Travel Through Doors, Best of 2020

thursday doors, travel to Romania

Travel Through Doors and discover the best doors as seen in my 2020 Thursday Doors blog posts. Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, initiated by Norm who later presented the baton to Dan.

Dan has a Badge Idea contest for Thursday Doors running until 11:59 pm Thursday, December 31st (North American Eastern Time). Check his website for rules and maybe give it a try! The last image in this blog post is my entry.

Ans so it began, my journey around Europe (okay, mostly Romania) for Thursday Doors. We first traveled to Brasov, with The Church Door, a (very) short story:

Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov and the story of a door...
Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov

The Village Museum of Bucharest was next, with its carved wooden doors. We looked at a few and also at what their carved symbols mean:

Village Museum Bucharest, wood carvings, symbols and meaning
Village Museum Bucharest: a wood structure brought here all the way from the north of Romania, from Breaza, from a hamlet situated at a height of 1 200m together with an entire household that belonged to a family of huțulii (huțanii, hutsuls), an ethnic group living in the very NW of Romania with Dacians origins…

My all time favorite must be this 500 years old door from Corvin Castle who even made it through the great fire of 13 April 1854:

Corvin Castle, Romania, 500 years old door original
Corvin Castle, Romania, a 500 years old door

We looked at Corvin Castle’s Coat of Arms too and at two rather grand doors embellished with jambs, tympanum and pinnacles, and at a short history of door knockingfind it all here. And we returned in a second visit here.

And on we went to travel through doors with a guessing game! Bucharest or Paris?

guessing game, Bucharest or Paris?
guessing game, Bucharest or Paris?

Small shrines can often be found in Romania, build so that weary travelers can have a moment of peace, for thought, for prayer, for palliation. This is a shrine from Brasov, before reaching the Black Church as you would stroll down a winding road from Șcheii Brașovului:

The second image above reads: ‘This cross was raised in 1761 by Gh. (Gheorghe) Anania and restored in 1992.’

Our next travel stop was at a monastery built for peace, Snagov Monastery, where we looked at medieval plots and at revenge:

Paraclisul Manastirii Snagov and its full story
Paraclisul Manastirii Snagov and its full story

Snagov Monastery has seen a long an troubled past. Monks settled on Snagov Island, this snake shaped lake, during the times of Mircea the Elder, Mircea cel Batran, Vlad Dracula’s paternal grandfather and ruler of Wallachia during the 14th century.

Next we visited Brancoveanu Monastery at Sambata de Sus, a Romanian Orthodox monastery in Brașov County, in the Transylvania region of Romania, renowed for its white-washed walls. At the end of the 17th century Constantin Brâncoveanu, Prince of Wallachia, built a stone church (1688-1714) in place of an older wooden one:

Brancoveanu Monastery in Transylvania, built by a Wallachian Prince
Brancoveanu Monastery in Transylvania, built by a Wallachian Prince

If you wonder how a Wallachian Voievode built a monastery in a different principality, know that the hamlet and the land on which the monastery was built belonged to Preda Brâncoveanu, his grandfather. Who even built a small wooden church on it in 1654.

For a chilling stop we traveled next to Fagaras Castle to see its Iron Maiden, this symbol of medieval violence:

Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle, symbol of medieval violence
Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle, symbol of medieval violence

Bran Castle means many things to different people. To me, it is a door to heaven.
Legend says that the Doors to Heaven are here, in Bucegi Mountains, near Bran Pass and Ialomița Cave. That is you climb that peak on a clear winter night, you will be welcomed by a meadow underneath a dome of stars. And the doors to Heaven will be revealed to you. You will know it by their starry pillars, and by the energy that will seep into your bones:

carnations on a balcony, Bran Castle history, Thursday Doors
A romantic corner at Bran Castle- a secondary entrance from the Inner Bailey, a stone column and red carnations.

It was only fit to travel to a snowy place around the day of Saint Nicholas, December 6th, and we did so through a short story about Saint Nick and the meaning of the first snow in Sighisoara:

Sighisoara, the church on the hill and the meaning of the first snow and Saint Nicholas
Sighisoara, the church on the hill and the meaning of the first snow on Saint Nicholas

We said good bye and so long to 2020 with A Winter Story for Thursday Doors:

Sighisoara, face in door, Thursday doors
Sighisoara, a face in z door, for Thursday doors

Lastly, my suggestion for a Thursday Doors badge:

Thursday Doors - Around the World
Thursday Doors – Around the World

Symbols and Symbolism in Movie Mank

symbols and symbolism in Mank movie

Released at the end of a year overshadowed by a pandemic, Fincher’s movie Mank reveals itself like the glowing star atop the Christmas tree, and we look here at the significant symbols and symbolism Mank the movie carries.

Before we dive in, I must thank my new blogosphere friend Jo, the brains and heart behind FilmSerial, a top Romanian blog where she does stellar translations. It was Jo who first introduced me to Mank, and it was Jo who first published my raw thoughts on this movie.

Symbolism means an artistic or a lyrical expression obtained by using an image to reveal an idea or an emotion, to unmask a hidden concept or a state of mind.

In a movie, many things can be symbolic such as color, an object, the setting, the use of light in a scene, camera angle, the transition from one scene to the next, even a feeling.

Symbols and Symbolism hidden in Movie Mank

What is exciting about symbolism in a movie, a book, or a work of art is that it can carry different meanings to different viewers, based on their perception and life experiences, and even based on the state of mind while watching the film or reading the novel.

Let’s look at three symbols that appear in David Fincher’s movie Mank.
Attention, this blog post contains spoilers.

The Symbolism behind Marion and Mank atop the Scaffolding

Symbols and Symbolism in Mank, Marion and Mank atop the Scaffolding
Marion and Mank atop the Scaffolding. Source Imdb, Netflix.

Mank’s (Herman J. Mankiewicz) first meeting with actress Marion Davies takes place in 1929 (as we learn from one of his flash-backs), while Marion is filming a glamorous Old West movie on the grounds of Hearst’s massive estate, San Simeon.

Marion is about to be burned at the stake atop a pyramidal scaffolding and, during a shooting break, she asks Mank for a “ciggie”. Mank recognizes her as well as her wit and, although he wrestles a drunkard migraine, climbs the stairs to offer the diva a cigarette, like the gentleman he is.

“Watch those stairs. They’re treacherous,” Marion calls out.
“Every moment of my life is treacherous,” Mank replies in jest.

Mank by David Fincher, after a screenplay by Jack Fincher

The two enjoy a vivid conversation atop the scaffolding. We see them profiled against a brilliant sky, lined with fluffy Hollywood-style clouds (with their own symbol).

This scene takes place eleven years before the major events of the movie (Mank’s six weeks job of writing a script for Orson Welles), and both Mank and Marion are on top of the world (see the sky profiled in the background ad the height they are placed on); both are still filled with ideals, and both are still in the process of throwing themselves into their dreams – represented by the brilliant clouds overhead.

We see them standing above the Hollywood crowd, above L. B. Mayer and William Randolph Hearst, who will later reduce both Mank and Marin to pawns.

But we also see Mank and Marion on a scaffolding, like lambs about to be sacrificed if they don’t give up their dreams (Mank doesn’t, Marion does) – for this is Hollywood, and here everything is worth sacrificing for the sake of ‘the magic of the movies.’

The low angle camera shot used during this scene highlights Mank and Marion’s moral superiority during this time in the story.

I thought that this particular shot is a nod towards ‘Gone with the Wind’. It makes a reference to a scene between Scarlett and her father, Gerald O’Hara. His words were:

‘Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land, doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.’

Gone with the Wind by by Victor Fleming, produced by David O. Selznick, based on a book by Margaret Mitchell
Gone With the Wind, Sarlett and her father, Gerald O’Hara. 'The only thing that matters is Tara'.
Gone With the Wind, Image source imdb

In the movie Mank, the only thing that matters (for Mank and Marion) is the quality of the work they produce.

Symbolism behind Mank and Marion’s Moonlight Stroll about the Zoo Garden Owned by Hearst

Symbols and Symbology in  Mank and Marion’s Moonlight Stroll about the Zoo Garden Owned by Hearst. Source
 Mank and Marion’s Moonlight Stroll about the Zoo Garden Owned by Hearst. Source Imdb, Netflix

Leading to this scene:

It is 1933. During one of Mank’s flashbacks, we join a glamorous birthday party at San Simeon where the Julia Morgan–designed castle and Hearst’s inheritance are located. Champagne flows, all are gay, and a live piano punctuates a careless conversation.

When the discussion turns to Hitler’s speech followed by kissing babies, as witnessed by Marion Davies during the newsreel of a movie she watched recently, only Mank and Marion point out the potential danger of the growing Nazi regime, while L.B. Mayer (MGM’s co-founder and Birthday Boy at Heart’s party) and Irvin Thalberg (Mayer’s right hand and head of production) reveal their ignorance of the Nazi leader. Then the conversation turns to current affairs and the political climb of socialist Upton Sinclair, Marion makes a faux pas and leaves the party room.

Next, we witness a nod from Sara Mankiewicz towards her husband, showing us how well she knows him. Thus Mank, always the emotional caregiver, always the indulgent father, follows Marion into the garden to comfort her.

Mank and Marion enjoy a Moonlight Stroll through Hearst’s Zoo Garden:

We find Mank and Marion outdoors, away from the glitz and glam of the party, and we witness a true camaraderie blossoming between two fellow New Yorkers, both outcasts in their own way here, in Hollywood (Davies the child of a working-class family from Brooklyn, Mankiewicz the child of German-Jewish immigrants). Mank seems to be the only man (in a world dominated by boys) to notice and appreciate Davies’ intellect. While Marion Davies looks up at Mank, asking him for advice to further her career as an actress, and not only as a prized mistress of a newspaper magnate (Hearst.)

And now we discover the symbolism behind Mank and Marion’s garden walk.

It is past dusk, the sky is laden with plumb and here and there, between the trees, we spot Hearst’s castle-like mansion. The gardens Mank and Marion stroll through have pathways bordered with neatly trimmed hedges in heavy shades of iron and charcoal, while Marion’s dress gleams in the moonlight like a gray pearl.

Marion Davies party dress in movie Mank, glamorous gold or rosebud pink? Symbolism
Marion Davies party dress in movie Mank, glamorous gold or rosebud pink? Symbolism.

What is the symbol behind Marion’s gleaming party dress?

We don’t know what color her dress is. It could be gold, after all, she is a top-ranked Hollywood movie star, but it could just as well be satin pink, to match her rosy cheeks, as Mank states, or perhaps to match Hearst’s private nickname for her, Rosebud.

Symbols and Symbolism in Movie Mank. Moonlight stroll, Marion’s dress gleams in the moonlight like a gray pearl
Symbols and Symbolism in Movie Mank. Photo source Imdb, Netflix

Further they stroll, past monkeys in a cage, just as Marion laments that ‘people think because you’re on the cover of “Modern Screen,” they know you.’ The monkeys flare up and Marion turns towards them and shouts out her anger, ‘Nobody, but nobody makes a monkey out of William Randolph Hearst!’ – then laughs.

The monkeys jump on the cage’s walls, yet they can’t reach Marion – much like a symbol for a flash of paparazzi.

‘Nobody, but nobody makes a monkey out of William Randolph Hearst!’ Marion Davies, symbolism behind the moonlight stroll in Mank
Nobody, but nobody makes a monkey out of William Randolph Hearst!’ (Marion Davies in Mank). Image source Imdb, Netflix

And on Mank and Marion’s stroll, under the moonlight, until they reach the maze made of shrubs, punctuated by garden statues and topiary. We get a sense of opulence even here, away from Hearst’s mansion. The maze is a symbol for crafting one’s future, a task that is never a straight walk. The menagerie of wild animals is a symbol for whimsy, for the make-believe that movie-business is.

The scene is lit by ball-shaped garden lights on stands. They glow in the night like one hundred moons, all casting their light on Hearst’s collection of wild animals. Are Mank and Marion part of this collection? We now spot elephants in the far background.

Symbols and Symbolism in Movie Mank, Mank and Marion enjoy a Moonlight Stroll through Hearst’s Zoo Garden
Symbols and Symbolism in Movie Mank, Mank and Marion enjoy a Moonlight Stroll through Hearst’s Zoo Garden

There is a visual game of sharp shadows here, with Marion’s platinum blond curls glowing as if under their own spotlight, even in the darkness of the night, as though she has a designated spotlight forever shining brightly down on her. It is the spotlight Hearst keeps her under by the use of his newspapers, building her fame, for which he spends millions of dollars.

But Marion’s glowing curls seem to be lighting up the garden as much as the ball-shaped garden lights, presenting her like another one of Hearst’s prized possessions. This media-magnate who controls the news and owns a zoo, with caged monkeys, herds of silent elephants, and giraffes too, also has his very own movie Star, always kept under a spotlight, lit from above.

Among all this madness Mank and Marion share a heart-to-heart conversation by the water fountain. He is in the shadows, she is under the spotlight; a man of many dark shades (a big mouth and addictions) and a glowing Diva.

Mank and Marion’s night garden stroll is their last innocent game before all hell brakes loose; MGM gets involved in politics, Marion Davies leaves MGM for Warner Brothers, Mank writes his script based on Hearst (pulling Marion in it).

Mank and Marion’s night garden stroll is a playful exchange of wits. On one side, we have a gifted actress who is clever enough to understand and accept the compromises she has to make in exchange for ‘making an exit’. On the other side, we have an alcoholic writer who chooses the exact opposite course of action, that of being a participant observer who eventually learns that words throw long shadows even after their entertaining value has evaporated.

Their garden moonlight stroll reveals a game of light and shadow, of night and day, of right and wrong, co-existing, much like life at Hollywood must be, for actors and writers.

Mank and Marion by the fountain, moonlit stroll. Symbols and symbolism
Mank and Marion by the fountain, moonlit stroll. Imge source Netflix

Mank’s Shades of  Black and White

The idea of a black and white film might put off some movie-viewers, yet once watched, the monochrome Mank movie makes sense through its multiple gray-shaded pigments.

It was in keeping with Jack Fincher’s wish, his father and the writer of the original Mank script back in the ‘80s that David Fincher held the production until a production company (Netflix International Pictures) finally accepted to shoot Mank in black and white.

By shooting Mank in black and white, David Fincher forces the viewer to focus on the story and its characters, eliminating the distraction added by splashes of color. The black and white film draws the eye into following the actors, it emphasizes their performance. It is the perfect recipe for a movie that deals with actors portraying other actors.

By shooting Mank in black and white Fincher zoomed in, and brought the story-line and the ‘40s Hollywood drama into focus. His zooming creates an instant nostalgia, but not over a by-gone era, yet over a loss of moral values. It symbolizes Mank’s nostalgia over the debut of his career at Hollywood when all the doors were open, and were gilded, and he seamed to have reached the stars. It is Marion’s nostalgia too, over a time when her career was still on the rise and Hollywood was just that, a movie-making industry, not a business.

Symbols and symbology in Mank, day night, black white, Netflix. What color is Marion's dress?
Mank, black and white, day and night. Image source Netflix

Yet Mank is not monochrome per se. It has plenty of silver in it and this gives the film an aura of eerie wistfulness as if Fincher does more than re-creating the past, he communicates with it, just as Mank does with his flash-backs (communicating in a way with his past self). The use of black and white makes the story-line feel more intense, it has immediacy, we sense Mank approaching his six weeks deadline; we taste his impending need for alcohol; we witness his climbing of the Hollywood ladder and his rapid falling out with Hearst.

Because the movie is in black and white, the audience can relate to Mank’s point of view. Hollywood is not all that glamorous as Mank thought it to be when he first arrived, moving from the east coast and trading his career as a playwright and drama critic for that of a Hollywood screenwriter.

Life in Hollywood is filled with threat, layered corruption, even an underworld of crime that creates weaponized movies, and no-one can escape its suppression. Mank believes he can, by going after Hearst the magnate, by exposing him, escaping his toxic friendship. Mank hopes he can free the monkey in the parable of the “organ grinder’s monkey” (see below for the symbology behind the “organ grinder’s monkey”).

Yet Mank, after the release of the American (Citizen Kane) is never to write another script again. He never works again, he never writes an original screenplay again. And he will never fight for credit again.

Shooting in black and white also afforded Fincher his darkness and shadow signature. At times, Mank the movie looks like a glossy ‘40s magazine, especially when it affords Marion Davies to glow in the scene. And this, the old-world glamour, is something Fincher is familiar with since the times he filmed Madonna’s ‘’Vogue,’ and it is how he shakes off any old-fashioned connotations that might come with making a black-and-white movie in the 21st century.

By shooting in black-and-white, Fincher created a delicate, old-world look that is fit for a contemporary of Citizen Kane rather than a film merely about Kane’s creator (Mank). And Fincher, or rather Ren Klyce, the sound designer, gave it a sound fit for Hollywood’s golden age, warm, albeit crackly, popping, that evokes a sense of remembrance, of daydreaming rather than reality.

Black and white (with the many gray shades in between, with the glistening silver, the pearls, the glowing beige) symbolizes the glamour of classical cinematography. Even the music for the movie has been recorded with older microphones.

The symbolism behind Fincher’s use of black and white to shoot Mank resides in the kaleidoscope of shades of greys found between dark and light, evil and righteousness, corruption and idealism. The two timelines that spiral around one another in Mank, each with their own threads of plots, form a symbolic kaleidoscope-like image in shades of grey, as there is no right or wrong in Hollywood, there is no good choice or bad choice, anything goes as long as it’s for the sake of the movie.

Fincher and Erik Messerschmidt  (Mank’s director of photography) used a RED specially-made black-and-white camera, the RED Monstro Monochrome (Monstrochrome). 

‘The Monstrochrome captures black and white imagery with more precise resolution and enhanced light sensitivity. Capturing monochrome natively is better than shooting in color and then eliminating the saturation in post. What you will get is a real, pure, stunning, accurate black, and white artistic image.’

Y.M.Cinema Magazine

Fincher tells Mark Harris for Vulture that they shot the movie in super-high resolution, then they softened it ‘to an absurd extent to try to match the look of the era’, and added ‘little scratches and digs and cigarette burns.’

Symbolism Behind the Parable of the Organ Grinder Monkey

Mank the movie, Symbolism Behind the parable of the Organ Grinder Monkey
An Organ Grinder Monkey

The parable of the organ grinder monkey is mentioned only twice in Mank, yet it is what fuels Mank in going after Hearts, it is the motor that pushed the action forward.

Mank is the first to mention the parable of the organ grinder monkey to John Houseman.

John Houseman: Why Hearst? Outside his own blonde Betty Boop, you were always his favorite dinner partner.
Herman Mankiewicz: Are you familiar with the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey?

Mank the Movie

What is the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey?

Tagging someone as an “organ grinder’s monkey” means that they do anything a powerful person wants them to do, without having any real power. They make money for their boss without whose presence they are nothing – yet they don’t know it.

Mank first heard about the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey from ‘Willie’ Hearts, during what was to be their last encounter, albeit a drunken one for Mank.

At this moment in time Hearts sees Mank as his grinder monkey, whom he thought to be a “Shakespeare of talking pictures.” Yet Hearts knows that Mank would not have been afforded the audience and the connections he made has it not been for Hearst and his glamorous parties.

And Mank understands the parable of the grinder monkey and his associate with the ape, but it is now, after Sinclair lost the campaign due to Meyer and Thalberg’s smear campaigns; after his friend and co-worker Shelly Metcalf commits suicide, that he just discovers that his words are important. That he can be a monkey without an organ-grinder.

But can he?

It is the same parable, placing Mank as the grinder monkey, that Mank refers to at the beginning of the story, when he chats to Houseman.

Yet Mank sees himself as a monkey who can prove his organ grinder wrong. A monkey who will free himself and will still be able to sing, dance, and receives everyone’s attention.
On his own.
This is why Mank went after Hearst. This is why he fought his demons and finished the screenplay.

Yet no one can destroy the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey, for without his organ-grinder, the monkey is just a primate. While without his monkey, the organ grinder, by definition, can always find himself another monkey.

Perhaps this is what David Fincher and his father Jack Fincher, who wrote the screenplay, tried to prove in the first place, by focusing on Mank’s character. That the monkey can live outside the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey. As Fincher told Mark Harris for Vulture, in an interview, ‘My dad, […] was a journalist, lived by the axiom that the greatest entertainment was written by people who understood the real world.’.

Have they succeeded in giving the monkey a new life in the spotlight? Had they aimed as high as Mank did when writing his screenplay? Or have they shows that the parable is true and that the monkey’s chance of survival without his organ grinder is just in the monkey’s perception?

Either way, I think that the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey will prove to be that gold thread that will render the movie Mank timeless.

Mank by David Fincher is a kaleidoscope in black and white, portraying the golden era of Hollywood in a modern way, with its good and bad, with its stars adorned atop a scaffolding and its moonlit secrets, and with its monkey and organ grinder too. Perhaps Fincher placed less symbols in his movie than I enjoyed picking, but this is the magic of ‘the magic of the movies,’ isn’t it?

Bran Castle, a Historical Door Kept under Key for Centuries

Bran Castle history, Thursday Doors, history

Medieval Bran Castle, located at historical Bran Pass, is a fortress turned legend yet its door had been kept under key for centuries. Discover its story and doors, for Norm’s last Thursday Doors.

Legend says that the Doors to Heaven are here, in Bucegi Mountains, near Bran Pass and Ialomița Cave. That is you climb that peak on a clear winter night, you will be welcomed by a meadow underneath a dome of stars. And the doors to Heaven will be revealed to you. Do not fear missing them, for you will know it by their starry pillars, and by the energy that will seep into your bones.

Bran Castle, a Historical Door Kept under Key for Centuries -  looking up at its entrance
Looking up at its entrance

Bran Pass, a Door to Heaven

Guarded by Bucegi Mountains on the east and Piatra Craiului Highlands, Prince’s Stone, on the west, it is through Bran Pass that, ahead of wintertime, the Dacian shepherds took their flock from the forested mountains of Transylvania down to the warmer and lush hills of Arges County in search of the same endless meadows their forefathers knew. Plains bordered by sweet, unhurried streams.  And through the same pass they returned home before the heat of southern summers, bringing along a new generation of lambs, stories of people speaking a similar tongue, and the wisdom that’s the school of life.

Bran Castle, a Historical Door Kept under Key for Centuries. A door  to Heaven
Bran Castle, a balcony door opening towards Heaven

At a time when names such as Transylvania and Arges were not even the thought of a whisper.

And in same sweet brooks Romans quenched their thirst too. When they took to the mountains of Dacia, the Bucegi, sneaking also through Bran Pass, marching uphill and building a fort at Cumidava (Râsnov today). How many sandals did they tear to shreds on these stones, I wonder?  Later they chose to set a strong hand on Bran Pass, kept it under lock and key.

Wooden carved door at Bran Castle
Wooden carved door at Bran Castle

Bran, a wooden tower

And then, after Transylvania and its Vlach population fell under the stronghold of the Hungarian tribes and Hungary grew to the size of an empire under King Andrew II, Andrew of Jerusalem, it was here, at Brand Pass, that in 1212 Brother Dietrich of the Teutonic Order, with Pope’s explicit blessing, built a wooden sentry post. Bran Pass, known then as Dietrichstein or Toerzburg, became a buffer zone, the Teutonic knights holding the fort, protecting Transylvania’s Burzenland (today Brasov), thus Hungary, against the Cumans and their gruesome raids.

On the geopolitical chessboard, Bran Pass is the pawn holding a secret, that of being promoted. Bran Pass turns now from a bucolic trail into a military Avant-post.

Lovely wood floors and a wooden door near twin windows at Bran Castle
Lovely wood floors and a wooden door near twin windows at Bran Castle

Bran Castle, a state border made of stone

Following the 14th century expansion of the Hungarian Kingdom under Ludovic I of Anjou (the same Anjou family who built the initial Corvin Fortress on a former Roman camp), the privilege was granted to the inhabitants of Brasov to “freely and unforced but in good will, generously and unanimously promised to build a new stronghold in Bran, by themselves, by their own work, by their own money and clear the wood all around,” (The National Archives). It was a good deal for inhabitants of Brasov as their custom taxes have been considerably reduced. A  castle rose in five years due to the increased threat the Ottoman Empire embodied.

Yet Bran stronghold was still Magyar Royal Crown’s property.

Sunny balcony at Bran Castle, wooden finishing offering a soft finish to this old military stronghold
Sunny balcony at Bran Castle, wooden finishing offering a soft finish to this old military stronghold

Bran Stronghold Ruled by Wallachia

We are at the end of the 14th century and the Ottoman wave rises like a tsunami over the Balkans. Hungarian King Sigismund of Luxembourg (architect of the Order of the Dragon) closes ties with Wallachian Voivode Mircea the Elder, Mircea cel Bătrân, grandfather to Vlad Tepes, against the Turkish threat. As a token of his appreciation (or a well-thought plan) he gifts Bran stronghold to Wallachia around 1412. To protect against Turkish invasions, the custom being moved back to Brasov.

Yet Sigismund took back Bran stronghold only fourteen years later, due to economic and military reasons ,and returned it to the citadel of Brasov who held it until the roaring twenties, 1920.

Bran Castle, A Royal Residence

Bran Castle, a Historical Door Kept under Key for Centuries, a heart engraved on a door for Queen Maria
Bran Castle, a Historical Door Kept under Key for Centuries, a heart for Queen Maria

At the end of World War I the Treaty of Trianon finally recognises Transylvania as a non-Hungarian region, reconciling it with Romania.

December 1st, 1920: “We, the members of the Town Council of Brasov – as it is mentioned in the deed of gift – … grant the ancient Bran castle, historically meaningful, to Her Majesty Queen Maria of the Unified Romania.” Queen Maria left Bran Castle to her beloved daughter, Princess Ileana.

Bran Castle- a secondary entrance from the Inner Bailey, a stone column and red carnations.
A romantic corner at Bran Castle- a secondary entrance from the Inner Bailey, a stone column and red carnations.

Sadly, in 1948 Princess Ileana was forced to leave Bran, the castle seized by the communist regime and introduced in Romania’s national patrimony.

Bran Castle, glass and wooden door. Closed. Saying goodbye.
Bran Castle, a stained glass and wooden door that we closed behind us. Saying goodbye.

We were lucky to have visited Bran Castle a few times, yet I am looking forward to seeing it again. It is an intimate fortress, one feels welcomed inside it, a dreamer, a princess, a soldier – at home.

Why You Must Have Transylvania on Your Holiday Destinations List

why you must have Transylvania on your holiday list

Watching over Romania, coming from eternity and traveling into history, echoing of a famous past, Transylvania belongs on any holiday destination list, be it that of a family, of a solitary traveler, or of an adventurous historian buff. National Geographic said it, and here’s exactly why you must visit Transylvania.

Why You Must Have Transylvania on Your Holiday Destinations List

Where should one start when visiting Transylvania? With its medieval cities? Its spectacular fortresses and enchanting castles? Its white or black churches? In search of Dracula, or better Vlad Țepeș, the Impaler? Admiring local art and folklore, perhaps? Or better getting lost in its secular forests? Find it the stories here, on my blog.

Cities of Transylvania for your Holiday List

Put Brașov on your holiday list

One would say, begin with the charming Brașov, an 800 years old city that will bewitch you with the charm of its eclectic architecture, its narrow, winding streets, and the picturesque surroundings that spiral all the way to the top of Tâmpa Mountain.

If you’re not feeling sporty, just let your feet wonder around its maze of streets and admire centuries old doors or slowly climb up to Șcheii Brașovului and learn its history, which began during the 14th century when the Black Church of Brașov started.

Why You Must Have Transylvania on Your Holiday Destinations List, Brasov, Scheii

There is so much to take in while in Brașov. Do remember to look up.

Why You Must Have Transylvania on Your Holiday Destinations List, Brasov, Strada Sforii, Rope Street
Looking up in Brasov, on the very narrow and ancient Rope Street, Strada Sforii

Medieval Sighișoara, a city from Transylvania that you must visit each season

If you journey through Transylvania, ‘the land across the forest’, (searching for Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler or Dracula) and head towards Brasov along the banks of the Big Tarnava River, you will surely spot from quite afar the pointy towers of medieval Sighisoara City, with its centuries old fortress and churches. We traveled there by train one winter.

Once in Sighișoara you simply cannot miss it, the Clock Tower will be the first to welcome you on your journey.

Yes, visiting the house where Vlad the Impaler was born (and discovering its secret entrance) will be next on your list. But there is so much more to medieval Sighișoara, such as the medieval horns adorning one of Sighisoara’s oldest houses, or climbing a medieval staircase to Sighisoara’s hill for more amazing winter scenes and photos.

The significance of Sighisoara City? Discover it beyond its gray rampant walls shadowed by a tumultuous history, by remembering its Saxon merchants and shepherds, as well as its prominent, Draculesti leaders (Vlad the Impaler and his father before him. A journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara is sure to unravel the fortress’ high status. To it contributed its ideal location, at crossroad between Moldavia and Wallachia, and East and Western Europe.

Castles, Fortresses, and Churches of Transylvania that You simply Must See

Făgăraş Castle, Transylvania

In the vicinity of Brașov lies the rocky walls of Făgăraş Castle. The initial fortification was raised with the secular fir trees from its adjacent forests, going back to 12th century. Within its walls, rocking the modern perceptions of the Middle Ages, is the Iron Maiden of Făgăraş Castle.

Engraving of the Făgăraș Citadel by Ludwig Rohbock (~1883)

Did you know that traditionally, the duchies of Almaș and Făgăraş were fiefs of Wallachian prince. Yet John Hunyadi, appointed the Voievode of Transylvania at that time (as Transylvania, although a Romanian county today, was part of the Kingdom of Hungary during he Middle Ages to say the least) seized them. Hunyadi gave Almaș to the citizens of Sibiu and kept Făgăraş for himself. And he knew exactly why.

Brâncoveanu Monastery at Sâmbăta de Sus, a must see in Transylvania

Allow your mind be transported in a time of peace and tranquility within the pure walls of Brâncoveanu Monastery at Sâmbăta de Sus.

If you wonder how a Wallachian Voievode built a monastery in a different principality, know that the hamlet and the land on which the monastery was built belonged to Preda Brâncoveanu, his grandfather. Who even built a small wooden church on it in 1654.

Part of Brâncoveanu’s motivation behind rising this monastery was to strengthen the Orthodox presence in the region at a time when Catholicism rose together with the Habsburg domination over Transylvania (who had just escaped Calvinism). Brâncoveanu wanted to leave a legacy to the Christian religion of Romanians on both sides of the Carpathian mountains (Transylvania and Wallachia).

Corvin Castle, Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle, Transylvania

If you ever wondered how a 15th century wooden door that survived four massive fires that engulfed almost everything else looks like, then you must set a day aside to visit Corvin Castle.

If you like jambs, recesses, and coat of arms, then you will love Corvin Castle and as soon as you will leave you will find yourself planning a return visit. Built over a few hundred years, with so many ups and downs stairs that it is a 3D giant maze, one will surely admire here Gothic stone door frames of the original fortress.

Watching over Romania, coming from eternity, echoing of a famous past, Transylvania belongs on any holiday destination list. Here is why.

To visit Corvin Castle we traveled by train from Bucharest to Brasov for a night over and allowed an entire day only to visit Corvin Castle. We couldn’t have done it without the amazing support and advise of Mr Cornel and Mrs Cristina, the owners of Guesthouse Casa Cristina in Brasov, always welcoming, offering the same top accommodation and a hearty breakfast for the past ten years that we’ve been visiting them (this endorsement is not backed by any financial gain).

Did you know that Corvin Castle was featured in numerous movies?

Folktales and Art of Transylvania to take in during your holiday

It is said in local folktales ~ whispered on moonlit nights ~ that if you glance straight into its shimmering rivers, and long enough that their brightness still flashing behind your closed eyelids, then the fairies, or charmstresses, ielele, as they are known in the sweet Romanian language, have put a spell on you. Watch out, for they might lure you into Transylvania’s millennial and magical forests.

‘Blessed, alluring IELELE,
Mistresses of breeze,
Ladies of the earth and mist,
Through the air you rise,
On the grass you slide,
And on waves you glide.’

Translated from Romanian folklore by Patricia Furstenberg

Wood carving in Transylvania, as everywhere in Romania, often tells a story before becoming art. Worth mentioning is the Folk-Art ~ Romanian Symbols: when carving in wood, the Romanian folk artists puts a lot of thought. Each carving tells a story, some symbols are for protection, others to remember them of the families left behind:

A cross is for protection.
A cross in a circle symbolizes God.
A circle is for eternity, a dot for perfection.
A diamond represents the woman.

Visit Transylvania online, from the safety of your armchair, right now

You can travel to Romania and Transylvania right now via amazing photos because Romania is a country that deserves to be seen. Not many know, but its brave people have watched over the central and western Europe for centuries, acting like a breathing barrier against the Ottoman and Russian powers. Come on over.

Time stands still in Romania. Embrace it, for Transylvania has been known from Prehistory and all the way to Roman Dacia ~ do take kindly to it.

See the kneeling of the twilight,
Hear the hesitation of a footstep at dawn,
Admire old landscapes,
Growing young with the joy they give.
A light that calls
Through history,
Stories that perpetuate,
For each one of us
Is a facet of their reflection.

© Patricia Furstenberg

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Stories and History of Transylvania, Prehistory to Roman Dacia

History-Transylvania-Prehistory-Roman-Dacia

As I stopped to listen to the various stories and history of Transylvania their magic came to me from prehistory to Roman Dacia, through writings and oral traditions, artefacts and ruins. Like a weave of strands of various origin, those of the many European nations whose genetic melting pot boiled down to one population, the Romanian. I sit now under the stars, half way between Orient and Occident, and separate strands so I can tell their stories further.

Yet this green highland and animal heaven hides haunted tombs, caves, and unbelievable riches (salt, copper, gold, silver), fascinating fortresses, and up to this day, a maze of forests. The eagle’s cry speaks of secrets and a faith worth dying for, that of the peasant who caressed the land with his hand, or of the warrior who shed his blood for it. It sings of emotions turned to feelings, feelings that bled into battles.

In Stories and History of Transylvania, Prehistory to Roman Dacia you can read (among other) about:

  • The Paleolithic Civilization of Transylvania Painted Horses on Cave Walls
  • What are the Paleolithic horse paintings of Transylvania telling us
  • How were the cave paintings done?
  • A Paleolithic Skull in Transylvania
  • Neolithic Transylvania Sees a Great Human Migration
  • The boulder head on a Neolithic grave from Gura Baciului, Cluj county, Transylvania, Precriş culture
  • The Gigantic Neolithic Fortress of Turdaș, Hunedoara, Transylvania
  • Transylvania during the Bronze Age (3200 / 2700 – 1100)
  • The Transylvanian Horses of the Bronze Age
  • The “Birth of the Metal” in Transylvania and its Symbolism
  • Transylvania from the Iron Age to Roman Dacia (1 100 BC – 150 AD)
  • What is the Etymology of word Dac? From Warrior Nickname to Ethnic Identity
  • Celtic Tribes visit Transylvania IV – II BC
  • Dacian Gold Kingly Helmet of Coțofenești, Prahova County, Romania 400BC
  • Dacians and Dacia under King Burebista
  • Deceneu, the great King of Dacians from Transylvania
  • Dacians under Burebista and the Silent Temple of Sarmizegetusa
  • The Legacy of the Dacian Civilization
  • Stories and History of Transylvania, the Roman Dacia. Transylvania means "across the forest" - trans means "across", while silvam, silva, means "forest"
    Transylvania, the land across the forest

    Stories and History of Transylvania, the Icy Prehistory

    The Paleolithic Civilization of Transylvania Painted Horses on Cave Walls

    Theirs was a time when gleaming glaciers still covered the earth. During the coldest period all of Scandinavia and most of Germany and Poland were locked beneath a silent ice sheet. Ice covered Scotland and most of Ireland. Europe’s shoreline spread farther than we know it today, that even England joined France. The life belt for animals and the first modern people of Europe was the region at the south, between southern England to Russia

    But even here, snow fell until late June – even today, every Romanian knows that before July 1st the mighty Transfagarasan mountain road might still be closed due to snow. Silent starry nights often transformed dew into ice crystals and as early as October pristine blankets of snow lay across the green land – today, mid-October is the time that still signals the closing of the Transfagarasan road through the Carpathians due to snowfalls.

    January’s howling winds and swirling storms drove herds of game – bison, horses, deer, wolves, wild boar, foxes – towards the protected valleys, for warmth and food. And man followed. On foot and claded in fur, muscular, skilled men followed quietly. Ready for ambush as food was scarce.

    Artwork reveals the diversity and sophistication of ancient people, even if it was realized 100 000 years ago and is shrouded in time’s forgotten cycles. I wonder how much different the artist who painted the caves of Transylvania really was in comparison to Banksy? The Paleolithic artist, too, used their intellectual capacity and creativity which they adapted to their time and place. They, too, pondered over human problems and they, too, had hopes and aspirations.

    Civilizations that developed in Transylvania are as old as the Paleolithic era (100,000 BC) and they left cultural vestiges behind, such as the cave paintings of horse from Cuciulat near Someș river, Sălaj district, in north-west of Transylvania.

    What are the Paleolithic horse paintings of Transylvania telling us

    The cave paintings dating from Paleolithic tell us that Transylvania’s civilization was one of hunters, the men surely fishing too in the abundant rivers nearby, during short summer months. They had weapons, while women would most probably look after their tiny family and gather fruits, wild plants, leading a life in tee-pees sheltered in caves. Their was a life led in small groups. Food was scarce and it had to be followed, ambushed, killed, winter time or not.
    And we can also tell that horses were abundant and important, seen perhaps as a food source (their meat), shelter and clothes (their skin and hair), tools, even weapons (their bones).

    How were the cave paintings done?

    You see the hand print above? The cave painter would have blown powdered pigment through a tube (a hollow stick or reed) to leave an outlined hand-print. A signature or simply a marking of his presence. For colors, he would have used minerals, ochres (earth pigments), burnt bone meal and charcoal mixed into water, blood, even animal fats and tree saps to etch his artwork depicting humans, animals and symbols.

    You see the weapons? See the humans ambush the horses?

    What was the purpose of the cave art? Was it hunting magic? To keep the herds nearby? Were they meant for fertility or for art’s sake? Or just stress relieve? Visual clues for storytelling?

    Were the cave paintings made out of basic human drive towards art and aesthetics, a drive to be surrounded by beauty?

    Whatever the reason for cave painting, the prehistoric man of Transylvania depicted life symbols flourishing under the power of the sun, and chose to do so in one of the darkest spot underground, a cave, as if he wished to bring and lock inside it the everlasting sunlight and its life-giving powers.

    A Paleolithic Skull in Transylvania

    When the 33 000 years old fossilized skull of a Paleolithic adult man, known as the Cioclovina calvaria (a calvaria is a skullcap), shows up in a cave in south-west Transylvania, at Cioclovina, south of Hunedoara (and Corvin Castle) and the skull even displays clear signs of trauma, a scenario worthy of Bones comes to my mind.

    Stories and History of Transylvania, Prehistory to Roman Dacia - right lateral view Cioclovina calvaria exhibiting a large depressed fracture..jpg
    Right lateral view Cioclovina calvaria exhibiting a large depressed fracture – 33 000 years old fossilized skull discovered in south-west of Transylvania, Romania

    What was he doing in this cave? Had he followed some game while other hunters followed him? Or had he stumbled onto a different group’s cave and he was outnumbered? Had he dies engulfed by darkness or by the light of a life giving fire, surrounded by his small family?

    Skipping forward through time, I’ll only mention that tools made of flint and obsidian as well as artifacts dating to the Tardenoisian culture of the Mesolithic period were found in south-east Transylvania – an important finding as similar cultures were known as far as France and Belgium.

    The end of this period marked the end of the last Ice Age, which resulted in the extinction of many large mammals and, as glaciers began to recede in Europe, sea levels rose and climate warmed up, a change that eventually caused man himself to migrate, learn the rudiments of agriculture and turn from watchful hunter to settled farmer.

    Neolithic Transylvania Sees a Great Human Migration

    It appears that the Neolithic population of South Balkan area migrated northwards, bringing their advanced agricultural skills along, such as crop production, animal breeding and mingling, settling among the local groups (Tardenoisian period).

    Archeological sites from Gura Baciului (Cluj county, Transylvania), a Precriş culture, and from Ocna Sibiului (Sibiu county, Transylvania) and their findings tell the story of a Neolithic civilization that lived in underground shelters as well as in homes raised on river stones. Their pottery has geometrical patterns and they created the first clay statuettes. They either bury their dead or incinerate them.

    The boulder head on a Neolithic grave from Gura Baciului, Cluj county, Transylvania, Precriş culture

    When they buried the dead, which they loved and mourned, to honor him and keep him safe from scavengers, they laid him to rest on the floor of the home they shared together. Great care was then taken in the search of an oval shaped boulder in which two eyes and a mouth were carved. The boulder was placed facing west and near the head of the deceased, so that each morning when the sun’s blessed light enters through the open door, the face carved on the boulder is brought to life. Then, and only then, the deceased’s body was incinerated and the family deserted their home.
    At Gura Baciului and westwards there is a hill, perhaps the equivalent of the mountain guarding Netherworld.

    Starčevo-Criş culture in the Intra-Carpathian territory (Transylvania)

    Stories and History of Transylvania, Prehistory, Neolithic Starcevo-Cris-pottery

    Perhaps a continuation of the Gura Baciului-Precriş culture, the Neolithic Starčevo-Criş culture of Transylvania left us beautiful burned pottery, the first small copper items and dwellings placed wherever the landscape permitted.

    Distribution of Neolithic Criş/Starčevo/Körös culture shows an inhabited Neolithic Transylvania
    Distribution of Neolithic Criş/Starčevo/Körös culture – including Transylvania ( Map by Susanne Geck for source)

    The Neolithic Vinca – Turdaș culture painted wheat on pottery

    A new wave of migrations from Balkan Peninsula brings to Transylvania the polished black pottery and the Vinča culture, named Vinča – Turdaș in Transylvania due to its strong local influences (the Starčevo-Criş traditions) such as the clay used for pottery making and the small altars with feet:

    The Gigantic Neolithic Fortress of Turdaș, Hunedoara, Transylvania

    Discovered only in 2013 during work on a local national road, the only gigantic Neolithic fortress of Turdaș culture was built near Mureș river (easy to travel on) in 4 200 BC, covering 100 hectares, and was raised 1 600 years before the Pyramids of Egypt. This city-fortress had 1 300m of fortifications and 6 – 7 km of fortified wood walls built of spikes, with defense towers and entrance gates. Inside, this city fortress had roads, houses and even neighborhoods.
    Archeological findings tell of human sacrifices performed as rituals so the fortress will thrive and stay protected.
    Proof that the fortress was a spiritual center is shown by the many statues depicting deities. Many of these statues are identical, suggesting local manufacturing after which the statues were transported outside the walls, perhaps to other spiritual centers.
    Pottery was thriving, with over 60 ovens discovered, and weaving was also developed as well as manufacturing of copper tools. (Image source Malus Dacus).

    The Vinča – Turdaș culture was a Neolithic archaeological culture in southeastern Europe, present-day Serbia, parts of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Romania (particularly Transylvania, but also Oltenia, Banat, Moldavia, west of Muntenia, and north of Moldova), dating to 5700–4500.

    The existence of mining areas in Transylvania at this time confirms the local population’s metallurgical knowledge of copper, gold, tin and iron.
    The pottery discovered here had painting of wheat on it, proving that agriculture was also developed. Zigzag and spiral patterns symbolize moving waters feeding the earth, while the astral bodies painted on pottery prove human’s connection with the spiritual forces, all created by the Transylvanian populace.
    A new addition, the homes are now fortified.

    The Turdaș culture was build on a hierarchy ruled by a king, while the Cucuteni (located in northwest Romania towards the north) knew an agricultural, matriarchal and peaceful lifestyle.

    Could this Turdaș culture mark the place of the first ever kingdom in the history of the world? The Egyptian culture existed only later, during 3 000BC.

    It could be, as the statues belonging to this culture depict men siting on a throne, a symbol of royalty:

    What is sure is that the archeological site of Turdas fortress is the wealthiest site in Europe.

    Worth mentioning and remembering is that all the future cultures in the Carpathian-Danube space (excluding Hamangia) draw their roots from the Vinča – Turdaș culture.

    It is believed by some historians (Marija Gimbutas) that the rich valley of Danube river (marking today’s south border of Romanian) attracted the nomadic Indo-European herders from the northern steppe, the warrior Kurgani, and that this put an end to the Turdaș and Cucuteni cultures.

    But the rich valley of Danube attracted travelers from Western Europe too (Celtic tribes), marking the beginning of the Indo-Europeanization process (2700-1800 BC), as well as the evolution of the Thracian-Dacian civilization (10th century BC – 1st century AD).

    The Neolithic culture of Petreşti, Transylvania

    Petreşti culture was of Transylvanian origin, known for its rhombus, square and spiral patterns in red and brown. Needles and fishing hooks were made of copper, while gold was used for decorations made through hammering, marking the beginning of goldsmiths in Transylvania.

    Decea Mureşului culture and Gorneşti with its (high-necked milk pots) , both present in Transylvania, are also worth mentioning.

    Transylvania during the Bronze Age (3200 / 2700 – 1100)

    Bronze Age Era left us a rich array of cultures, another proof of the busy life of prosperous inhabitnts of Transylvania’s land as well as all over Dacia, and today’s land of Romania.

    What was their everyday life like?

    Farmers would use ploughs on the fields and this, as well as irrigations, would yeld more crops in late summer days, the use of axes chopped down more trees, faster, and the use of domestivated horses made it easier for man to crry the wood where it was needed. Rafts went down the rivers. New homes, bigger hmes, rose next to each other. Cities emerge. Walls were plastered, roofs were fixed, again and again, for man stayed put. Herders busied themselves with more cattles, more diverse too, which meant dairies were introducd in the diet, and more wool was available for more diverse clothes, warmer too. Then women would grind grain or tend hearths. Diverse metal working skills gave birth to household and luxury goods as well as fine jewellery. And women would gaze at themselves in obsidian mirrors. Trade in metals and goods took place over long distances. Some people grew rich and powerful. Society became more diverse.

    The Coţofeni of Transylvania, Early Bronze Age

    The mid-Danube and south-eastern central Europe, including Transylvania, experience now the Baden – Coţofeni culture. Copăceni culture develops in central Transylvania, in today’s Cluj county and along Someş rivers.
    Their main pursuits were agriculture, animal breeding and ore extraction. Their pots’ rims are thickened and decorated with rope impressions, yet the most important development of this era is considered to be the single-edged axe.
    Other cultures (Şoimuş and Jigodin) developed in parallel, in different areas of Transylvania.

    I would like to mention the Periam-Pecica on Mureş culture near today’s Arad city, while the Transylvanian Plateau saw by the Wietenberg culture, namely the Lăpuş group in today’s Maramures and Cehăluţ in Crisana. Most of these cultures have solar symbols (spirals, crosses with spirals, spiked wheels, rays) in their pottery design.

    The sun still washes over the Mureş river. Below, a boatman tends to the ferry in 1900, it would have been a raft in the Bronze Age – once again the river becoming a bridge, as well as a source of food. Man, sun and water, a scene reminiscent of life thousands of years ago. Then, the Periam-Pecica culture, and the Lechinţa one, would have dominated the area, an innovative way of life like nothing the valley of the Mureş river has experienced before, gleaming bright for a few centuries, before fading.

    Bronze Age and XX century cultures along the Mures river - Below, a boatman tends to the ferry in 1900,

    It is from these times that the culture from Lechinţa de Mureş (Mureş county, Transylvania) left us a fragment of a cult wagon adorned with sheep-goat heads (protomes, adornments in the shape of an animal or human torso), as well as a a gold axe with a detailed engraving of a human and a bovine silhouette, part of the Ţufalău thesaurus (Covasna County, Transylvania).

    Archeological findings dating from the Bronze Age and discovered in the intra-Carpathian space, Transylvania, tell stories of a settled population busy with farming (buckwheat, chick-peas and sesame seeds), animal breeding (pigs, oxen, sheep, goats, horses – the fast Dacian horses being renowned) next to apiculture, viticulture, hunting, fishing, crafting, tool making (metal scythes, sickles, spades, pickaxes, rakes) and metallurgy (iron, copper, silver, gold aplenty), and, of course, pottery. The establishments become further fortified during the 2nd millennium BC, presenting ditches and palisades.

    Dacians living in today’s Transylvania and adjacent territories led a plentiful lifestyle, knowing a better, more diverse food that meant a longer life expectancy, over the 32.5 years average of the Neolithic era.

    As this is Transylvania, we should remember the surrounding mountains that provided not only game and fruits, but also timber, copper, gold and silver, salt too, a treasured commodity. And the Greeks highly appreciated the wood from Transylvanian forests, ideal for boar building, and its salt.

    Words of Dacian origin related to viticulture are still in use today in Romanian language: butuc (stump), strugure (grape), curpen (tendril).

    Stories and History of Transylvania, Prehistory to Roman Dacia - The Transylvanian horses of the Bronze Age

    The Transylvanian Horses of the Bronze Age

    The presence of horses around the homesteads would have revolutionized the transport, the trade and the communications during the Bronze Age in Transylvania, as well as between Transylvania and the neighboring provinces.

    Use of horses tells us of the use of wagons with big wheels, then with spikes, as well as of better roads. Men became more economically productive and thus they acquired a dominant position within the family and in society.

    Why domesticating horses in Transylvania during Bronze Age was important

    The domestication of horses during Bronze Age Transylvania is of great importance as it could have taken place even before the first known evidence of equine domestication, the Sintashta-Petrovka graves (approx. 2 800- 1 600 BC)

    But above progress, the archeological findings prove that a well developed community was settled in Transylvania, the connection between humans and the ground being proof of a flourishing community,economically, socially and culturally.

    The “Birth of the Metal” in Transylvania and its Symbolism

    The ‘birth of the metal’ was the Bronze Age society’s view on metallurgy, namely on the conversion of minerals to metal by means of fire. It was a process accompanied by rituals, magic formulas, and chanting performed around the kiln.

    Perhaps blacksmiths were the first wizards, for during the ‘birth of the metal’ they associated the ground with the woman’s belly, the mine with the womb, and the ore with the embryo.

    The Transylvanian type axe was greatly exported, having been found in archeological sites near Bug river (Poland), Oder river (Czech Republic) or Elbe river (Germany).

    Religion during the Bronze Age era in Transylvania

    Plenty carvings of solar symbols were discovered, such as continuing spirals, simple crosses or crosses with spirals, spiked wheels, rays.
    Cult practices would have been performed in group, marking human and yearly timelines, as well as in various outdoor locations (although remains of a great hall, a megaron, were found north-west of Transylvania, at Sălacea, Crișana county, Romania).

    The 1 150 kg Treasure from Uioara de Sus, Alba, Transylvania

    Bordering the Bronze Age and the Iron Age is the 1150 kg treasure unearthed at Uioara de Sus, Transylvania, containing arms, tools, jewellery, bronze cakes (5812 pieces) –source.
    Only 1 000 steps away at Şpalnaca, also in Alba, Transylvania, two thesauri were unearthed, one weighing 1 200kg, of of thousands of items, and a second one consisting of 120 bronze items.

    Finding gold during the Bronze Age in Transylvania

    Transylvania’s mountains and valleys were abundant in copper, silver and gold. Through archeological findings we can be certain that the way gold was obtained (by mining on the surface or in the shallow valleys of rivers and landslides) and washed during the Bronze Age is not far from the ways of washing the gold-bearing stones today.
    The archeological findings from Lăpuş, Maramureş, Transylvania, dating to Bronze Age are the richest assemblages discovered in the eastern contemporary Carpathians region (source).

    Transylvania from the Iron Age to Roman Dacia(1 100 BC – 150 AD)

    Exciting to this era are the number of similar findings spread over the entire Carpathian Danubian space proving that the culture of the Geto-Dacians developed and individualized itself from southern Thracians and other neighboring tribes.

    Transylvania from the Iron Age to Roman Dacia, Dacia I BC - II AD
    Transylvania from the Iron Age to Roman Dacia, Map of Dacia I BC – II AD – source

    From the historian and geographer Strabon (63 BC – 23 AD) we know that Dacians lived in the mountainous area of Transylvania, towards the valley of Mures river, while the Getae lived on the valleys neighboring Danube’s Big Boilers (Porțile de Fier) and all the way to where Danube met the Black Sea. Strabon also tells us that the Dacians and the Getae spoke the same language, while the Greeks considered the Getae a Thracian tribe.

    The Getae were “the noblest as well as the most just of all the Thracian tribes”.

    Historian Herodotus

    Here is a little story about the humble nature of the Getae:

    After Getae king Dromichaetes (300 BC) won the war against Thracian king Lysimachus (successor of Alexander the Great and ruling Thrace, Asia Minor and Macedon), to show his respect towards the bravery of the opponent army Dromichaetes ordered a great feast. During this feast the Getae ate with the same wooden spoons and plates they always used, while the Thracian prisoners and Lysimachus received gold spoons and plates and were afterwards released.

    Thus, Dromichaetes wished to prove that a rich kingdom like the one ruled by Lysimachus is in no need of a poor land like the one his people occupied. Dromichaetes also release Lysimachus knowing that freeing an enemy king would bring them greater political advantage than his punishment.

    “The Getae people are wiser than all barbarians and even wiser than the Romans.”

    Dion Hrisostomos (40 – 120 AD), Greek philosopher

    What is the Etymology of word Dac? From Warrior Nickname to Ethnic Identity

    There are quite a few theories as to how the Dacian people received their name and the etymology of dac, dáoi.

    In his book From Zalmoxix to Genghi Han, Romanian religious historian, philosopher and writer Mircea Eliade writes that when a nation’s ethnicity is the image of an animal, there is always a religious explanation behind it. A deity, or a mythical character that could change itself into a wolf or had special powers. But we don’t have such proof for our Dacians.

    Dacian Draco flag, wolf head with several metal tongues and a dragon body
    Dacian Draco flag, wolf head with several metal tongues and a dragon body

    We know from Strabon that Dacians were the first to call themselves dáoi (wolves). In Phrygian, the language of the Indo-European people, dáos meant wolf. But it wasn’t only the Indo-European tribes that called themselves or were named after a wolf. In Spain, Ireland and England there were similar tribes too.

    Another explanation is that dáos, dáoi, was the nickname given to:

    • groups of young men who had to prove themselves able to survive outside their community while hide and live from their prey.
    • immigrants in search of a new territory to settle or outlaws, fugitives looking for a sheltered land, as the wolf was the symbol of the fugitive and the gods protecting them also had names deriving from wolf.
      Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome city, were sons of wolf-god Mars, fed by a she-wolf, (lupa in Latin, lup in Romanian) on the banks of Tiber river, on the site of future Rome. The twins became leaders of a band of adventurous youths.
    • ritualistic ability to turn into a wolf, especially by wearing the skin of one – as performed during military initiations, as a true warrior was expected to be as fearless as a wild animal. Also, by wearing the skin of a wolf the warrior would leave behind any human traits, such as the fear of going into battle, fear to be killed, inability to kill other humans. Or wearing the skin of a wolf reinforced the belief that after death the warrior will be reborn as a fearless, enlightened animal.

    Up until today one of the Christmas Romanian traditions asks of carolers to wear the mask of a wolf (goat or bear) during the twelve days before Christmas and until Boboteaza, Epiphany, January 6th.

    Up until today one of the Christmas Romanian traditions asks of carolers to wear the mask of a wolf (goat or bear) during the twelve days before Christmas and until Boboteaza, Epiphany, January 6th.

    So Dacians, this brotherhood of warriors, were the first to call themselves wolves, or those who are like the wolves, dáoi. And the name spread, especially during the ruling of Burebista and Decebalus, when Dacians emerged as brave warriors. Strabon writes that at any given time the Dacian army numbered 200 000 souls.

    The name Dacians was especially used in writings by Latin historians, while the Greeks used the term Getae.

    Celtic Tribes visit Transylvania IV – II BC

    Celtic tribes from the West also visit the Danube plains and the north of Transylvania (they stopped short of Maramureş, in the north). Between 4th – 2nd century BC the Celts here established a co-existence and a fusion with the local population of Dacians that was still surpassing them in number.
    Around 150 BC a rise in Dacian authority probably under the ruling of Dacian King Rubobostes sees the Celtic tribes thrown out of Transylvania heading southwards. Yet as long as the Celtic tribes shared common ground with Dacians, they coexisted in peace as artifacts prove – Celtic and Dacian graves fund side by side.

    Over 600 archeological sites of which 26 fortifications from the First Iron Age, Hallstatt, were discovered across the territory of Transylvania, most of which were occupied at all times. The fortifications, davae (one = dava), had stone strongholds and were built on a system of circular belts allowing the defender, if such a stronghold was in danger of being lost, to retreated behind an inner belt through secret gates. The fortresses also had ditches, rampant and palisades.

    Such fortresses were raised on inaccessible elevations, close to fresh water sources and fertile areas for agriculture. Within their walls there were metallurgical workshops that allowed Geto-Dacians to manufacture their weapons and tools, an indication that fortresses housed skilled craftsmen too, but weaving, spinning and leather manufacturers too.
    Throughout the years fortresses were built as a defense against the Celts, the Sarmatians and the Romans.
    Worth mentioning and all in Transylvania are the Dacian fortresses from Cluj, Dej, Huedin, Someşul Rece, and Orăştie Mountains (Hunedoara county) – Blidaru fortress. The fortified settlement from Ciceu-Corabia (Bistriţa-Năsăud County), or the 30 hectares Teleac fortress (Alba County) also bear witness to a well developed nation. During the 1st millennium BC the fortresses are further strengthened with stone walls.

    Large quantities of animal bones were fund in or near such settlements, cattle, sheep, swine, a clear indication of domestic animals and the importance of meat in the daily diet.

    Magic practice were linked with fertility rituals, the change of seasons too, while spiral and sun rays on pottery suggest a religion inclined to worship the Sun but also the underworld.

    Dacian Gold Kingly Helmet of Coțofenești, Prahova County, Romania, approx. 400BC

    Dacian Kingly Helmet of Coțofenești, Prahova County, Romania, approx. 400BC, weighing 770 grams, made of massive gold.

    Dacian Kingly Helmet of Coțofenești was made by hand hammering from one piece of gold.

    Worth noticing are the eyes and angry eyebrows carved on it, supposedly with apotropaic powers, to avert evil influences or bad luck.

    It indicates the existence of full-time craftsmen.

    The helmet was unearthed in 1928 by a primary school child 🙂

    When the Persians under Darius the Great marched through the Balkans, campaigning against the Scythians (found in central Eurasia), the Thracian tribes surrendered to Darius and only the Getae offered resistance.

    According to Herodotus (ancient Greek historian), the Getae were “the noblest as well as the most just of all the Thracian tribes”.

    Dacians and Dacia under King Burebista

    During the middle of the first century BC the Dacians living on current day Romanian territory, especially Transylvania, were led by Burebista (82-44 BC) who even offered military assistance to Roman General Pompey in the civil war against Julius Caesar in 48 BC.
    This time represents a classical period for the Geto-Dacian La Tène culture.

    Burebista, “the first and greatest of the kings of Thrace.”

    The Dionysopolitan decree made in honor of Acornion

    and,

    “leading his people, the Dacians, Burebista raised them so high that even Romans feared him”

    Historian and geographer Strabo (63 BC – 23 AD)

    while Dacian kingdom reached its widest borders under his ruling. And it was Burebista who moved the location of the capital city from Argedava (perhaps today Popești, Mihăilești district in Giurgiu County, Muntenia)to the newly built Sarmizegetusa and tightened the religious reigns on his people with the help of Dacian’s Great Priest Deceneu (philosopher, astronomer, who also ruled Dacia after the political plot that eventually killed Burebista in 44 BC).

    How Dacians looked like - a Genuine Dacian,  National Military Museum, București.
    How Dacians looked like – a Genuine Dacian, National Military Museum, București.

    Deceneu, the great King of Dacians from Transylvania

    From 6th century Roman historian Jordanes and his work Getica we know that Deceneu became a great king that not only ruled over all the Dacians of Transylvania, but also taught them philosophy, physics, astronomy, how to follow and use the phases of the moon in agriculture, the zodiac signs and the art of war, but most of all theology and how to be good Christians and stray away from the cult of wine and Dyonisos’ sacred grapes – something Dacians were quite fond of.

    As with most fortifications of political and military importance, they often turned into large villages.
    The Geto-Dacians worships one god, Zalmoxis, their religion being centered on three beliefs:

    • belief in reincarnation, metensomatosis;
    • belief that the soul survives after death in a happy place;
    • belief that life is worse than death, although the soul is mortal, which explains why Getae warriors were not afraid of death.

    Dacians also had wide medical knowledge (as proves the medical chest discovered at Sarmizegetusa), were skilled in astronomy (at Sarmizegetusa there is still visible a calendar-temple), and according to Romanian historian Constantin Daicoviciu Dacian scholars used first the Greek alphabet and then the Latin one, under the Roman occupation.

    Dacians under Burebista and the Silent Temple of Sarmizegetusa

    As the Roman Empire expanded, its fleets advanced along the Rhine and the Danube to protect its borders.
    I do remember learning about the first Roman – Dacian confrontation and how the Romans crossed the Danube on a bridge made of boats in a spot close to today’s Iron Gates (Porțile de Fier).

    Sarmizegetusa Regia, Great Circular Sanctuary, Sacred Area
    Sarmizegetusa Regia, Great Circular Sanctuary, Sacred Area

    Decebal defeated them at Tapae, a natural passage through the mountains, in an attempt to guard Sarmizegetusa, Dacia’s main political city.

    It was here, in Orăștie Mountains, that Dacians built a series of over 40 highly reinforced fortresses.

    Sadly, after Burebista the great Dacian kingdom fragmented itself and different kings ruled the smaller kingdoms that emerged until Decebal (87 -106 AD) came to power, “skilled in the art of was and a great leader and tactician,” and united almost all the Dacians that Burebista had ruled over.

    Sarmisegetusa Regia - Templele patrulatere mici - Zona sacra – Gradistea Muntelui, Muntii Sureanu, Hunedoara,Transylvania, Romania
    Ruins of Sarmizegetusa Regia, Dacia’s main political city 1st century BC – The small rectangle temples – The Sacred Area – Gradistea Muntelui, Sureanu Mountains, Hunedoara, Transylvania, Romania

    Sarmizegetusa Regia was built over five terraces on an area covering around 30,000 square meters. The walls were raised using the murus dacicus technique invented by Dacians, Latin for Dacian walls, using regular-sized stone blocks and no mortar.

    The sacred area of ultimate importance comprised of a large circular and a rectangular sanctuaries and several smaller temples whose columns are still visible today. Seven sanctuaries had been unearthed, dedicated to Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Triads, Mercury, Venus, the Moon, while the 7th is the Dacian Pantheon.

    An artefact still present at Sarmizegetusa Regia is the Andesite Sun, a massive circular block of rock, 7 meters in diameter, used as sundial. Ten rays are incrusted upon its surface. The Andesite Sun’s solar rays point to the peaks of surrounded mountains. A pavement of Andesite slabs arranged like rays around it for the Sacred Precincts.

    The Legacy of the Dacian Civilization

    The legacy of the Dacian civilization is overwhelming, not in the least limited to artifacts and a vast number of known and unknown archeological sites. And not limited to the territory of modern day Romania either, for from a Geo-political point of view Dacia (as the Romanian provinces have been throughout the centuries) was a true frontier, a buffer zone, zone between empires and cultures, between East and West; the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Federation in the East and the Western European powers, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Germany.

    Roads from Greece, Rome and Egypt passed through Dacia. Riches from its underground spread around the world From language to music, from traditions to legends, the Dacian legacy played a decisive role in the shaping of the fecund Romanian folklore, part of which created the scaffolding on which Transylvania and with it the greatest Romania reveal themselves and continuously markets themselves to the world.

    Europe during 1 BC must have been an interesting time, with so many tribes mingling and influencing one another, much like the waves of an ocean spilling on sandy shores.
    Yet three nations were standing out, the Romans, the Celts and Dacians.

    Still to follow:

    Transylvania during the Roman Dacia until 4th century AD

    Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight

    Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages

    Romanian Transylvania, It’s Origin and Etymology

    Sources for Stories and History of Transylvania, Prehistory to Roman Dacia:

    Astalos C, Sommer U., Virag C., Excavations of an Early Neolithic Site at Tăşnad, Romania
    Boroffka, N., Depozitul de la Uioara de Sus/The Deposit from Uioara de Sus
    Comsa, A, Szücs-Csillik, I., Andesite Sun in Carpathian Mountain
    Dacus M., Proiectul ‘Romania Enigmatica’
    Eliade, M., De la Zamolxis la Genghis-Han. Studii comparative despre religiile şi folclorul Daciei şi Europei Orientale, 1980
    Floru, Ion S., Istoria Romanilor, Cursul Suoerior de Liceu, 1929
    Kacsó, Metzner-Nebelsick, Nebelsick, New Work at the Late Bronze Age Tumulus Cemetery of Lăpuş in Romania
    Larousse Encyclopedia of Ancient & Medieval History

    Love novels filled with history?

    Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

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