Time Stands Still in Romania and Taking Kindly to It

Time Stands Still in Romania, road to Vama Bran Castle

I am telling you, time stands still in Romania – or in any other place in the world, if one was born there. So let’s all take kindly to it.

We have snapshots saved in our mind, of trees in autumn or summer sunsets peeking between traffic, of old buildings and tramway rides, snapshots accompanied by scents and sounds. Lindens in bloom, snow crunching underfoot, hot summer dancing over asphalt, the first tram echoing in rhythm each morning. Easy to remember, yet forgotten until we spot the same place again, hear the same chime, or a scent washes over us, two decades later. Time stands still in the spot where one was born.

A Romanian saying goes like this: eternity was born in a hamlet. And how much truth lies in it…

A hamlet, the simplest form of rural settlement whose population measures its life between sowing and plowing, its spirit still tightly woven in its ancestor’s web of traditions and beliefs. Here, life is an oasis of peace and eternity.

Sure, 21st century arrived in the form of a train station – soon abandoned for no one got off and nobody ever left. And the modern lifestyle came in the form of a cellphone tower too. For whose benefit is still a mystery, since locals don’t use such modern technology and no tourists set foot along their main road either. Only the cows stir its dirt in the morning, and again in the evening when each one knows exactly through which gate to push to arrive home.

With kerchiefs over their heads, a habit they picked it up as children, and blouses with hand stitched flowers motifs, spirals and crosses too, women here smile a lot, speak little, cook finger licking, simple meals, and worry and pray. And their men look after them, and after their crops and their herds, are quick in temper, yet soft in the look they give you, guarded by thick eyebrows.

Time Stands Still in Romania, road to Bran Castle

And, with their cows coming and going, with the sun rising at the rooster’s call and setting in the hushing of the leaves and the singing of the crickets, these people live for today.

For today is eternal, as much as the clouds are overhead and the land underfoot. Yesterday is gone like the storm, taking its thunder with it. Tomorrow might never come, although it is a promise from God. And He always keeps His word. But today, today is eternal, and because of this time stands still in a hamlet in Romania.

Time Stands Still in Romania, road to Vama Bran Castle
Time Stands Still in Romania, taking kindly to it, on the road to Bran Castle Medieval Border (Bran Pass)

I snapped the picture above while we drove from Sinaia to Bran. Very near this spot was the medieval border of Bran Castle, close to the Bran Pass, that was the 14th century toll gate between Transylvania and Wallachia.

It was through here that caravans loaded with merchants’ goods passed between the two principalities. The mountainous and rugged terrain, the relatively narrow pass and the vast coniferous forests, made the route quite risky for caravans.

But Bran Castle was also a point of defense – especially against Turk invasions – and therefore the establishment of a border point here was necessary and soon became profitable for the entire area.

Prince Mircea the Elder, Voivode of Wallachia, was the one who, through a privilege granted to Brasov merchants, established the customs of Wallachia in 1413 atTurciu (today Bran). The medieval Bran customs point was defended against robbers by guards that were backed-up by guards from Bran Castle. Due to their importance, the customs buildings will be rebuilt and consolidated over centuries. It was at the end of the 15th century that Bran border point became the responsibility of merchants from Brasov, Transylvania.

Just imagine, it was through these woods that Vlad Tepes and his brave men, his Viteji, rode back and forth.

But more about this in my next book 🙂

Squarres Photography

Time Stands Still in Romania and Taking Kindly to It is my contribution to Becky’s incredible October Squares #KindaSquare blog feature. Do have a look 🙂

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Corvin Castle, Kinda Historical Doors

Corvin Castle, Kinda Historical Doors

The solitary Corvin Castle hides many secrets and legends, all guarded by historical doors. If this is your first visit, then do open Corvin Castle’s most ancient door too, and read what stories this kinda old fortress inspires.

Corvin Castle, view from the noble’s main kitchen and its arched door towards the White Tower. If you look closely you can see the stone wall at the bottom, and the later built wall above, consisting of bricks and even plaster.

Next you can admire another access door into the kitchen with more building timeline easy to notice on the wall. First stones were brought from Zlaști River nearby in 1299. Construction and repairs went on till the 17th century, with more renovations afterwards.

Next is the Corvin Castle – bolted door of its renaissance lapidarium, guarding more secrets. It was locked, believe me 😉 A lapidarium is a place where stone (Latin: lapis) monuments and fragments of archaeological interest are exhibited. Bones too, but this is a story for another time.

Corvin Castle, Kinda Historical Doors

More historical doors opening from the outside Gothic gallery of Corvin Castle, facing the main courtyard:

Corvin Castle- Gothic gallery

Corvin Castle a well courtyard stone door and looking from the cellar into the Inner Courtyard:

I will leave with one of Corvin Castle’s secret doors, one well hidden. But is it out of use?
and…
the door to the torture tower:

Squarres Photography

Corvin Castle, Kinda Historical Doors, is a contribution to Becky’s incredible October Squares #KindaSquare blog feature.

Also for Thursday Doors Norm’s weekly feature, allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Create post and share your link anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time). 

The Spiral Staircase, from Symbol to Mystery

spiral staircase symbol mystery

Carved out of stone or wood, to defeat or hide a secret passage, the spiral staircase still stands the test of time like a question mark between symbol and mystery.

In the perfect twilight of the room the girl was waiting, her hand on the banister of a spiral staircase, her mind a tornado of thoughts. Should she go up, towards the unknown? Was the spiral she was confronted with a symbol of a destiny written in her DNA, unavoidable, or a chance encounter mystery?

Usually narrow, often tucked away in the corner of a room, carved in stone or build out of luscious wood, a spiral staircase is like a mysterious creature watching you from the shadows. Alluring. Daring. Playful. Dare you take the challenge?

The Spiral Staircase from Symbol to Mystery, Bran castle, staircase
Above and below, staircases of Bran Castle, Romania

A spiral staircase is a confined space that obscures from sight what lays ahead, be it above or underneath you, and offering only two options: up or down. Or an open cavity that tricks you by deceitfully offering physical support while playing with your inner sense of equilibrium, spinning you out of balance as you descent into the unknown.

Either way, be it the glimpse of a promise, of something fascinating once reaching its top, or the 50 / 50 gamble that a sinister outcome might be lurking at its bottom, proves irresistible. And you take the first step.

The spiral staircase, stairs with a purpose. Which one?

Built to reach bird-level heights while conserving space, to solve a comfort or a safety issue, the movement one follows along a spiral stairway is influenced by the location of the stair, the amount of natural light, the material (medieval stone, classic wood, or modern steel), the stair’s geometry, and the presence of handrails (if any).

The spiral staircase appeared as a key element intent to fluidity the circulation in any multi-story building, and perhaps its first intent was for private use.

Would you run up a spiral staircase? Would you tiptoe up? Would you use a candle to light your way or trust the moonlight sliding through the top?

Just don’t run up a staircase with a sword in your right hand as you will find it difficult to maneuver upwards, especially on clock-wise winding stairs. Perhaps this is why spiral staircases were used as a defense mechanism in medieval castles. Just imagine how the attackers of a tower could not storm up in a group, but had to go up one by one along a narrow path. Less defenders stood a far better chance to protect and survive.

Below: the stone spiral staircase of the Catacombs of Paris, France (exit):

The spiral, a symbol

I can’t resist a spiral staircase. The sight of it, so similar to the DNA’s double helix, reminds me of the human (sub)conscious desire to achieve higher. Its spiral, like a maze of self-discovery through movement and sight, is both a riddle and a promise. It could be a secret passage way between two levels, or the chance to evolve, to self-discover, to take a risk.

Be it an iconic structure or an architectural inner whisper, take this trip with me along spiral staircases and let’s travel the world.

A Timeline of Spiral Staircases

First ever spiral staircases were mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as existing some 3000 years ago. These two spiral staircases were part of Solomon’s Temple and used to access a sacrificial altar.

Searching for actual archaeological remains, the earliest example of a spiral staircase is in the Greek Temple A in Selinunte, Sicily, (built c. 490–460 BC). A really skillfully engineered spirals of the ancient Greco-Roman empire.

The Spiral Staircase from Symbol to Mystery, the Greek Temple A in Selinunte, Sicily - the earliest example of a spiral staircase
the Greek Temple A in Selinunte, Sicily – the earliest example of a spiral staircase

Still standing in Rome today is marble-built Trajan’s Column (built 113 AD) and this seems to be the oldest ‘preserved’ spiral staircase in the world.

Did you know that the outside of the column is covered with reliefs depicting the victories of Trajan’s army in the Dacian wars? Dacians were the forefathers of the Romanian people.

There are over 2000 marble carvings that spiral upward depicting the Roman – Dacian Wars (there were two of them) along Trajan’s Column, but its one overlooked characteristic is definitely the winding staircase hidden inside. Windows strategically placed allow enough light for the visitors walking up the stairs, but it is well worth it as at the top there is a viewing platform overlooking the Markets of Trajan, Trajan’s Forum, Capitol Hill, and the Campus Martius. Marcus Aurelius Column (176–192 A.D.) also has a spiral staircase inside. But Romans did not commonly use spiral staircases in buildings until after the third century.

Below: stone spiral staircase at Fagaras Castle, Romania:

Other impressive spiral staircases are located at the Baths of Caracalla (212–16 A.D.), the Baths of Diocletian (298–305 A.D.) and the Mausoleum of Constantia (c. 350 A.D.) among many others.

In Spain, the oldest spiral staircase is located at the archaeological area of the Roman villa of Las Gabias (6 century A.D.), south Granada.

More great spiral staircases are found at the Abbey Church at Cluny and Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris (France); the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Köln and the Cathedral of St. Peter in Worms (Germany); and the Cathedral in Durham and in Canterbury (England).

Perhaps it is the years of history trapped in a staircase, the symbol it stood for, as well as the excitement to climb it and the anticipation of the mystery, of the view at the top what make any spiral staircase well worth a climb. Like this spiral staircase below, located in the Clock Tower of medieval fortress of Sighisoara, Romania:

Spiral staircase design had to wait for the development of the craft guilds that took place during the Middle Ages – so that extra technical skills required in their extended construction develop. Now they were mostly used to prevent the invaders from gaining access in castles. It is of importance to know here that the Gothic stone-masonry masters ensured the stability of a stone structure by determining the right dimensions for all its different parts.

Spiral Staircase Symbol Mystery, marble spiral staircase, Romanian Atheneum, Bucharest
Marble spiral staircase at the Romanian Atheneum in Bucharest

The Helical Stair – a Timeline

With regard to the helical stair, the oldest examples can be found in the well-preserved towers at Aghios Petros on Andros Island and Pyrgos Chimarrou on Naxos Island, both dating to the Hellenistic period (4 – 3 century BC). Then it went dormant.

The helical staircase was not fully developed until later, during the 16th century, when it gradually developed in proportion and decorations, mainly composed of moldings on the wall handrail. Over time, its enclosing walls dissolved, improving the use of natural light.

Below, the stunning wooden carved helical staircase inside Peles Castle, Romania:

Around the 15th – 16th century the helical or openeyed staircase appears in Spain as an element of late Gothic architecture. This was also known as the mallorca staircase and the first, built between 1435 and 1446, is located in the turrets of La Lonja of Palma. Other helical stairs can be found in the Vélez Chapel in Murcia Cathedral, Colegio de Arzobispo Fonseca in Salamanca, and the Concepción Chapel in Segovia Cathedral.

During Renaissance times the helical staircase becomes a significant sculptural and elemental part of design. Like the one designed by Donato Bramante for Pope Julius II at the Belvedere Palace (and known as the Bramante staircase): a double helical staircase which was intended to separate the movement of people and animals.

Spiral Staircase Symbol Mystery. the Bramante staircase, Vatican
the Bramante staircase

Helical staircases now become spacious and elegant and even a centerpieces of a building, like the one located at the exit of the Vatican Museum in Rome designed by Giuseppe Momo (1932), or the free-standing helical staircase under the Glass Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris below (built 1989) or the glass one towering at the new Exhibition Hall at the Deutches Historisches Museum in Berlin (2003), both designed by Ieoh Ming Pei.

The Spiral Staircase from Symbol to Mystery, the free-standing helical staircase under the Glass Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris
The free-standing helical staircase under the Glass Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris (with an elevator inside its well)

Helical staircases inside Louvre Museum, Paris:

Andrea Palladio, 16th century Italian Renaissance architect, wrote in his book of The Four Books of Architecture, referring to spiral staircases :

“They succeed very well that are void in the middle, because they can have the light from above, and those that are at the top of the stairs, see all those that come up or begin to ascend, and are likewise seen by them.”

So, what is the difference between a Spiral and a Helical Staircase?

The common design of many ancient spiral staircase structures includes a center newel, crafted out of stone, with the stone stair slabs constructed around it.

The helical staircase follows the same basic rule, the rotation of a single-slab-step around a central axis BUT the newel is replaced by a small well. Nevertheless, the newel is kept but it is not located in the geometric center of the staircase but around it.

Spiral Staircase Symbol Mystery, Spiral staircases in Carturesti Bookshop, Bucharest
Spiral staircases in Carturesti Bookshop, Bucharest – above and below

In case you wondered or perhaps you saw one, there are outside spiral staircases too, like this stunning one below that we happened to stumble upon while visiting the Da VinciThe Genius exhibition back in 2014, near the Maronite Catholic Church in Johannesburg, South Africa:

I hope you enjoyed our excursion along the spiral staircase, from symbol to mystery.

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The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

Rocking the modern perceptions of the Middle Ages, the Iron Maiden found at Fagaras Castle, Romania, is a medieval torture device that is real, and yet not.

The stone castle of Făgăraş was first mentioned (that we know of) in 1455, but the initial fortification, built with sturdy fir trees from the nearby forests, goes back to 12th – beginning of the 13th century.

The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle, Engraving of the Făgăraș Citadel by Ludwig Rohbock (1883)
Engraving of the Făgăraș Citadel by Ludwig Rohbock (~1883)

We also know that, traditionally, the duchies of Almas and Fagaras were fiefs of Wallachian prince. Yet John Hunyadi, appointed 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 Almas to the citizens of Sibiu and kept Faragras for himself.

But before being seized, the duchies of Almas and Fagaras belonged to the Voievode of Wallachia, and he would have been Vlad Dracul, Vlad II (Vlad Țepeș‘ father) and Mircea cel Batran, Mircea the Elder before him (Vlad Țepeș‘ grandfather).

We know further that Vlad Dracula, Vlad Țepeș, was finally able to title himself “Lord and ruler over all of Wallachia, and the duchies of Amlaș and Făgăraș” on 20 September 1459, thus showing that he had regained possession of both these traditional Transylvanian fiefs of the Wallachian rulers.

Făgăraş Castle, also know as Mihai Viteazul Fortress, in an inter-war postcard
Făgăraş Castle, also know as Mihai Viteazul Fortress, in an inter-war postcard

Now, back to the Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle.

Documents mentioning Fagaras Castle dated more than a century ago do mention the existence of a mechanism of death, known as the “Iron Virgin” or “Iron Maiden”.

It seems that the device was brought into the fortress during the 18th century and used as an instrument of torture. The person sentenced to death was told on the day of his execution that he would be allowed one last kiss, that of the Mother of God, whose image hanged inside this coffin-like device. But the devices was thus created that when the convict stepped to kiss the image, the coffin would close with lightning speed and the knives and spikes that protruded on the inside would pierce his body. The spikes were short and positioned so that the victim wouldn’t die immediately.

The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle
The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

Also, thanks to another device, a hole would opened at the feet of the Iron Maiden so the body of the convict would free fall from a height of 8-10 meters in a dungeon where horizontal swords with very sharp edges would chop the falling cadaver into several pieces.

Through another device water from the fortress’ moat was channeled through this dungeon, thus washing away any traces of blood or flesh, taking them out through the northwestern part and directing them to Olt river, flowing only 800 meters away.

Sounds far-fetched?

The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

The Iron Maiden as an image for Medieval violence

Truth is that the Iron Maidens were a myth brought to life during the 18th century because they fitted so well with the idea of Medieval violence, especially the physical maltreatment of another being, with the weapons being so readily available during those times, and with the fact that violence was seen as an understandable response to most acts.

Let’s face it, during the Middle Ages violence was a common response. If one wanted to share an idea, to share a meaning – symbolic vengeance was expected.

But crime and violence did bothered the commoners during the Middle Ages. It frightened them too. Life had a value, certainly was valued less than we value it today.

The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

The true history of the Iron Maiden

Johann Philipp Siebenkees was an 18th century German Professor of philosophy. He was a keen archeologist too. He was the first to describe the execution of a 1515 coin-forger by the use of an iron maiden in the city of Nuremberg. But the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg, and one of the the most famous such devices, was only built in the early 1800s and destroyed in an Allied bombing in 1944.

Siebenkees might have read about a 5th century A.D. Latin book of Christian philosophy that describes the torture of the Roman general Marcus Atilius Regulus, who was locked in a nail-studded box. Or he might have read the works of the Greek historian Polybius (100 B.C.) who told the story of the Spartan tyrant Nabis who constructed a mechanical likeness of his wife Apega. When a citizen refused to pay his taxes, Nabis would have the mechanical wife wheeled out and made to hug the wrong doer – only that the nails were on the outside of her body.

We all know stories about torture during the Middle Ages, and some of the devices used by the Ottoman Empire or those used to obtain false declarations during the Witch Hunts come to mind… but torture is very much present during our times too.

Perhaps it just makes us feel safer to look only at those times long gone.

doors towards the Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

This, the Iron Maiden, is one door I do not wish to open – for Norm’s Thursday Doors blog weekly meme.

As always, find my books on Amazon.

An Ancient Door, Corvin Castle, Romania

ancient door, Corvin Castle, Romania

The visit to the ancient door of Corvin Castle, Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle in Romania takes us through a short history of knocking on doors and a look at some magnificent coat of arms.

Most doors shield a home from the outside world, and for that reason are both an invitation and a restrain, a question and a warning.

A short history of door knocking

Why do we knock on a door? Because it’s polite or because we’re weary of what we might discover on the other side if we enter unannounced? Any toddler or teen parent would agree on the importance of knocking on a door 🙂

Door knocking obviously follows the use door bells and door knockers…

Door knockers originate in Ancient Greece. Greeks were rather picky and didn’t like unannounced visitors entering their homes so they expected their guests to knock first. Wealthy Greeks had slaves chained to a heavy ring attached to the door, slaves meant to greet the guests. But Greece is a rather hot country and Greeks have always been renowned for their siesta hours… thus, in the event the door-slave had fallen asleep, the guest would jiggle and strike the knocker to awake the slave or rouse the home owner.

So the Romans, besides the art, philosophy, science, math skills, and trade inherited from the Greeks, continued using the door knocker and, obviously, it spread across the Roman empire, a habit that lasted until the 15th century. And as blacksmiths developed their skills, so did the door-knocker’s designs.

Three doors in Corvin Castle, Romania

Corvin Castle (Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle) as we know it today, was built and rebuilt over centuries, the first significant construction here being a small, oval fortress with towers built sometime between 1299 1399, although the site had been occupied since the a beginning of the Bronze Age.

By 1409, Voicu Hunedoara, or Romanian birth, was granted rights to the fortress and surrounding lands through the Donation Act of King Sigismund of Luxemburg, King of Hungary & Croatia. Voicu’s son, Ioan de Hunedoara (Iancu Hunedoara, János Hunyadi or John of Hunedoara) inherited the estate and improved on the existing fortress, making it stronger to withstand the Ottoman’s attacks. His son, the revered Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, inherited the castle after his death and improved it further inspired by the Italian Renaissance, until the end of the 15th century.

On 13 April 1854, Corvin Castle was struck by lightning, severely damaged and abandoned until 1869.

Elements of the original fortress’ construction remain to this day.

All these doors below are part of the fortress built by Iancu de Hunedoara in approx. 1442 and they are on the ground level.

The first two doors are facing the castle’s courtyard that has been in constant use since the original stone fortress was constructed in the 14th century. Evidence of Gothic stone door frames from the original fortress can still be seen today.

On the first door you will want to notice three elements:

  • the jamb columns on either side of the door, creating a small recess for the door;
  • the tympanum, the semi-circular / triangular decorative wall surface above the door, displaying the coat of arms;
  • the two pinnacles (small spires) siting atop two buttresses on each side of the tympanum.
An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Romania, John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus coat of arms
Evidence of Gothic stone door frames from the original fortress can still be seen today.

The door leads to the circular stairway.

An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara Romania, Coat of Arms of Hunyadis
Detail of the Entrance to the spiral staircase tower of the Corvin Castle representing the coat of arms of John Hunyadi and King Matthias Corvinus (the Hunyadis)

The use of a quarter shield is important as in Hungarian heraldic usage the quarter shield was only used by kings.

The raven (corbie) with the ring, profile, is for the House of Hunyadi (quadrant 1)
The white lion with the crown and the rampant lion with the crown are variants of the coat of arms of King Matthias Corvinus, his son (quadrant 2 and 3). The top right lion has a lion passant, tongue naissant from the crown, while the bottom left lion is rampant and holds the crown.

The presence of the two angels holding the coat of arms is also meaningful.

And this is why we looked at this door 🙂 the Hunyadi and King Matthias Corvinus coat of arms.
Below is the Hunyadi coat of arms on a shield (raven with ring and rampant lion holding the crown) with a helmet on top. On the right side is an image of John Hunyadi as appeared in the Thuróczi Chronicle, Budapest, 1488.

The azure behind the crow represent the righteous soul of János Hunyadi., the red lion represents the hero himself who defended the crown and offered it up to the king. There are a few legends surrounding the Hunyadi coat of arms, a raven with a ring in its beak, an image that understandably stimulated the imagination of many, and a story for another time as are the legends that surround Corvin Castle, some about Vlad the Impaler too… But more about this next time.

Looking at Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms were first used on seals and to establish identity in battles – that’s when they first made they appearance during the Middle Ages.The use of heraldic display in architecture reflects the social differences in medieval society, with the first heraldic display in Transylvania dating from beginning of the 14th century. Here, the first heraldic symbols appeared on the tombs of well-to-do aristocracy as well as on the churches they built and sponsored.

An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara, Romania, coat of arms Iancu de Hunedoara, Raven with a ring
A different version of the Hunyadi coat of arms on a secondary door of Crovin Castle.

The ancient door of Corvin Castle

One spots this door on entering the Corvin Castle. It is the door to the dungeon and to the torture chambers and it is 500 years old. It is said to be the only wooden door to have survived the great fire of 13 April 1854.

An Ancient 500 years old Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara, Romania
The 500 years old door of Corvin Castle
a 500 years, original wooden old door, Castelul Hunedoara, Hunyadi Castle
The oldest, original wooden door of Corvin Castle

We will return to Corvin Castle soon…

Happy to join Norm’s Thursday Doors with this post 🙂

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Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History

Targoviste-history

The importance of Târgoviște royal palace (curtea domnească) in history emerges, first of all, from the significant role it played in the life of Vlad Țepeș and during the medieval period. Among other royal residences of Wallachia, the royal court of Târgoviște was the third oldest and the second most used, without significant interruptions, over a period of 300 years.

The geographical location of Târgoviște was also favorable, hills on one side, planes on the other, Ialomita river passing through, as well as Dambovita river nearby.

Around 1400 Mihail I, son of Mircea the Elder (Mircea cel Bătrân) and co-ruler with his father was the first to settle his royal court here, where there was already a rural settlement as well as a more recent one, 14th century, belonging to Transylvania Saxon settlers. Later, as one of the important border villages of Wallachia, Târgoviște receives special privileges for commerce.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, Royal Palace, Curtea Domneasca - source Facebook
Royal Palace of Târgoviște, Curtea Domneasca de la Târgoviște

The royal palace of Târgovişte was designed as a group of buildings with various purposes: to host the administration of the country, as well as to offer protection and lodgings for the ruler, his family and their various courtiers and servants. Here were special rooms for the high government’s ministry and for the court to meet and for the prince (ruler) to sign his decrees and receive foreign guests and emissaries.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu - DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA
Royal Palace of Târgoviște, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu – DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

Târgoviște – etimology

Târgoviște = Târg + -iște. Târg means market, but Târgoviște means an older market, one well-established.
As a name for a town, Târgoviște is also found in Croatian, trgovištse, Serbian, trgovište, Ukraine, torhovytśa, Slovakian, trhovište, and Polish, targowisko.

The Royal court was at Târgoviște because from there were easy connections with other parts of the Wallachian state, the city of Târgoviște being better positioned from an administrative and commercial point of view.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History
The Royal Palace of Târgoviște, Church View. Photo by Diana Popescu, Wikimedia

On 23rd August 1437 Vlad Dracul (Vlad II, the father of Vlad Tepes) signed a document in Târgoviște to declare that Vlădești will belong to the boyar Bodin, and exempts him and his sons Mircea and Vlad of services and tributes for as long as they live. The bequest starts with:

“In the name of the God Almighty, the all faithful and all honorable and Christ Loving, I Vlad and lord by the mercy of God and through the Benevolence of God ruler of all Hungarian-Wallachian Country, and duke of Amlaş and Făgăraş. My lordship has deign to offer this hereby true gift of property to my servant boyar Bodin and his sons, so that Vlădești village may be his land… ” and ends with “I Vlad Lord, with the mercy of God, ruler.”

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History

Vlad Dracul and the people of Târgovişte

The influential boyards, the patricians of a town (such as Târgovişte was), were called good men, “om bun“. We encounter one of the first mentions of such good men in a letter of Vlad Dracul addressed to the people of Brasov perhaps during his first reign (1436–1442). The letter concerns Zanvel, a good man, but also a wealthy one, from Târgovişte, who had been killed and mugged while traveling for business in Transylvania. Vlad Dracul requests that all of Zanvel’s valuables be returned: 250 Florins, 500 Perperi (=250 Ducats), a money bag with 300 Aspri (silver coins) and a gold ring valued at 10 Florins. The man’s clothes are also mentioned, clothes of Ypress (one of the largest commercial communities of Medieval Belgium, when it served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city’s prosperous cloth industry), a hat and also a sword. Vlad Dracul allows for one week only, during which Zanvel’s killer had to be found and punished, and the wealth be returned to his family.

Smuggling weapons through Târgovişte

During the 14th century, the weapon craftsmanship of Braşov’s inhabitants (Transylvania) was greatly trusted by the rulers of Wallachia, such as Stephen the Great (Stefan cel Mare) and Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler, Vlad III – son of VladDracul, Vlad II). Thus, weapons trade beyond the borders of Transylvania was common, especially with Wallachia.

For example, at the end of 1445 the Wallachian Voivod Vlad Dracul requested the delivery of “bows, arrows, firearms and saltpeter” for his conquests in southern Wallachia. The Voivod was dependent on this delivery to strengthen the defenses of the seized town.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, the cellars
Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History – the cellars

Not much later, the new Wallachian Voivod Vladislav II (who fought over the ruling of Wallacia with Vlad Tepes), requested in a document from 1453 that a delivery of weapons to Kilia (Chilia) to take place via the towns of Târgovişte and Brăila, so that the delivery could proceed in secret and without danger. A year later a similar request was made by John Hunyadi himself.

Vlad Țepeș’ main political objective was reinforcing his central authority. He expressed this in a letter written in Târgoviște, on September 10th 1456 (during his 2nd reign) and addressed to the people of Braşov:

“Think about how when a man or a ruler is powerful and strong he can make peace in any way he wants to; but when he is powerless, another one will come and rule him as he pleases.” (“Considerandum est vobis: quando homo vel dominus est potens et fortis, tunc pacem potest facere sicut vult; cum autem impotens erit, forcior super eum veniet et faciet secum sicut vult”).

Targoviste Royal Palace, East and West view, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu - DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA
Targoviste, Royal Palace, East and West view, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu – DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

The massacre of 1457: Vlad Ţepeş and the Boyards

We cannot go further without mentioning the relations between the townspeople of Târgoviște and Vlad Ţepeş and the existence of some conflicts between them. The only incident recorded by chroniclers mentions that Vlad Ţepeş considered the townspeople guilty of the death of his older brother, Mircea, whom they buried alive in 1447, and of that of their father, Vlad Dracul.

Vlad Ţepeş and his ruling policy

Having lived through his father’s political struggles, at the Ottoman and Moldavia court, as well as through his own first reign of almost three months, in 1448, Vlad would have learned that only a strong ruler can keep a country united, and that only a strong, united country can withstand a foreign attack.

As it was obvious during the Medieval times, the boyards held much power and through their intrigues they could control a country, often opposing the rule and power of a ruler. Vlad knew too well that one of biggest issues that opposed a strong head of state were the boyards and made it clear during a meeting he had with them. When asked under how many rulers they served during their life time, most acknowledged at least seven, which came and went, yet they remained in position.

But the Lord, Vlad Ţepeş, punished the townspeople differently: the big boyards and the old ones were impaled, while the young ones were taken together with their families on Easter day (a day of rest and Christian joy) to work on the Poenari fortress.
It was Vlad Ţepeş’ desire for revenge, along with his need to consolidate his power, that drove him to commit one of the most notorious acts of his career.
After this, Vlad gave positions in his council to persons of obscure origins, who would be loyal to him alone, and even to some foreigners and free peasants.

ruinele Cettii Domnesti de la Targoviste

The punishment of the townspeople was placed by historians in 1457, when Vlad Ţepeş was in Târgovişte. The conflict should be understood through the context of power struggles between the two branches of the royal family (Dănești and Drăculești), in which both the great boyar groups and the influential members of the townspeople took part, whose political involvement is now revealed. The fact that the punished were put to work at the fortress is a rare situation; the obligation to work appears formally mentioned in several acts, but the event described above is the only attestation of a forced implementation of this duty. Among the internal chronicles, the History of Wallachia relates only the sending of young people to work, while in the Histories of Gentlemen it is written about the sending of women and children. Exceptional is the sending of people to work on Easter day, proving that the punishment applied to the citizens was a serious form of the duşegubina (a medieval payment for killing someone, or for theft, incest, adultery or kidnapping of girls).

Only in 1458 does Vlad Ţepeş begins building his Bucharest fortress to supervise and defend the road leading from Giurgiu, a Romanian city found under the ruling of the Turks.

It is documented by Chalcocondil (a Byzantine chronicler contemporary with Vlad Ţepeş), that in 1462, when the Ottoman troops came searching for Vlad (to remove him from the throne of Wallachia) they found him at Târgovişte

night attack at Targoviste royal palace - by night

The Night Attack at Târgoviște

It was Vlad Ţepeş outstanding victories against the Turk army under the command of grand vizier Mahmud Pasha that caught the eye of Sultan Mehmed II. Vlad was celebrated by Saxon cities of Transylvania, as well as by the Pope Pius II. So the Sultan decided to deal with Vlad himself, thus preparing an army equal to what he had behind him when he conquered Constantinople. 150 000 Turks including fierce Janissary troops, archers, cavalry, saiales (slaves, medieval Turkish Kamikaze), pikemen, beshlish who handled firearms, 120 cannons and an entire fleet… and Radu the Handsome, Vlad’s half brother who commanded 4 000 horsemen…as well as engineers who would build bridges and roads if necessary, priests, astrologers…
And Vlad? With no support from Hungarians ruled by Matthias Corvinus he relied on his people: all men of military age, but also women and children over the age of twelve ; and included Gypsy slaves, about 30 000 people all together, armed with lances, swords, and daggers, and most probably prong forks too.
Vlad was able to stop part of the Turkish attacks by scorching the earth, poisoning the water, creating marshes and pits, even adopting guerrilla tactics.

Still, on June 17 the Turks set camp outside Târgovişte
There was one last thing Vlad could do to protect his town.

That evening, Vlad disguised himself as a Turk and entered the Turkish camp (Vlad was fluent in Romanian, church Slavic, German, Latin, Turkish). Here, he wandered around to find the location of the Sultan’s tent and learn about his plans of attack.
A contemporary historian, Chalkokondyles, mentions that Mehmed had interdicted his soldiers to wander about the camp during the night, as to not cause panic in case of an attack.
So Vlad decided to attack the Turkish camp during that night.
Vlad’s men infiltrated the camp, then made noise from their buglers and illuminated the battle with their torches launching a series of attacks from “three hours after sunset until four the next morning”. Vlad Țepeș himself aimed for the tent of the sultan, but mistakenly went for the tent of his two grand viziers, Ishak Pasha and Mahmud Pasha (the same one that Vlad had already defeated in a previous battle).
The sultan Mehmed II abandoned camp and fled for his life.

The Night Attack at Targoviste - Theodor Aman
The Night Attack at Târgoviște, Theodor Aman

The Chindia Tower, Turnul Chindiei

It was Vlad Tepes who started building the lovely Chindia Tower for military purposes and to store the treasury. The tower rose on the place of an old manor house, although its final stone was put in place during the 19th century. It is believed that Hungarian commander Stephen V Báthory saw Chindia Tower and later refereed to it as the castle, in his letter from November 11, 1476.

A big feast or festival where people dance is known in Romanian as chindia, and this could be one explanation for the tower’s name, here being the place for such happy gatherings. But chindie, of Turkish origin, ikindi, also means sunset, the time of day when the guard gave the curfew signal, before closing the city’s gates. And this time was rather important as afterwards it was prohibited to enter or leave the city, and the residents were required not to pass through its streets and not to maintain outdoor fires that would have made the town visible from a distance and thus render it unsafe.

Today the Chindia tower rises at a height of 27 meters and measures 9 meters in diameter. When Prince Bibescu restored it, his builders also rose the tower by 5 meters.

For this reason, out of pro-Christian or pro-Ottoman beliefs, the Wallachian rulers of 16th century will shift the location of their princely court from Târgovişte to Bucharest and back again. Also, Târgovişte was often used as a summer residence, while Bucharest as a winter one.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, Chindia Tower, inside view, black and white photo
Chindia Tower, Târgovişte – source Wikimedia

Dealu Monastery was built by Radu IV the Great at the very beginning of the 16th century, on a previous monastic settlement. This is rather important, as previously in Târgovişte we only had a Franciscan and a Dominican monastery, but not a Christian Orthodox one.

The grand Metropolitan Church was raised under the ruling of Neagoe Basarab, early 16th century. During the same time the seal of Târgovişte town depicting Virgin and Infant is created.

Târgovişte sees another rebirth at the end of the 16th century, under the ruling of Petru II of the Earring, who brings Italian and French cultural influences. Franco Sivori, Petru’s private secretary, mentions gardens designed after the Italian fashion as well as the Prince’s menagerie found at Târgovişte.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History - reconstruction by Radu Oltean from Art Historia
Târgovişte Royal Palace and royal grounds the way they would have looked during the 16th century – reconstruction by Radu Oltean, Art Historia

Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) rules from here for a short time briefly bringing the three principalities under his personal union at 1600.

Although fortified, Târgovişte falls during the Turk-Tatar invasion of 1658 and is destroyed, its ruins being brought back to life 30 years later under the ruling of Constantin Brâncoveanu – till his tragic death.

18th century Târgovişte was on the world map

The most usual route on the way to Istanbul from western Europe, crossing Transylvania and Wallachia, passed through the towns of Cluj – Alba-Iulia – Sibiu, where it divided into two roads to Bucharest.
One crossed the Carpathians through the gorge of Turnu Roşu, going down to the capital by Râmnicu Vâlcea and Piteşti, and the other passed through Braşov Rucăr pass – Câineni – Câmpulung – Târgovişte, or along Valea Prahovei through Ploieşti, both routes passing through Bucharest.

Read the observations of an 18th century traveler returning from Istanbul and passing into Wallachia, a province still under the domination of the Porte (Ottoman Empire). Daniel Clarke traveled by carriage and this is his account on the different types of mentality he witnessed:
“On April 16”, – writes Daniel Clarke – “we crossed the Danube [moving north, towards Wallachia]. On the other bank, the carriages of Wallachia’s ruler. […] Some of the Turks had never before sat in a wheeled vehicle and when the carriages set in motion they stuck their bearded heads out the windows throwing the most pitiful looks one can imagine. […] For us the change wasn’t less memorable either, as one year and a half had passed since we had left Russia and we had spent the entire time traveling without once having at our disposal a wheeled carriage”

Cetatea Targovistei, Valeriu Pantazi pictura
Valeriu Pantazi, Cetatea Targovistei

As he crossed the Danube river, the British traveler on his way from Istanbul to England entered Wallachia. But for the travelers there was no militarized border with the Ottoman Empire as Wallachia had been for a few centuries under the domination of the Ottoman Porte (Sublime Porte), and in the 18th century the Ottoman Empire had increased its presence in the Romanian space.

There is an incredible 19th century story about the local villagers who fought for the conservation of the princely court with the Wallachian ruler of the time who had been named in position by the Ottoman court: Ioan Caradja (of Greek-Turkish origin). Caradja wanted the court demolished, but the villagers not only opposed, but they also preserved and rebuilt it.

The royal court of Târgovişte has next witnessed the Russo-Turk war, an earthquake and a fire, before a final rebirth during the late 19th century under the exemplary ruling of Alexandru Ioan Cuza and King Carol I.

Half a century after Dealu Monastery was built, a Military Highschool rose in Târgovişte in 1912, while King Carol I lead the Romanians. In 1930 Mihai I (the last King of Romania) and great-grandson of King Carol I (from his brother’s blood lineage) studied here. And Mihai was thus named after Romanian King Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul), the first to rule over an united Romania in 1600.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History - interbellic postcard
A postcard depicting the royal palace of Târgovişte during the two world wars

Sources:
*Markus Peter Beham, Braşov (Kronstadt) in the Defence against the Turks
*Laurentiu Radvan, Orasele din Tarile Romane in Evul Mediu
*Sorin ŞIPOŞ – FOREIGN TRAVELLERS IN THE ROMANIAN SPACE AND BORDER SYMBOLISM (1797-1810)
*Camelia TEODORESCU, Laurentiu Stefan SZEMKOVICS, Roxana RADU, FROM VLAD ŢEPEŞ – WALLACHIAN RULER – TO DRACULA. CONCLUSIVE DOCUMENTS REGARDING HIS NAME AND “FAME”
*DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

My next work of fiction is a contemporary story glancing over the shoulder at some incredible events dating from Medieval Romania. Subscribe to my newsletter ad be among the first to know when it will come out 🙂

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