If you love to travel know that at Bran Castle in Transylvania Romania, there is exciting history awaiting for you and you can get your Covid-19 vaccine too. No appointment necessary, but do consult official sourced before heading to Bran.
And, while still at Bran Castle after you received your Pfizer vaccine you will be rewarded with a free tour of the 52 medieval instruments of torture…
This is Bran Castle part 1, where we commence.
“Who blinks in the night? Who watches from its inky spark? A wolf’s call, is it a chant? A lonely howl? A witch’s chant? An owl’s hoot, is it despair? Is it a lost love song, to the moon? The light that flickers in the night, up in the tower, were none lives, is it a dream? A traveler that’s found safe ground? Or ’tis a memory that’s lost, without a lord?”
Bran Castle rose at the right moment in history, and in the right place, on a mountain slope between Bucegi Mountain and Piatra Craiului, King’s Stone, overlooking Bran Gorge. A mighty pass, where trade routes overlapped military tracks during a rough history.
In 1211 Hungarian King Andrew II, eager to secure his kingdom against any inner turmoil… by enforcing of Magyar policies in the region, and against outside attacks… of the neighboring Cuman tribes, and later the Tatars and the Ottomans too, King Andrew II donated this land of Burzenland, with its mountains and forests, its rivers too, known as Țara Bârsei, to the Teutonic Knights…
Assuring the castle’s inhabitants autonomy during long sieges, a water well (detail above) provided resources for putting out fires, or cheap ammunition – if boiled…
The well of Bran Castle is extra special for it was dug 60 feet (20 meters) deep through solid rock (remember, the castle sits atop a mighty cliff).
As Bran Castle, the secret (at least one of them) lies in the well…
It is said that just above the water level there is access to a secret room where the castle’s treasury was hid in times of attack.
Is the passage still there? I’ll tell you in a later blog post.
So, soon after the Teutonic Knights began work on a wooden castle, and the time of the German migration into Transylvania began.
We’ll return to Bran Castle soon and pick up where we left off.
Quick update on my writing
My work in progress #2, historical fiction set in medieval Transylvania, reached just over 78 000 words, up 20 000 words from last Thursday. I can see myself approaching its completion. I know how it will end, but ’tis still a winding and exciting road ahead 🙂 and I’m enjoying it very much.
If you decide to travel to Bran Castle to get your Covid-19 Vaccine know that the unique vaccination center at Bran Castle is part of the Romanian government’s initiative to vaccinate 10 million people by September (just over half the country’s population).
In comparison, know that South Africa started its vaccination program in February and today, three month later, only (just over) 400 000 people – medical staff – have been vaccinated (out of nearly 58 million souls). Those over 60 years of age can also get their shot from Monday.
Welcome to South African Oscar Winners & Nominees Over The Years, an evocative timeline of why we are Proudly South African, apart from our legends, our landscapes, our national parks, and so much more. Nkosi sikelele Africa. God bless Africa.
This post was initially published on March 2nd 2017, updated and republished on 25 April 2021 (last update 26 April).
South African Oscar Winners & Nominees Over The Years
South Africans should take special note on the night of the 93rd Academy Awards, 2021, as some of this country’s finest, Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed (writers and directors) and Craig Foster (Host & Founder of Sea Change Project), are in the run for the Best Documentary (Feature) category with “My Octopus Teacher“.
Documentary Feature 2021 Oscar WINNER “My Octopus Teacher”
“My Octopus Teacher” Trailer:
Having already won the BAFTA for Best Documentary at the 74th British Academy Film Awards, My Octopus Teacher will be among the favorites in its category, and will have to prove itself better than Collective, by Romanians Alexander Nanau and Bianca Oana.
This is not the first time South Africa has had representation at the Academy Awards. Over the years, many South Africans have graced the Oscars red carpet, both as nominees and winners, proof of this country’s deep-rooted talent as well as a good eye for the arts.
Proud South African Oscar wins, nominations and submissions throughout the years
1937 (the 9th Academy Awards Ceremony) – Basil Rathbone (South African born British actor) – Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Romeo and Juliet
1938 – Basil Rathbone – Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, If I Were King
1966 – Ted Moore (South African born cinematographer) – WON the first South African Oscar for A Man For All Seasons.
1972 – Janet Suzman (University of the Witwatersrand’s Alumni) – Nominated for Best Actress, Nicholas and Alexandra
1986 – Caiphus Semenya (South African composer and musician) – Nominated for Best Music, Original Score, The Color Purple
1988 – Jonas Gwangwa (important figure in South African jazz for over 40 years) – Nominated for Best Music, Original Score, and Best Music, Original Song, Cry Freedom
1990 (the 62nd Academy Awards Ceremony) – Mapantsula (Zulu, Afrikaans, Sesotho, English), Director Oliver Schmitz – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film. It appeared on the official AMPAS ( Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ) press release in 1989 but not on the 2007 updated list. Therefore Paljas is considered as South Africa’s official first submission in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It is possible that Mapantsula, although submitted,has not been screened for the Foreign Film committee for some reason.
1992 – Stephen Goldblatt (South African born), Best Cinematography – The Prince of Tides, nominated.
1996 – Stephen Goldblatt (South African born), Best Cinematography – Batman Forever, nominated.
1997 – Paljas (Afrikaans) – Director Katinka Heyns – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film
2003 – Charlize Theron (a Benoni born South African and American actress and film producer ) – WON Best Actress, the first South African actress to ever win an Oscar, for Monster
Charlize Theron’s 2003 Oscar Win acceptance speech:
I’m going to thank everybody in South Africa, my home country… And my mom.
2003 – Ronald Harwood (Cape Town-born playwright) – WON for Best Adapted Screenplay, The Pianist Harwood’s love for the theatre and films started when he was a child and his mother took him to the theatre in Cape Town.
2004 – Yesterday (the first ever feature-length isiZulu film), Director Darrell Roodt – Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film
2005 – Charlize Theron – Nominated for Best Actress, North Country
2005 (78th Academy Awards Ceremony) – Tsotsi – WON Best Foreign Language Film. It was the first non-French-language African film to win in this category.
Gavin Hood’s Oscar acceptance speech for Tsotsi, which he directed:
Nkosi sikelele Africa. God bless Africa.
Our stories … are about the human heart and emotion.
2009 – Jerusalema (Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Sotho), Director Ralph Ziman – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film
2010 – White Wedding (Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, English), Director Jann Turner – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film
2010 – District 9, Director Neill Blomkamp (South African–Canadian film director, film producer, screenwriter, and animator) – Nominated for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay (Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell)
“District 9“, Official Trailer:
2011 – Life, Above All (in Northern Sotho), Director Oliver Schmitz – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film, made the January Shortlist. Life, Above All received 10-minutes standing ovations at its world premiere at the 63rd Cannes International Film Festival.
2012 – Beauty (Afrikaans), Director Oliver Hermanus – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film
“Beauty“, Official Trailer:
2013 – Herbert Kretzmer (South African-born English journalist and lyric writer) – Nominated for Best Music, Original Song for Les Misérables, song “Suddenly” (together with Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg)
2013 – Little One (Zulu), Director Darrell Roodt – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film
2014 – Four Corners (Afrikaans), Director Ian Gabriel – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film
2015 – Elelwani (Venda), Director Ntshavheni wa Luruli – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film
2016 – Margaret Sixel (South African-born, Australian film editor ) – WON Best Film Editing, Mad Max: Fury Road
2016– “The Two of Us” (isiZulu) – directed by Ernest Nkosi – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film.
2017 (89th Academy Awards) – “Noem My Skollie (Call Me Thief)“, (Afrikaans) – directed by Daryne Joshua – Submitted for Best Foreign Language Film.
Noem My Skollie producer, Moshidi Motshegwa, said referring the support the cast and crew received at home : “The greatest affirmation an artist can get is from their own tribe. We are ecstatic to have this affirmation!”
2018 – Revolting Rhymes, directed by Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer., Best Animated Short Film, Nominated. Revolting Rhymes is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s and Quentin Blake’s classic fairy-tale book of the same name. It was produced by Magic Light Pictures and animated by Magic Light’s Berlin studio along with Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation.
2019 – Charlize Theron, “Bombshell” – Best Actress in a Leading Role. Nominated.
2021 – My Octopus Teacher, Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed (writers and directors) and Craig Foster – Best Documentary, Nominated. Good luck!
Even if no Oscar is brought home, what matters are the passion and dedication of each actor, director, make-up artist, costume designer, editor, of the entire crew backing-up a motion picture which puts South Africa, proudly, on the Academy Awards map once again.
Initially wrote for the Huffington Post SA in 2017 and updated in 2018, published on 13 February 2018, republished on my blog on 24 April 2021.
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…
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.
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.’
For nearly four centuries the Giant of Table Mountain watched over the only Cape Sea Route connecting the Mediterranean Sea, past Cape Town, South Africa, with the Indian Ocean.
Table Mountain and the Legend of the Querulous Giant Adamastor
Ancient Greece was not only a time where culture and philosophy flourished but a time of great tales too. Such were the Greek Myths, stories about gods, goddesses, and their daily rituals. According to the ancient Greeks, Uranus, meaning sky or heaven, was their greatest god, and his wife was Gaea, or Gaia, meaning land, or earth. Uranus and Gaia had many children, some being the twelve Titans who ruled the earth. One of the Titans was Cronus, who later fathered Zeus…
Zeus, eventually, with the aid of two of his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, won the war against the Titans – which were rather tyrannical uncles – and banished them to three places around the world. One such place was the dark and gloomy underworld of Tartarus. The second place was a British Island in the far west, probably the Outer Hebrides, or the Island of Strangers, or even Western Isles, in Scotland. The third place, where poor, old Adamastor was imprisoned, was situated at the southern end of the world, at Table Mountain.
Although… Adamastor appears to be a mythological character created much later, and by the Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões who lived in the 16th century and is, to this day, considered the Portuguese language’s greatest poet. Still, let’s hear his account as it explains superbly how the Cape of Storms, or Cape of Good Hope, near the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula (located in today’s Western Cape province of South Africa), received its name.
So, back to Adamastor, restricted under Table Mountain…
After a few hundred years of being locked away Adamastor was feelings rather bored. There he was, a strong giant once leading a busy life, now confined to a small stony place covered with shrubs and fynbos… not even mighty trees! So Adamastor, to give some purpose to his days, decided to take action and do something good: protect! Yet guard not only the area where he’s been locked up but the entire continent of Africa.
This was around the time when the Portuguese navigators first sailed along the west coast of Africa all the way down… and Adamastor saw them arriving, out of the corner of his eye. He grunted but said nothing, did nothing, just kept an eye on them as one would with naughty children. Waiting for the navigators to do something wrong, and knowing well that they will. The Portuguese sailed on; busy on their route that took them for the first time through these foreign seas, further south they floated, approaching the southernmost tip of Africa. Adamastor said nothing, again, but grunted, rumbled and crossed his arms, I am watching you, and a strong wind swelled the Atlantic Ocean. Still, the navigators kept sailing on, their sails swelling with the gale, their ships angled. When they eventually attempted to approach the land, for fresh water, fresh fruits and maybe some eggs too, Adamastor had had it. He coughed and he puffed so much, that the waters of the Atlantic AND the Indian Ocean swelled, especially along the line where they meet, by the southernmost tip of Africa.
So Bartolomeu Dias, the first Portuguese sailor to attempt sailing down the west coast of Africa, around its tip and up its east coast, towards India – to buy the precious spices (ginger, black pepper, nutmeg, clover – the great Bartolomeu Dias dared not sail further, but turned back his ships and set his compass to home.
It was but a few years later when another Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama, showed no fear. He had seen the storm approaching, so he thought, really hard, what he can do next. He weighed his options. Run for cover, or head out to open water for some sea room? If he ran for cover, the preferred choice, the danger lied in being caught in the storm closer to shore, with no room to maneuver or runoff. Smashed against the rocky shored he could end. But if he sailed away, towards the open ocean, he could very well sail towards the middle of the storm.
So when Adamastor raised the winds, Vasco da Gama lowered his sails. When Adamastor swelled the waves, da Gama kept speeding on, aiming for flat spots of sea between the giant breakers, all the time making sure he kept the land to his left, staying on his initial course of rounding the Cape.
Da Gama did a great battle with Adamastor. Storm after storm Adamastor threw at the Portuguese ships, terrifying the sailors who were already scared for they had reached the dreaded Cape of Storms and were nearing the place where Dias had given up. And although his sailors were ready to cut a deal bargain with Adamastor, Da Gama wanted to prove that he was not Dias, and he was not superstitious either.
But Da Gama was clever, not only brave and stubborn. He promised Adamastor a better name for his southernmost rocky spot, one that will bring more visitors over, thus increasing Adamastor’s kingdom. He shall name it the Cape of Good Hope.
Finally, a deal was struck and Da Gama sailed past and reached India, thus establishing the first sailing route there from Europe, the Cape Sea Route. And Adamastor got his large kingdom, to protect.
The Cape Sea Route below Table Mountain after the Suez Canal opened
The Cape Sea Route was in high demand until 1869 when the opening of the Suez Canal provided a much shorter route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, thus rendering the long trip around Africa inefficient… Until the Ever Given cargo ship, a 400 meters long Megaship, got stuck in the Suez Canal due to strong winds (perhaps it was Adamastor?) and a sandstorm and blocked the Suez Canal in Egypt, when it ran aground diagonally on March 23rd 2021.
Etymology: The name Adamastor is an adaptation in Portuguese of the Greek word for “Untamed” or “Untameable” (Adamastos) (which the Portuguese did tame eventually).
Fynbos, a small belt of natural shrub-land or heath-land vegetation located in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa.
I hope you enjoyed my tale about Table Mountain and the Legend of the Querulous Giant who Blasted the Cape Sea Route Free.
Discover more legends and read about Cape Town and about a beloved Great Dane, the first dog to be enlisted in the Royal Navy during World War Two, in my book Joyful Trouble (available as an eBook, paperback, large print and hardcover).
With Immortalis, the ImmortalCăluşarii 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?
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.
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. Were those more peaceful times? 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.
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.
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.
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.