Transylvania or Siebenbürgen may be packed with ghastly vampires, ghosts and werewolfs. But it is also a very beautiful corner of Europe with an amazing history. One of the more unusual sights is the fortified churches of which more than 150 have been preserved. Complete with defensive towers, battle walks, loopholes and even latrines, they witness to the long history of violence in the region and well worth a visit. It might be mentioned that the fortified churches were designated as World Heritage in 1993.
Viscri in Siebenbürgen
Since medieval times, the population of the region was a mixture of ethnic Romanians (historically known as Vlachs), Hungarians, Germans (also known as Saxons), Bulgarians, Armenians, Jews and Roma (also known as Gypsies or “tatars”). Of course this mix reflects the 1000-year long history of warring between the different ethnic groups and their respective rulers.
Nowadays, however, the fighting is not so much about and in between linguistic and/or religious barriers (Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim groups) but about stopping the migration from the region though attracting tourists and generating jobs and new income.
Recently a new app was launched, which tells the story about the fortified churches and give precise directions about location, opening times etc. The name of the app is “The landscape of Saxon Fortified Churches in Transylvania” and may be downloaded from iTunes. All the churches belong to the Evangelical Church of Romania, basically an Evangelical Lutheran Church, where services are still celebrated in German.
Read more about the churches (in German or Rumanian)
Read about the App
In Transylvania a successful coop of women market traditional preserves
In the 13th century the Hungarian King Geza II invited Saxons to settle in Transylvania to rebuff raiding Muslims. In this narrow part of the Carpathians they constructed fortified churches, cultivated the land and spread their culture and language. Later after the reformation they organized themselves in Evangelical Lutheran churches, which kept them even more separate from their Slavic neighbours. However, during and after Ceauşescu’s regime anyone who could muster some money or initiative immigrated to Germany. Today the countryside is full of derelict farms, churches falling apart and breath-taking vistas of farmed land, high meadows and virgin forests.
Income from the villages today mostly stem from milk. Locally produced are cured meats, fresh cheeses and not the least an astounding richness in preserves. These jams, compotes and dulciazia – sweet syrup based on green walnuts – are homemade from fruits harvested from the orchards of the wild forests.The most interesting preserves are made from rhubarb, dog-roses, Mirabelle plums, strawberries or blueberries. But also crab apples and cinnamon are on the list as well as quinces, green walnuts and cherries (sour and sweet).
Traditionally women prepared this extraordinary variety of preserves for their families, changing the recipes according to the season in order to make use of their home fruit gardens. Even today the preserves are eaten at breakfast with bread and whey cheese (Urda) or used in sweets and pastries. The recipes are very simple and consist of fruit, honey, sugar and, in some cases, a small addition of natural pectin (made with unripe apples). The mixtures are slowly cooked over the fire but not for too long in order to preserve the taste and smell of the fresh fruit.
Six years ago 35 women from Siebenburgen contacted the foundation, Fundatia ADEPT. The intention was to market the preserves as part of the general intention to cater for tourists travelling in these fantastic mountains and villages. The project developed in connection with the SlowFood Foundation, which supports 350 projects of this type. In 2006 1500 jars of preserves were produced and marketed. In 2009 , however, a small jam production workshop was set up in the village of Sachiz, which was certified by the EU. In 2010 the number had risen to 12.000!
Recipe for dulciazia
About the preserves
Read about Fundatia ADEPT
Slowfood are engaged in the project
Discover Tarnava Mare
Virgin Forests in Romania threatened
The Carpathian Mountains stretches 1500 kilometers through South Eastern Europe. Although the name of the mountain range means “Rocky Mountains” it is covered with a nearly endless virgin forest home for more than 13.000 different species. Not counting bears, wolfs and other large predators, which are near extinct in the rest of Europe. Tourists who wish to experience the old-growth forest of Romania might begin at the Retezat National Park. An alpine landscape containing more than 60 peaks and over 100 deep glacier lakes, the park covers 381 Km2 . The area shelters 1190 plant species of which 130 have been listed as endagered. Wolves, bears, wild boars, lynx, wildcats, chamois and dear roam the expansive wilderness, which is only accessible on food. Part of the park is open for grazing and it is possible to encounter shepherds and buy milk and cheese on the pastures lying on the high ground.
It goes without saying that the virgin forest of Romania is under siege by loggers and logging companies bent on exploiting this nature reserve. Apart from the value of the woodland as a natural habitat it is also, however, an important part of the European fight to reduce the impact of carbon release. Accordingly the preservation of this unique woodland is high on the European agenda.
WWF are thus looking for protection for 80% of these old-growth forests in Romania. They are asking the Romanian government to ensure the safety of this land through legislation and compensation, and to assist forest owners where legislation has harmed their income. They have also launched a website and created a petition to encourage Romanian citizens to demand these changes. The campaign has the support of many international companies including IKEA and the Discovery Channel with international and national drives helping to reinforce the message for the Romanian government.
The foundation of The Prince of Wales is particularly engaged in this campaign and its implication for Transylvania. To a large extent Transylvanians descend from (amongst others) German settlers, who migrated to this area in the 12th and 13th century. Since then this minority has continued speaking German and kept its traditions. During the Ceauşescu regime, German-speaking Romanians were however given the possibility – at a hefty price – to migrate back to Germany. As a result the region is nowadays fighting an uphill battle to preserve its cultural and natural heritage as well as care for the old-age pensioners left behind in this beautiful backwater. Since the Prince first visited in 1998, he has evolved an interest in this plight of the local population. Today he owns a number of properties, amongst others a house in Viscri, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is engaged in furthering the rural tourism industry.
Read more about the campaign of WWF
Read more about the Prince of Wales’s activities in Romania
See trailers of Wild Carpathia, a film about the Carpathian Mountains featuring the plea of the Prince of Wales