This section is based on a June 2015 guided tour of some regions of Romania. Because of the shortness of time only a cursory view of the main monuments was included in the tour and museums were not visited. The chief objective of the journey from an artistic point of view was the visit to four monastery churches in Moldavia, three of which were included by UNESCO in their World Heritage List because these churches of northern Moldavia, built from the late 15th century to the late 16th century, their external walls covered in fresco paintings, are masterpieces inspired by Byzantine art. They are authentic and particularly well preserved. Far from being mere wall decorations, the paintings form a systematic covering on all the facades and represent complete cycles of religious themes. Their exceptional composition, the elegance of the characters, and the harmony of the colours blend perfectly with the surrounding countryside.
Part of an 1818 Map of the Lower Danube territories by John Pinkerton: the thick yellow line shows the border between the Austrian Empire (white) and the principalities of Serbia (blue), Wallachia (pink) and Moldavia (green) which were under Ottoman nominal suzerainty. 1) Suceava province where the painted churches are located; 2) Bucharest; 3) Brasov (Germ. Kronstadt); 4) Sibiu (Germ. Hermannstadt); 5) Targu Mures (Hung. Maros-Vasarhely); 6) Bistrita (Germ. Bistritz)
The tour started in Bucharest; it reached Suceava via Brasov and it came back via Bistrita, Targo Mures and Sibiu, crossing twice the Carpathian mountains in each route and the plateau of Transylvania where most towns have retained monuments testifying to the complex history of the region.
1869 Ethnographic and linguistic map of Romania by Heinrich Kiepert: blueish: Romanians; pink: Germans (Saxons); yellow: Hungarians aka Magyars (Szekler - frontier guards)
It was to the Servian Princess Helena, the wife of the Blind Bela, who ruled in Hungary about he middle of the twelfth century, during the minority of her son Geysa the Second, that Transylvania owed the repeopling her wastes with industrious German colonists. Taking advantage of the peace which she had concluded with the Emperor of Germany, she invited the peasants of that country to emigrate, and promised them lands and liberties within the boundaries of Hungary. 1143 is commonly assigned as the date of their first settlement, some of them in the North of Hungary, and others in Transylvania. Under Andrew the Second, in 1224, (..) those of Transylvania obtained a charter of their liberties.
John Paget - Hungary and Transylvania - 1839
The miseries of famine in Transylvania sometimes cause considerable emigrations of peasants from that vast province into Wallachia and Moldavia. All the best lands in Transylvania being in the hands of Hungarians, Szecklers and Saxons, the others who form the bulk of the population are driven into hilly and barren situations where at all times they subsist with difficulty and of late years more than ordinary scarcity that prevailed has driven about twenty thousand peasants subjects of the emperor into the dominions of the Hospodars (rulers of Wallachia and Moldavia) where the great disproportion between the number of agricultural hands and the extent of arable land renders such emigrations extremely useful.
William Wilkinson - An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia - 1820
The government of Transylvania was formerly divided among the "three politically privileged nations": - the Magyars, settled mainly in the N.W. districts (800,000, incl. the Szeklers); the Szeklers, kinsfolk of the Magyars, who were settled in E. Transylvania at an unknown date, in order to act as "Szekler", or guardians of the frontier, and who at one time erroneously regarded themselves as descendants of the Huns: and the Saxons (ca. 220,000), the descendants of the German immigrants invited by Geisa II. The Roumanians, however (1,500,000), now form the largest part of the population. These regard themselves as the lineal descendants of the Roman colonists, but are in reality a mixed race made up of Roman and Slavonic elements.
1911 Baedeker's Guide Book of Austria - Hungary, with excursions to Cetinje, Belgrade and Bucharest.
Colonna Traiana: The Dacians attack a Roman fortress; one of them is hanged outside the walls; King Decebalus watches the defeat of his men; the Dacians flee the scene
According to Pliny, the original inhabitants were Getae, afterwards called Daci by the Romans. They were governed by their own kings, until Trajan reduced the country to Dacia, a Roman province. Afterwards, they were successively subdued by the Sarmatae, the Gothi, and the Hunni: and, lastly, the Saxons established themselves in Dacia, since subdivided into the various partitions of Transylvania, Walachia, and Moldavia.
Edward Daniel Clarke - Travels in various countries of Europe, Asia and Africa - 1817-1824
My journey from Bucharest to Fokshani (in Moldavia), was of the most painful nature; the cold was so intense, and the country so deeply covered with snow, that it was with much difficulty the post-boys could get the poor starved horses to drag the vehicle through the ruts. Often were they obliged to alight and put their shoulders to the wheels, and rub the ears of the horses. As to my own ears, they were frost-bitten long ere I reached Jassy (capital of Moldavia), in spite of the ten-fold covering of a red Turkish shawl and a thick calpac of Astracan fur. The ferries were frequent and at these we found wine huts; but it was necessary to thaw the liquor before we could drink it, and then it tasted as weak as sour small beer. Never before had I suffered so much from cold and I could perfectly sympathise with Ovid, in execrating the horrors of a Scythian winter in Dacia.
Adam Neale - Travels through some parts of Germany, Poland, Moldavia, and Turkey - 1832
As a matter of fact Tomis, the town where Ovid was exiled, was in Dobruja, south of the Danube delta, which was part of Moesia Inferior. This region, which retains evidence of several Roman towns, was not included in the tour. Inscriptions, reliefs and other Roman artefacts have been found also in Transylvania, but they are kept in local museums which were not visited. They are likely to be similar to those found in Pannonia (Western Hungary), another province on the edge of the Empire.
Forests in the Eastern Carpathian Mts. near Vatra Dornei (Dorna Watra) between Transylvania and Bukovina, a historical region of Northern Moldavia; similar forests covered most of Central Europe in Roman time
The breadth of this Hercynian forest (..) is to a quick traveler, a journey of nine days. For it can not be otherwise computed, nor are they acquainted with the measures of roads. It begins at the frontiers of the Helvetii, Nemetes, and Rauraci, and extends in a right line along the river Danube to the territories of the Daci and the Anartes.
Julius Caesar - De Bello Gallico - Loeb edition
The more distant mountains appeared loftier, being covered with snow. (..) The forests and the views, in this part of the passage, are very grand. Clarke
The former principality of Transylvania, called Erdily by the Magyars, and Ardealu by the Roumanians (both meaning "forest-land"), is a district of about 21,000 sq. M. in extent. (..) It forms a hilly plateau enclosed by the Carpathians (highest summit the Negoi, 8347 ft.); the only level places are the river-bottoms. About 44 per cent of the surface is covered with forests. The chief occupations of the inhabitants are agriculture, forestry, mining, and stock-raising (buffaloes, horses, sheep, and swine). Sportsmen will find plenty of lynxes and wild-cats in the foot-hills, as well as bears, wild-boars, chamois, and deer in the higher mountains. Baedeker
The long bus journey from Bucharest to Moldavia and back offered the opportunity to admire some deeply forested landscapes.
Bicaz Gorge in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains, between Transylvania and Piatra Neamt in Moldavia
As we drew near to Búkorest, we had a view of the high snowy mountains of Transylvania forming a barrier behind it. (..) The road may truly be considered as an Alpine Pass; except that the mountains are covered, even to their summits, with trees: and the views, although in some instances grand and striking, are not to be compared, in this respect, with those in the Alps. Clarke
I should recommend all lovers of fine scenery who may visit Hermanstadt, to extend their rambles as far as the Rothen Thurm Pass, one of the most romantic of the valleys which connect Transylvania and Wallachia. (..) The valley is most beautiful, the rocks are bold and precipitous, the woods rich, and hanging over the sides of the mountains, and occasionally the most beautiful green glades intervene, that either poet or painter could desire. Paget
In the past the Carpathians formed a barrier to communication between Transylvania and Wallachia/ Moldavia. The passes were few and the valleys leading to them were controlled by castles, e.g. Bran or fortified villages, e.g. Biertan.
Piatra Neamt: Biserica Nasterea Sfantul Ioan Botezatorul (Nativity of St. John Baptist): the church was built by Stephen III the Great, Voivode of Moldavia, and his wife Maria Voichita in 1498; an inscription near the church entrance celebrates Bogdan III, the One-Eyed, Stephen's legitimate son and heir
Nothing appeared to us more remarkable than the language. It is not enough to say of it, that it is nearly allied to the Latin: it is in many respects purely so; the difference between our way of speaking Latin, and theirs, consisting only in the pronunciation. All the principal names of things that a traveller requires, particularly of provisions, are Latin words. (..) To what can this be attributed, but to those colonies which the Romans sent into this country? For although the colony sent by Trajan were afterwards withdrawn, in great measure, by Aurelian, to the southern side of the Danube, yet the introduction of thirty thousand persons into a district which did not exceed eighty leagues from east to west, and forty from north to south, and their residence for so considerable a period upon a spot where there were hardly any other inhabitants at the time, may explain the existence of their language. What renders this the more probable is, that the present native inhabitants call themselves Romans. Clarke
Slavonian liturgy was introduced into the churches, and, notwithstanding the denunciations and embassies of the Roman Pontiff, a separation occurred about 880 A.D., and the Roumanians joined the Orthodox Greek Church. (..) In the middle of the seventeenth century the most important Roman Catholic bishoprics were suppressed, and down to the present time the Greek Church has been the state religion, and it is professed by nearly the whole nation.
James Samuelson - Roumania past and present - 1882
Notwithstanding the Latin origin of the spoken language, Cyrillic alphabet was used to write the Romanian language before the 1860s. The Romanian Cyrillic alphabet was close to the contemporary version of the Early Cyrillic alphabet of the Slavonic liturgical language.
Piatra Neamt: Biserica Nasterea Sfantul Ioan Botezatorul
The medieval principality of Moldavia declared its independence in 1359. (..) During Voivode Stephen III's long and prosperous reign - spanning almost half a century - Moldavia was consciously transformed into a bastion of the Christian faith. Between 1457 and 1487, Stephen engaged in an extensive project to fortify his principality at key sites, initially in anticipation of, and then in response to, the Ottoman incursions into his territory. (..) Given Moldavia's location at the point of intersection of diverse cultures, especially from the XIVth century onward, the art and architecture of the principality came to exhibit an eclecticism with respect to artistic and architectural sources, with elements adapted from Western medieval and Byzantine artistic models alongside forms developed locally. This visual syncretism, most evident in the main monastic churches built initially under the patronage of Stephen III and then with support from his illegitimate son and heir, Voivode Peter Rares, contributed to the development of a local style that underwent further transformations in the centuries that followed. Both princes, Stephen and Peter, through their artistic patronage, with guidance from Church officials, contributed to projects that gradually transformed Moldavia's sacred landscape.
Alice Isabella Sullivan - Byzantium in Eastern European Visual Culture in the Late Middle Ages - 2020
Brasov (Kronstadt): (left) Casa Sfatului (Town Hall) in the main square; (right) coat of arms which makes reference to the crown of the German name and to the forests which surround the town
The Saxons principally concentrated themselves in Transylvania, a fertile region, surrounded with forests and metalliferous mountains; and to their coming must be entirely attributed the origin of its cultivation. All its principal towns were built by them: the traces of their language are still retained; and it is from them that Transylvania received the name. Clarke
It was not likely that a foreign nation should be allowed to take up its dwelling among a people so wild and so jealous of foreigners as the Magyars, without having to fight hard for its possessions; and frequent were the contests to which the German settlers were exposed. The king, however, was always ready to lend his aid to his faithful Saxons, and with his help, and by their own industry, they throve in spite of all opposition. Paget
Transylvania remained under Roman sway till 271 A.D. From this date down to the beginning of the 12th cent. it was the great theatre of battles between the Ostrogoths, Huns, Longobards, Bulgarians, Magyars, Kumans, and other Eastern races which kept surging towards Western Europe. Stephen I. (1000-38) prepared the way for the union of Transylvania with Hungary, and this union was rendered permanent by Ladislaus I. (1077-95). (..) Its German name of Siehenburgen has been derived from the first seven "burgs", or fortresses, built by the German colonists, or from the seven once fortified towns of Hermannstadt (Sibiu), Klausenburg (Kolozsvar), Kronstadt (Brasov), Bistritz (Besztercze/Bistrita), Mediasch (Medgyes), Mullbach (Szaszsebes), and Schassburg (Segesvar/Sighisoara). (..) Swarms of Mongolians (in 1241) and Turks (from 1420) invaded and ravaged the country, (..) and compelled the three privileged "Nations" of Transylvania, the Magyars, Szeklers, and Germans, to form in 1437 a "fraternal union" for mutual protection. Baedeker
The Wallachians joined the Hungarians in 1448 and made war on Turkey, but being totally defeated at the battle of Cossova in Bulgaria and finding it no longer possible to make any stand against the Turks they submitted again to the annual tribute which they paid until the year 1460 when the Sultan Mahomet II being occupied in completing the conquest of the islands in the Archipelago afforded them a new opportunity of shaking off the yoke. Their Voivode also named Dracula did not remain satisfied with mere prudent measures of defence; with an army he crossed the Danube and attacked the few Turkish troops that were stationed in his neighbourhood, but this attempt was only attended with momentary success. Mahomet having turned his arms against him, drove him back to Wallachia whither he pursued and defeated him. The Voivode escaped into Hungary. (..) With regard to Moldavia the first act of its submission to the Turks was not the effect of conquest, but a voluntary measure of precaution and security. It was only in 1536 that this principality consented to become tributary to the Sultan. (..) As far however as the end of the 17th century intervening political motives still induced the Porte to show some deference to the privileges of the two principalities. Wilkinson
The Porte had good intentions towards Moldavia and Wallachia; it left them their councils of state as existing before the conquest and their municipal institutions.
Sir Adolphus Slade - Travels in Germany and Russia: Including a Steam Voyage by the Danube - 1840
After Lewis II. of Hungary had lost his life and crown at the battle of Mohacs in 1526, the victorious Turks made Transylvania an independent principality under Turkish protection, and it was thenceforth governed by princes elected by the people and approved by the Sultan. Baedeker
The Ottoman Sultans chose to consider the three principalities as part of their dominions, but not to rule them directly, as long as a yearly tribute was paid; in particular they did not impose Islam as a superior religion and churches and monasteries continued to be built without the limits imposed on the other Christians living in the Empire. In particular the Ottomans favoured Protestantism in Transylvania and the Saxons did not see much Ottoman interference into their internal affairs. During the XIXth century the Voivode Dracula, actually Vlad III, better known as Vlad the Impaler, became a national hero of Romania. In 1897 Count Dracula, a gothic horror story, made his name popular as that of a vampire; all Romanian towns catering for foreign visitors have Dracula hotels, restaurants and cafès.
Sucevita: interior of the fortified monastery
The sum total of the contribution levied upon the monasteries of Mount Athos is only equal to a thousand dollars; not amounting to a thousandth part of the gifts annually made to them by the princes and priests of Russia, Moldavia, Walachia, and Georgia. Clarke
Both principalities abound with monasteries originally established by different Voivodes and it was a long time customary with the inhabitants to consider as great acts of piety bequests of lands, houses, shops or sums of money made to them, insomuch that hardly any rich man died without having allotted a portion of his property to such a purpose. These voluntary gifts had so accumulated and the value of land has so increased that some of the monasteries are now the richest establishments in the country. The greater number are in the gift of the reigning princes who let them out for a space of time to the highest bidders. Others being dedicated to the patriarchs of Constantinople and Jerusalem are disposed of by them, but although the princes cannot appropriate to their own profit any part of their revenues, as they have the right of imposing taxes on them upon certain occasions, they frequently put them under contribution. Wilkinson
Sibiu (Hermannstadt): Brukenthal Palace
In accordance with a treaty with the Turks Emp. Leopold I.
occupied the land in 1688 (after the failed 1683 Ottoman Siege of Vienna): and on Dec. 4th, 1691. the same emperor, by the "Leopoldine Diploma", ratified the public and private laws of Transylvania and guaranteed religious toleration to the four "received" creeds. (..) The German population had been Lutheran since 1547, while of the Magyars and Szeklers some had become Calvinists in 1557, others Unitarians (a sect established in 1568), and the remainder Roman
Catholics. (..) Transylvania, erected into a "grand principality" by Maria Theresa, has
shared the fortunes of Austria and Hungary. Since 1867 Transylvania has been in legislative and administrative respects incorporated with Hungary. Baedeker
The welcome sight of the arms of the Austrian Emperor of Germany, painted on a board, and placed upon the side of a mountain above this torrent, announced the agreeable intelligence to us, that, by passing a little bridge which appeared before us, we should quit the Ottoman Empire. (..) Hermanstadt contains fifteen thousand inhabitants. (..) Having brought with us a letter of recommendation (..) to Baron Bruckenthal, (a venerable nobleman, who had been the reputed favourite of Maria Theresa) we presented it soon after our arrival, and were invited to spend the whole of the following day at his house, and to see his immense collection of pictures, antiquities, and natural history. (..) The venerable Baron gave us his oldest Tokay, and other wines of Hungary and Transylvania, bidding us drink "health to the Saxons", saying that he was himself a Saxon; alluding to their colony in Transylvania. Clarke
In 1775 the Austrian Empire annexed also Bukovina. Both Transylvania and Bukovina show evidence of the long Austrian tenure, especially in public and private palaces, which call to mind those of Vienna.
Bucharest: Statue of Carol I, first King of Romania
In 1711 The Sultan took to himself the exclusive right of appointing to the two Voivodates (of Wallachia and Moldavia). The measure was not opposed and its repetition became habitual and if at the present moment the inhabitants of the two Principalities were to recall their right to memory and claim the enforcement of it the Porte would consider and treat the proceeding as open rebellion on their part. No prince of Wallachian or Moldavian birth or origin was ever appointed after. (..) The Porte selected the new princes from the Fanariotes, the Greeks of Constantinople whose long habit of obedience and servile degradation appeared to render them suitable tools for the new policy adopted relative to the government of the principalities. (..) They were suffered to hold a court to confer dignities and titles of nobility and to keep up a show of sovereign splendour, circumstances which were most flattering to the vanity of the Greeks and proved useful to the interested views of the Porte. But they were most strictly forbidden to maintain troops or to collect any under any pretence whatever. This precaution was indispensable as it prevented the princes from acquiring military power and the natives from aspiring to independency. Wilkinson
The Porte might suppose that the Fanariote Hospodar (Voivode) would be checked by the council of state but in general the wily Greek adjusted matters to his own interest by allowing the members to have a share of the spoil wrung from the trade, industry and agriculture of the country. A uniform state of ill being was the consequence aggravated every ten years by the provinces being the theatre of war between either Russians or Austrians and the Turks. This lasted till the peace of Adrianople when Moldavia and Wallachia were declared independent saving a tribute to the Porte under the protection of Russia and Turkey. General Kisselef, the Russian governor of the provinces during the war of 1828-9, established their prosperity by giving them a constitution called an administrative regulation. (..) Whatever views Russia may or may not have on Wallachia and Moldavia their inhabitants owe her gratitude for having in the first place freed them from the rule of the Fanariotes and for having in the second place given them a constitution so liberal as to cause great surprise. Slade
In 1859 Alexander Ioan Cuza, from a wealthy family of Moldavian landowners, was elected Prince of Moldavia and Prince of Walacchia. In 1862 the union of the two principalities was achieved and Cuza was recognized as Domnitor (Ruler) of Romania. In 1866 Cuza was forced to sign his abdication and the élites of the country offered the throne to Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, at the time a Prussian officer. Romania was recognized an independent country by the 1878 Treaty of Berlin and in 1881 Karl was crowned King of Romania as Carol I.
Bucharest: Palace of the Parliament seen from the Rome-Bucharest flight
We had never before seen Moldavian patriots; and like many other
ignorant people, we did not even know there was such an article as Moldavian patriotism. To our surprise we now encountered it everywhere in Bukovina,
and met many people glowing with tender enthusiasm
for the great days of the Dacian Empire, under Decebalus the Great.
Dacia is now surrounded with mighty and powerful neighbours, which do
not permit its nationality to obtain a free voice. The country has been torn
up and partitioned quite as much as Poland. (..) To read or import into Austria, the journals published in Moldavia
and Walachia is strictly prohibited by law.
Johann Georg Kohl - Austria, Vienna, Hungary, etc - 1843
Romania sided with the Triple Entente during WWI; after the war its borders were greatly enlarged by the addition of Transylvania, Bukovina and other territories. Parts of these additions were lost as an effect of WWII. At the end of 1947 the monarchy was abolished and a Communist Republic was proclaimed. A gigantic building in the heart of Bucharest is the maladroit parting gift of the regime to the country.
The image used as background for this page shows the hand of god holding some nuns, a detail of a mural painting at the Moldovita Monastery.
Plan of this section:
Crossing the Southern Carpathians: Bran Castle and Cozia Monastery
Sighisoara and Biertan
Other locations in Transylvania (Bistrita, Targu Mures and the Eastern Carpathians)