Aug 30

Kamyanets-Podilsky (Orasul Kamyanets-Podilsky)

Whenever a majestic town, monument or item necessitates an accurate description, words seem to fail us. Because there are certain things that cannot be put into words, either because the striking beauty of that specific thing cannot find its way into our vocabulary, or because the way in which something presents itself before us instills a certain feeling, a certain emotion which cannot be expressed.

This is the situation one will find himself/herself in if ever visiting the town Kamyanets-Podilsky. The Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrayinka had find the perfect simile to describe the ancient fortress that reigns over the city with the same name : “a stone flower on the rock,” thus alluding to the position the citadel occupies but also to the immense beauty of the edifice which seems to have sprung from the ground.

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The Kamyanets-Podilsky fortress had been constructed in the 12th century, but the original edifice was not preserved as such, but was enhanced in time, having eventually been trasformed into the impressive stronghold that appears before us today. Thus it can accurately be said that the keep evolved in the same way as society. Imediately as a new form of defence mechanism was developed, the fortress was equiped with it.

What is it that draws us near to Kamyanets-Podilsky? Could it be the mysterious feel of it, as if something hidden to the eye dwells beneath the shadows of the fortified walls of the citadel or does it have something to do with the sensation one gets, that of transcending the present, and traveling back in time and space? It is as if entering a different world and it is precisely this aspect that attracts tourists from all over the world. The medieval town is endowed with an ancient Roman bridge which has been constructed more than 200 years ago, a Gothic city hall, towers and various churches. There is one tower which might capture your attention, probably because you have never seen such a turret anywhere else in the world. This fortification is adorned with the sculptural representation of the Virgo, which is placed right at the top of the tower.

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With such decorative elements, it is no wonder that you feel transposed into the medieval times. In fact, Kamyanets-Podilsky is among the oldest cities in Ukraine. There are no actual historical accounts which accurately retrace the formation of the fortified city. This could only mean one thing: that there was room for interpretation, based on the scarce official information found in archieves.  For instance, there is one legend which says that 4 brothers had gone hunting and that, after spotting a deer, they had followed it until reaching the site of present-day Kamyanets-Podilsky.

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Legend has it that the four brothers were so mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape that they had decided to put the basis of a city in that exact location. The legend is connected to the historical past in the sense that the four characters mentioned were said to have been the nephews of the Grand Duke Olgerd of Lithuania. But if we were to analyze the accuracy of this story, we would soon discover that there are several discrepancies, and thus we can draw a line between fact and fiction. The Grand Duke was in fact a historical figure, but the archeological diggings concluded that the medieval town of Kamyanets was built much earlier, before the period in which the duke lived.

There are several other legends which circulate in respect to the foundation of the city, but none can be taken for granted entirely. It would be nice to know how did Kamyanets came into being, but maybe this lack of information is another aspect which contributes to the mystery that revolves around the town, maintaing the enigmatic, yet authentic feel it conveys.

Apr 20

The Medieval Town of Sibiu (Sibiu – Oras Medieval)

Sibiu is a Romanian town situated in the Transylvanian area and it is one of the most well preserved medieval towns found on the territory of this country. It has been built by the Transylvanian Saxons (of German origin) but even today, Sibiu maintains the splendor of its glorious days when it was renowned as an influential trading center.

In 2007, Sibiu has been elected the European Capital of Culture. The architecture of the city is impressive as the historical sites have survived the passage of time. You can still see the imposing buildings and the fortifications which were created as a means to protect the original settlers.

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Sibiu, whose German name is Hermannstadt, had been founded in the 12th century and was one of the richer and largest fortresses of its time. The surrounding fortified wall is still visible and this bestows a historical atmosphere upon the town.

The structure is really fascinating: the edifices dating from the 17th century are distinguishable due to their steep roofs with attics. The buildings are separated by narrow streets, but further on the streets become wider, turning into large squares which are dominated by churches.

It was in Sibiu that the first homeopathic laboratory in the world was opened by Samuel von Hahnemann.

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Sibiu is divided in two sections: the Upper Town and the Lower Town. The first one is where all the historical sites can be found, whereas the second section comprises vividly painted houses surrounded by cobbled streets.

Original structure

The fortified constructions of Sibiu consisted of 39 defensive towers, 5 safeguard towers and 5 artillery batteries. Every portion of the town still preserves the ancient architecture, but the most well conserved section is the one to the south east. The reason for this is that the fortifications were strengthen through improvement works as the majority of the enemy assaults came from the southeastern side.

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Tourist attractions

Tourists can admire three towers from the 15th century which have maintained their original structure throughout the centuries. These are the Harquebusiers’ Tower, the Carpenters’ Tower and the Potters’ Tower. The Great Tower, or the Thick Tower (as it might be known by some), dates from the 16th century. One noteworthy fact about this tower is that it housed the first theatrical representation ever held in Sibiu (in 1778).

Probably the most important tourist attractions located in the Upper Town are the Great Square, the Little Square and Huet Square. Each of these places in its turn has something important to offer. Of high touristic value are the Roman-Catholic Church (which combines the Baroque and classical architectural design) and the Brukenthal Palace (where the Brukenthal Museum is now located), both situated in the Great Square.

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This square is connected to the Little Square by means of a passage which goes underneath the Council Tower. This tower, which has been constructed in the 13th century, offers an impressive panorama of the town and for this reason tourists do not pass the occasion to visit it. The roof of the tower was initially constructed in a pyramidal form, but as the time went by, this structure suffered considerable changes, in as much that today it still bears the four corner steeples added in 1826.

In the Huet Square, the most relevant edifice is the Evangelical Cathedral. This has been erected on the place of a Roman basilica in 1510 and it is representative of the Gothic style. But as time went by, the edifice underwent transformations. At present the cathedral combines various architectural styles: the mural representation of Christ’s Crucifixion intertwines elements of the late-gothic period and of the renaissance.

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Other notable edifices are located in the Great Square, which has been declared an architectural monument by the United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Sibiu also has the first iron bridge ever constructed in Romania, called the Bridge of Lies (built in 1859), and an artistically crafted stairway (constructed in the 13th century) consisting of two identical staircases and arches which is meant to link the two sections of Sibiu (Little Town and Upper Town).

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The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, built from 1902 to 1906, is the second cathedral in Romania in terms of size, being surpassed by a cathedral situated in Iasi County. The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral is adorned in the neo-Byzantine style and one of its most imposing elements is the chandelier made out of massive gold.

Centuries of history are written in walls of Sibiu. Different cultures and different styles are wonderfully intertwined so that any visitor would be amazed of the architectural scenery.