A Room to Swing a Cat In, a Short Story for Thursday Doors

A Room to Swing a Cat in - Short Story, Thursday Doors

A Room to Swing a Cat In is a short story inspired by the history behind the house of Nicolas Flamel, 51 rue de Montmorency, the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, while its majestic doors represent my weekly contribution to Thursday Doors.

A Room to Swing a Cat In, Short Story for Thursday Doors

A Room to Swing a Cat In

What the plague hadn’t claimed was gathered on the streets of Paris for the fête of Sainte-Geneviève. Parades, farces, mocking jokes, they were all washed down with copious amounts of weak wine.

You either have the guts to do it or not.

So he did it. When the crowds broke in laughter his hand was elbow-deep in his surcoat, the parcel secured. Then he ran, the laden weight of a low Parisian sky hanging over his shoulders and him, a moving dot in a monochrome city.

He darted through a passage, away from their cheers, jumping sideways at the call of the chamber pot, slowing down past les gendarms whose hand always fell heavy on his kind of folk. His mother’s kind. Dark, with luscious hair, the keepers of the laughter and of the magic. He was proud of her gift for reading people and foretelling their future. ‘One God,’ she’d taught him, ‘for everybody.’

Yet not all were equal. And God was up. They were in the sewer.

The drizzle hitting his face forced him to bury his head between his skinny shoulders and look down when he reached the church of St Merri, that fed him now. It was the rain wetting his face, not his shame. The rain that also stung his eyes. So he picked up the pace, feeling only his heart hammering in his jacket.

He broke his run near the open market to check inside his coat, sliding on the slippery stones and bumping into a merchant yelling away his ware. His nose crushed into the fishmonger’s raw hand, yet the smell of burning wood glued to his nostrils blocked the stench. The torrent of curses fell on his ribs, but for once he didn’t care, his eyes jabbing inside his coat for a sign of life.

He licked the pink, hairless nose the way he saw its mother doing it. Two perfectly round eyes opened up on him. Hope.

So the remainder of the road he ran, he ran till he reached the tall house that bent over the road, in protection. He ran up the two flights of stairs with their many doors that sheltered the homeless, like them. He ran all the way to their tiny room at the mansard.  Cozy, his mother would correct him with a laugh.

There, he stood in the only open spot and removed the kitten out of his bosom. It made a noise like a whisper and opened its round eyes on him again. The boy’s dark face lit up in a smile as big as a heart, revealing a few missing teeth. His mother will be so proud. He spun around three times like she’d taught him, making sure the cat was secure in his arms. He spun around to swing the cat for they had a room to swing a cat in. To keep it, as the gypsy believe said to do if one wanted to keep a cat.

In his father’s home, there were plenty rooms where he could swing a cat in. But an executioner’s son was not allowed to own a cat, what was allowed was to inherit his father’s job.

© Patricia Furstenberg

A Room to Swing a Cat In, a Short Story for Thursday Doors

A note from the author:

The House of Nicolas Flamel:

The House of Nicolas Flamel appeared on our Paris itinerary due to our daughter’s extraordinary interest in the world of Harry Potter.

About the house itself: Nicolas Flamel had the house built after his wife Pernelle passed away in 1397. The house (as well as several others owned by Flamel) did accommodate the homeless of Paris, or at least a part of them. Yet this is the only one still standing. The frieze above the ground floor dates from 1407, when the house was completed:

“Nous homes et femes laboureurs demourans ou porche de ceste maison qui fu fte en lan de grace mil quatre cens et sept, somes tenus chacun en droit soy dire tous les jours une patrenostre et 1 ave maria en priant dieu que sa grace face pardon aux povres pescheurs trespassez. amen.”

“We men and women labourers residing in the entryway of this house, which was built in the year 1407, vow to recite each day Our Father who Art in Heaven and Ave Maria, praying to God by whose grace accords pardon to those poor sinners (who) trespass. Amen.”

Yet Nicolas Flamel never lived here, in what is today the oldest house in Paris.

Update 🙂 I used a 14th century map of Paris to locate the House of Nicolas Flamel and trace the boy’s route:

A 14h century map of Paris showing the Seine River (bottom) and the road to the House of Nicolas Flamel (top).
1 - "gathered on the streets of Paris for the fête of Sainte-Geneviève"
La Greve = today Hotel de Ville
2 - "he darted through a passage"
3 - "jumping sideways at the call of the chamber pot"
4 - "the church of Saint Merri that fed him now..."
5 - a two minutes walk to the House of Nicolas Flamel, heading NE.
A 14h century map of Paris showing the Seine River (bottom) and the road to the House of Nicolas Flamel (top). Map source.
1 – “gathered on the streets of Paris for the fête of Sainte-Geneviève”
La Greve = today Hotel de Ville
2 – “he darted through a passage”
3 – “jumping sideways at the call of the chamber pot”
4 – “the church of Saint Merri that fed him now…”
5 – a two minutes walk to the House of Nicolas Flamel, heading NE.

The day of Saints-Geneviève:

During the Middle Ages, the Parisians had quite a full calendar, abundant in holidays and events that were enthusiastically celebrated, perhaps because of the precarious lives of the ordinary populace. Thus, The day of Saints-Geneviève, the patron saint of the city who allegedly saved that city from the Huns was and still is celebrated on the 3rd of January.

The origin of the saying “there was not room to swing a cat in it”:

There is a superstition in Transylvania, perhaps brought about by the gypsies whose specialty was to bear the seeds of magic and spread them about here and there, as the winds do to those of plants… In this province of Romania it is said that if a cat runs away, when recovered it must be swung around three times to attach it to the dwelling.

The same is done to a stolen cat by the thief himself, if he plans to keep it. This is a rather strange way to induce an attachment to any animal, but perhaps from the point of view of the professional cat-stealer the size of his room is a matter of greater importance.

On the Executioners Who Inherited Their Jobs

Truth be told, for centuries in France execution was a family matter and the job of an executioner was passed on from father to son.

~~~

Thursday Doors

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

Travel Through Doors, Best of 2020

thursday doors, travel to Romania

Travel Through Doors and discover the best doors as seen in my 2020 Thursday Doors blog posts. Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, initiated by Norm who later presented the baton to Dan.

Dan has a Badge Idea contest for Thursday Doors running until 11:59 pm Thursday, December 31st (North American Eastern Time). Check his website for rules and maybe give it a try! The last image in this blog post is my entry.

Ans so it began, my journey around Europe (okay, mostly Romania) for Thursday Doors. We first traveled to Brasov, with The Church Door, a (very) short story:

Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov and the story of a door...
Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov

The Village Museum of Bucharest was next, with its carved wooden doors. We looked at a few and also at what their carved symbols mean:

Village Museum Bucharest, wood carvings, symbols and meaning
Village Museum Bucharest: a wood structure brought here all the way from the north of Romania, 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…

My all time favorite must be this 500 years old door from Corvin Castle who even made it through the great fire of 13 April 1854:

Corvin Castle, Romania, 500 years old door original
Corvin Castle, Romania, a 500 years old door

We looked at Corvin Castle’s Coat of Arms too and at two rather grand doors embellished with jambs, tympanum and pinnacles, and at a short history of door knockingfind it all here. And we returned in a second visit here.

And on we went to travel through doors with a guessing game! Bucharest or Paris?

guessing game, Bucharest or Paris?
guessing game, Bucharest or Paris?

Small shrines can often be found in Romania, build so that weary travelers can have a moment of peace, for thought, for prayer, for palliation. This is a shrine from Brasov, before reaching the Black Church as you would stroll down a winding road from Șcheii Brașovului:

The second image above reads: ‘This cross was raised in 1761 by Gh. (Gheorghe) Anania and restored in 1992.’

Our next travel stop was at a monastery built for peace, Snagov Monastery, where we looked at medieval plots and at revenge:

Paraclisul Manastirii Snagov and its full story
Paraclisul Manastirii Snagov and its full story

Snagov Monastery has seen a long an troubled past. 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.

Next we visited Brancoveanu Monastery at Sambata de Sus, a Romanian Orthodox monastery in Brașov County, in the Transylvania region of Romania, renowed for its white-washed walls. 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:

Brancoveanu Monastery in Transylvania, built by a Wallachian Prince
Brancoveanu Monastery in Transylvania, built by a Wallachian Prince

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.

For a chilling stop we traveled next to Fagaras Castle to see its Iron Maiden, this symbol of medieval violence:

Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle, symbol of medieval violence
Iron Maiden of Fagaras Castle, symbol of medieval violence

Bran Castle means many things to different people. To me, it is a door to heaven.
Legend says that the Doors to Heaven are here, in Bucegi Mountains, near Bran Pass and Ialomița Cave. That is you climb that peak on a clear winter night, you will be welcomed by a meadow underneath a dome of stars. And the doors to Heaven will be revealed to you. You will know it by their starry pillars, and by the energy that will seep into your bones:

carnations on a balcony, Bran Castle history, Thursday Doors
A romantic corner at Bran Castle- a secondary entrance from the Inner Bailey, a stone column and red carnations.

It was only fit to travel to a snowy place around the day of Saint Nicholas, December 6th, and we did so through a short story about Saint Nick and the meaning of the first snow in Sighisoara:

Sighisoara, the church on the hill and the meaning of the first snow and Saint Nicholas
Sighisoara, the church on the hill and the meaning of the first snow on Saint Nicholas

We said good bye and so long to 2020 with A Winter Story for Thursday Doors:

Sighisoara, face in door, Thursday doors
Sighisoara, a face in z door, for Thursday doors

Lastly, my suggestion for a Thursday Doors badge:

Thursday Doors - Around the World
Thursday Doors – Around the World

A Winter Story for Thursday Doors

winter story for Thursday Doors

This week for Thursday Doors I have included an edited extract from my WIP calling it Winter Story for Thursday Doors. The doors featured here are from Brasov, Romania.

🙂 For Dan’s Thursday Doors blog feature over at No Facilities – do visit and you can participate too by creating your own blog post celebrating a world of doors. 🙂

A Winter Story for Thursday Doors

“The little man shook hands. Left, then right. He introduced himself and bowed in turn, first towards the girl, then towards the boy.

The girl felt a wave of heat spreading over her cheeks and thanked the stars for the hat covering her ears. She stomped her feet and exhaled with force hoping that the steam will remind all that it’s the middle of winter, enough to explain her red face. She’d been so shallow to call the old man ‘a jacket cladding a dwarf’, while all he did was dragging his body along the street, each step a wrestle with the fresh snow.

Yet she hadn’t been that wrong, had she? She lowered her gaze, her eyes sweeping over the woolly coat standing in front of her. It covered everything from above the man’s ears to the ground. Its hem was trimmed with white from having being pushed and pulled along the snow-laden streets, while its collar was lifted and secured in place by a scarf so wide that it covered both nose and mouth. But a pair of smiling eyes met hers – had he seen her studying him? – proof that a human being did live inside that coat. The eyes and the shopping bag on wheels left half a meter behind, in front of an arched red entrance mirroring the one they had tried to gain access to, were her proof of life.

A Winter Story for Thursday Doors, Brasov
Doors from Brasov for Thursday Doors and a winter story

Once again that morning they found themselves in front of a metal gate with an arched top and a small door carved into it. Above it rose a centuries old stone building that offered little protection against the weather to anyone trying to get in.

The small man retrieved a set of keys and began searching for the right one, a slow job given his thick gloves that hid arthritic fingers. Behind him, the boy scanned the names on the building’s door buzzer. Three all together. He did a quick math: two windows per apartment. They must be tiny.

‘Do you know when your neighbors open for business?’ the boy was back and had bent his knees to stoop low near the short man, his voice echoing far in the narrow street. He’d spoken loud on purpose. Aren’t all old men kind of deaf? The girl pushed her hands hard into her pockets and looked at her feet, wishing she could hide in the snow, with her toes.

The little man held up a key, shaking it like a prize. ‘Found it!’ his eyes smiled left, then right.

Ignoring the snowdrift, the boy strode around the old man, aiming for his other ear. ‘Your neighbors,’ he called pointing across the road, and more steam poured from his mouth.

The old man kept smiling and nodding, waving his gloved hand left and right, the tip of the key sticking out like a present.

The boy pressed his hands against his hat and slowly pulled it over his face. The girl turned, her eyes lingering across the road. Her eyes, big like a child’s on Christmas morning when he finds no presents underneath the tree.

The old man made four small steps towards the red gate, then stopped. ‘Come, come,’ he called and his voice, although not loud, carried well. Yet the steam remained behind the scarf, trapped. ‘We’ll have tea, warm up and talk.’ Then he added, in a softer tone, ‘we’ll talk about my neighbors too,’ while his eyes narrowed on the girl, the way a grandfather would to sooth an upset child. And he smiled again, lifting his hand that still squeezed the shiny key, like a prize, while his other hand closed slowly on the handle of his bag on wheels. Yet the bag didn’t yield. The old man shook its handle in distress, as if now he was the child. The wheels held, frozen in the ice masked by fresh snow.

The boy jumped to the rescue and freed the shopping bag pulling it towards the red metal gate, his head tilted, astonished by its unexpected weight. And the girl followed.

The first thing that changed was the snow underfoot. It remained outside the red door as they crossed its threshold. On the other side ancient cobble stones paved the ground and their pattern opened in a half a circle, shaped like the vestibule that welcomed them. Rather large, so large.

As soon as the little door closed behind silence enveloped them, only the muffled echo of their footsteps resonating against the ancient walls. The space, wider than either of the visitors expected, was equally shared by the three families living in the building, as was the small Christmas tree placed in the middle and decorated with hand made paper snowflakes and tin stars.

The ozone rich air, too dry in the icy winter to carry any scents, fell in a strong embrace with the homely scents of Christmas. It smell of pine, and of wood, but above all of vanilla and cinnamon, the warm scents of freshly baked goodies, cozonac, sweet bread, summer’s sunshine trapped in winter.

A Winter Story for Thursday Doors, Brasov
Doors from Brasov for Thursday Doors and a winter story

The small man parked his trolley in what seemed to be his side of the hallway and busied with his bunch of keys again. So many, thought the boy, and only one to open the door to his apartment. The girl remained behind, frozen by the Christmas tree, her attention on one decoration in particular. A hedgehog fashioned out of slender paper cones trimmed with silver foil. A thin string was threaded through each cone pulling them together to shape a hedgehog. Googly eyes and a bead for a nose completed the face. He was white and silver, as if covered by snow.

‘I had one just like this when I was small,’ she said and her words lifted in surprise.

There was the noise of a key turning in the lock again and of a door swinging open. And they all went inside the old man’s home.’

© Patricia Furstenberg, WIP, ‘Snakes at Midnight’ (dual timeline, medieval and contemporary) – for which I am seeking representation.

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First Snow and Saint Nicholas for Thursday Doors

First Snow and Saint Nicholas for Thursday Doors, a short story

The first snow of December is winter’s first gift, coming from Saint Nicholas, yet not many know its significance. For that sneeze feeling you have in your nose before winter’s first coat falls, that’s just Saint Nicholas’ beard tickling your cheek.

At the beginning of December, the flakes spiral and dance to the ground the same way Saint Nicholas’ white beard floats behind him as he strides along the road. Each winter since that first one, almost two thousand years ago.

But don’t look out for his arrival for you won’t see him on the road. Cladded in a brown cassock, with white hair framing his silhouette like a cloud, and his silvery beard thrown over his shoulder – so he won’t tread on it – Saint Nicholas’ figure is more like that of a majestic tree than of a man. In his right hand, he holds a stick, a branch of an apple tree, and over his left shoulder, he balances a bundle. It isn’t a big sack like some would expect, rather a modest one, well used, and almost hidden by his snowy mane.

What got him going in the first place? What keeps him on the road still? Some say it is his love for God, for helping those in need. Some believe it is the joy he feels in his heart whenever he offers that much-needed contribution.

For the sum of all the joy that December’s first snow brings to all, is equal to the joy that swells Saint Nicholas’ heart when he strides forward one more year, and makes it snow, a sure tell-tell sign of his impending arrival.

A medieval door to the Church on the Hill in Sighisoara
A medieval door to the Church on the Hill in Sighisoara

The white stone arches of the maritime city of Patara, in Lycia, have long been reduced to ruins, and its once busy harbor is now but a white beach. But once, during the 3rd century, this town founded by none other but the son of Apollo, the god of archery, truth, and healing, was a known harbor at the Mediterranean Sea, and along the trading routes going through Asia Minor. It is said that even Paul and Luke changed ships here.

Saint Nicholas first walked this earth here, in Patara, before settling in the nearby city of Myra. He was fortunate to be born in a wealthy family so he could enjoy a formal education. During those times only upper-class males had such rights. Yet all young Nicholas wanted to do was to learn about God and aid those less fortunate. And helping them he did, for after the timeous death of his parents, he shared his wealth with the poor.

And he did so in a very peculiar way, for he was a rather shy young man who preferred to observe, rather than judge, and to act quietly, rather than boast.

A medieval Thursday Door – The Church from Hill Cemetery, Sighisoara

Night after night Nicholas donned a brown cassock and tiptoed around his town, secretly delivering food and gold coins to those families he knew were in dire need.

One such family was that of a widower who had three hard-working daughters, yet they were too poor to even get married for their father had no money to pay for their dowry. Unable to do much work outside the home to provide for themselves as women were not even considered fit for labor, a harsh life, of poverty and uncertainty, was foreseen for his three girls.

It was the coldest winter they’ve ever known, and the wise men of Patra were whispering it was God’s wrath that had fallen over their village, for people had turned away from one another. Work was scarce, food had become a sweet dream, and even wood for fire was a dear sight.

They had never heard such howling, as if not one, but a clutter of lynxes found refuge outside the city gates.

They had never seen such a snow bridge extending the land far into a still sea now, and narrowing the strait to a choke, freezing all activity in the harbor.

They had never smelled so many different kinds of fire, for the people of Patra having run out of the usual amount of wood stacked for winter, had resourced to burning rags, leaves, even old trash to keep warm.

Medieval Sighisoara in winter - Imagine 164 houses and thirteen public buildings up on a hill, within the protective walls of a fortress. Tall or short, stone or wood, depending on the wealth of their owners, the houses have one floor, some two. But not more.
Medieval Sighisoara in winter – Imagine nearly 200 houses within the protective walls of a fortress. Tall or short, stone or wood, the houses have one floor, some two. But not more.

One such night, all that the widower’s family of four had left for dinner were four potatoes they cooked over the shadow of a fire. When dinner was ready the father asked the oldest daughter to take his cooked potato along with some sticks and deliver them to their neighbor, a lonely woman. Nobody saw the young girl rushing through the still village in that icy dark, nobody but a man dressed in a long cassock. He saw the girl’s good deed and the smile that grew on his face was the strength that kept him going forward that night.

 For he too was a lone visitor in that arctic darkness, moving silently from one needy shelter to the next.

One year passed and it was time for the oldest daughter to marry, yet both she and her father knew it will not happen for they were, each day, poorer than the day before. And winter had come again.

Except that one morning when they woke up the father and his three daughters found a pouch with gold coins outside their front door. They were merry of the unexpected gift, they shared some of it with their needy neighbors, and it was still enough left for the eldest daughter to marry.

But where did the money came from? The father would have like to know.

But we know, don’t we?

One more year passed and the time came for the second daughter to marry. Yet money was scarce again. Until one early morning, when another pouch with gold coins was discovered outside their home. Merry were they, a happy wedding happened and two neighbors were aided this time.

But where did the money had come from, again? The girl’s father promised himself to find out.

Thursday Doors - Sighisoara in winter
Sighisoara in winter

Although we do know, don’t we?

So when one more year passed and winter gripped the village once more, the girl’s father hid outside his home, pulling his cloak tight around him, thin protection against winter’s sharp bite, his hood lowered against the gale, seeking shelter behind their only olive tree. Waiting, more eager to discover the identity of their benefactor than he was worried that chills will take shelter in his old bones. And just as Nicholas approached the poor man’s house the father stepped out of the shadow. Nicholas of Myra took a step backward and threw the pouch through the window, thus it landing in a shoe, then ran. He wished more than anything for his gesture to remain anonymous. The girl’s father only caught sight of a man dressed in a common cassock, departing in a hurry. So he followed him and thus he witnessed more good deeds.

And that winter night the old man felt less and less the bite of the arctic wind, the warm blanket of hope and gratitude settling on his skinny shoulders.

 And he even caught sight of their benefactor’s face. A young man, whose eyes spread such wisdom and love, as only the city’s elders’ did. A man who shed a tear outside each needy household, yet smiled after leaving the gift behind.  A man whose shoulders hunched more and more upon leaving each establishment, as if for each gift he left behind he chose to take away some of the troubles, the worries, the pain hanging over each family.

Thursday Doors - Sighisoara in winter

It was the night between the 5th and the 6th of December, a date the poor man’s family will always remember, a date that remained in folktales and is celebrated by Christians as the night of Saint Nicholas, Moș Nicolae.

I remember, as a child, cleaning my shoes and placing them by the window, hoping that Saint Nicholas will leave an orange and a few chocolates in them. The hope of being remembered. Small joys for a small child, apart for winter’s first snow.

Some say that if they’ve been naughty they found a small wand made from the wood of an apple tree. Maybe even torn from Saint Nicholas’ staff. It is said that if it blooms when placed in water is sure sign that Saint Nicholas forgave all their naughty deeds and that he smiles again.

How Does Snow Smells Like?

And not only the first snow, but the way the air smells around that first snow. Clean and fresh, soft, as if it’s just been washed, although it hasn’t. Isn’t it? I write from memories.

To me, snow smells of pine trees, woody, of open spaces, of holiday, of promises and of hopes. It smells as if anything ~ good ~ is possible, and as if dreams do come true. First snow smells like that.

I know that the frozen air has the opposite effect on the human olfactory system, and that we actually have less chances of smelling when it is cold outside because the mucus inside our nostrils dries up, so less particles reach the nerve receptors in our noses. Yet I do solemnly swear that I can smell the first snow and that I can smell the change in the air, before it first snows.

And I know that the air is supposed to be extra ionized when it snows, as it hold more moisture. Add it is a drop in temperature and a decrease in air pressure that makes it snows. Yet isn’t it more to that first snow than science?

For there is a change in the air before it snows. Some call it happiness or anticipation. For others it is the emotional charge of childhood.

***

🙂 For Dan’s Thursday Doors blog feature over at No Facilities– do visit and participate by creating your own blog post celebrating a world of doors. 🙂

I’ll leave you with a face in a door:

Sighisoara, Faces in Doors, Thursday Doors

Bran Castle, a Historical Door Kept under Key for Centuries

Bran Castle history, Thursday Doors, history

Medieval Bran Castle, located at historical Bran Pass, is a fortress turned legend yet its door had been kept under key for centuries. Discover its story and doors, for Norm’s last Thursday Doors.

Legend says that the Doors to Heaven are here, in Bucegi Mountains, near Bran Pass and Ialomița Cave. That is you climb that peak on a clear winter night, you will be welcomed by a meadow underneath a dome of stars. And the doors to Heaven will be revealed to you. Do not fear missing them, for you will know it by their starry pillars, and by the energy that will seep into your bones.

Bran Castle, a Historical Door Kept under Key for Centuries -  looking up at its entrance
Looking up at its entrance

Bran Pass, a Door to Heaven

Guarded by Bucegi Mountains on the east and Piatra Craiului Highlands, Prince’s Stone, on the west, it is through Bran Pass that, ahead of wintertime, the Dacian shepherds took their flock from the forested mountains of Transylvania down to the warmer and lush hills of Arges County in search of the same endless meadows their forefathers knew. Plains bordered by sweet, unhurried streams.  And through the same pass they returned home before the heat of southern summers, bringing along a new generation of lambs, stories of people speaking a similar tongue, and the wisdom that’s the school of life.

Bran Castle, a Historical Door Kept under Key for Centuries. A door  to Heaven
Bran Castle, a balcony door opening towards Heaven

At a time when names such as Transylvania and Arges were not even the thought of a whisper.

And in same sweet brooks Romans quenched their thirst too. When they took to the mountains of Dacia, the Bucegi, sneaking also through Bran Pass, marching uphill and building a fort at Cumidava (Râsnov today). How many sandals did they tear to shreds on these stones, I wonder?  Later they chose to set a strong hand on Bran Pass, kept it under lock and key.

Wooden carved door at Bran Castle
Wooden carved door at Bran Castle

Bran, a wooden tower

And then, after Transylvania and its Vlach population fell under the stronghold of the Hungarian tribes and Hungary grew to the size of an empire under King Andrew II, Andrew of Jerusalem, it was here, at Brand Pass, that in 1212 Brother Dietrich of the Teutonic Order, with Pope’s explicit blessing, built a wooden sentry post. Bran Pass, known then as Dietrichstein or Toerzburg, became a buffer zone, the Teutonic knights holding the fort, protecting Transylvania’s Burzenland (today Brasov), thus Hungary, against the Cumans and their gruesome raids.

On the geopolitical chessboard, Bran Pass is the pawn holding a secret, that of being promoted. Bran Pass turns now from a bucolic trail into a military Avant-post.

Lovely wood floors and a wooden door near twin windows at Bran Castle
Lovely wood floors and a wooden door near twin windows at Bran Castle

Bran Castle, a state border made of stone

Following the 14th century expansion of the Hungarian Kingdom under Ludovic I of Anjou (the same Anjou family who built the initial Corvin Fortress on a former Roman camp), the privilege was granted to the inhabitants of Brasov to “freely and unforced but in good will, generously and unanimously promised to build a new stronghold in Bran, by themselves, by their own work, by their own money and clear the wood all around,” (The National Archives). It was a good deal for inhabitants of Brasov as their custom taxes have been considerably reduced. A  castle rose in five years due to the increased threat the Ottoman Empire embodied.

Yet Bran stronghold was still Magyar Royal Crown’s property.

Sunny balcony at Bran Castle, wooden finishing offering a soft finish to this old military stronghold
Sunny balcony at Bran Castle, wooden finishing offering a soft finish to this old military stronghold

Bran Stronghold Ruled by Wallachia

We are at the end of the 14th century and the Ottoman wave rises like a tsunami over the Balkans. Hungarian King Sigismund of Luxembourg (architect of the Order of the Dragon) closes ties with Wallachian Voivode Mircea the Elder, Mircea cel Bătrân, grandfather to Vlad Tepes, against the Turkish threat. As a token of his appreciation (or a well-thought plan) he gifts Bran stronghold to Wallachia around 1412. To protect against Turkish invasions, the custom being moved back to Brasov.

Yet Sigismund took back Bran stronghold only fourteen years later, due to economic and military reasons ,and returned it to the citadel of Brasov who held it until the roaring twenties, 1920.

Bran Castle, A Royal Residence

Bran Castle, a Historical Door Kept under Key for Centuries, a heart engraved on a door for Queen Maria
Bran Castle, a Historical Door Kept under Key for Centuries, a heart for Queen Maria

At the end of World War I the Treaty of Trianon finally recognises Transylvania as a non-Hungarian region, reconciling it with Romania.

December 1st, 1920: “We, the members of the Town Council of Brasov – as it is mentioned in the deed of gift – … grant the ancient Bran castle, historically meaningful, to Her Majesty Queen Maria of the Unified Romania.” Queen Maria left Bran Castle to her beloved daughter, Princess Ileana.

Bran Castle- a secondary entrance from the Inner Bailey, a stone column and red carnations.
A romantic corner at Bran Castle- a secondary entrance from the Inner Bailey, a stone column and red carnations.

Sadly, in 1948 Princess Ileana was forced to leave Bran, the castle seized by the communist regime and introduced in Romania’s national patrimony.

Bran Castle, glass and wooden door. Closed. Saying goodbye.
Bran Castle, a stained glass and wooden door that we closed behind us. Saying goodbye.

We were lucky to have visited Bran Castle a few times, yet I am looking forward to seeing it again. It is an intimate fortress, one feels welcomed inside it, a dreamer, a princess, a soldier – at home.