The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

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

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

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

We also know that, traditionally, the duchies of Almas and Fagaras were fiefs of Wallachian prince. Yet John Hunyadi, appointed Voievode of Transylvania at that time (as Transylvania, although a Romanian county today, was part of the Kingdom of Hungary during he Middle Ages to say the least) seized them. Hunyadi gave Almas to the citizens of Sibiu and kept Faragras for himself.

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

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

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

Now, back to the Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle.

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds far-fetched?

The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

The Iron Maiden as an image for Medieval violence

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

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

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

The Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

The true history of the Iron Maiden

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

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

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

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

doors towards the Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle

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

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Brancoveanu Monastery, Sambata de Sus

Brancoveanu Monastery, Sambata de Sus, Brasov

Brancoveanu Monastery at Sambata de Sus, is a Romanian Orthodox monastery in Brașov County, in the Transylvania region of Romania. At the end of the 17th century Constantin Brâncoveanu, Prince of Wallachia, built a stone church (1688-1714) in place of an older wooden one.

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

The custom was for a Voievod, a christian ruler of a historical Romanian principality, be it Wallachia or Moldavia, to buy land and build a monastery on it, thus the land being donated to the holy abbey. The Voievode was the founder, his portrait painted on the church wall, and his name mentioned, for eternity, during the church service.

But building a church was more than just a spiritual act, it was a political manifesto too, showing the ruler’s strength in the principality.

We were lucky to visit Brâncoveanu Monastery at Sambata de Sus in 2008 and, as you will see from the pictures below, its doors stand open.

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

It was a time (right after 1683), when Romanians of Transylvania knew religious persecutions at the had of the Austro-Hungariam Empire. Losing their forefathers religious belief would have meant them losing their national identity. Many Transylvanian churches and monasteries supported the orthodox Romanians. Many, 150, were destroyed by Viennese General Bukow.

So the catholic administration of Vienna waited. And waited. They waited for the killing of Brâncoveanu in 1714. They waited for the death of his wife Marica (and heiress) in 1729. And they waited for the death of Brâncoveanu‘s grandchild. And in 1785 they sent General Preiss to destroy Brâncoveanu Monastery until no stone was left standing. Thus, the last bastion of Orthodoxy in Fagaras Contry (today Brasov and Sibiu) was no more.

It was in 1926 when the monastery was rebuilt the way we see it in these pictures. Someof the old paintings survived in the church the the architectural style, the Brâncoveanu style, was kept.

At about the same time the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church was founded, drawing numerous Transylvanian Orthodox under Papal authority.

But establishing a church was more then that, it was an act of spiritual responsibility.

Brancoveanu Monastery, Sambata de Sus

Today, a monastery holds no great boundaries to the outside world and during the entire Medieval era of Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania, no matter how well fortified churches and monasteries could hardly protect themselves against mean acts or thoughts of non-believers. And I think now of Albu the Great, boyar during the times of Vlad Ţepeş, who burned down Govora Monastery (built by Vlad Dracul, the father of Vlad Ţepeş), as well as stealing land from it. Land gifted by the voievode – all in an attempt to prove himself stronger than the previous ruler of Walachia, thus able to rule the country on its turn. Of course this would have been one of the reasons Vlad Ţepeş held against Albu, when he ordered that Albu (any other boyars involved in the killing of Vlad Ţepeş’ father and older brother ) be executed on Easter Sunday, 1459.

It was wrong of Albu to burn down the monastery, but it was also wrong of him to steal its land – for the land of a monastery, gifted by a voievode through an official paper, are considered holy land. I wonder if Albu thought of the spiritual consequences, not only material, of his actions.

And this was the privilege we had, as tourists, when visiting Brâncoveanu Monastery in 2008.

Brancoveanu Monastery, Sambata de Sus
Brancoveanu Monastery, Sambata de Sus

On the site of the Brâncoveanu Monastery also functioned a school for secretaries, a workshop for fresco paintings and a small printing press.

Place of worship and inner introspection, a monastery is, today, open to public, yet its arches and murals invite the visitor to quiet meditation. To measuring one’s step to that of the silent flora around, to the lowered gaze of the monks. To the hushed voice of the wind.

Throughout his life as a ruler, over 20 years, Constantin Brâncoveanu built or restored over 24 churches. Like many rulers before him, Vlad Tepes included, Brâncoveanu fought to protect Wallachia against the Ottoman Invasion. But the greedy Sultan Ahmed III kidnapped Brâncoveanu, his four sons (Constantin, Stefan, Radu and Matei) and son in law Ianache – and had them all decapitated on 15 August 1714 because they did not wish to convert to Islam. But, as with any page of history, there are hidden, political truth behind this killing.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature connecting door lovers from around the world through photography. You can join by creating your own weekly Thursday Doors post and sharing the link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

As always, you can find my books on Amazon.

Wooden Doors of a Medieval Chapel, Snagov Monastery

Snagov monastery, paraclis wood carved doors

Almost 600 years old, these wooden doors of a medieval chapel, long sunken they say, built around 1453 near Snagov Monastery, 40 km northward from Bucharest, can still be admired in the Art Museum of Bucharest.

For the weary traveler, approaching the chapel as a meditation, its wooden doors with their visual and scripting messages would have been the first welcoming sign: arms folded in prayer, ready to open, to receive, and to fold around, in absolution.

On the history of Snagov Monastery

Monks settled on Snagov Island, this snake shaped lake, during the times of Mircea the Elder, Mircea cel Batran, Vlad Dracula’s paternal grandfather and ruler of Wallachia during the 14th century.

Vlad Țepeș (Vlad III or Vlad Dracula) too improved the monastery and he would have come here to pray, for his people, for Wallachia, for good fortune in fighting the Turks.

And perhaps Vlad Țepeș came here to pray for enlightenment and forgiveness too.

Will he forgive the double crime?

It is said that a storm pulled the chapel from the ground and threw it in the lake nearby, where it sank. Its doors floated on the waters to the nearby hamlet of Turbați (today Siliștea Snagovului). The nuns from the convent here rescued, dried and kept the carved, kingly doors safe. The hamlet was aptly named Turbați, Rabies, for the nuns were skilled in curing rabies.

On a Monastery Built for Peace and on Medieval Plots and Revenge

You see, in 1447, while Sultan Murad II had young Vlad III and his brother Radu in captivity, their father Vlad II (Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Dragon), ruler of Wallachia, had to balance his crusader oath and his his pledge of neutrality to the sultan. To honor and protect Christianity. Or to keep his two younger sons alive.

John Hunyadi, leading Hungarian military figure, wishing his puppet, Vladislav II, on the throne of Wallachia, invades it. So the local boyars (noblemen) revolt against Vlad II. Caught between the three forces Vlad II is captured and killed by Vladislav while his oldest son Mircea is tortured by boyars and burried alive.

So Vladislav II now rules Wallachia. And in 1453 he build the chapel of Snagov Monastery with these wooden sculpted doors.

Come 1456, Vlad Țepeș defeats Vladislav II in a hand-to-hand combat. Fair and square.

Thus Vlad Țepeș second reign of Wallachia had begun.

Finally, the Chapel Door and its Three Panels Carved in Wood

The carved wooden doors are meant to depict the Feast of the Annunciation, Bunavestire.

The top panel: Angel Gabriel (on the left side) and Virgin Mary (on the right side, praying).

Do you see the vase with flowers? One of them should be a white lily, believed to be the first flower cultivated by humans, associated with purity and, Christianity, the Blessed Virgin.

the Wooden Doors of a Medieval Chapel, Snagov Monastery. top panel - Feast of the Annunciation, Bunavestire.

The median panel depicts saints: Saint Basil the Great (Vasile cel Mare), Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Grigorie din Nazianz), Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (Ioan Gură de Aur) and Saint Nicholas (Sfântul Nicolae).

wooden doors medieval monastery, Snagov chapel, usi paraclis

The lower panel: we see Saint George, Sfantul Mare Mucenic Gheorghe, on his horse, slaying the dragon with his spear, a symbol of Christian faith, at any cost.

wooden doors medieval monastery, Snagov chapel, usi paraclis

The inscription is a prayer in Slavonic, for hospitality that each weary traveler shall find in this place of worship.

Since we are at Snagov, you might like to know tat in 1475, the year before he was killed, Vlad Țepeș ordered that a defense wall be raised around Snagov Monastery, a bridge, a prison for robbers as well as a secret underwater passage that will confer a secondary exit from the island.

For Norm’s Thursday Doors, joining art and photography lovers from around the world.

Doors of Brașov, Transylvania, Romania

We began looking at doors from Brașov, this 800 years old city from Transylvania, Romania, with a church door and a short story. We went lucky to visit that fascinating place, once more, during a holiday in 2019.

Work on the building of the Black Church of Brasov began in 1383 – 1385 and one of its benefactors was John Hunyadi (do you remember him from our visit to Hunyadi Castle, or Corvin Castle?)… but if you listen to the whispers of the wind, it says that Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes also had a word in the building of this church, completed soon after 1476.

For the building of this church Bulgarian workers were employed, and craftsmen who proceeded to establish a Brașov Bulgarian colony in Șcheii Brașovului. But Scheii name has nothing to do with the Bulgarian workers arrived here in the 14th century. Scheii was formed when the slaves settled here, centuries earlier. Schei was the old Romanian word used for slaves (Bulgarians included).

Scheii area was first named Catun, designating a small enclosure right under Tampa fortress, on Tampa mountain. This was an area left outside of the Brasov fortress walls when the walls and Bastions of Brason were raised in 1455. So the Romanian guards of Brasov fortress lived here, outside the fortress’ walls. Because of their military duty they were called schei, pardoned iobagi or serfdoms (farmers once bound to land and the will of the landlord).

Here are a few doors from today’s Scheii Brasovului.

Doors Brasov Transylvania Romania
Doors Brasov Transylvania Romania
Doors Brasov Transylvania Romania

Below are two modest shrines from Brasov. Do you see the cross on top? This universal symbol for Christian faith, a constant reminder of Jesus’ death for our sins and of His joyous resurrection.

Shrines such as these can often be found in Romania, build so that weary travelers, or passer by with a heavy heart, can have a moment of peace, for thought, for prayer, for palliation. Before reaching the Black Church, down the winding road.

a shrine from Scheii, Brasov
Brasov, crucea troita din Scheii
This cross was raised in 1761 by Gh. (Gheorghe) Anania and restored in 1992.
troita, Scheii, Brasov
Doors Brașov Transylvania Romania
casa in Brasov

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature connecting door lovers from around the world through photography. You can join by creating your own weekly Thursday Doors post and sharing the link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

As always, you can find my books on Amazon.

Doors from Bucharest or Paris? Guess!

Thursday Doors, Bucharest or Paris, guess game

Can you tell where doors originate just by looking at them, Bucharest or Paris, and will you play the game and guess – just for fun?

Only 14 doors, guess, then hold the mouse over or tap the image to find out the door’s origin, Bucharest or Paris – there’s no right or wrong, it’s fun!

I like Norm’s Thursday Doors feature because it brings out doors’ positive vibes. Each Thursday doors smile under the lens, they are inviting or mysterious, cheery, dressed up for the occasion or caught in their PJs… Chatty on their front porch, from behind a mask of flowers, or bashful at the end of a dark corridor that, perhaps, does not represent them.

Doors open towards light or pull your attention towards overlooked territory. Doors guard, as well as offer secrets, to the curious and the brave that will open them.

When I think of a door my mind jumps to wood. Wood, brought from forests, has been available to humankind from ancient times and has been widely used, so much so that today we can speak of a civilization of wood in its many crafted forms. Except for iron, humans have relied on wood for transport, weapons, shelter, household and religious objects, rituals and even for jewellery and currency 🙂 So much so that wood entered the folklore and mythology of many nations.

So, when we open a door, we glimpse into our past.

Have you notices how you recognize each (close) family member by the way they open a door? Is the door recognizing each one of us too? By the bounce in our step, by the quickness of our breath, or the time in the day we approach it? If yes, what is she thinking? Do we want to know? 🙂

First look at the photos below and take your guess, Bucharest or Paris, then scroll with your mouse over the image to discover if you were right. If you view from your phone, hold onto the picture to select it and you can see the location city 🙂

I’ll star with one of my favorite doors in the world!

Doors from Bucharest or Paris, Guess! Lourve Museum Glass Pyramid Entrance
Doors from Bucharest or Paris, Guess!
Doors from Bucharest or Paris? Guess!
Doors from Bucharest or Paris, Guess!
Doors from Bucharest or Paris, Guess!
Doors from Bucharest or Paris, Guess!
Paris Opera House, Orchestre door
Doors from Bucharest or Paris, Guess!
Doors from Bucharest or Paris, Guess!
Paris, ufanknunknown side of Eglise Sacre Coeur
Doors from Bucharest or Paris, Guess!
Doors from Bucharest or Paris, Guess!
a blue door
door, half open half closed

If you are a Harry Potter fan, then Door Number 4 is a must see. Scroll up and have another look for it is the door to 51 rue de Montmorency in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris where Nicolas Flamel, a historical character in Harry Potter, lived during the fourteenth century and is supposed to have discovered how to make a Philosopher’s Stone.

If you enjoyed this Doors from Bucharest or Paris, Guess post, and I hope you did, have a look at my other guessing game post, Bucharest or Paris? Travel Photography.

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An Ancient Door, Corvin Castle, Romania

ancient door, Corvin Castle, Romania

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

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

A short history of door knocking

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

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

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

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

Three doors in Corvin Castle, Romania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The door leads to the circular stairway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at Coat of Arms

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

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

The ancient door of Corvin Castle

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

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

We will return to Corvin Castle soon…

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

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Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

wood doors, symbols in carved wood, Village Museum Bucharest

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.

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

On a closer look, what makes this house so special, except for once having been a home?

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

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:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, sleigh for wood

Brownie points if you guess what the image below is. And, yes, it has a door:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a water well

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

this…

is…

a…

water well.

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:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a home from Danube Delta

A few more doors and households from the Village Museum:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, franghia, triunghiuri, ochiul, soarele, rozeta, steaua, crucea

Love and respect for tradition is what blows life in a carving made in wood.

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

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.

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest - the rope, the rosette, the sun

And a blessing for the cellar:

village museum, muzeul satului, usa beciului

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 Numbers the 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?

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope and geometrical symbols around a window
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, rope, cross, tree of life
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest: rope, cross, the tree of life on the pillar of a gate
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a horse's head
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a horse’s head on a barn (they would come in pairs)

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:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope, the circle, the eye, the cross - round the entrance into an outside underground storage space.
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope, the circle, the eye, the cross – round the entrance into an outside underground storage space.
rope symbol carved in wood in Romanian folk art
Romanian symbols in folk art a blue window of a home in the Danube Delta, flowers (water lily) carved in wood as well as birds (swallows).
Romanian symbols in folk art a blue window of a home in the Danube Delta, flowers (water lily) carved in wood as well as birds (swallows).
Wood carved detail on a porch from Village Museum, Bucharest
Symbols carved in wood in the upper beam of a porch: cope detail, cross, infinity column.
Symbols carved in wood in the upper beam of a porch: cope detail, cross, infinity column.

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

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