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The Saxons

A Civilization which Refuses to Vanish

Dedicated to Mr. Werner

Day one
The weather was moody that end of April, but this didn't change our minds to leave for the lost castles of Transylvania.
The road, used so many times and yet each time new, takes us to Brasov and further, deep in the heart of the Transylvanian plateau. We stop at Hoghiz, a small village with two castles. The village streets are deserted, the main road meanders past green hills and the few villagers we meet guide us to the castles.
The first that we see is in a strange, deplorable industrial area. The castle, nowadays in ruins, is a faint reminder of the Transylvanian Renaissance. A few gipsy families live in the castle wings and say they heard that the castle would be either restored or demolished soon. Seeing these little jewels once shiny and vibrant, now abandoned, is a heartbreaker.
Hoghiz, Transylvanian Renaissance castle
Hoghiz, the ruined castle
Inside the castle we see dust, concrete walls about to crumble, a child playing with a pig and a ceiling covered with reed. A tour around the castle reveals the beginning of restoration - a small chappel attached to a castle wing.
Hoghiz, Transylvanian Renaissance castle
Hoghiz, inside the castle
Hoghiz, Transylvanian Renaissance castle
Hoghiz, the other castle
Hoghiz, hill next to the village
Hoghiz, hill next to the village
Hoghiz, view upon the village
Hoghiz, view upon the village
The second castle at Hoghiz enjoys a better fate. It was restored and transformed into a school. The outer yard is picturesque, full of crops that climb towards the castle.
The blue sky is being covered with clouds and a heavy rain starts, with lightnings at the horizon. We hurry away from the village and go towards Bunesti (Bodendorf), from where an unpaved road heads to Viscri (Deustch Weisskirch).

Viscri (Deustch Weisskirch)
Viscri main street
The dusty road goes up and down past the smooth hills of the Transylvanian plateau and it seems to lead us back in time, to a land of legends. And suddenly, perched on a hilltop, the invincible peasant citadel at Viscri shows up, an emblematic village for the Transylvanian Saxons.
The place couldn't be more picturesque. Beautiful Saxon houses, vividly painted and well maintained, line up the main street, which climbs to the citadel. The atmosphere is of a fairy tale: trees with pink and white flowers flank the unpaved road, a stream plays with the sunbeams rapidly flowing along the road and the villagers chat on the wooden benches in front of their houses watching us with curiosity.
We take the path which climbs to the citadel and find ourselves in the old Saxon cemetery, through which we pass and climb a defence wall in order to enter the precints. The citadel is massive, with strong, slender towers, thick walls of river stone and the church is one of the oldest in the country. Mrs. Sara Dootz, the old Saxon lady who is a guide and a custodian here, is very talkative. With her picturesque accent, she introduces us into the history of this place and, with an immense joy in her voice, she tells us that her daughter Caroline had gone to Germany, where he had married a local in Munich, but she had been so homesick that she came back to the village. So "she left Munich and her husband and came back hone", says Mrs. Dootz, gleaming with joy.

Viscri citadel
Viscri citadel
Viscri house
Viscri house
Viscri colors
Viscri colors
Viscri door
Citadel door
Sara Dootz
Sara Dootz
Truly, the village has something that inspires happiness, inner peace and fulfillment. From the church spire we see the beautiful panorama of the village and of the hillocks and we realize that, unlike the majority of the Transylvanian plateau villages, Viscri is surrounded by thickly forested hills which contribute to the picturesque atmosphere of this settlement.
Down in the village we hang about the narrow streets and some villagers invite us to buy their knitted socks, a seemingly thriving business in the area. The evening falls and we find accommodation in a house lined up to the main road, where we eat well and sleep like babies.
Viscri citadel
Viscri citadel
Cloasterf citadel
Cloasterf, the fortified church
Day two
We leave Viscri and its beautiful citadel behind and, via Bunesti, and enter the asphalt road to Sighisoara. We follow yet another unpaved secondary road and reach Cloasterf, where we stop to visit the old fortified church. The 16th century church is a spireless hall, somehow unusual for the area. The powerful defense wall has a tall, slender tower, which from the distance could be taken for the church spire.
We continue the trip to Crit, where another unpaved road leads us to Mesendorf (Meschendorf), a village so well-established German in origin that its name remained practically unchanged. Here too we are struck by a picturesque village: the mud and stone road, the big, vividly painted houses lined up to the main street, the trees with their pink and white flowers, the playful children of a Dutchman who has been living here for over 10 years.
We are guided to the old Saxon man who can open the gates of the citadel. We arrive at his house and here a venerable gentelman greets us shaking our hands strongly and introducing himself: "Werner, German, but Romanian citizen". He seems to emphasize the last words and I have the feeling his eyes sparkle with pride when he says that. We find out he's 97, but he doesn't want to show his age, he is full of life. He tells us about the Saxon exode and how he stayed here, where he belongs, even though he could have left many times. He takes us through the history of the place, shows us the citadel walls with double funtion: defense and shelter for supplies. Nowadays many citadel towers across Transylvania are called Speckturm (Ham Tower), because the villagers used them to store the ham.
Mr. Werner is amazing. He enters the church with dignity, takes off his cap and you have the feeling that he's been here forever, that he was one of the builders of the citadel. He knows everything about its architecture and he explains us how he managed to use only traditional materials for the restoration, preserving the picturesque of the building. We climb the spire, the panorama is wonderful all around. The feeling of getting back in time, of isolation in a unique enclave is total. There isn't even network coverage for the mobile phones. Of course, who would have used them in the Middle Ages ?
When we get down we find Mr. Werner cleaning up the yard, he can't just rest a bit. He tells us about the strange box found up in the spire during the restoration following an earthquake and in the church he shows us a curiosity: an old clepsidra which measures an hour using four recipients with sand. German order and organization. The colorful Saxon furniture in the church has been recently restored.
It's hard to leave this place and Mr. Werner, who, proudly pushing up his back using the wooden cane, looks at us saying again that he stayed here and never left his birthplace. And as he says that, it seems a tear shines in a corner of an eye.

Mister Werner
Mr. Werner
Mesendorf church
Mesendorf church
Mesendorf citadel
Mesendorf citadel
Mesendorf citadel
Mesendorf citadel
Racos castle
Racos castle
As we leave, Mr. Werner shakes again our hands and invites us to visit him any time we want.
We head to the last important place we have in plan, Racos village. From the main street we take yet another unpaved road. In fact it was once an asphalted street, but this very fact makes it now almost unusable. Ten kilometers and more than a half an hour later we finally arrive at Racos and we head directly to the castle. Outside, the castle looks surprisingly good, with its small round corner towers made out of river stone and a slender tower in the middle of the defense all recently restored. An old Hungarian lady opens the gate to the inner court, but here the view is awful: weeds, the iron skeleton of an old van, the castle walls in ruins ....
Racos castle
Racos castle
We leave the place with broken hearts and ask ourselves what needs to happen so that these treasures have a better fate.
In Brasov we enjoy the relaxed atmosphere in the old center, where it seems all the inhabitants are hanging around.

During our trip to the forgotten monuments, we discovered in fact another kind of monuments: the proud people of this Saxon community which stubbornly refuses to vanish. It isn't a daily routine to meet old Saxons who feel more Romanian than many Romanians and who stayed here, even though they could have had there, in the West, the comfort for which many of our country mates leave Romania. There is a lesson to learn here. Surviving the war and the abject communist regime who confiscated their properties and exiled them to Siberia, they knew how to come back where their ancestors lived: in the heart of Transylvania, their home, their land of happiness.

Sorin-Alexandru Cristescu, May 2007

Photos by Razvan Banica


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