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Borders of Sibiu

Middle Ages and Icons Painted on Glass

Sometimes the journey to the destination is more important than the destination itself. This is what we would discover that late September when we started the journey towards the mountains beyond the forests.

Day one
That day of end of September had all characteristics of a real summer day, without the unbearable heat. We prepare for a rafting trip on Crisul Repede river, in the Western Carpathians, but we decide to stop first in the Sibiu region. The train takes us through a green-yellow nature, reminding of the summer which doesn’t want to leave any more. In less than six hours we are in Sibiu.
As soon as we get off the train, we notice the sheer size of the restoration works, among which we squeeze to reach the bus station, where we ask about buses to Cisnadioara, our destination that day. We find out there are no more buses to the village, so we head towards Sibiu’s center, not knowing very well what to do. At a crossroad we run into a yellow kiosk and there we ask the lady who sells bus tickets about the eventual buses. Here name is Eveline Schlosser, she is thus a descendant of the Saxon founders of this magnificent city. Her name seems to suggests she descends from castle owners, and here she is today in her small yellow castle at the crossroads. With a perfect politeness and an absolute calm - it's obvious we are not in Bucharest any longer - she tells us what bus to take and at what time. The news are good, we have a bus to Cisnadioara in a half an hour, so we rush towards the center, where the recently restored Piata Mare shines proudly under the summer-like sun.

Sibiu, Piata Mare
Piata Mare, Sibiu

We return to the station, where, exactly as Ms. Schlosser said, the bus comes and leaves on time. We head towards Dumbrava Sibiului forest, with its wonderful Astra Museum, then the road climbs gradually through the forest and as soon as we reach a clearing, we are amazed by the view: it's as if the gate towards another century opens up, because the village in the valley reminds a medieval fresco, with the old citadel looming over the village from its rock, having as backdrop the Fagaras Mountains.
Here we are in Cisnadioara, the old Michelsberg of the Saxon colonists. Around us, everything betokens freshness, neatness and German tidiness. The Saxon houses, big and beautifully arranged along the main road, seem to be better maintained than anywhere else and, once the bus returns noisy to its own century, the silence of this earthly Heaven is perfect.
We look for a pension, but the first one we see, a beautifully painted Saxon house, is closed, or so tells us a lady in German. We head towards the end of the village, following the crystal clear water stream along the so-called Silver Valley and we encounter a traditional wooden pension, beautifully decorated inside with traditional Romanian and Saxon dress and with an immense garden full of flowers. We get a four bed room only for the two of us and then we hurry towards the citadel as the evening is falling. Near the path that climbs to the citadel there is Madam Fleps' house, who keeps the keys to the citadel. The house has a tidy court, shining with cleanness. Bad luck, there's nobody home, but a note on the door indicates another address where we can get the key.
We go towards the other end of the village but here too, at the indicated address, we find nobody. Back to the first house, a villager tells us that Clarisa, Ms. Fleps' daughter has come from the high school, so we ask her where we can find the key. She has no idea where her mother is. So we climb the citadel hill, not knowing if we could enter, but about the middle of the ascent we encounter Madam Fleps in flesh and blood, who offers us the keys to the citadel.
We reach the small river stone wall, splendid as it is in ruin and from here beautiful panoramas open up towards Cisnadie and further, to Fagaras Mountains. We unlock the gate and enter the precincts, where a tiny Romanesque church lies, probably finished around 1200, which makes it the oldest Romanesque church in the country. It's magnificent in its dignified simplicity, the only exterior decoration being the Romanesque portal on the western wall.
The night is falling and the red sunset over the mountain ranges deepens the feeling of magic. We unlock the church door too, the simple stone altar showing up in the semi-darkness. Some shades of the ancient painting are hardly visible on the walls. In the precincts there are some strange, spherical rocks from place to place. We would find out that in the past the aspiring husbands had to prove their manhood by carrying the heavy rocks from the riverbed up the steep track.
Back to the village, we meet Madam Fleps sitting on a bench in the village center, in a very talkative mood. She tells us that the village was purely Saxon until the seventies and even now the vast majority of the 200 inhabitants are Saxons. She also tells us about the traditions, about the intricate traditional Saxon costumes that nobody manufactures nowadays any longer and which they, the villagers, keep home as treasures. From time to time she greets a neighbor, in German of course, and at a certain moment we actually witness a discussion with another villager in the sweet Saxon dialect, where they mix from time to time a purely Romanian "no, bine" ("well, ok"). It's as if we are part of a play, Madam Fleps having the main role as we become involuntarily supporting actors.
But it's really dark now, so we return to our pension in the forest, where we have a copious diner, after which we sleep like babies.
Cisnadioara (Michelsberg)
The Romanesque church at Cisnadioara
Cisnadioara (Michelsberg)
The church altar
Cisnadioara (Michelsberg)
The western portal
Cisnadioara (Michelsberg)
The Saxon museum

Day two
Just like we promised last evening, we go to Madam Fleps' house, from where she takes us to the tiny Saxon museum. One of the village dogs, Rex, is following us closely and enters the museum with us. We try unsuccessfully to chase him out, as, according to Ms. Fleps, he only understands German, so she alone can ask him out.
The museum, small as it might be, exposes plenty of objects, from traditional hand-painted furniture, some pieces being over three hundred years old, to intricate tradition Saxon costumes.
We also want to visit the Saxon church in the middle of the village, so we go to Madam Frolich's home to get the church key, but nobody answers the doorbell. Still, we enter the small courtyard, with trees loaded with big, red apples. The Gothic church is simple, modest, but very picturesque, with its small wooden door showing up among tall yellow flowers and with the slender tower pointing towards the blue sky.
We have an easy, 3-4 kilometer descent to Cisnadie among orchards, permanently guided on our right side by the Fagaras ranges. In Cisnadie, or Hertlau for the Saxons, the atmosphere is already of an important town, though breezy and fresh enough to make the transition from Cisnadioara pretty smooth.
We head directly towards the citadel in the town center, an old Romanesque basilica transformed later in the Gothic style and surrounded by three layers of fortifications.
We admire the church interior, our attention being attracted by a few Saxon furniture pieces, some ancient paintings in choir almost entirely covered with chalk and especially the altar belonging to Veit Stoss' Renaissance school. We also climb the creaky wooden stairs to the belfry, from where we have magnificent views toward the town and its surroundings. We see the big, neat Saxon houses, with their impressive facades aligned to the streets.
Promising to come back here for a Saxon mass in the church, we take the bus to Sibiu, where we have a decent lunch in Piata Mica and then we take another bus to Tilisca.
Cisnadie (Hertlau)
Cisnadie (Hertlau) citadel
Cisnadie (Hertlau)
View from the belfry
Cisnadie (Hertlau), altarul apartinand scolii Veit Stoss
The altar, Veit Stoss school
Tilisca
Street in Tilisca
The bus passes through hillocks which become bigger and more picturesque as we approach the destination. In Tilisca we find immediately a pension - a new big house, apparently wasting the space - and then we start exploring the village. It must be one of the richest villages in the country, with its huge houses and well paved streets. Most of the houses are relatively new and they respect the local building traditions, resembling well the Saxon houses, but unfortunately there are also some newer, tasteless houses.
We meet few villagers, especially old ladies crocheting on a bench along the street. Everyone seems to have traditional costumes at home and we are shown a few of them. They look simple and somber - white and black - inspired by the rigid Saxon tradition, but the sewing is extremely delicate and elaborate. We exit the village and climb a slope through the forest to the remains of a Dacian citadel. A few stone blocks are dug from the ground, the rest seem to wait to be discovered in the forested hillock. On the opposite hill we notice the ruins of a medieval citadel.
Back to the village, the local architecture doesn't cease to surprise us: the houses are so big and close to each other that the streets are permanently in shadow. An old talkative lady shows us some traditional costumes and we buy a seventy year old embroidered shirt. The night is falling and at the end of the street we see a wonderful show: a rainbow shows up above a hillock, even though it hasn't been raining. Back to the pension, we eat well and fall asleep.

Day three
The initial plan was to take the bus back to Sibiu and from there take another bus to Sibiel. But our hosts tell us Sibiel is pretty close and show us a map which convinces us to walk to that village.
We pass through Saliste, a village which - who knows by what strange coincidence - gave to the country 9 members of the Academy and where we notice again the local architecture: big houses and slender churches, just like the Saxon ones.
We visit the 18th century church, painted inside in extremely vivid colors and we continue our walk among the hills towards our destination.

Not long after lunch we reach Sibiel, picturesquely lying among green hillocks. Here too the houses are big and solid, but the authentic village atmosphere is more prevalent than in Tilisca and Saliste. There are pensions all over the place and we find out that here the villagers have been involved in tourism for over 30 years. We choose a clean and relatively cheap pension and then, after a copious lunch at another pension, we visit the interesting museum of icons painted on glass, situated in a building in the courtyard of the 18th century church. The icons are extraordinary, some are almost three hundred years old and the collections counts over 700 pieces in total. In the spring and summer one can witness the creation of these superb artifacts in a special room of the museum.
We also visit Sibiel surroundings: first we head towards Orlat, but we don't reach the village, because the rain stops us at Orlat Monastery, just outside the village. On the way back, we take a detour through Fantanele (Cacova), a horseshoe-shaped village following the shape of the hillock that nests it. The village is picturesque, with its old, vividly painted houses, beautiful triptychs (like everywhere else in this region) and cobbled streets going up and down. A wonderful surprise is the small village museum, where we see again many icons painted on glass, but also furniture, traditional costumes and tools, all of them gathered with good taste in the two rooms of a traditional house.
Back in Sibiel we take a trip to the other end of the village, where the paths to Cibin Mountains start and then, tired but happy we go to sleep. At a certain moment, in the middle of the night we are woken up by a noise similar to a flutter of wings. Gabi, who from that moment couldn't sleep a wink any longer, tells me in the morning that it must have been a bat trying to enter the room through the window. I refrain from telling her that the village has an ancient tradition of witchcraft ...
Saliste church
Saliste church
Sibiel, the museum of icons painted on glass
Sibiel, the museum of icons painted on glass
Sibiel
Street in Sibiel
Fantanele (Cacova Sibiului) village museum
Fantanele village museum
Day four
From the tiny Sibiel station, about 3 kilometers outside the village, we take the train to Sibiu. Here we go straight to the Evangelic Church Saint Mary and it occurs to me to ask about accommodation at the parochial house. And it pays off, because we get a beautiful room in a medieval house just next to the church, in the very middle of the town thus.
We stroll through Piata Mare, renovated with good taste and we eat at a restaurant on Balcescu Boulevard, the pedestrian street that exits the square to the new part of the town. After another copious lunch - they are spoiled these locals - we take a taxi to the Astra Museum, in Dumbrava Sibiului, this wonderful forest in the outskirts of the town.

The museum is exquisite: beside its sheer size which brings it on the second place in Europe from this point of view, it is intelligently organized by trades. Thus, one can understand how the oil or the wine used to be produced in the peasant communities, how they used to weave and embroider their wonderful costumes, how the power of water was used ... There is even an area dedicated to the community games, with an interesting wooden bowling alley. The two wooden churches, where every Sunday the mass is still held, are painted in extremely warm colors. The landscapes of village trades is completed by the picturesque windmills from Dobrogea, situated on the shore of the lake in the museum precincts.
While visiting this place you understand why it's called the "Museum of the Traditional Folk Civilization": the village was once a standalone civilization, with its own economy, social organization and even with its unwritten laws.
We leave the museum with the charming old tram that comes from Rasinari and which takes us past the forest until it enters the city. Once in Sibiu, we visit the fortifications of the Red City and we stroll again through Piata Mare, beautifully lit when the evening falls. In the romantic Passage of Stairs we eat a delicious desert on the terrace of a wine cellar converted in a restaurant. From here the views upon the Evangelic Church tower lit by the last rays of sunshine are amazing.
We pass through Piata Mica where we here live jazz music coming from a bar and we unlock the gate of our temporary medieval dwelling, where we fall in a well-deserved sleep, dreaming about the new adventure that's waiting for us.

Sibiu, Piata Mica
Sibiu, Piata Mica
Sibiu, Astra Museum
Sibiu, Astra Museum
Sibiu, Astra Museum, the bowling alley
Sibiu, Astra Museum, the bowling alley
Sibiu, Astra Museum
Sibiu, Astra Museum windmills
Tilisca
Courtyard in Tilisca
Fantanele (Cacova Sibiului) museum
Fantanele village museum


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