Bran Castle’s Unique Door Knocker and a Crocus Legend

Bran Castle's Unique Door Knocker and a Crocus Legend

There is a natural progression from the medieval Bran Castle with its unique brass door knocker in the shape of a queen’s head and the crocus legend.

Bran Castle’s Unique Door Knocker

The Bran Pass was long time one of the most important trade routs in Medieval times, between Asia, Moldavia, Wallachia, and further towards the Hungarian Kingdom and the West powers of Europe, and especially after the fall of Constantinople, after which the Ottoman Empire had full control over the Bosphorus strait, thus strangling in its unfaithful hand the sea trading of Venice and Genoa…

Bran Castle, a Unique Door Knocker, and crocus legend in Spring

Thus, the intent and the need arose for a fortress to be build, as the reinforcement of this geographic location was a necessity, military and economic. Military because the Bran Pass had the potential to also become an invasion route for the Turks, if ever they were to advance northward through the Carpathian Mountains…

As they did.

A deed was issued on 19 November 1377 by Louis the Great (or Louis the Hungarian, from the house of Anjou), and this deed gave the population of Brasov (then Corona) the rights to build a stone fortress at Bran: “of their own endeavors, and at their own expense.’ A rather important note, as it reinforces the local’s rights over their fortress.

The Anjou family was involved in the initial building of Corvin Castle, Transylvania.

Bran Castle's Unique Door Knocker and a Crocus Legend, Thursday Doors

A little over half a millennium later, on 1st December 1920, the people of Brasov donate the Bran Citadel to Queen Mary of Romania:

“We, the Town Council of Brasov… hereby unanimously decide in today’s festive meeting to bequeath to Her Majesty Queen Mary of Greater Romania the ancient castle of Bran, so laden with memories of our history.”

Queen Marie of Romania, also known as Marie of Edinburgh, was the daughter of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia. Thus, she was granddaughter of Queen Victoria and of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Marie married Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, thus giving up her place in line at the Crown of Great Britain. She was ‘lovely, with sparkling blue eyes’, he was ‘shy but amiable’.

Build on a rocky cliff, Bran Castle is, and crocuses will naturally bloom nearby.

A Crocus Legend for Spring

(This is an edited extract from my second WIP, 36 806 words in today, and a great progress during the past weeks).

‘Once upon a time,’ he says, ‘one upon a time there lived two sisters. And they were kind as they were spirited, and beautiful as they were hard-working.’
All I can do is stare at his hand, at the Autumn Crocus in his hand. It blooms a smile… By its pale mauve petals with their white center I recognize the Violet Queen.
‘Were they two princesses?’ I say.
He sucks his breath. ‘Could be, but I think they were just two girls.’
‘Like me,’ I say.
‘Like you,’ his eyes say. ‘But their mother had died, and soon enough their father remarried. And the stepmother did not like the two sisters, not one bit. So,’ he added quickly, knowing that I will open my mouth and add to his story, ‘so, he sent the one of them away. Chased her away. In autumn. It wasn’t enough for the wicked step mother and,’ he added quickly again, ‘soon enough, the following spring, she chased the other sister away. Alas, the two girls never saw each other again, and missed one another so much. No matter how far they searched, how many people they asked, couldn’t find each other. After their timely death God turned His face towards them and transformed them both into flowers, crocuses. That bloom often in the same space, yet one in autumn,’ and his right hand slides forward, offering me the Autumn Crocus, and one in spring.’ His left hand surfaces. It holds a piece of parchment he must have taken from the printing press where he helps at night. It is folded and his gesture beckons me to open it. I do so gently, as one would unswaddle a baby. And I find a perfect Spring Crocus, its pale violet still intact, but translucent, preserved in its papery cloak. It appears to be sleeping. I dare not touch its petals, so thin they are.
‘So they can finally be together,’ he ends his story, ‘in death.’

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

thursday doors, 100 words story

Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – where you can discover more doors from around the world.

As always, discover my books on Amazon.

Immortalis, the Immortal Căluşarii Dance, 100 words story

Immortalis, the Immortal Căluşarii Dance 100 words story

With Immortalis, the Immortal Căluşarii Dance we’ve reached the 4th century AD in our 100 words story posts along the historical timeline of Transylvania. Remember how it all began? Do you see the pattern?

A Paleolithic Murder in Transylvania
Behind the Cave Art of Transylvania
Conduct in a Neolithic Kingdom in Transylvania
Dacian Horses of Bronze Age
Echoes of a Battle, the Getae
Falx vs Gladius, Dáoi vs Romans
Greed, of the Roman Kind
Hope Has Multiple Faces

Immortalis, the Immortal

For each lad lost to Ielele, Fairies, ten wish to join Căluşarii, Stallions, in dance-battle.

The voiceless one, masked – goat and sun, death and rebirth – leads into the clearing drawing a sacred circle with his two-edged sword. In leap Căluşarii  as one, counter-clockwise, armed with sticks crossed over their bodies, red ribbons, garlic.

They pledge on their linden-poled flag then spring, their bodies twisted roots… float like leaves, bells ringing in the wind… climb their sticks… pounce across, hop, spin.
One drops dead.

They broke the spell like an earthenware jug crashing. The sick cured, Căluşarii  depart quietly.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Immortalis, the Immprtal Căluşarii Dance 100 words story - The voiceless one, masked - goat and sun, death and rebirth - leads into the clearing
The voiceless one, masked – goat and sun, death and rebirth – leads into the clearing

Immortalis, the Immortal – words, stories, and some history

Immortalis, immortale, immortal. (Oxford Latin Course, Balme & Morwood)

Căluşarii  and their dance goes back as far as the Thracians and Dacians. Was those a more peaceful time? I hope so, as the rituals developed then and involving important life stages have survived and have reached us.

Men, and by this I mean the male gender, were willingly involved in dancing ritual even before Mr Darcy’s (in)famous words:

[Dance] “has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world; every savage can dance.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

The Spartans, for once, had their pyrrhike (having its roots apparently in the exultant victory dance performed by Pyrrhus, Achilles’ son, after killing their opponent’s leader. Dancing stayed with the Greek soldiers for centuries, part of their military training, until combat rules changed and only Sparta kept the tradition alive.

Yet Greek philosopher and historian Xenophon describes in his work Anabasis (The March into the Interior – the interior land beyond the Black Sea), a Thracian war dance he witnessed. The Thracians danced to the sound and rhythm of the reed pipe.

Reed pipes stuck with resin later became the panpipes, a Romanian national musical instrument.

For me, I will never forget the Haka, the ceremonial challenge-dance of the Māori culture as it is still performed by the New Zealand sports teams before international challenges.

Back to Romanian Căluşarii  and their dance, its tradition rises from Dacian times and it still holds its pagan essence. Led by their great priest who would ask the gods for guidance, Căluşarii  would perform their ritualistic dance to fight off evil spirits, and heal the sick.

Immortalis, the Immortal Căluşarii Dance, 100 words story, Calusari dance Mures

Initially, Căluşarii  were a restrictive groups of odd numbered men, between 5 and 13, sworn to stay together in celibacy and to perform ritual dances during a period of three – seven – or nine years. Their leader was the only one to know all the secrets, some passed on orally, others taken to the grave. Căluşarii  were / are feared warriors who fight Ielele, magical maiden fairies who steal the spirit and the minds of all those men who happen to see them in the forest. Ielele only dance on the night of Rusalii or the Descent of the Holly Spirit (Pentecost). Rusallile go back to the Roman celebration of Rosalia, the day of the roses, dedicated to worshiping the dead and bringing them food and roses.

Why Căluşari? Cal in Romanian language means horse, perceived as a fantastic creature. Horse, cal, symbolizes heat, warmth, summer, it even aids the sun climb atop the sky every day. As is the head of a horse, sculpted in wood, seen as a protective, positive symbol. Therefore Căluşarii are divine stallions.

horse head woodcraft positive symbol
horse head, crafted wood, seen as a positive symbol

The dance Căluşarii  perform imitates the horse’s walk, canter, and gallop, but also the rider’s jump on the horse’s back, as well the limb walk of a horse without shoe-horses. Over 100 dances, all performed to become as strong and agile as a horse, thus receiving a stallion’s divine powers and fight off evil spirits.

The costumes worn by the Căluşarii  is filled with symbology. Made of white linen with stitching to depict the geographical area they belong to, it is decorated with colorful sticks stuck in their belt to form a cross, for protection. Hand made hankies (gifted by women and girls for their own protection and fortune in the year ahead), silver spurs and bells, a leather harness complete the look while their hats have tassels and colored ribbons, white and red -sacred Dacian colors.

Calusarii dance, Hunedoara

The most important instrument is their flag, a three to ten meters long linden (oak or hazelnut) stick topped with a white cloth decorated with white-red ribbons, garlic, wormwood, wheat and salt.

There is a wealth of information and symbology behind Căluşarii, their dance still performed all across Romania. Know that since 2005 Căluşarii  are par of the UNESCO Heritage.

As always, you can find all my books on Amazon.

Vlad Tepes, Bucharest, and a Medieval Curse out of Context

Vlad Tepes Bucharest curse

Vlad Tepes built a fortified fortress in 1458 Bucharest part of his defense plan against Ottoman attacks, no curse here. Vlad’s princely court remained at Târgovişte, but with fortresses at Bucharest, Comana and Snagov Vlad Ţepeş knew that his chances of fighting off any Turkish bad spells increased.

Vlad the Impaler, Curtea Veche Bucuresti

Thus, the Royal Courthouse, Curtea Veche, Vlad’s royal palace soon became the heart of Bucharest, a city nesting between the rivers of Dâmboviţa and Colentina, and with the rivulet of Bucureştioara (Little Bucharest) as a defense moat for the fortress.

Vlad-Impaler-Curtea-Veche-Bucharest

Today the plains surrounding Bucharest, the capital city of Romania are flat, and intensely involved in agriculture. But during the Middle Ages a dense forest grew here, known as Codrii Vlăsiei, the Lowland Woods (stretching it a bit, the Vlach’s Woodland). It was here, on a hill in the town of Bucur, Bucuresti, that Vlad ordered master builders from Brasov to raise him a brick and stone fortress.

Vlad-Impaler-Curtea-Veche-Bucharest close up

It is Vlad the Impaler’s Charter from 20 September 1459 that is the first ever official mention on Bucharest, thus the city’s birth certificate.

Vlad-Impaler-fortress-Bucharest

Although legend says that Bucharest’s foundation was set by a shepherd, Bucur, it is most plausible that the city was founded by Mircea cel Bătrân, Mircea the Elder, Wallachian ruler and Vlad Tepes’ paternal grandfather, on a prehistorical site.

A paragraph was included at the end of the document signed by Vlad the Impaler, document that also mentions land being purchased and sold, and such wording was common during those times in order to oblige everyone to honor the terms of the contract:

document atestare Bucuresti Vlad Tepes

“S-a scris în septembrie 20, în cetatea București, în anul 6968 (1459) Io Vlad voievod, din mila lui Dumnezeu, domn”.
“Written on September 20, in the citadel of Bucharest, in year 6968 (1459), I Vlad voievode, by the mercy of God, ruler.”

Bucharest today
A building in Bucharest.

“And he and his flesh shall be destroyed by the word of the good Lord and in the afterlife his soul shall be with Judas and Arius and with others that said: his blood over them and over their children, what it is and it will always be forever, amen.”
In the Romanian translation (as the document was originally written in Slavic, the language widely used in the Tara Romaneasca at that time:
“Pe acela Domnul Dumnezeu să-l nimicească şi să-l ucidă aici cu trupul, iar în veacul viitor sufletul lui, să fie părtaş lui Iuda şi lui Arie şi cu ceilalti care au spus: sângele lui asupra lor şi asupra copiilor lor, ceea ce este şi va fi in veci, amin.”

Romanian Commercal Bank, BCR, at Universitate Square, Bucharest
Romanian Commerical Bank, BCR, at University Square, Bucharest

Taken out of context, along the years many decided to see this curse as having being cast upon the city of Bucharest itself, yet it is not. How could it be, when Vlad the Impaler’s heart beat for his land and his people – and Vlad wrote the above charter “with his whole benevolence, with a clean and enlightened heart,” – “cu a sa bunăvoinţă, cu inimă curată şi luminată“

Bucuresti Liceul Lazar
Bucharest Lazar Highschool near Cismigiu Park

Invoking Divine wrath against those who don’t follow the Price’s or Voievode’s command was common practice in documents written in both Latin and Slavic during those times (especially between the 14ht and the 17th centuries), by the rulers of Ţara Romaneasca and Moldova. Such fashion came from the Byzantine Empire, through the Orthodox church, or influenced by the rulers of the countries south of Danube. The Hungarian rulers, however, under the Catholic faith, used not such means of threat in their official documents.

Bucharest, closing the door on history
Bucharest, closing the door on history

I grew up in Bucharest and lived there for nearly three decades, I couldn’t have left this one slip, Vlad Tepes built a royal fortified fortress in Bucharest, Curtea Veche, but the Medieval curse connected with it is out of Context 🙂 Bucharest is a vibrant, beautiful city, filled with history, art, and wonderful people.

thursday doors, 100 words story

Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – where you can discover more doors from around the world.

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields? Unusual Thursday Doors

red carpet Thursday doors

If you would have to choose, red carpet or lavender fields, your choice would be… but before you answer, let’s see what’s all about on this week’s Thursday Doors.

One of the last places where I would like to be photographed is on my way to the ladies restroom, the toilet, the loo, the john, the privy, the outhouse… Yet there is such a place in Romania, although the flashes coming on as one would stroll along don’t take actual pictures. It is the Park Lake Mall in Bucharest.

With the Oscars around the corner, here’s how it might feel walking down the red carpet:

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors

Are you sure you are dressed up for the occasion? Left or right…

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors. Park Lane Mall Oscars toilet entrance

If the red carpet is not your thing, then a field of French lavender, and this way’s to the Ladies room, past the French bistro.

The upside down toilet is all about decor, you have to take my word for it 🙂

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors. Park Lane Mall upside down toilet

And you may hold onto the wall as you make your way.

See? All is well inside.

Red Carpet or Lavender Fields, unusual Thursday Doors. Park Lane Mall upside down toilet

Oh, and before you leave the mall, do remember where you parked your car 🙂

Mini Cooper cars hinting towards the Ladies and Gents

Public toilets are never my favorite spot – whose are ? – but this place will always be remembered as an adventure 🙂

Now, I do owe you some doors, so here is the entrance to the Nazareth House in Pretoria, an NGO living facility for old people. My daughter’s high-school choir used to hold their annual concerts there 🙂

Nazareth House opened on the 26th of October 1952. The first Sisters of Nazareth arrived in South Africa in 1881 at the invitation of the Bishop of Cape Town. Their mission was to care for indigent elderly and orphaned children.

Doors are often seen as a place of transition, as well as an opportunity for good or evil forces to enter or leave, hence doorways are often guarded, as you can see in the images above.

Shh, choir practice 🙂

The door below, this one’s seen as a right of passage… you have to be a soprano or an alto, a tenor or a bass to walk through this door 🙂

Nazareth House Pretoria, side entrance into the chapel
Nazareth House Pretoria, side entrance into the chapel

I have fond memories of this place. The chapel is spacious, without being large, and it would always fill to capacity during the annual choir concert. Seated on long, wooden benches we would tighten the rows to make space for a late arrival. There was a feeling of togetherness. I wonder if it will prevail after all the space the Covid-19 Pandemic will leave behind.

Nazareth House, Pretoria, the chapel
Nazareth House choir performance
thursday doors, 100 words story

Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – where you can discover more doors from around the world.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages

History Transylvania middle ages

Early Middle Ages, history tells us, found the rich lands of Transylvania and the Romanian territories south and east of the Carpathians, Muntenia, Oltenia, and Moldavia respectively, as a  lively congregation of various cultures and traditions, brought together by the need for trade, the hope for a better life, but mostly by the local’s love and respect for their ancestor’s land.

But what was happening in the western Europe right about now? For no land can ever be isolated from the rest of the world, nor can it be observed on its own. Just as no level of the emerging, yet highly hierarchic feudal system can be understood as an isolated occurrence.

The Early Middle Ages in Europe

The three years of civil war in western Europe conclude with the Treaty of Verdun in the 9th century as the fights between the three grandsons of Charlemagne shattered the flourishing Frankish Empire. Thus, nowadays France, Austria and Germany were born. As new kingdoms formed, the growth of their population pushed to expansion – soon migration – and, quite soon, the Church of the West seized this opportunity and increased its spiritual, economic and military powers. As a result, the Church controlled an emerging educational system as well as the ruling classes.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages

Before the Magyar (Hungarian) tribes arrived in Transylvania…

The Magyar Tribes’ forced migration

Over in the east, in Asia, the Turk-Mongol tribes started expanding and moving westward, much like a tsunami wave, disturbing, overpowering , uprooting the local, smaller tribes often focused on their livelihood and not on their combat skills. These expanding new kingdoms soon advanced and conquered further western lands, setting a fur-lined boot with upturned toe in Europe’s far east, thus forcing the steppe’s nomad peoples and their light cavalry towards west, and south. These, last mentioned, were the Hungarians or Magyars (as they still refer to themselves), nomads originated east of the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus where they led a life of horsemen and livestock farmers. The Hungarian’s origin is doubtful as their language is Finno-Ugric (like Finnish, Estonian, and others), while their royal family holds Turkish blood. Their name, Hungarian, is thought to be derived from Oghur-Turkic On-Ogur (literally “Ten Arrows” or “Ten Tribes”).

The Magyars settle in Pannonian Basin

The Magyars from Ukraine (Kiev) in the Pannonian Fields are thus obliged by the Turk-Mongol tribes to flee south-west. They tried to cross the Danube in 880 but were stopped by the Bulgars so they adjusted their plans, turned 180 degrees, and invaded the south of the Carpathians, today Romanian plains but back then forested and inhabited by Vlachs, Dacians and Slavs too. And even further north the Hungarians pushed, crossing the Carpathians but mostly from the west, where the path was more accessible. Remember, the Hungarians were not mountain people, like the Vlachs and the Dacians were, but rather used to travel on horseback, over flat, dry steppe. As the Magyars pushed in, the local population, the Vlachs especially, retreated to the mountainous valleys.

Transylvania, its origin and ethymology. Pannonian Basin, Carpathian Mountais and Transylvania,
The Pannonian Basin (marked III.), enclosed by the Carpathians and the Transylvanian Plateau (IV.) to the east and north. Also shown: the Romanian Lowlands (II.) and the Outer Sub-Carpathian depressions (I.) beyond the Carpathians (also known as Transcarpathia)

I have a story for you, about the Hungarian conquest of Transylvania.

The Magyar tribes, the Hungarians, raid Latin Europe

By 890 the Hungarians had moved into the Pannonian Basin, ideal for their herds of horses, and from there they rallied the German and Franc villages located further west… But the Hungarians were soon stopped in their attempts to invade the West (the Latin Europe) by Emperor Otto I at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955. It was hot news by now, and broadcasted at each Royal Court of Western Europe, that the Asiatic danger to the Christian lands and forgotten for a century was back, in the shape of the Hungarian’s savage raids.

Hungarian conquest of Transylvania - Romanian territory IX - XIII centuries. We can see in the middle the Dutchy (Voievodatul) of Gelou / Gyula. Left is Dutchy of Menumorut and below it is Dutchy of Glad / Aftum.
Romanian territory IX – XIII centuries. We can see in the middle the Dutchy (Voievodatul) of Gelou / Gyula. Left is Dutchy of Menumorut and below it is Dutchy of Glad / Aftum. And complete left of Tisa River is Regatul Ungariei (Kingdom of Hungary). We can also see all the little dutchies that today form Romania: Timisului, Craiovei, Iasilor, Maramuresului, Banatul, Baragan, etc – all the way to Danube in the south, Prut in the east, close to Tisa in north west.

The Magyars, Hungarians, settle for Transylvania

The Vlachs in Transylvania, ruled by Gelou, holding their capital at Dăbâca (today Cluj County), lost the battle against the invading Magyars. But the Hungarians who settled in Transylvania were not numerous, and they needed reinforcements, and urgent, to keep the local Vlachs at bay. It took an entire European conjecture, the Crusades, the great ideal of Christendom and an increase in western population until the request of King Geza II of Hungary was fulfilled and priests, peasants and horsemen immigrated to Transylvania, Ţara Barsei and Bistrita – for the promise of free land (outside the one already owned by the Hungarian nobility), and no taxes.

The massive, Middle-Ages immigration to Transylvania

The first to arrive in Transylvania were the border-soldiers. They arrived in the Carpathian space soon after the Hungarians settled and were called Szâkely, secui in Romanian. Their role was to stand against the local tribes of Pechenegs and Cumans (the local, Black Cumans still living here for the past 200 years). It might have even been the Cumans who taught the Vallachians the war art of attacking on horse back – and how handy it came, half a century later, to Vlad Tepes during his famous night attack against the Ottomans led by Mehmed II, at Targoviste, June 17, 1462.

The actual process of colonization of Transylvania and Muntenia (later part of Wallachia) started at the end of the 12th century. First to arrive were the German settlers who left their home lands of north-western Germany, close to the Netherlands, as well as Flanders, Cologne, Aachen, Liège, Lorraine, and Luxembourg. As some arrived from the east, from old Saxony (near the North Sea coast of what is now Germany) the German populations of Transylvania was called the Saxons.

This German population was promised a better life in the hope that it will introduce an advanced agriculture, crafts and good business practices, and that it will to set up cities like the German ones, with reinforcements. Of the cities, burgs, established by the Saxons seven will be more significant, hence the name Siebenbürgen (seven citadels, seven burgs) given by the Germans to Transylvania. Between these seven two stand out for us, Brasov and Sibiu, or Kronstadt and Hermannstadt.

But let’s remember that Sibiu was initially a Daco-Roman urbs named Cedonia and in Brasov area were discovered traces of Dacian citadels.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages, cioban frm Hunedoara, Transylvania, Dacian origin
Romanian words of Dacian origin: this is a shepherd (baci), wearing a mustache above his upper lip (buză), a hat (căciulă), a wide belt (brâu). here are trees (copaci) between him and his hamlet (cătun), a brook (pârâu) too. His sheep will give milk for good cheese (brânză), whey-cheese (urdă) too. His clever dog probably doesn’t ned a collar (zgardă) and it brings the man great joy (bucurie).

The story of Pied Piper of Hamelin or Pan Piper

‘Tis about the children of medieval Hamelin, in Lower Saxony, who were led underground by the (now) legendary Pied Piper only to reemerged thousands of miles to the southeast, in the Carpathian Mountains.

There are a few explanations for this fable, from death by natural causes to emigration.

Life in Transylvania during the Middle-Ages

The Transylvanian settlers led a pretty good life. They were held in high regard by the King of Hungary who considering them guests, even allowing them to exploit his forests and lakes, to hunt and fish for their families, a diversion normally reserved for the King.

The first settlers in Sibiu area were appointed “primi hospites regi”(the first royal guests) in the Royal seal of 1206.

On arrival, the Saxons received land and were allowed to held political gatherings, to choose and pay their own priests, thus keeping up with their culture and traditions, their national image (although this concept will only appear several hundred years later).

The settlers were exempted from paying taxes at local markets and the Transylvanian merchants were exempted from taxes when traveling within the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom too. They led a free life in free cities where there was no notable difference between nobles, bourgeois and artisans – at a time when the feudal tradition was well established in the rest of Europe, as was in other parts of Transylvania and Wallachia.

Worth mentioning s that the Saxon’s tax exemption will cause quite an uphill during the times when Vlad the Impaler ruled Wallachia.

A large number of settlers, considering distances and ways of transport, 3000 (around 500 families) arrived first, mostly lead by the hope of a better life, and Transylvania flourished as a good balance between duties and freedom was in place. For example, the agricultural system practiced was called clacă, meaning voluntary collective work performed by peasants to help each other. Also, when a young couple got married the entire village helped to build their new house.

Only if Transylvania joined the Hungarian Kingdom in war were the Saxons ordered to supply 500 soldiers, and in case of an external war 100 armed men, but if the King was not personally participating in the campaign only 50 men. And only 500 silver marks per year were paid to the King of Hungary by all the Transylvanian lands occupied by Saxons.

The first mention of a Voivode of Transylvania is that of Mercurius, a most distinguished Hungarian nobleman who reigned rather shortly, between 1111 and 1113.

During the Second and the Third Crusade more settlers arrived in Transylvania, in search of safety.

In 1190 the Hungarian King Ladislaus build a church in Hermannstadt, Sibiu, thus the city was mentioned for the first time in an official document, and signed by Pope Celestine III. Soon after, a prior and 12 monks arrived from Pontigny, France, at the request of the wife of King Béla III, Agnes of Antioch, and founded Igriş monastery (Egresch – today Arad) near the river Mureş.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages, Sibiu
Sibiu today

When Emperor Heinrich VI called for yet another crusade in 1195, he raised the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem to the rank of knighthood: Teutonic Order. These Teutonic Knights settled in Transylvania in 1211 and built five fortresses such as Feldioara and Cisnădioara.

Finally, when the Roman Empire fell during the Fourth Crusade in April 1204, together with Constantinople, and the “Latini” settled in Constantinople, a nasty drift appeared between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the Great Schism. Over in the Romanian medieval lands Transylvania embraces the Gothic civilization and Catholicism, while Wallachia and Moldavia maintained their Byzantine tradition.

It is during the Third, Fourth and Fifth Crusades that a movement of people and goods to overseas territories, East, is created, either by sea, but also via land, on Transylvanian routes. This way, more traders and crusaders chose to remain on site, in Transylvania, as well as to keep trading with their land of origin as the previous settlers were already doing.

In 1222, the Bulla Aurea of King Andrew II guaranteed the privileges of the Hungarian nobility. Those of the Saxons were secured in 1224 by the Diploma Andreanum. The success of the Flandrenses encouraged the arrival of new settlers and in 1292, the first hospital in a church-asylum (Franciscan) at Hermannstadt, Sibiu, was opened.

In 1241 we find the name Transylvania mentioned again, and identified with “Septem urbicum” after the seven fortified towns of the region. For sure, the trading routes of the Balkans were strongly linked to those of the Faith, and each time a crusade took place, more peasants and tradesmen traveled through and chose to settle in Transylvania and Wallachia, where life flourished and there was – still – peace.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages, Medieval-Europe-deforestation
Medieval Europe – deforestation

At the end of the 13th century four nations were part of the General Assembly of Transylvania: the Hungarian nobility, the Saxons, the Szecklers (Secui) and the Vlachs although the Secui and the Vlachs had only minor privileges.

The threat of the Mongol Empire

About the same time the threat of the Mongol Empire under Genghis-Han was on the rise from Asia, conquering China and heading East until it reached the eastern parts of Russia. So much so that in 1241 the Mongols advanced in the north of Transylvania and engaged in a fight with the Saxons settled near the Rodna mines. The Mongols even defeated the Hungarian King’s army (King Bela), but retreated suddenly in 1242 when the Great Han died.

However, the Mongols will not withdraw completely from Europe, but establish a state in southeastern Russia on the Lower Volga River, known as the Golden Horde, keeping the Russian principalities as vassals for over 200 years. After assimilating the Cuman population settled here, on the northern shore of the Black Sea, they will be known as Tatar Mongols and will represent a permanent danger especially to Transylvania, Oltenia and Muntenia (the last two will unite in 1330 to form Wallachia). Even from the first decades of the 14th century, we find that the Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian political formations were in relation of vassality towards these Tartar Mongols.

Banat Severin, Great Wallachia, Kingdom Hungary, Byzantine Empire, Mongol Empire 13th century
Banat Severin, Great Wallachia, Kingdom Hungary, Byzantine Empire, Mongol Empire 13th century

About the same time, in 1247, King Bela IV of Hungary and Duke of Transylvania planed an active expansion over the Carpathians, towards the south-west. His plan was to increase the fortifications and setup a defense alliance against the Bulgarian Empire in the event of a second Tatar-Mongol invasion and to rebuild his devastated country. For this reason he allowed the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitaller, to settle on the newly formed border province, on Banat of Severin, or “Land of Severin” – in the mountainous regions between the Danube and the Jiu Rivers. At the same time the Principalities (Knezdoms, Cnezat, from the Slavonic Knyaz or knez meaning prince, duke or count) of  Ioan (on the lower course of Olt River) and of Farcaş  (higher, in the Sub-Carpathian area of Oltenia), the Voivodeships of Litovoi (on the middle and lower course of Jiu River) and of Seneslau (on the left-hand side of Olt River), extending in the mountainous and hilly regions of western Wallachia, also developed (let’s keep in mind that these have been established around the 9th century).

Note that the Lands of Litovoi, Farcas and Seneslau held territories north on Carpathians (in Transylvania), and south.

Romanian provinces XIII century, Cnezatul lui Ioan, Cnezatul lui Farcas, Voievodatul lui Litovoi, Voievodatul lui  Seneslau, Banatul Severinului
Part of the Romanian provinces south of Transylvania during the XIII century,

Only a century later, Clara, the daughter of Ion (lanoş in Hungarian), ban of Severin, marries Alexandru-Nicolae, Voievode of Wallachia (and son of Voievod Basarab I and of Lady Margareta). This was another way for Hungarian rulers to set a foot in Wallachia, and for Pope to spread Catholicism in an Orthodox country. And it didn’t stop here, Lady Clara made it her life’s purpose to convince her step-son, Vladislav Voiedod, if she couldn’t influence her husband, to bring a Catholic episcope in Wallachia, to convert the orthodox Vlach population, Vladislav Voievod included. But Vladislav held his ground, and he even built at Severin, on the border with Transylvania so with the Hungarian Kingdom, an Orthodox church.

Let’s not forget that the Knights of St.John were dressed in an armor weighing as much as themselves, riding the heaviest horses in Europe, who were also covered in armor, each knight being accompanied by ten squires. They arrived preceded by a reputation of skilled builders- and this was the reason why they were invited to settle here. On one condition, to not allow any Vlachs migrating from Transylvania to settle in Banat.

Around the middle of the 14th century, 1366, back in Transylvania the Vlachs’ lifestyle deteriorated as they were excluded from the congregations of the Diet for religious reasons related to the Schism. The Hungarians Kings, vassals of the Pope and therefore Catholics, made it their personal crusade to eliminate the Orthodox Vlachs from their kingdom, although they lived on Romanian land. In less than a century the Romanian Vlach nobility living in Transylvania was reduced to the status of a peasant. Without being under the protection of the King of Hungary they were often hunted and expropriated unless they became Hungarians and converted to Catholicism. The vast majority of Orthodox Vlach peasants soon became serfs, iobagi, tied to the feudal land without the right to self-governance as the other three nations living in Transylvania could.

The way to keep your land and status was by converting to Catholicism and adopting the Hungarian lifestyle and even build family ties with the Magyar nobility. For example, the family of Iancu de Hunedoara, Hunyadi, and even 1387-1456 Voivode of Transylvania, chose to become Hungarian. His son, Matthias Corvinus, Matei Corvin, was able to become King of Hungary.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages

The Land of Severin, placed between the Lower Danube and the Olt River (around the city of Turnu-Severin on the map above, between the territories in mustard and green), was previously populated but countless battles between the Hungarian and Bulgarian kingdoms have forced part of the local population to flee, probably eastward, towards the (then) rich valleys and forested planes of Oltenia and Muntenia, as well as drawn towards the trade at Danube and the Black Sea.

Under the Knights Hospitallers the Land of Severin received a bishop and became a kenezatus (almost a state of its own) ruled by two rulers, cneji, Ioan and Farcaş (a Hungarian translation of Romanian Lupu, wolf), both brought from the north, from Banat (a Romanian territory west of Transylvania and under Hungarian sovereignty). But these administrative structures had their own Romanian organization, and the vassalage relations to the Hungarian Crown did not influence the full right of the Romanian states to their own domestic organization.

The first ruler of Oltenia (later part of Wallachia) held territory in Transylvania too

It is of outermost importance that I mention now the very first ruler of Oltenia, a Romanian Land and territory between the Olt river and the Danube, Litovoi Voievode.

The Diploma of the Joannites even mentions the land of the kenazate of Voivode Litovoi, which the king left to the Vlachs “as they had held it”, and not granted to the Knights Hospitaller. The small print, though, stated that he had to pay tribute to the Hungarian Crown during 25 years, 1247-1272.

At the same time in neighboring Muntenia (Ţara Românească, Terra Blacorum) ruled Voievode Seneslau.

Both Litovoi and Seneslau looked at the promises made by the Hungarian King, that of protection against the Tatar invasions IF only they convert to Catholicism. But they also noticed how weak the Hungarian defense was. So they thought, and thought, and decided that united – and keeping their Christian beliefs -they stood a better chance against the Tatar invasion.

Between 1277 – 1280 Litovoi ruled over land on each side of the Carpathians, namely Retezat Mountains, (including Hațeg Country in Transylvania and the area that is today Oltenia) but was at war with the Hungarians over land that the Crown wanted for itself. Voievode Litovoi fell in a trap and perished in battle.

He was succeeded by his brother, named Bărbat, meaning man in Romanian. Bărbat‘s son in law was Tihomir who held both territories, left and right of Olr River, until 1310, while in 1301 the Arpad dinasty perished with the death of Andrew III. It was a marriage union between Tihomir’s son, Basarab, and countess Margareta (Marghita) that brings to the Romanian territories two lands from Transilvania, Făgăraş amd Almaş.

In 1310 all the Vlach boyars as well as those from Ardeal, chose Basarab I as their ruler, thus founding Wallachia, and sealed through the Battle of Posada in November 1330. Although legend says that it was Radu the Black in 1290… Around 1290 legendary Negru Vodă, Radu the Black, arrived from Făgăraş County and settled in Câmpulung, while his successors moved over to Argeş, from where they extended their authority all the way to Danube. The dynasty thus established had a highland origin, from the mountain (munte). It is from this “Muntenian” origin of the dynasty that the name of Muntenia probably derived, traditionally given to the whole country – a country dominated by plains.

Transylvania under the Mongol and Turkish threat of the Middle Ages

In Transylvania, the city of Sibiu (Hermannsdorf, Hermannstadt) increased its fortifications especially after the 13th century Mongol invasion of Europe. This was possible as the trade of local artisans, mainly Saxons trading in clothing and tools, flourished but all the 19 guilds thrived and this afforded the city to increase its defense system. Soon Sibiu became the most important ethnic German city among the seven cities of Transylvania.

Wallachia, 1390
Wallachia, 1390

But the flourishing period of Sibiu will soon be overshadowed by the Mongol and the Turkish threats, especially the Turks in 1394, 1432, 1437, 1438, 1442. As a result Sibiu became a defendant outpost of Christendom. In 1438 Sultan Murad II, the predecessor and father of Mehmed II the Conqueror, led an unsuccessful siege on Sibiu and again in 1442 when Sibiu was aided in his defense by the army of Iancu de Hunedoara.

Transylvania and Wallachia under the threat of the Ottoman Empire

The Hungarian King between 1387-1437, King Sigismund of Luxembourg, spent a great amount of time in Transylvania, especially in Hermannstadt, Sibiu, and Kronstadt, Braşov, where he improved the cities’ defenses against this new threat, the Turks.

Sadly, the East–West Schism between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches proved once again what strength the ecclesiastics held during the Middle Ages, for it influenced and sabotaged the communication between the Lords of the West and the old Byzantine Voyevodes – such as Vlad the Impaler.

After the defeat of the Western armies by the Ottomans led by Bayezid I (father of Mehmed I) in the Battle of Nicopolis (25 September 1396), the Crusaders (comprising of Hungarian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Wallachian, French, German, Burgundian, Italian, Portuguese, and Polish troops) were pretty much left on their own, the West powers giving up to the idea of yet another Crusade. This decision left the Wallachian and Moldavian princes to resist on their own against future Ottoman invasions.

It was now that King Sigismund of Luxembourg created the Order of the Dragon, in 1408, and one of its eminent members, Wallachian prince Vlad Dracul (father of Vlad Tepeș, Dracula), got caught in the conflict between Hungary, Poland and the onset of Ottomans in Europe that isolated Transylvania – sealing the lives of many.

Saving not only his own people, his beloved Vlachs, but also the Hungarian and the Polish Kingdoms, and further westwards the other European lands, in 1462 Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, defeated the invading Ottoman troops under Sultan Mehmed II, sending them fleeing southward during the famous Night Attack at Targoviste.

Dracula, as he was nicknames, meaning Son of the Dragon, is still regarded in his homeland as a champion of Christianity.

War threats or not, trade flourished between the three principalities, especially Transylvania and Moldova, although Wallachia, in the south, held the trade monopoly at Danube and the Black Sea. A flourishing trade meant strong defenses built around the cities as well as moats and towers, and fortified churches with rooms for provisions (the harvest was stored there immediately, for sage-keeping), livestock and refuge. In case of a Turkish attack, even if the wooden and thatched farms were burned down all that was kept within these stone walls was safe.

Such is the St. Mihail fortified Church of Cisnădioara / Michelsberg built as a Roman basilica at the end of the 12th century, and fortified a century later.

Fortified 12 century church „Sf. Mihail" Cisnădioara, Sibiu
Fortified 12 century church „Sf. Mihail” Cisnădioara, Sibiu

And where fortifications were not enough, tunnels and underground chambers for food storage or as escape routes were built, such as the ones still present underneath Brasov.

Before its fall in 1453 the great Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was already paying tribute to the Turks. After it fell and Orthodox Greece fell into Ottoman hands Islam moved in front of Christendom and began advancing towards the south-east Europe, towards the great Catholic powers in the west.

The threat lasted until the late-14th and early-15th centuries when new crusades were finally organized by the kingdoms of Hungary (Transylvania included), Poland, Wallachia, and Serbia. These were defensive campaigns intended to prevent further expansion to the west of the Ottoman Empire rather than the traditional expeditions aimed at the recovery of Jerusalem.

One more idea need be explained here, that unlike the west of Europe in the Balkans an ethnic group’s consciousness and main loyalty was to their immediate habitat, be it the clan, the village, the principality, their side of mountain or valley. And, yes, a national concept was found here during the Middle Ages, although such an ideology was only expanded on in Western Europe during the early nineteenth century.

Have you read…

Stories and History of Transylvania, Prehistory to Roman Dacia ?

Transylvania during the Roman Dacia and until 4th century AD ?

Transylvania, Romania, Its Origin and Etymology ?

As part of my ongoing research for my next novel, the culture in medieval Transylvania will have to be a blog post on its own, coming soon.

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon