Jul 08

THE UNDISCOVERED CASTLES OF ROMANIA (I)

Europe is full of castles, more or less imposing and beautiful, but full of history. Regarding Romania, we can say that the castles do not represent one of its touristic strengths; however, if you look carefully, you can discover some surprising ediffices, along with the famous Peles, Bran and Huniad Castles.

We are preparing for you a small serial in which we will present some of the most outstanding buildings that are less known, but deserve a greater exposure.

Banffy Castle in Bonţida, Cluj county

Nicknamed “the Versailles of Transylvania”, this castle with four towers was built between 1437 and 1543 by Dionysius Banffy, adviser to Prince Michael Apafi I of Transylvania. The central unit of the castle was built in Renaissance style and subsequent expansions were made in Baroque (18th century) and Romantic (19th century). Many generations belonging to Banffy family lived in the castle until 1944 when residents were evacuated by German troops, who turned the place into a military hospital and after their leaving, they set it on fire, thus destroying the gallery of portraits and art, furniture and library.

After the war, the building functioned as a warehouse and agricultural cooperative station, falling into decay as time went by. The restoration of the castle began in 1999, the work being done under the patronage of Prince Charles of Welles. Transylvania Trust Foundation currently conducts the restoration of such monuments, depending on the pace of funding. The final assembly will include a restaurant, a cafe, a souvenir shop and a conference center. Note that the Electric Castle festival takes place here, at Banffy Castle. And there are many event that take place to the delight of the tourists; among them we must mention that, since 2002, the Banffy Castle Days are organized in the last weekend of August. The castle can be visited daily between 9 and 18.

Sükösd-Bethlen Castle in Racoş, Braşov

Count Istvan Sükösd is mentioned as the builder of the castle, in 1624, after receiving a piece of land as a gift from Prince Gabriel Bethlen. Although built as a family residence, the castle has the appearance of a fortification on two levels. Over time it had had several owners and it had been burned severely in 1848 and in 1903. Racoş bought the estate and castle from Teleki family. Unfortunately, during the communist era, the castle had entered an advanced state of decay, after being used as barn and granary. The 1977 earthquake put his imprint on the already deteriorating walls, as the northeast tower was demolished. After 1990 the authorities tried to restore it but because of the lack of funds, the works have been left unfinished. The castle can be visited, though, being currently administered and the access to the interior is allowed.

Vlad Tepes Castle, Bucharest

The history of Tepes Castle in Carol Park is relatively recent. It was built in 1906 on the occasion of the Romanian General Exhibition, which marked King Carol I 40 years of reign. Built by architects Stefan V. Burcus and Stephanescu, the castle reproduced Poenari Fortress on a smaller scale; this fortress was built by Vlad Tepes in Arges during his reigning times. Initially, this construction was meant to be a water tower. A huge reservoir of iron was placed in the 23 m high tower with a capacity of 200 cubic meters, but became unfunctional, shortly after the inauguration.

Over time, the Tepes Castle served for several purposes: it hosted several painting exhibitions, it was the barracks for the body guards that defended the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it kept shelter for soldiers who worked on the debris removal resulting from the demolition of the former Palace of Arts, was transformed into a giant dormitory for women workers who worked on arranging the Carol Park and during the communist period was used by soldiers guarding the mausoleum of the park. After 1990, the castle served as dwelling for a subunit of gendarmes.

Tepes Castle is owned by the Defense Ministry and since 2004, it hosts the National Office for the Cult of the Heroes.

These are the first three, but we shall continue our travel across Romania, in seek of spectacular castles.

Photo source:

Picture 1: www.flickr.com; Picture 2: www.urma.ro; Picture 3: transylvaniacam.com; Picture 4: transilvania-medievala.ro; Picture 5: pinterest.com; Picture 6: ziare.com; Picture 7: panoramio.com
Jun 22

Brasov – The Fortified City (Brasov – Orasul Fortificat)

Brasov has gained the name of “Fortress of the Seven Bastions” due to the walls and bastions which are spread throughout the city and which have been erected between the 14th and 15th century in response to the Turkish and Tatar invasions.

Unfortunately, the passage of time and the battles that took place in this region had left an imprint on the fortified city in as much that at present only about half of the original fortifications (walls, gates and bastions) are preserved. But taking into account that remnants of the past are scarce, we would accurately conclude that Brasov has an important legacy whose value is not easily equated.

http://www.inromania.info

 

The stronghold has maintained its design since the middle of the 16th century and this can actually be seen on the model found in the Weavers’ Bastion. Brasov had 32 towers, 7 bastions (which are much stronger and better armed fortifications), and 3 entrance gates: one situated at the end of Republic Street (the name given today to the specific street), one located at the bottom end of Muresenilor Street (Customs Gate) and Ecaterina (Catherine) Gate which is a link to the Schei neighborhood.

In terms of measurements, the original walls reached a total length of 3.000 m, a 12 m height and a 1.70 -2.20 m width. The bastions were situated at every 110 m and 28 defense towers shaped as squares were meant to secure protection for them.

http://geoidul.wordpress.com

 

The White Tower is strategically situated at a higher position and it is a part of the exterior fortification of Brasov. This tower had been constructed in the second half of the 15th century and it initially communicated with the Graft Bastion which provided a link to the internal fortifications. In 1689, the White Tower was exposed to terrible damages due to a huge fire that took hold of the edifice. The tower was left in ruin until 1723 when it was finally subjected to restoration works. The tower is in a great condition at present (the last restoration work occurred in 2005), so tourists will have something to gaze upon.

http://www.tvtravel.ro

 

The Black Tower dates from the time the fortified city was ‘born’, being constructed concomitantly with the walls of the keep. The tower exceeds 11 m in height and the entrance door was situated 2 m above the base of the edifice. The name of the tower is explained through an unfortunate weather phenomenon which occurred twice: the tower was hit by lightning both in the 16th and in the 17th century.

At the end of the 18th century (1796) the tower was used as shelter during the plague, and afterwards it had been left to chance for a period of two centuries, time in which it had suffered immense deterioration. But after it had been restored, from 2001 onward, the Black Tower housed an armament exhibition (with pieces from the 17th century).

http://www.flickriver.com

 

The Graft Bastion was erected in the mid-16th century with the purpose of defending the northern part of Brasov. At present, the bastion is home to a section of the county museum: ‘The Craftsmen of Brasov – defenders of the keep.’ During the last restoration work which occurred between 2003 and 2004, the path towards the White Tower had been retraced by means of steps that go up the Warthe Hill.

The Weavers’ Bastion has been erected in the 15th century, over a period of 15 years (1421-1436).

http://www.centraleasteurope.com

 

Due to the fact that it is located right under Tampa Mountain, in such a beautiful natural setting, the bastion is used at present for various cultural events. Inside the bastion one can find the Fortification Museum from Barsa County where the model of the city (which was mentioned previously) is located, together with medieval weapons and valuable information about the fortifications situated throughout Barsa County.

According to documentary evidence, the bastion was completed in 1668 for the same purpose as the others: defense. Whereas the scope of the bastion had shifted throughout time, from 1973 onward it was used for a single thing – to maintain all the records of the city of Brasov.

http://www.panoramio.com

 

The Drapers’ Bastion was actually built by the goldsmiths, in mid-15th century, but it was given to the drapers a century later when the goldsmiths erect another bastion on the northern part of the keep. This fortification has an elliptical shape and reaches a 20 m height, while the thickness of the walls measure 2 m.

The Goldsmiths’ Bastion was hexagonally shaped and exceeded the Drapers’ Bastion in height by two meters. But the bastion is no longer part of the fortifications found today in Brasov as it was demolished near the end of the 19th century (1886). At present, on that specific site one can find one of the edifices of the Transylvanian University.

http://www.flickr.com

 

The Furriers’ Bastion, which was erected in 1452, is a semicircular tower which communicates with the Drapers’ Bastion by means of a gallery located alongside the exterior wall.

The Rope-Makers’ Bastion, the first one to be mentioned in documents, in 1416, is a hexagonal fortification with special embrasures for firing mobile weapons.