Hand carving wooden doors, porches and window frames with millennial symbols is an art practiced by few, and acknowledged by fewer, yet the homes of Dimitrie Gusti Village Museum in Bucharest are a testimony of its everlasting beauty. What stories do they tell us, spanning centuries? Do we pay attention?
Ashes to ashes, like human flesh, and just as warm to touch, wood and wood carvings have a short lifespan, although carved wooden spears dated to Middle Paleolithic, 300,000 to 30,000 years ago, have been discovered.
Perhaps the first wood carvers were the builders. Or a father who carved a small toy dog to fit the small hands of his son, or a lover who carved a flower out of wood, on which he lay a kiss in the midst of winter. A persistent hand worker with a dream, as wood, as a material, is softer than marble, cracks easier, and is much loved by (many) insects…
I think wood carving began an art when carpenters topped lifting the wood with their bodies, and lifted it with their imagination…
123 households with 60 000 objects from all over Romania, 380 establishments spread over 14 ha of land, not to count the 250 000 archive documents, this is the National Muzeum of Village Dimitrie Gusti in Bucharest, a perfect example of vernacular architecture.
Join me 🙂
Bellow is a Romanian shepherds house from Valea Doftanei Commune, on the curvature of the Carpathian Mountains, where the shepherding tradition goes back to the 14th century. Worth noticing are the frontal, long stoop and the central entrance parlor. The house stands on a foundation built from river stones, hand-picked. You can see the cellar and its door on the left, underneath the ‘day room’. The house is made of fir trees, abundant in the area.
On a closer look, what makes this house so special, except for once having been a home?
Have the engraved pillars been chosen by chance or the wood artists strolled through the woods until a ray of sun filtered by foliage danced on his face, catching his eye? Had he approached the tree with reverence? Had he run his calloused hands along its ancient trunk, feeling the life inside, asking for permission? Had the design came to him in that moment? Had he drew it on the trunk, in a whisper of apology? Asking for the forest’s blessing? I like to believe he did.
Next, a sleigh for storing and transporting wood during winter, with a door fashioned from twigs and a roof of straws. Child’s play:
Brownie points if you guess what the image below is. And, yes, it has a door:
It has been transported to the Village Museum all the way from the north of the country, from Breaza, from a hamlet situated at a height of 1 200m together with an entire household that belonged to a family of huțulii (huțanii, hutsuls), an ethnic group living in the very NW of Romania with Dacians origins…
Because the homes were far and few in between, to keep the wild animals off the households, as well as out of the water wells, both were fitted with a tall fence. A secondary reason was to keep the water clean, as cats do get everywhere… Notice the cross on top, a Christian symbol meant to bless the water… And the slant in the roof meant to aid the snow slide off during the heavy blanketed winters of the North of Romania.
But an artists at heart is such no matter where he was born and to tell a story all he needs are his two hands…
Like in this tell-tale blue of a house with blue doors, blue window frames, underneath the blue sky reflecting the blue waters… from Dobrogea, a fisherman land and home to Danube Delta:
A few more doors and households from the Village Museum:
Love and respect for tradition is what blows life in a carving made in wood.
Even the pen house (above) has a story to tell, a blessing to keep it safe – from beasts, the seen ones from forests, and unseen, from folktales.
And a blessing for the cellar:
It happened the way it was meant. He had learned the wood carving skill from his father, who had grasped it from his own father, and so on. But the stories he whispered into the wood, those came from songs, from childhood games and rhymes, from the mountains he’d climbed with the sheep, the streams he drank from, the clouds overhead and the stars, the sun and the birds. From prayers, said and unsaid. They were symbols for protection, and symbols to remind him, and his own, of their family. Their history. Their past. For nothing comes out of nothing and no meaningful future is there, without a past.
Between the symbols found in Romanian architecture of the village art are: the circle, the rope, the cross, the star, the sun (purifying the spirit) or the rosette, the moon (as a feminine symbol, assuring the fertility of the home), the tree of life (symbolizing Christ and immortality), the snake, the fir branch, the fir tree, flowers in a vase, wheat or rye, leaves, the horse, the lark, the dove (symbol for soul, taking off towards the Heavens), as well as the human silhouette (alone or in a group), the hand (a barrier against wicked forces), the eye (God’s all-seeing, protector eye), the cross (Christianity, remembering the death and resurrection of Christ).
The rooster, usually placed on top of houses but also carved on gates, is there for protection, remembering the rooster sacrificed when the establishment was built, and buried in the foundation – to ensure its durability.
The snake might derive from the popular belief that each home has its own protective spirit, called the home’s snake. It is said that one should not kill a snake near a home, as to not attract the spirits’ wrath… Now I know that a snake has so many negative connotations, but in the Book of Numbersthe copper serpent, Nehushtan, is an archetype of Jesus Christ, offering immortal life to those who believed in Him. The serpent also symbolizes wisdom and prudence.
If you happen to see a Romanian county home and wish to spot any of these symbols, do look at the pillars of gates and wells, search around the gates, doors and windows, as well as above, pay attention to the porches, and on the front side of the roofs.
For a wood carving is a novel.
How many symbols can you recognize?
Below, on gate pillars we can see the rope, the star, the rosette (the sun), geometrical motifs, the star, the circle, the tree of life:
Happy to join Norm’sThursday Doors with this post 🙂
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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.
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 – 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.
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.”
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.
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”).
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.
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…
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 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 16thcentury 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.
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.
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”
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.
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 🙂
It is fascinating to consider the butterfly effect, how one small change can have a big impact on the future, especially with regards to the outcome of the Battle of Kosovo and the life choices of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad III, or Vlad Dracula.
I often ask myself, if history would have taken another turn, would Vlad III have made different life choices? Which ones?
One such turning point was the Battle of Kosovo that took place on 15 June 1389.
The Battle of Kosovo
The Battle of Kosovo took place on the Kosovo field, polje, (Field of the Blackbirds), in the territory ruled by Vuk Branković, between the defending Serbian army led by Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović (actually a coalition of Serbs, Albanians, Croatians, Bosnians, and Romanians – soldiers sent by Voievode Mircea the Elder who ruled Walachia at that time) and the invading army of the Ottoman Empire under the command of Sultan Murad I the Sovereign (also a coalition, as a small contingent of the Serbian army was already supporting the Turks, who in turn, were supporting the Serbian ruler in power).
Both leaders were killed in action (and so was Vuk Branković) and the bulk of both armies were wiped out in this battle. As with any great battle, there are numerous accounts describing the forces, the attacks, as well as who exactly and how killed Murad I.
Who emerged victorious from this battle? The new Ottoman sultan…
It is said that Murad I’s son Bayezid strangled his younger brother Yakub Çelebi when he got news of their father’s death during the battle, thus securing himself the throne of the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps Bayezid’s name sounds familiar to you; he built one of the largest armies in the world at that time and unsuccessfully besieged Constantinople.
The outcome of the battle?
the Serbs were left with too few men to effectively defend their lands who became Ottoman vassals in the following years, although in the aftermath of the battle Serbian rulers might not have seen the outcome as a defeat, but as a victory;
Prince Lazar’s daughter, Olivera Despina, marries the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I right after this battle (she was not the only Serbian princess to marry a Sultan);
the Ottoman Empire straightened its position in the South-East Europe;
a crumbling Byzantine Empire was now completely encircled by the Ottoman Empire;
the Bulgarian kingdom fell in the year 1393, greatly endangering the safety of the Romanian Principalities at the North;
the stronger Ottoman Empire seized the Danube ports, now greatly endangering the independence of Wallachia (Walachia). Bayezid was also angry that the Romanians have supported the Serbs during the Kosovo Battle…);
a new epoch of Ottoman menace and threat begins for the whole of South-East Europe and the political landscape of this region is forever altered.
Following the butterfly effect, let’s move further to:
Vlad the Impaler and the Romanian Principalities during the 15th century
the Romanian Principalities at this time were: Moldavia (in NE), Walachia (in south, above the Danube River), and Transylvania (in NW, although at this stage it was still part of the Hungarian Kingdom);
with Murad I dead during the Battle of Kosovo, Beyazıd the Thunderbolt took over the ruling of the Ottoman Empire;
Two things happen next: Mircea the Elder supported the Bulgarian Kingdom in their fight against the Ottomans (Bulgarians were Mircea’s neighbors in the south), a decision that brought him in conflict with the Ottoman Empire (famous Battle of Rovine, 10 October 1394, comes to mind), AND Mircea the Elder sent his son Vlad II to the court of the Hungarian King, as it was custom;
1395: the first confirmed invasion of Ottoman Empire into Țara Bârsei, Burzenland (SE Transylvania) via the Bran Pass, with the Turks coming so close to the Hungarian Kingdom;
with the Ottoman Empire on the rise, Sigismund of Luxembourg founded the Order of the Dragon in 1408. Fashioned after the military orders of the Crusades, its purpose was to defend Christianity particularly against the Ottoman Empire;
Vlad II, showing great battle skills and courage, was invited by Sigismund of Luxembourg to join the Order of the Dragon in 1431 and later recognized by the Hungarian King as the lawful Voivode of Wallachia;
Sigismund of Luxembourg died in 1437 and Vlad II was left without the Hungarian support against the Ottoman Empire. Thus, Vlad II had to to pay homage to Murad II (grandson of Bayezid, now ruling the Ottoman Empire) and, to prove his loyalty he was ‘asked’ to send his two sons, Vlad III (~ age 11) and Radu (~ age 5) as hostages to the Ottoman court of Edirne. Vlad III and Radu were schooled and lived following the Islam laws for over five years.
It was here and now that Vlad III met Mehmed II the Conqueror (the one sultan who finally takes Constantinople on May 29, 1453). Vlad III and Mehmed II crossed swords many times afterwards. What Vlad III had to put up with as a young boy held captive at the Ottoman court is a story for another time…
Back to the Battle of Kosovo, 15 June 1389
This specific date, 15 June on the Julian calendar or 28 June on the Gregorian calendar is a Serbian national and religious holiday, St. Vitus’ day.
Might be hard to believe, but notable events happened on that day throughout the history of Serbia, one of them being the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914.
Yes, the Battle of Kosovo took place about 40 years before Vlad III was born and 1 000 km away, but its outcome affected not only the entire dynamics of the South-Eastern Europe, including the lives of millions of Serbs, Hungarians, Romanians, Czechs, Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, Albanians, but the dynamics inside the immediate family of Vlad III.
The Legend of Miloš Obilić
Is not sure if Miloš Obilić, the Serbian knight who walked straight into the tent of Sultan Murad I and kill him, really existed or not. But the force released in the aftermath of the Battle Kosovo gave birth to many legends, like the real one about Vlad the Impaler.
It is said that Obilić had super powers, he was the son of a fairy or of dragon and his unnatural powers came from drinking the milk of a mare. His nickname was Kobilic or Kobilovic, and in Serbian kobila means mare. His horse was named Zdral and his fiance was none other but the daughter of the Serbian ruler Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović.
Modern historian bring forward contradictory opinions on Vlad the Impaler. Some see him as a hero who fought his entire life to defend the independence of his country, Walachia, and the Christendom. Others see him as a psychopath who killed and tortured out of sadistic pleasure.
What is certain is that this Romanian prince entered the pages of literature through numerous writings that were published during his life, but especially the chronicles that appeared after his death, as well as the works of Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu and Bram Stoker. Perhaps all due to his unique personality features, nevertheless carved by his rich family roots, unusual and unfortunate upbringing as well as the historical circumstances that mapped his entire life.
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I turned to books and reading, as well as writing, many times over in my life, yet only lately have I thought about the idea of therapy through books and reading to stay happy.
Yet I am not the only one, nor am I the first, as since ancient times people have noticed the amazing healing power of art. As if by magic, negative emotions, whoosh, evaporate to be replaced with a state of peace and harmony.
Catharsis. Coined by Aristotle in Poetics to describe the effects of tragedy on the spectator, that of freeing the soul from suffering.
Bibliotherapy (book therapy, poetry therapy or therapeutic storytelling) uses creative arts as therapy. It involves storytelling, the reading of poetry or specific texts with the purpose of healing. It works by utilizing an individual’s relationship with the content of a text as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression.
You see, the concept that books, library therapy, bibliotherapy or reading can be used to stay happy started a few thousand years ago.
The inscribed marble above reads Psyches Iatreion, Healing Place of the Soul, and is found in the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Patmos, in the wall over the entrance to the Monastery’s Library. The inscription goes millenniums back. The same phrase was inscribed above the entrance of the sacred library of the tomb of Ramses II at Thebes. A similar one decorated the vast library of Alexandria, the largest and most significant library of the ancient world.
A very quick look at books, reading and their use as therapy throughout the centuries
Fast forward a few hundred years and we find the majority of Medieval people (men, women and children, rich and poor) to be illiterate, yet storytelling prevailed as people loved to hear stories, enjoyed listening to historical, religious or local folktales being read to them or simply recounted. It taught them lessons and morals, it connected them with their ancestors.
Worth remembering is that while most women living between the Dark Ages and the Age of Enlightenment could not write or sign their names, many could read, to some extent.
Then Gutenberg came, developing a press that mechanized the transfer of ink from movable type to paper. Printing was easier, faster.
And humanity dipped its foot in the Renaissance, freighted with famous writers, treasured texts, and a general curiosity about humankind. The Renaissance Man. Highly skilled writers (who were readers too) emerged, yet none was just a writer if one wanted to make a living.
The Enlightenment brought along the development of the educational systems in Europe that continued into the French Revolution, so literacy and learning were gradually provided to rich and poor alike. But bear in mind that historians measured the literacy rate during the 17th and 18th century centuries by people’s ability to sign their names.
The increase in literacy rate was mostly influenced by the fact that most schools and colleges were organized by clergy, missionaries, or other religious organizations, as literacy was thought to be the key to understanding the word of God. The reason which motivated religions to help to increase the literacy rate among the general public was because the bible was being printed in more languages. By 1714 the proportion of women able to read was approximately 25%, and it rose again to 40% by 1750, with literacy rates raising more quickly in predominantly Protestant Northern Europe than predominately Catholic southern Europe.
It was the Kingdom of Prussia who introduced a modern public educational system that will reach the vast majority of population, a system copied across Europe and the United States in the 19th century.
19th century medics and nurses working England’s psychiatric hospitals used to read to patients anything from novels and travel journals to the Bible. This was because works of fiction lend a helping hand to the readers (listeners) by giving them the opportunity to escape into another universe, to identify with a favorite characters (outside their own skin) and to be inspired by them.
World War II veterans were also recommended books to help them cope with post-traumatic stress.
Today, reading clubs are a real help to psychiatric institutions in improving the care for the elderly or for young people with disabilities or behavioral disorders.
What is the connection between books, therapy, bibliotherapy and that happy feeling?
A research done by the University of Sussex and quoted by The Telegraph showed that only six minutes of reading a day can reduce stress level with up to 68 %. Keeping an active mind proved protective against the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) later in life.
Simply turning the pages of a book and immersing oneself in reading gives the brain a state of relaxation similar to that produced by meditation, providing our health system with the same benefits as those of achieving a state of deep relaxation and inner calm. It has been found that people who read regularly sleep better, have lower stress levels, a higher self-esteem and are less predisposed to depression than those who do not have this habit.
Could there be more to paging through a book than the joys of reading?
Reading is often associated only with relaxing activities, with spending time in a pleasant way. But, in reality, reading is a very complex activity.
The University of Liverpool conducted a study between reading and increasing the quality of life and found that reading is not only good for our health, but can make us happier and more empathetic. In addition, many of participants in the study confessed that certain books inspired them to make those changes in their lives that they had long wanted to make.
Psychologist Becca Levy, an associate professor at Yale University, published a study in the Social Science & Medicine journal on the benefits of reading observed over twelve years. The conclusion is impressive: people who read regularly live 23 months longer than those who do not. Although it is not yet clear how reading can actually increase life expectancy, Dr. Levy and other scientists who participated in the study believe that it is due to the cognitive benefits of this activity – from the simultaneous integration of several brain regions and increased ability to concentrate , to the development of empathy and emotional intelligence.
How is all this possible?
Keith Oatley, a writer and professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, has led an extensive research on the psychology of fiction. “We started to show how identification with fictional characters appears, how literature can improve social skills, how it can move us emotionally and can quickly cause changes in the process of self-knowledge,” says Keith Oatley. After years of research and study on large groups of subjects, the Canadian psychologist concluded that reading fiction is “a simulation, but not on a computer, one that takes place in our minds – a simulation of our interaction with others, with the society, which implies the possibility to imagine our future under different variants.”
So, even if we do not realize this, when we read we experience hypothetical life situations that prepare us for the real ones. The advantage is that in the realm of fiction we do it without danger and without pain.
And so is writing.
I will leave you with Proust’s words:
“In reading, friendship is restored immediately to its original purity. With books there is no forced sociability. If we pass the evening with those friends—books—it’s because we really want to. When we leave them, we do so with regret and, when we have left them, there are none of those thoughts that spoil friendship: “What did they think of us?”—“Did we make a mistake and say something tactless?”—“Did they like us?”—nor is there the anxiety of being forgotten because of displacement by someone else. All such agitating thoughts expire as we enter the pure and calm friendship of reading.”
Once upon a time, in a fortress far away, in the lost town of Iriin, an emperor known by the name of Sehachi (some called him Sachaisa) had twelve vivid dreams in one single night. No one in the emperor’s entourage could explain their meaning, until they heard of a great scholar and philosopher named Mamer, who could interpret such dreams. So they invited Mamer to court. He came, for he was wise enough to know that if the emperor himself invites you, then there is great cause and you must go at once.
In the safety of the royal rooms, the emperor shared his dreams with Mamer.
‘My lord Sehachi,’ said Mamer, ‘these dreams should not worry you, but cause great joy for God had sent them to you and to you only to show you what will happen at the end of days. Yet there is much you can still do to prevent it. But you cannot do it alone.’
The emperor gasped and a tear bloomed in the corner of his eye only to make its way along a deep wrinkle, down the emperor’s cheek until it got lost in his grey beard.
‘Tell it to me,’ said Mamer stretching out his hand as if to receive, ‘the first dream.’
The emperor’s eyes were looking straight into the philosopher’s cobalt ones, as clear s the sky, as deep as the sea.
‘There was a golden pillar that seemed to unite Heaven and earth.’
Mamer listened, his eyes searching the horizons. A ray of sun was shining,emerging between the palm trees lining the imperial gardens.
‘When the last days will arrive,’ he finally spoke, ‘there will be much evil in the world. Justice will seem to have vanished, and so will all good intentions, and heartfelt gestures, peace and understanding. No one will even think good thoughts or utter kind words, but only vile ones. The old people, the only ones still remembering how a good thought sounded like, will be too weak and too scared to say it out loud to the young. To teach them. And all will go to their graves taking their sins with them, without repenting. There will also be famine and the autumn will last through the winter, while the winter will stretch into summer. Yet men will be able to sow during any season and no one will ever remember that there was a time for each seed and an endeavor for each season. Men will sow all year long, yet there will be little to reap. Because the earth, too, will be tired. And during such times children will not respect their parents anymore and will marry whomever they choose. They will no mind the sin and many children will grow not knowing who their fathers are, nor who their ancestors came from, or where their roots spread. And kings and princes will care no more for their people, but will be violent towards the poor. Many will forsake their fate and embrace another. There will be day, yet the sun will get darker and no moon will come out to shine. The days will become short and many signs will show themselves. To everybody. Yet people will have none to turn to for advice for priests will not be recognizable from the uninitiated anymore, nor by looks and neither by speech. Priests will tell lies, and this will contribute to the crumbling of all truth and justice.’
The philosopher returned the king’s hard stare.
‘This is what your first dreams means, Sire.’ Then he said quickly, ‘how was your second dream, o king?’
The king sighed, caught his breath, his right hand over his heart, and said, “ I saw a woman holding a towel in her hand and it reached from heaven to earth.’
Mamer the philosopher thought, looked around the king’s large rooms, with bolted ceilings painted with stars and suns and moons, then said, ‘when the last days will be near the people will forsake their true faith and will think of adopting another one, but no one will think of worshipping God anymore. People will forsake their poor relations, but prefer the company of strangers.’
The king’s eye caught a small brown bird on the windowsill. His youngest daughter liked to leave crumbs there. The bird ate, sang a tune, and flew away.
‘And the third dream?’
‘I saw three kettles boiling over a big fire. One filled with fat, one with water and the third one with oil. Some of the fat was running into the oil, and some of the oil into the fat. But none fell into the water which was boiling by itself.’
A tray with gold rimmed glasses placed on a silver tray engraved with geometrical patterns as well as a wine jug was brought next to the king. Yet the philosopher declined the drink with a tip of his head.
He said further, ‘at the end of the days the men will plant villages in places where such villages had never been dreamed of rising before. At one end of the village a rich man will live, while at the other another rich man will raise his manor, while the poor will live in the middle. And the one rich man will invite the other to feast with him, while both will ignore the poor, even if the poor is their brother. And will be hypocrites, they will all neglect their own relations, hate their parents and brothers and love only the wife’s family, if it has money. Women will leave their husbands and run away with other men. Old women will marry young men and old men will marry young girls, much too young, for shame would have disappeared from among men and there will not be left a single pure woman or man in the world.’
The king looked at his family portraits, adorning the walls of his rooms. Mamer placed his hands in his lap, one on top of the other, and said quietly, ‘and the fourth dream?’
‘I saw an old mare chewing some hay and the foal neighing within its belly.’
The philosopher replied while watching his hands. Or perhaps he observed the thick carpet that felt so soft underfoot.
‘When the end of the day approaches, mothers will act immodestly and allow their daughters to meet with strangers and conduct immoral business. And the fifth dream?’
“I saw a dog lying in a pond and her puppies were barking inside her belly.’
The king’s carpets were dark blue, with gold details that matched the murals.
‘During the last days fathers will still teach their sons properly, but the sons will refuse to listen and will say ‘you have grown old and have lost your senses and you don’t know what you are talking about anymore,’ and the parents will be put to shame and will keep silent.’
The king kept quiet for a long time. The sound of a lute filled the room.
‘And the sixth dream?’
‘I saw a large number of priests standing in dirt up to their necks,’ whispered the king.
‘At the time of the ned of days the priests will still teach God’s word to the people, but they themselves will not follow it anymore but will only plan to enrich themselves, condemning their souls to the everlasting fire.’
The notes were turning and twisting with the leaves.
‘And the seventh dream?’
‘I saw a beautiful horse with two heads, one in the front and one looking at the back. One head fed on grass while the second drank water.’
‘When the end of days will come near, there will be wrong judgement in the world, bribery, and the bishops will appoint ignorant priests because they will be paid to do so and not mind it. A thing which ought never to happen. There will be plenty of priests, but only a handful of good ones among them. The rest will have neither fear of God, nor shame of men and will never think that they will go down to the torments of hell for their sins.’
The first drops of rain hit the leaves.
‘And the eights dream?’
‘I saw a great number of pearls strewn on the face of earth and fire fell from heaven and it burned everything.’
The room filled with the ozone rich scent of rain, overpowering the sweet incenses rising from gold vases placed along the walls. The philosopher filled his lungs, grateful. Then answered.
‘At the end of days all will become smugglers and the rich will make the poor to look like liars and will use treachery to take everything away from the poor. No worrying that by doing so they will lose their souls.’
The leaves of the palm tree seemed to rub one another in the wind, like giant hands.
‘And the ninth dream?’
‘I saw a large number of people working together in one spot,’ said the king, rubbing his own hands, absentminded.
‘At the end of days men will bring their riches to others, for safekeeping. And the keepers will smile and be glad to receive it. But when the owners will come to take back what was rightfully theirs, the keepers will pretend not to know what is being asked of them and they will even swear they speak the truth, not worrying that they will lose their soul for lying.’
A sudden outburst rose the curtains to the ceiling, pushing a vase over, its fall cushioned by carpets. Then the downpour came.
‘And the tenth dream?’
‘I saw lots of women and men sitting on the ground,’ called the king, in an attempt to make himself heard over the gale.
‘When the end of days will be near,’ answered Mamer, en will not shy away from trickery and pride, and will not worry for losing their souls for it.’
‘And the eleventh dream?’
‘I saw people wearing beautiful flowers in their hair.’
Mamer thought for a while, his eyelids almost covering his cobalt eyes that were cast on his hands, placed in his lap. Outside, the rain poured like a song.
‘At the end of days people will be stingy, greedy and many will gossip and will stray away from the righteous path and do that in their homes too. Good words, truth, will not be uttered anymore, not even between brothers. When a poor will say wise words, all will laugh, but when a rich man will say something stupid, all will gasp and clap and say ‘hear what he says for he speaks the truth,’ and all will agree with him. And all will end in hell. And the twelfth dream?’
‘I saw many people with a great deal of hair, with nails like a vulture and very long legs,’ said the king and two tears run down his face, one on each side. And when the philosopher looked up he saw the wet path that was already there, for each tear to follow.
‘At the end of days the rich will take advantage of the poor so much so that the poor will envy those who died before them, and were thus absolved from living such bad times.’
Then he placed both his hands on the sides of his chair and stood with great ease, given his age. And Mamer the philosopher bowed in front of the king and said, ‘your servant, my lord, for I spoke the truth, and dark times will be seen, at the end of days.’
And he turned, left the king’s rooms and the palace and headed down the road. And those who saw him walk did not knew who he was, just wondered how such an old man can walk at such a great speed and not mind the rain.
What are The Twelve Dreams of Mamer?
Dating from the 15th century and known today in several variations, the twelve prophetic dreams of king Sehachi is available also as a 17th century (1678) Romanian manuscript, being one of the oldest known manuscripts written in the Romanian language. The manuscript is entitled The Twelve Dreams of Mamer, Cele Douasprezeve Vise in Tâlcuirealui Mamer.
The Twelve Dreams of Mamer may very well be a an oriental story that reached the Slaves (and from there it came to Romania where it stayed among other local folktales) via an unknown Greek version.
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Tracing the history of name Furstenberg I discovered some coins, perhaps part of a treasure found in a castle, as well as porcelain fit for a King residing on a Parisian Street.
First there was the Fürstenberg castle
Fürstenberg Castle was a medieval fortress located on Fürstenberg hill, in Baden-Württemberg region of south-west Germany, near the source of the Danube river.
The name actually means Prince Mountain, or Prince of the Mountain.
The castle was first mentioned in a deed of 1175. Around 1250 Count Henry of Urach (a land nearby) made it his residence and was the first to call himself a Count of Fürstenberg.
Sadly, the original castle was devastated during the Thirty Years’ War (at the beginning of the 17th century) and never rebuilt. But the Fürstenberg county and the Fürstenberg clan survived history.
Over the years, as it often happened with any big family, holdings were partitioned between different branches of the clan, then unified again as family lines went extinct. One such memorable member was Count Henry VII von Fürstenberg-Fürstenbergmentioned in 1408.
One of the oldest Fürstenberg coins
A Theodore von Furstenberg silver coin from 1614
In 1664, Hermann Egon of Fürstenberg-Heiligenberg and his brothers, the bishops Franz Egon of Strasbourg and Cardinal William Egon of Fürstenberg, became Princes of the Holy Roman Empire and the first to be raised to imperial princely status by emperor Leopold I. Therefor Hermann Egon is seen as the founder of the Principality of Fürstenberg-Fürstenberg.
Furstenberg coins from 16th and 17th centuries
Minted under Dietrich von Fürstenberg, Bishop of Paderborn, 1585-1618 (left) and under Ferdinand von Fürstenberg, Bishop of Paderborn and Münster, 1661-1683 (right):
In 1716, Count Joseph Wilhelm Ernst becomes (again) Prince of Fürstenberg-Fürstenberg (due to various partitions followed by unification of the small counties). It was he who changed his residency to Donaueschingen, a small settlement near the confluence of the Brigach and Breg rivers, the source of the Danube river. There he built a residence fit for a prince, he organized the administration of the county and is seen as the founder of the Principality of Fürstenberg-Fürstenberg.
A Furstenberg-Stuhlingen Taler from 1729
A coin that should not exist in such a fine state. The obverse: we see the bust of Josef Wilhelm Ernst Furstenberg-Stuhlingen in armored suit. Do notice the fine details: the edge of each curl fully defined, and his facial features easily pronounced. Also, notice the flan (or planchet, the round metal disk that is ready to be struck as a coin): in russets and golden hues just like a painter’s brush strokes. The reverse: figures at work, with a view of the mines and valley in the background. Do notice the excellent proportions of the details and the 3D perspective created with the use of repoussoir (an object along the right or left foreground that directs the viewer’s eye into the composition by framing the edge).
The Fürstenberg porcelain
Duke Charles I of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who reigned as Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from 1735 until his death, requested that a porcelain factory be built in 1747 in Fürstenberg.
Below is one of the oldest drawing used by Fürstenberg porcelain factory dating from 1760: the castle and the factory, and painted by Pascha Johann Weitsch. The plate is from the Duke Carl I of Brunswick-Wolfenbuettel set.
It is interesting to know that the Fürstenberg porcelain trademark, the blue “F”, dates since 1740 and the ALT FÜRSTENBERG range is still produced today in its original Rococo style.
Moving on with the history of the Fürstenberg family…
At the end of the 18th century, Prince Joseph Maria Benedikt, the third Prince of the House of Fürstenberg-Stühlingen, is known to have studied at the University of Salzburg and was a passionate musician and a patron of the arts. For this, the Prince upgraded the riding school in Donaueschingen into a 500 seat theater to play the works of great composers of the day. He is also remembered to have regulated the lives of his subjects with moral severity…
In 1766 and age 10, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited the Fürstenberg home in Donaueschingen for twelve days and performed for the Prince, his family, and guests. Both Mozart and his sister received diamond rings as a sign of gratitude for their performance.
Later, Mozart proposed that the Prince of Fürstenberg pay him a regular annual salary in return for new compositions for exclusive use at the court in Donaueschingen. The Prince purchased three symphonies and three piano concertos but, sadly, decided not to pay Mozart the salary the musician hoped for. If only he would have.
The Furstenberg-Stuhlingen coin of 1767 worth nearly 40 000 USD
A Josef Wenzel Furstenberg-Stuhlingen coin, struck as part of the Mining Taler series featuring St. Wenceslas standing in front of the Wenceslas Mine:
In November 15, 1772 the Prince of Fürstenberg was contracted to marry Princess Maria Theresa of Thurn and Taxis but it didn’t work out as the princess changed her mind. He married instead Maria Antonia of Hohenzollern-Hechingen in 1778. An alliance that did not work out wither, although they shared a passion for music and she was an “excellent soprano”, courageous, determined and ingenious although unusually small.
Over the centuries members of Fürstenberg family have risen to prominence as soldiers, churchmen, diplomats, and academics. Sometimes the name was gallicized as de Furstenberg or anglicized as Furstenberg. 🙂
The Principality of Fürstenberg was one of 16 principalities dissolved by the treaty of the Rhine In 1806. Most part was annexed to the Grand Duchy of Baden, smaller parts were given to the Kingdom of Württemberg, the principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and the Kingdom of Bavaria.
The Fürstenbergnoble title was retired.
The Fürstenberg family no longer rules as princes, yet it still resides at Donaueschingen (with its gardens, grounds and an extensive library), at Heiligenberg and Weitra.
And a Furstenberg street in chic Paris
Rue de Furstemberg is located in one of the most charming squares in Paris.
The street was named after Cardinal Guillaume-Egon de Fürstenberg (1629-1704), ordained Abbot of Saint-Germain-des -Prés in 1697. He was the same Guillaume-Egon which, in 1664 and together with his brothers Hermann Egon of Fürstenberg-Heiligenberg and bishop Franz Egon of Strasbourg, were raised to the status of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire by emperor Leopold I.
Place de Furstenberg or Rue de Furstemberg is in the heart of the wealthy 6tharrondissement, tucked between the web of streets found between the left bank of the Seine and Boulevard Saint-Germain.
The square is the foreground to the entrance of the Abbatial Palace constructed in 1586 by Cardinal Charles I de Bourbon and named after the Cardinal Guillaume-Egon de Furstenberg.
Notice below Rue de Cardinal perpendicularly to Rue de Furstenberg?
Rue de Furstemberg, 75006 Paris, France
The surrounding buildings here are placed around a central island and form a charming courtyard. Noticeable here is the Haussmannian architecture that defines Paris, a subtle hint of the romantic and traditional Parisian charm.
A hotspot for intellectuals and artists, Rue de Furstenberg is also famous for having been home to Eugène Delacroix who moved there to be nearer to the Eglise Saint-Sulpice which he had been commissioned to decorate.
Not any know, but an unfinished Medieval statue of the Virgin with Child was reassembled from three pieces of rock discovered in an archeological dig on the Rue de Furstenberg in 1999. The Statue can be admired in the Church of Saint-Germain des Prés nearby, the oldest church in Paris.
Discovering the history behind a family name is a fascinating journey, one I hope you enjoyed taking with me. Thank you for reading ‘A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street.’ Until next time.
A Rose by Any Other Language or finding a suitable translation to ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet‘ in various languages to celebrate the Birthday of William Shakespeare, believed to have born on this day, the 23rd of April, in 1564.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” are words spoken by Juliet in the famous balcony scene of Act II, Scene II of Romeo and Juliet. The line refers to Romeo’s house, Montague, and it implies that his name (and thus his family’s feud with Juliet’s family, the Capulets) means nothing to her and they should be together.
A name is but a label we affix to an object or a person. Its intrinsic value is not / should not be affected by it. Individuals or things are worth what they carry inside. Thus, even if we call a rose by an entirely different name, it would smell the same as it does by its name “rose.”
By extension, to show someone how important they are to us, we give them nicknames, and we often give our pets human names, to show that in our eyes they are valuable, equal members of our family.
But is Juliet right to minimize the importance of names? And isn’t this line perhaps summarizing the entire tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, the play? Words have power and undermining their power can be a dangerous act. (More on this idea in a future blog post.)
One of the most quoted line from Shakespeare it appears that in the format we know it today, A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, was edited into the text of the play during the 18th century by Irish editor by Edmond Malone.