When wind howls around Oratea Fortress, echoes from the 13th century swirl around fir trees and tumbled down walls.
Located near the charming Rucăr Bran Corridor, Oratea Fortress echoes back in history to the 13th century, year 1212, when the Teutonic Knights arrived, as invited by King Andrew III of Hungary, to settle in Burzenland, Țara Bârsei, and below and protect this eastern land against Cumans’ attacks.
Stone upon stone still stands where Oratea Fortress once rose tall, and the wind still echoes of past battles, and of laughter, and whispers of love.
For what is wind, but the amassed power of words long ago uttered?
Oratea Fortress, Echoes of the 13th Century, 100-word Story
They’d arrived. And settled. New souls on old land. Forced smiles, calling one another a little too loud, laughing too much. Living with intent, their purposeful reputation preceding them.
Rising a chapel (a place to lie down for their last sleep), ahead of the fortress they ought to build. And protect. Stashing memories in the sacred foundation.
Till their time would come, days are filled with battles, laced with life. On this new land, rich in new shades. new sounds. new hopes.
Besides protecting it, ought they mingle with the locals? Besides fighting off ruffians, ought they live a little?
The unique beauty of each 100-word story is in the way the words are strung together, each one a gem, and in the spaces left between the words, and between sentences. So much can be told with little words. It is a challenge for the writer, and a thrill for the reader (I hope), as each time the tale is read a new detail springs to mind.
“I would recommend this book to all fans of history and historical fiction, as this is a fantastic combination of both.”
(AFR) Slaan die spyker op die kop (GER) Den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen (ENG) Hit the nail on the head (RO) A pune punctul pe i. Meaning: to do exactly the right thing and also to know that acting differently will cause a great deal of pain. Ouch!
The origin of the phrase ‘to hit the nail on the head‘
Carpentry comes to mind and thus this expression must be as old as, well, the Bronze Age – bronze nails dating to 3400 BC were discovered in Egypt.
Searching for the use of hit the nail on the head in writing, The Phrase Finder mentions a medieval text, ‘The Book of Margery Kempe’ written during the 1430s. The book is a dictation of the life and divine revelations experienced by a woman, an English Christian mystic and pilgrim, yet not a nun, and is considered to be the first autobiography in the English language.
“If I hear any more these matters repeated, I shall so smite the nail on the head that it shall shame all her supporters.”
The Book of Margery Kempe, 1430s (in modern English)
In this context, the expression ‘hit the nail on the head’ probably means to speak severely.
(AFR) As die kat weg is, is die muis baas. (GER) Ist die Katze aus dem Haus, tanzen die Mäuse auf dem Tisch. (ENG) When the cat’s away, the mice will play. (RO) Cand pisica nu-i acasa, joaca soarecii pe masa. Meaning: when any kind of authority is lacking, someone will always take advantage.
When the cat’s away, the mice will play – its history
When the cat’s away, the mice will play is an idiom / proverb originated from the Latin dum felis dormit, mus gaudet et exsi litantro (when the cat sleeps, the mouse leaves its hole, rejoicing). The idiom was also encountered in 14th century France, ou chat na rat regne (‘Where there is no cat, the rat is king’). Surely, at any time throughout history it was observed that without moral standards, chaos ruled.
3. Take the bull by the horns – in Ancient Greece
(AFR) Die bul by die horings pak (GER) Den Stier bei den Hörnern (an)packen (ENG) Take the bull by the horns. (RO) A lua taurul de coarne. (SPANISH) Coger el toro por las astas Meaning: to face a difficult situation head-on.
Take the bull by the horns – its history
As many would have guessed, the rodeo practices of West America have bulled this saying into the everyday English vocabulary. During the 18th century, wrestling steers (castrated bulls) was part of the everyday working life of American ranchers. Yet the practice of bullfighting and cattle wrangling originated with the sixteenth-century conquistadores, the conquistadors (soldiers and explorers of 15th – 17th centuries Spanish and Portuguese Empires), and the Mexican vaqueros, cowboys. Obviously, a cowboy of any origin would be quite handy at controlling a bull by its horns, thus the literal use of the expression ‘to take the bull by the horns’ was long in use before it gained a figurative meaning.
What I love about idioms is that they seem to have an invisible connection with literature. And I remember now The Twelve Labours of Hercules (Heracles in Greek), especially the seventh one: capturing the Cretan bull.
Thus, could the expression ‘to take the bull by the horns’ originate in 600 BC with The Labours of Hercules written by Peisander of Camirus?
4. To have someone wrapped around your (little) finger – during the Middle Ages
(AFR) Sy draai almal om haar vinger (GER) Jemanden um den Finger wickeln (ENG)To have someone wrapped around your (little) finger (RO) Il are la degetul mic Meaning: to exert total emotional control over someone, but without a lot of effort, to have someone under total control without no effort
This phrase ‘to have someone wrapped around your (little) finger’ is my favorite of these six idioms linguistically identical in Afrikaans, German, English, and Romanian – because of its origin. You see, it could originate in sewing or… falconry!
A seamstress would reel thread on her index finger, then draw out the yarn as needed in her sewing work – taking stock for later use.
In hawking, the hunter will have a leash tied to the bird’s foot. After the bird lands on their arm, the falconer would wind the leash around their little finger so the bird won’t take off again that easily.
In writing, a 1743 letter appears in The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia could be the oldest known mention of the idiom ‘to have someone wrapped around your (little) finger’:
“Watson could wind Parker round his finger; yet he was ready to swear twas all false.”
The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, 1743
5. To walk (tread) on eggshells – during the revolutionary 16th century
(AFR) Op eiers loop (GER) Auf Eierschalen laufen (ENG) To walk (tread) on eggshells (RO) A calca / a merge ca pe ace Meaning: to act cautiously as to not upset someone.
The oldest known written mention of ‘to walk (tread) on eggshells’ is in the 1591‘s translation of Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso by Sir John Harington:
“So soft he treads, although his steps were wide, As though to tread on eggs he were afraid.”
1591’s translation of Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso by Sir John Harington
Surely, the expression is much older than that, dating from a time when humans would tread carefully looking for the places where (wild) hens and birds would have built a nest (or not) and hid their eggs.
6. To hang onto every word during the Industrial Revolution
(AFR) Aan iemand se lippe te hang (GER) An jemandes Lippen hängen (ENG) To hang on to (someone’s) every word / hung on her every utterance (RO) A atarna de fiecare cuvant Meaning: to listen very intently to someone.
I think this might be one of the youngest idioms in use, as it originated with the phrasal verb “hang on”, which came in use during the 19th century, when the cloth hangers were invented: 1860, hang on, meaning “to remain clinging.”
Although, here is a of beautiful quotes from the Bible, from Luke:
“and they could not find anything that they could do, for all the people [stayed close to Him and] were hanging on to every word”
The Bible, Luke 19:48
An idiom is a group of words that has a deeper, figurative meaning, other than its literal, word for word, denotation. But I think that an idiom also reflects the times when it surfaced, carrying even a minor historical aura around it.
I hope you enjoyed these 6 Idioms linguistically identical in Afrikaans, German, English and Romanian.
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Happy Romanian Language Day, today 31st of August, celebrated by twenty million Romanians plus ten million Romanians living outside Romania’s borders…
Why celebrate? Even with a thought, because the language we took our first steps through forms the code that keeps our spiritual DNA together.
Why only Romanians speak a Latin language in southeast Europe? people usually ask me. Well, I wrote is a little explanation on my blog here. You can also enjoy Romanian folklore, myths and legends on my blog here and time-travel into Romania’s past or take virtual travel trips to Romania here.
“The shepherd, bushy moustache hanging like sunset’s haze over his lips, thumbs thrust in his wide belt, wears a woolly hat, a sheep-skin thrown a-back. A curtain of fir-trees hangs between him and his hamlet, alive along a brook steaming like a dragon’s swampy breath. A dragon he’d tamed, as says the Doina tune he whistles. From childhood-cradle to colt years, his life moved between the sheepfold and the shepherd’s hearth. Making cheese and whey-cheese; keeping company with Dog who brings him great joy, although it never knew the collar. Not a taintless, or a barren life either. But glad.”
“Codru’ este mare Si lumina n-are; Codru este des Intri, nu mai iesi…”
“The woodland is wide And has no light; The woodland is thick You enter, never to leave…”
Romanian ritualistic song, translated from Romanian by Patricia Furstenberg
“Sufletul statea Si mi se ruga: Brade, brade! Sa-mi fii frate: Intinde-ti, intinde, Eu sa le pot prinde Varfurile tale, Sa trec peste ele”
“My soul stopped And it implored: Fir tree, fir tree! My brother thou be: Spread thou, spread Your tree tops shed, May I over ’em fled.”
Romanian ritualistic song, translated from Romanian by Patricia Furstenberg
Romanians all over the world will spend a minute today, I hope, thinking of “oh, this sweet language of ours”, as Romanian is ever so melodious. Thank you for taking the time to learn a bit bout my mother tongue.
When do you celebrate your native language?
Would you like to learn a Romanian word or expression? Ask me 🙂
O zi a Limbii Române fericită vă doresc!
Transylvania’s unspoiled natural beauty, its tumultuous history, and the people who touched it are depicted in this book. Patricia Furstenberg uses the confining rules of the 100-word story form to stirringly capture Transylvania, Romania’s historical and geographical region.
An Amazon preview of Transylvania’s History A to Z, 100 Word Stories:
In Transylvania’s History A to Z, a collection of 100-word stories sprinkled with breathtaking photographs, Patricia Furstenberg uses the confining rules of the 100-word story form to stirringly capture Transylvania, Romania’s historical and geographical region.
Transylvania’s unspoiled natural beauty, its tumultuous history, and the people who touched it are depicted in this book. Written as snapshots, tall tales, and descriptive narratives, these 100-word stories are the espresso of creative writing.
A – Z, 100-Wors Stories are inspired by Transylvania’s history, from the Paleolithic Period to WW1 Each 100 Words Story is followed by a brief historical reference
The unique beauty of a 100-word story is in the way the words are strung together, each one a gem, and in the spaces left between the words, and between the sentences. So much can be told, with little words. It is a challenge for the writer, and a thrill for the reader, as each time the tale is read, a new detail springs to mind.
“As an armchair historian, I love researching lost tales, traveling, exploring hidden corners, and unearthing new facts, forgotten characters, or hidden clues. I love to give them a voice and to bring them into the light in my tales. Be it people, animals, or the land and its architecture, no detail is too small, no voice is too soft. What was once overlooked now brings history alive in my historical or contemporary fiction books and short stories, such as the 100-Word Stories based on the history of Transylvania.” (Patricia Furstenberg)
100-word stories included in Transylvania’s History A to Z:
A Paleolithic Murder Behind the Cave Art Conduct in a Neolithic Kingdom Dacian Horses of Bronze Age Echoes of a Battle, the Getae Falx vs Gladius, Dáoi vs Romans Greed, of the Roman Kind Hope Has Multiple Faces Immortalis, the Immortal Jottings on a Tree Kaleidoscope by Castra Micia, Hunedoara Laudable Attempt, to Some Extent Motives of Christianity New Footprints on Old Land Oh, This Sweet Language of Ours Powerful Tahutum Wants Transylvania Quest Beyond the Forest Romanian’s Brother, the Woodland Sincerely, your m-DNA, Mitochondrial DNA Ţara is Terra Under the Threat of Crusades Vlad the Impaler Wars with Ottomans X, I Sign My Letter with a Cross Year of Our Lord, 1848 Zest for Peace and Unity
Transylvania’s History A to Z: 100 Word Stories – CLICK on the image to go straight to your Amazon of choice.
Strolling uphill from Rucăr to Bran is like walking through a dream-like space among villages lost in time, and under the watchful eye of millennial Bucegi – Leaota mountains on one side, and the spectacular Piatra Craiului, Prince’s Stone (like a sleeping dragon covered with a blanket of clouds) and Iezer on the other.
Rucăr is located in Arges County, the historical province of Wallachia, while Rucăr-Bran Pass and Bran Castle are located in neighboring Brasov County, in the historical province of Transylvania.
Yet the beauty of the natural passthat winds uphill from Rucăr, through a mountain corridor, to finally reach Bran Castle lies not only in the nature surrounding it, or in the history trapped underfoot, but also in the memories it carries.
Let’s rouse ourselves and allow this journey to kindle our minds and stir our imagination. Thus, we will proceed from Rucăr and make our way up to Bran.
Historical, romantic Rucăr
As a teen, I was lucky to spend my summers up at Rucăr. It was a time before Eco-tourism was even a whisper. Yet I did not lodged in the charming Rucăr village, the one spread along the main road with its white and pastel houses, but up on a hill, in a farmer’s holding. Fresh, steamy milk for breakfast, roasted chickens for dinner, home-made sausages too. Surely there would have been fresh vegetables on the table, I just don’t remember them…
Rucăr was inhabited by Dacians as far back as the Roman occupation as part of Dacia Inferior. Relics of a Roman castrum and even of a frontier fortification (limes) wall were unearthed in the area.
Lok at the image below. See the dotted vertical line bordering Dacia Inferior on the right side? The Roman frontier wall would have – more or less – followed it from the south, where Danube flows, towards the mountains, up to Dâmbovița Bridge, near Dâmbovicioara’s Gorge.
Back then Rucăr would have been called Ruffa Arbor, Ruddy Tree – for the beech tree forests turning crimson in autumn. Over the centuries Rucăr had known many names, by the history and the people that washed over it: Slavonic Rukel, Saxon-Germanic Rothbaun, Ruckendorf, or old Romanian Rucalu.
It was not far, west of Rucăr, that the renowned Battle of Posada took place.
It was 1324 and the relations between the greatest power of eastern Europe then, the Hungarian Kingdom, and Voivode Basarab I of Wallachia, Basarab the Founder – and vassal to King Charles I of Hungary – were auspicious. The Pope himself held Voivode Basarab I in high regard for his work on the battlefield against the infidels, the Turks. Yet King Charles I, a military expansionist, had his eye on Wallachia, and tried to undermine Voivode Basarab I in the eyes of the Pope. A military confrontation took place, lasting four long days, 9 – 12 December 1330, known in history as the Battle of Posada, although the geographical location of the combat is still unclear; in a narrow, gorge-like valley near Curtea de Arges, where Voivode Basarab I held court? Perhaps the valley of Topolog? Or further east, between today’s Podu Dambovitei, and Rucăr? King Charles I attacked Voivode Basarab I for “[he] is the shepherd of my sheep, and I will drag him by his beard from his lair.“ Outnumbered by 3 to 1, the Wallachians emerged victorious, King Charles even loosing his royal seal in battle (I wonder how much is worth today?) and escaping only after he donned a servant’s attire. (The servant, dressed as the king, was killed). The victory of Basarab I at Posada marked the independence of Wallachia from the Hungarian crown. But not for long…
The Hungarian’s attacks prior to the Battle of Posada left the Basarab’s royal palace of Curtea de Argeș destroyed. A new fortress was built for the seat of the Wallachian principality at Câmpulung, south of Rucăr.
We’ll stick with Câmpulung for during the ruling of Basarab’s grandson, Vladislau I (Vlaicu-Voda), a border post was found here.
Yet… the new King of Hungary, Louis I the Great, Louis of Anjou, dreamed of expanding the Hungarian Kingdom over Wallachia. Why, he already had Transylvania in his pocket! In 1354 King Louis I dangled the Banate of Severin (a territory west of Wallachia) in front of the new Wallachian ruler, Basarab’s son Nicholas Alexander. And King Louis received something for in return, a small step towards fulfilling his plan. The Wallachian Voivode, a Christian Orthodox ruler, recognized the right of the Roman Catholic Church to establish missions in Wallachia. And… the Saxon traders from Brașov were allowed to transit Wallachia without paying duties.
With time King Louis I added extra pressure over the Wallachian Voivode, added the Transylvanian fiefdoms of Amlaș and Făgăraș (inhabited by Vlachs) in the balance… And by 1369 the new Voivode of Wallacia, Vladislau I, had recognized King Louis I as his overlord…
The expansionist plan of King Louis I was taking shape…
When Vladislau I (Vlaicu-Voda) ruled Wallachia (1364 – 1377) he was known as the Transalpine Voivode (trans -Alpine = over the Alps, as the Carpathians are similar in appearance and climate with the Alps), and was also Duke of Severin, Almas and Fagaras. Vladislav I was uncle to Mircea the Elder, Vlad the Impaler’s paternal grandfather.
And this is how we have the first documented mention ofRucăr, dating from 1377 when King Louis I planned to finally incorporate Wallachia into the Hungarian Kingdom (the Kingdom of Saint Stephen).
Thus… Bran was to receive a new fortress, a privilege granted by King Louis I to the inhabitants of Brasov on 19 November 1377 … and for this reason the border post was moved from Câmpulung (Câmpulung Muscel) to Rucăr (close to the Hungarian Kingdom’s southern border).
While all these years, no matter what political plans were in place, merchants and traders still traveled between Wallachia and Transylvania – along Rucăr Bran Corridor.
Years later I took the same road and traveled further uphill, towards the mountains, past colorful homes lining a tarred road, a mere tourist lucky to only catch glimpses of quaint timber dwellings scattered across lush hills.
Dâmbovicioara, a 16th century hamlet, a gorge and some ancient caves
One of my first childhood memories places me in front of a gush of icy water running over a bed of stones. Its sparks run with the sunshine and over the smooth rock. I can see my fingers stretched in front oh me and I feel as if I want to catch the icy droplets of glitter, the sun scorching my back. Or least dig out a pebble as a memento.
Long before souvenirs ever made sense, my heart knew I was living in the moment.
I was with family and friends at Dâmbovicioara’s Gorge, Cheile Dâmbovicioarei.
More memories emerge.
A narrow road lined with pebbles, bordered by cliffs that hold the sky. And the joyful knowledge that the cool gorge, after a hot August ride, meant that we were nearly there. This was the time before car air-con and safety belts, when a vehicle transported as many as could merrily fit inside.
Dâmbovicioara village dates back to the middle of the 16th century. Podu Dambovitei village (Dambovita Bridge) is thus named after an ancient wooden bridge built over Dâmbovita river, and well-used by those traveling along the Rucăr Bran Corridor, between Wallachia and Transylvania.
Further on, at an altitude of 861m, the secretive Dâmbovicioara Cave opens up. Only half the length of the underground grotto is open to the public. I enjoyed visiting, especially since the guides are none other but children from a local school.
The whimsy road between Dâmbovicioara and Rucăr Bran Pass
Left and right, if you know where to look, history speaks to you. Listen to these name: German’s Fortress, Cetatea Oratia, Saxon’s Hill, Dealul Sasului, Turks’ Fields, Plaiul Turcilor, German Woman’s Spring, Izvorul Nemtoaicelor.
A paved road winds now though a forest of secular fir trees. Only two lanes, at times the road’s shoulder only marked by boulders painted with limewash. Somewhere along the road, after it makes a nearly 360 degrees bent climbing the steep slope, we leave Arges County and enter Brasov.
The primordial Rucăr Bran Pass
If you close your eyes and open your heart to the wind roaring among the rising stones and to the whispers of the evergreen trees, maybe you will hear the echo of a bell, the bleating of sheep, the call of old folk. For the same path that still exists today was first used by shepherds as they moved their flock from the valleys below to the rich pastures nestled in the mountains.
It was a time before soldiers or merchants ever set foot on this very same road that we, the latest arrivals, tread on today. We label it transhumance, they called it a way of life.
Even today shepherds still graze their flocks, and still use traditional methods for making cheese in pine bark. Wooden houses are scattered over hills, their lush meadows fragrant with the scent of blackberries and strawberries.
The same road stretched underneath the same sky just a few centuries back, when traders with overflowing wagons, topped with goods, but concealed weapons too, trekked along it. Saxons from Braşov, or traders from Wallachia, just as excited to meet like-minded merchants, afraid they be robbed, and ducking when the way narrowed at Rucăr Bran Pass. Eyes darting left and right. Warriors anywhere? Armed men striding to a fight? Phew, all peaceful today!
Even in the 21st century, in the sprinkle of helmets surrounding Bran, among secret mountain paths and whimsical clearances, pastoral rituals are still observed. Thus, on the last Saturday of the month of September, the sheep are brought down from the mountains, after a summer’s worth of grazing, and returned to their owners for the winter, răvăsitul oilor, ‘the outpouring of the sheep’. The shepherds also share with the owners the cheese produced during spring and summer.
We left old Rucăr, trod uphill to Podu Dambovitei, along the winding road leading to Rucăr-Bran Pass, and we made it to Bran Castle. What’s next?
A book of short stories on Bran’s history coming soon and one on Transylvania’s spectacular past.