the people buried there as well as scenes from their lives. The front tells how the people lived...the back, how they died. Often humorous, this is a place that will put a smile on your face. The creator of the Merry Cemetery even created a space for himself. His apprentice continued his practice until he was ready to pass it on to the next apprentice...and so it continues.
The Merry Cemetery creator

It looks as though this husband was killed by the police or military...

...and this young girl was killed in a car accident
This is my can see that there's nothing planted here as in the others that have green plantings. It's a grave commissioned for a man's Mother-in-Law whom he greatly disliked. Zoom in to see the painting...:)

The MOST amazing sights in Romania, (other than the extraordinary variety of delicious foods...and the scenery,) were found nestled in the rolling hills of northern Moldova... in BUCOVINA: the UNESCO World Heritage PAINTED MONASTERIES... some of the most striking, soul-stirring, miraculous, impressive, breathtaking churches I've ever seen ANYWHERE in the world.  Built in the 1400-1500's, mostly inspired by King Stephen the Great and his son after him, they feature very colorful exterior frescoes, (Byzantine art,) mostly done by locals, illustrating dramatic religious scenes, portraits of saints and prophets, scenes from the life of Jesus, images of angels and demons and heaven and hell. These frescoes cover the outer and inner walls of these churches like an open Bible. There's always a painting of God near the top of the ceiling...most unusual and daring in other religions. I can't ever remember seeing any art depicting HIM in a church ANYWHERE, before ... and HE looks a little church to another... depending on each artist's vision. The first photo is an example...the second photo, covering an entire wall,  is of the Last Judgement. This one deserves a close up look...they all do! Incredible, world-class examples of ancient Byzantine and Romanian art.  The Veronet Monastery (with primarily blue background) is considered "the Sistine Chapel of the East,"  as Michelangelo used the same VERONET BLUE color many years later, to paint the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. There's been some restoration in these Painted Monasteries of Bucovina. In some churches, you can plainly see layers of frescoes from centuries past...positively
 fascinating! Compliments to the nuns who keep up these monasteries and live their teachings.

 A few more stand-outs... first,  the busy capital city of BUCHAREST. Between the two world wars, a cultural center called "the Paris of the East."  That changed during Communist rule (officially from 1947 to 1965) when too many of the beautiful  old buildings were torn down and replaced by ugly grey communist blocks of cement that were high rise residences.

BRASOV, with it's fairy-tale looks and cobbled streets, is nestled at the foot of a mountain and boasts it's own Hollywood sign...and Dracula's Castle (Bran Castle) is just a stones throw away. The oldest traces of human activity and settlements in Brasov date back to the Neolithic age (that was about 9500 BCE... before the year 1!) It's a seriously ancient town!!
BIERTAN,  also known for it's fortified (walled) church, is a stunning, picturesque community...
SIGHISOARA is a shining example of a small, fortified medieval town that was important both strategically and commercially for several centuries. IT was always the upper town that provided security, its architecturally lovely...and it holds the actual birthplace of Vlad Tepes (Dracula.) The lower town was and still is the commercial component.
Finally, SIBIU, voted Cultural European Capital in 2007. It's based in Transylvania...and the houses have eyes!!! It's a medieval town that goes back to the 12th century.

A HUGE thank you goes to our guide, Diana Neculaescu and her husband, Cristian, for their knowledge, patience and spirit of fun! We loved being with them...through Unzip Romania, they showed us the best Romania has to offer. We hope to meet again somewhere in Europe...
Thanks for stopping by...there's so much that we did that I DIDN'T include (believe it or not.) After all, how long can you sit???

Big Hugs,