Oct 12

Sturdza Castle (Castelul Sturdza)

Sturdza Castle has been erected by Gheorghe Sturdza and his wife Maria during 1880 and 1904 in Miclauseni. The neo-gothic castle is at present a part of the historical monuments which are under the patrimony of the Moldova and Bukovina Metropolitan Church. The ensemble  which comprises this castle also contains two other monuments: the Church of the Annunciation which dates from the 18th century (1787) and the parc which dates from the 19th century.

The castle was built in the place of an old mansion which dated from the middle of the 18th century. The beautiful neo-gothic construction took inspiration from the architectural design of the eastern feudal castles, as well as from the Palace of Culture located in Iasi – the most important city located in the northeastern part of Romania. The architects behind the castle were Iulius Reinecke și I. Grigsberg.


One of the walls of the castle comprises an inscription which in a few words depicts the historical evolution of the palace. The short description informes the reader about the origins of the castle, its founder, as well as about the other modifications and improvements whcih have been brought to the palace in the years to come.

During the time of Gheorghe Sturdza, the castle sheltered an immense collection of valuable items. These referred to books and documents of relevant significance, medieval costumes, items of weaponry, jewelry, paintings, busts sculptured out of Cararra marble, silverware, as well as archeological, epigraphic and numismatic pieces. Just to make an image of the value  of the literary works encountered here, you should know that the library comprised 60.000 books, many of them being rare books and first editions.


In the First World War, the castle housed a military hospital, while during WWII it was used for incarceration purposes, many German prisoners having been stationed here during this period.

Unfortunately, the castle was badly devastated during the war and one of the most relevant damages inflicted by the Russians was when they took the books from the library and used some of them as fuel while selling others to several stores where these were used for packaging purposes. None truly understood the value of the grand library and thus ruined what could have been an important legacy to the Romanian people.

Along with the books, gone were the exquisite pieces of furniture and the personal collections of the Strudza family.


Ecaterina Cantacuzino, the daughter of Sturdza, had remained a widow in the later part of her life, and due to the fact that she had no children, she decided to become a nun and donate the castle with all its adjacient edifices to the metropolitan church with the promise that the ensemble will be properly arranged as a nunnery.

But in the second half of the 20th century, the communists closed the monastic abode and transferred the complex to the state.

The scope of the castle had shifted greatly, being transformed into a military warehouse for explosives and later on into a center for mentally disabled children. By this time only a small number of original furniture items remained, but these had subsequently perished due to a fire that turned the entire attic (where the furniture was stored) into ash. The water used to annihilate the flames infiltrated into the walls and this contributed extensively to the slow but sure deprecation of the construction.


It was not until 2001 that the castle was given back to the metropolitan church. But it took another 2 years until any type of reconstruction work was initiated. The government intervened in 2003 when it gave an ordinance according to which the castle was to be subjected to a refurbishing project.

The reconstruction was meant to convey the castle with its original look. Some parts of the construction were severely damaged and the contractor turned to old photographs in order to recapture the decorative elements which were no longer distinguishable on the facade.

While the neo-gothic architectural design predominates, there are also Baroque elements noticeable. In terms of structure, the castle consists of a downstairs, uperfloor and garret.


The facade of the edifice is definitely impressive. The decorations include sculptural elements in alto-relievo, some being the blazons of the Sturdza family. Among these coats of arms, one can find the representation of a lion with a sword and an olive branch. There are other symbolic depictions as well, the majority of them created in the Art Nouveau architectral style. The castle comprises several gothic towers, medieval armors, and Latin inscriptions on the walls.

The Sturdza Castle is a valuable piece of architecture as the elements which adorn the palace are representative for specific styles, mainly for the neo-gothic and baroque styles. Besides the architectural importance, the castle is also representative for the Romanian culture due to the historical importance it carries, having been linked to several events that have marked the history of the country.

Jul 02

Horezu Monastery

Horezu Monastery, situated in Horezu Town (Valcea County), is a nunnery whose dedication day is the 21st of May – St. Constantine and Helen.

Founded in 1690 by the voivode Constantin Brancoveanu, the monastery copied the architectural style of the Episcopal Church located in Curtea de Arges in the sense that it consisted of three apses. The only differentiation between the two edifices mentioned is the porch of the Horezu Monastery which is representative of the style which left its mark during that period – the Brancovenesc Style.



The decorative style found on the exterior of the church consists of rectangular panels and niches which are adorned with geometrical forms masterfully executed. There is one specific shape which is repetitive – the circle. The entrance door of the monastery has carved marble edges. Above the entrance one can notice two coats of arms – one belonging to the Wallachia domain and the other to the Brancoveanu family.



The interior of the monastery is in itself a work of art. The paintings are valuable pieces, artistically done by true masters of that time (Ioan, Stan, Neagoe, and Ioachim, just to name a few). Besides the religious scenes which are represented in the majority of the paintings found on the walls of the Horezu Monastery, one can also admire the portraits of the families of voivodes that ruled over those lands (the Brancoveanu, Basarab and Cantacuzino families).

The monastery has a beautifully carved iconostasis made out of lime tree and adorned with gilded elements. The edifice has maintained its original structure even though it had underwent several restoration works such as the ones occurring in 1827, 1872, 1907-1912 and 1954-1964.



The monastery holds within its walls the tombstone of Constantin Brancoveanu, even if the founder of the church was not laid to rest in this specific place. Probably the explanation lies in the fact that the church wanted to bring thus tribute to the one who initiated the construction work of the edifice. There are other tombs found here and the most relevant one contains the earthly remains of Archimandrite John, the first abbot of the monastery. The monastic ensemble also consisted of a hospital which was founded by Brancoveanu’s wife, Lady Mary and a chapel, which was erected by the order of Brancoveanu himself during 1696-1697.



Tourists will be pleased to learn that inside the monastery is found one of the most impressive collections of liturgical items – objects which can be traced as far into the past as the moment when the monastery was erected.

But the artistic sculptures and paintings are bound to stir interest and admiration in the eyes of the beholders as well. These bear the mark of the Brancovenesc Style – known for the architectural balance that exists in the pieces of art, as well as the abundant detailing that create these one-of-a-kind works.

True connoisseurs of art will undoubtedly agree that the monastery is one of the most exquisite examples of Brancovenesc Art that exist on the entire Romanian territory.

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.



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.



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.



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).



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).



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.



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.



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.

Jun 07

The Transalpina Road (Transalpina)

Transalpina is the lengthiest road that stretches over the Carpathian Mountains – and this is valid not only in Romania, where Transalpina is found, but also in the other Carpathian countries. The road traverses the Parang Mountains from the north to the south, being parallel with the Olt and Jiu Rivers; the maximum altitude is reached in Urdele Strait (2145).

Transalpina has been constructed by the Roman armies on their way to Sarmisegetuza and has been paved by King Carol II after 1930 (this being the reason for which Transalpina is also known as the King’s Road). After the Second Word War, this mountainous path had been rehabilitated by the Germans. But afterwards, the road was forgotten. No one ever took the responsibility of maintaining Transalpina in good use. But this does not necessarily has to be regarded as a negative thing.



The fact that the road was shrouded in forgetfulness led to it preserving its natural characteristics. The entire region traversed by Transalpina has a specific charm to it due to the wilderness that embraces it. And this is definitely a rare thing in a world which has been severely modified by the human hand. What you might not be aware of is that the road possesses a unique characteristic: it can take you close to the clouds, and even beyond them – that is how high it goes.

Transalpina is still in a process of rehabilitation. There are many miles which have not been asphalted, not to mention that entire areas which are paved still don’t have street signs or parapets, so these portions of the road are not officially opened for circulation. Not to mention that it is a risky undertaking for beginners who do not yet possess experience behind the wheel. There is only one part of the road which is fully restored and this is located between the towns Novaci and Ranca.



Due to its inaccessibility, Transalpina is not that known – as compared to Transfagarasan Highway, for instance. This later road is  quite famous and it attracts an impressive number of tourists due to the experience it provides: driving through a mountainous region and being surrounded by nature on all sides. You can only imagine the landscapes you are bound to admire on your trip. But what you might not know is that Transalpina also offers a beautiful natural setting. In fact, if you take this path instead of the one leading to Transfagarasan, you will be taken aback by what nature has to offer you.

Transalpina, or National Route 67, has not been ‘treated’ justly as it was left more or less in ruin for a considerable number of years and today the region is not recognized to its true value as the road is not adequately constructed so as to allow tourists to explore the area.



In 2007, a project was initiated so as to modernize the highest road in Romania, but the work was prolonged over 5 years, until it finally saw a resolution in April, 2012. While this should be a moment of happiness as visitors are now given the chance to explore parts of the country that were previously closed to them, there are unsatisfied voices that sustain that the area was initially dedicated to people who were fascinated by the mountainside and who would explore it in special vehicles, adapted to the conditions of the environment.

But now, this is no longer possible, as soon Transalpina will be swarming with tourists. This could be interpreted as selfishness, unless those opposing the project for modernization had in mind the preservation of the environment – maintaining the region as wild as possible, untouched by humans. This is definitely a problem we ought to address straightforwardly as it has been proven that natural surroundings that are excessively exposed to people’s interference tend to suffer considerable damages, thus losing their pristineness.



If you are into outdoor activities and you like exploring nature to the fullest, you should definitely take a trip on Transalpina. There is something you need to keep in mind: you cannot take this trip whenever you want, as the road is usually closed in the cold season. This usually occurs under severe weather conditions, but taking into account that Transalpina is the highest road in the country, you can only imagine that there will be heavy snows in that period – which are more likely to block the path altogether.

In the summertime, in the spring or in autumn, the road is open so you will encounter no obstacles in taking a trip then. However, if you are interested in having a unique experience and if your schedule allows it, you should try and visit the region in mid/late autumn. This is when all the trees change the pigmentation of their leaves so you will be in for an explosion of colors, as the setting will be painted in shades of orange, brown, yellow, red, copper, etc.