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.
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Bellow is a Romanian shepherds house from Valea Doftanei Commune, on the curvature of the Carpathian Mountains, where the shepherding tradition goes back to the 14th century. Worth noticing are the frontal, long stoop and the central entrance parlor. The house stands on a foundation built from river stones, hand-picked. You can see the cellar and its door on the left, underneath the ‘day room’. The house is made of fir trees, abundant in the area.
On a closer look, what makes this house so special, except for once having been a home?
Have the engraved pillars been chosen by chance or the wood artists strolled through the woods until a ray of sun filtered by foliage danced on his face, catching his eye? Had he approached the tree with reverence? Had he run his calloused hands along its ancient trunk, feeling the life inside, asking for permission? Had the design came to him in that moment? Had he drew it on the trunk, in a whisper of apology? Asking for the forest’s blessing? I like to believe he did.
Next, a sleigh for storing and transporting wood during winter, with a door fashioned from twigs and a roof of straws. Child’s play:
Brownie points if you guess what the image below is. And, yes, it has a door:
It has been transported to the Village Museum all the way from the north of the country, from Breaza, from a hamlet situated at a height of 1 200m together with an entire household that belonged to a family of huțulii (huțanii, hutsuls), an ethnic group living in the very NW of Romania with Dacians origins…
Because the homes were far and few in between, to keep the wild animals off the households, as well as out of the water wells, both were fitted with a tall fence. A secondary reason was to keep the water clean, as cats do get everywhere… Notice the cross on top, a Christian symbol meant to bless the water… And the slant in the roof meant to aid the snow slide off during the heavy blanketed winters of the North of Romania.
But an artists at heart is such no matter where he was born and to tell a story all he needs are his two hands…
Like in this tell-tale blue of a house with blue doors, blue window frames, underneath the blue sky reflecting the blue waters… from Dobrogea, a fisherman land and home to Danube Delta:
A few more doors and households from the Village Museum:
Love and respect for tradition is what blows life in a carving made in wood.
Even the pen house (above) has a story to tell, a blessing to keep it safe – from beasts, the seen ones from forests, and unseen, from folktales.
And a blessing for the cellar:
It happened the way it was meant. He had learned the wood carving skill from his father, who had grasped it from his own father, and so on. But the stories he whispered into the wood, those came from songs, from childhood games and rhymes, from the mountains he’d climbed with the sheep, the streams he drank from, the clouds overhead and the stars, the sun and the birds. From prayers, said and unsaid. They were symbols for protection, and symbols to remind him, and his own, of their family. Their history. Their past. For nothing comes out of nothing and no meaningful future is there, without a past.
Between the symbols found in Romanian architecture of the village art are: the circle, the rope, the cross, the star, the sun (purifying the spirit) or the rosette, the moon (as a feminine symbol, assuring the fertility of the home), the tree of life (symbolizing Christ and immortality), the snake, the fir branch, the fir tree, flowers in a vase, wheat or rye, leaves, the horse, the lark, the dove (symbol for soul, taking off towards the Heavens), as well as the human silhouette (alone or in a group), the hand (a barrier against wicked forces), the eye (God’s all-seeing, protector eye), the cross (Christianity, remembering the death and resurrection of Christ).
The rooster, usually placed on top of houses but also carved on gates, is there for protection, remembering the rooster sacrificed when the establishment was built, and buried in the foundation – to ensure its durability.
The snake might derive from the popular belief that each home has its own protective spirit, called the home’s snake. It is said that one should not kill a snake near a home, as to not attract the spirits’ wrath… Now I know that a snake has so many negative connotations, but in the Book of Numbersthe copper serpent, Nehushtan, is an archetype of Jesus Christ, offering immortal life to those who believed in Him. The serpent also symbolizes wisdom and prudence.
If you happen to see a Romanian county home and wish to spot any of these symbols, do look at the pillars of gates and wells, search around the gates, doors and windows, as well as above, pay attention to the porches, and on the front side of the roofs.
For a wood carving is a novel.
How many symbols can you recognize?
Below, on gate pillars we can see the rope, the star, the rosette (the sun), geometrical motifs, the star, the circle, the tree of life:
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The importance of Târgoviște royal palace (curtea domnească) in history emerges, first of all, from the significant role it played in the life of Vlad Țepeș and during the medieval period. Among other royal residences of Wallachia, the royal court of Târgoviște was the third oldest and the second most used, without significant interruptions, over a period of 300 years.
The geographical location of Târgoviște was also favorable, hills on one side, planes on the other, Ialomita river passing through, as well as Dambovita river nearby.
Around 1400 Mihail I, son of Mircea the Elder (Mircea cel Bătrân) and co-ruler with his father was the first to settle his royal court here, where there was already a rural settlement as well as a more recent one, 14th century, belonging to Transylvania Saxon settlers. Later, as one of the important border villages of Wallachia, Târgoviște receives special privileges for commerce.
The royal palace of Târgovişte was designed as a group of buildings with various purposes: to host the administration of the country, as well as to offer protection and lodgings for the ruler, his family and their various courtiers and servants. Here were special rooms for the high government’s ministry and for the court to meet and for the prince (ruler) to sign his decrees and receive foreign guests and emissaries.
Târgoviște – etimology
Târgoviște = Târg + -iște. Târg means market, but Târgoviște means an older market, one well-established. As a name for a town, Târgoviște is also found in Croatian, trgovištse, Serbian, trgovište, Ukraine, torhovytśa, Slovakian, trhovište, and Polish, targowisko.
The Royal court was at Târgoviște because from there were easy connections with other parts of the Wallachian state, the city of Târgoviște being better positioned from an administrative and commercial point of view.
On 23rd August 1437 Vlad Dracul (Vlad II, the father of Vlad Tepes) signed a document in Târgoviște to declare that Vlădești will belong to the boyar Bodin, and exempts him and his sons Mircea and Vlad of services and tributes for as long as they live. The bequest starts with:
“In the name of the God Almighty, the all faithful and all honorable and Christ Loving, I Vlad and lord by the mercy of God and through the Benevolence of God ruler of all Hungarian-Wallachian Country, and duke of Amlaş and Făgăraş. My lordship has deign to offer this hereby true gift of property to my servant boyar Bodin and his sons, so that Vlădești village may be his land… ” and ends with “I Vlad Lord, with the mercy of God, ruler.”
Vlad Dracul and the people of Târgovişte
The influential boyards, the patricians of a town (such as Târgovişte was), were called good men, “om bun“. We encounter one of the first mentions of such good men in a letter of Vlad Dracul addressed to the people of Brasov perhaps during his first reign (1436–1442). The letter concerns Zanvel, a good man, but also a wealthy one, from Târgovişte, who had been killed and mugged while traveling for business in Transylvania. Vlad Dracul requests that all of Zanvel’s valuables be returned: 250 Florins, 500 Perperi (=250 Ducats), a money bag with 300 Aspri (silver coins) and a gold ring valued at 10 Florins. The man’s clothes are also mentioned, clothes of Ypress (one of the largest commercial communities of Medieval Belgium, when it served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city’s prosperous cloth industry), a hat and also a sword. Vlad Dracul allows for one week only, during which Zanvel’s killer had to be found and punished, and the wealth be returned to his family.
Smuggling weapons through Târgovişte
During the 14th century, the weapon craftsmanship of Braşov’s inhabitants (Transylvania) was greatly trusted by the rulers of Wallachia, such as Stephen the Great (Stefan cel Mare) and Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler, Vlad III – son of VladDracul, Vlad II). Thus, weapons trade beyond the borders of Transylvania was common, especially with Wallachia.
For example, at the end of 1445 the Wallachian Voivod Vlad Dracul requested the delivery of “bows, arrows, firearms and saltpeter” for his conquests in southern Wallachia. The Voivod was dependent on this delivery to strengthen the defenses of the seized town.
Not much later, the new Wallachian Voivod Vladislav II (who fought over the ruling of Wallacia with Vlad Tepes), requested in a document from 1453 that a delivery of weapons to Kilia (Chilia) to take place via the towns of Târgovişte and Brăila, so that the delivery could proceed in secret and without danger. A year later a similar request was made by John Hunyadi himself.
Vlad Țepeș’ main political objective was reinforcing his central authority. He expressed this in a letter written in Târgoviște, on September 10th 1456 (during his 2nd reign) and addressed to the people of Braşov:
“Think about how when a man or a ruler is powerful and strong he can make peace in any way he wants to; but when he is powerless, another one will come and rule him as he pleases.” (“Considerandum est vobis: quando homo vel dominus est potens et fortis, tunc pacem potest facere sicut vult; cum autem impotens erit, forcior super eum veniet et faciet secum sicut vult”).
The massacre of 1457: Vlad Ţepeş and the Boyards
We cannot go further without mentioning the relations between the townspeople of Târgoviște and Vlad Ţepeş and the existence of some conflicts between them. The only incident recorded by chroniclers mentions that Vlad Ţepeş considered the townspeople guilty of the death of his older brother, Mircea, whom they buried alive in 1447, and of that of their father, Vlad Dracul.
Vlad Ţepeş and his ruling policy
Having lived through his father’s political struggles, at the Ottoman and Moldavia court, as well as through his own first reign of almost three months, in 1448, Vlad would have learned that only a strong ruler can keep a country united, and that only a strong, united country can withstand a foreign attack.
As it was obvious during the Medieval times, the boyards held much power and through their intrigues they could control a country, often opposing the rule and power of a ruler. Vlad knew too well that one of biggest issues that opposed a strong head of state were the boyards and made it clear during a meeting he had with them. When asked under how many rulers they served during their life time, most acknowledged at least seven, which came and went, yet they remained in position.
But the Lord, Vlad Ţepeş, punished the townspeople differently: the big boyards and the old ones were impaled, while the young ones were taken together with their families on Easter day (a day of rest and Christian joy) to work on the Poenari fortress. It was Vlad Ţepeş’ desire for revenge, along with his need to consolidate his power, that drove him to commit one of the most notorious acts of his career. After this, Vlad gave positions in his council to persons of obscure origins, who would be loyal to him alone, and even to some foreigners and free peasants.
The punishment of the townspeople was placed by historians in 1457, when Vlad Ţepeş was in Târgovişte. The conflict should be understood through the context of power struggles between the two branches of the royal family (Dănești and Drăculești), in which both the great boyar groups and the influential members of the townspeople took part, whose political involvement is now revealed. The fact that the punished were put to work at the fortress is a rare situation; the obligation to work appears formally mentioned in several acts, but the event described above is the only attestation of a forced implementation of this duty. Among the internal chronicles, the History of Wallachia relates only the sending of young people to work, while in the Histories of Gentlemen it is written about the sending of women and children. Exceptional is the sending of people to work on Easter day, proving that the punishment applied to the citizens was a serious form of the duşegubina (a medieval payment for killing someone, or for theft, incest, adultery or kidnapping of girls).
Only in 1458 does Vlad Ţepeş begins building his Bucharest fortress to supervise and defend the road leading from Giurgiu, a Romanian city found under the ruling of the Turks.
It is documented by Chalcocondil (a Byzantine chronicler contemporary with Vlad Ţepeş), that in 1462, when the Ottoman troops came searching for Vlad (to remove him from the throne of Wallachia) they found him at Târgovişte…
The Night Attack at Târgoviște
It was Vlad Ţepeş‘ outstanding victories against the Turk army under the command of grand vizier Mahmud Pasha that caught the eye of Sultan Mehmed II. Vlad was celebrated by Saxon cities of Transylvania, as well as by the Pope Pius II. So the Sultan decided to deal with Vlad himself, thus preparing an army equal to what he had behind him when he conquered Constantinople. 150 000 Turks including fierce Janissary troops, archers, cavalry, saiales (slaves, medieval Turkish Kamikaze), pikemen, beshlish who handled firearms, 120 cannons and an entire fleet… and Radu the Handsome, Vlad’s half brother who commanded 4 000 horsemen…as well as engineers who would build bridges and roads if necessary, priests, astrologers… And Vlad? With no support from Hungarians ruled by Matthias Corvinus he relied on his people: all men of military age, but also women and children over the age of twelve ; and included Gypsy slaves, about 30 000 people all together, armed with lances, swords, and daggers, and most probably prong forks too. Vlad was able to stop part of the Turkish attacks by scorching the earth, poisoning the water, creating marshes and pits, even adopting guerrilla tactics.
Still, on June 17 the Turks set camp outside Târgovişte… There was one last thing Vlad could do to protect his town.
That evening, Vlad disguised himself as a Turk and entered the Turkish camp (Vlad was fluent in Romanian, church Slavic, German, Latin, Turkish). Here, he wandered around to find the location of the Sultan’s tent and learn about his plans of attack. A contemporary historian, Chalkokondyles, mentions that Mehmed had interdicted his soldiers to wander about the camp during the night, as to not cause panic in case of an attack. So Vlad decided to attack the Turkish camp during that night. Vlad’s men infiltrated the camp, then made noise from their buglers and illuminated the battle with their torches launching a series of attacks from “three hours after sunset until four the next morning”. Vlad Țepeș himself aimed for the tent of the sultan, but mistakenly went for the tent of his two grand viziers, Ishak Pasha and Mahmud Pasha (the same one that Vlad had already defeated in a previous battle). The sultan Mehmed II abandoned camp and fled for his life.
The Chindia Tower, Turnul Chindiei
It was Vlad Tepes who started building the lovely Chindia Tower for military purposes and to store the treasury. The tower rose on the place of an old manor house, although its final stone was put in place during the 19th century. It is believed that Hungarian commander Stephen V Báthory saw Chindia Tower and later refereed to it as the castle, in his letter from November 11, 1476.
A big feast or festival where people dance is known in Romanian as chindia, and this could be one explanation for the tower’s name, here being the place for such happy gatherings. But chindie, of Turkish origin, ikindi, also means sunset, the time of day when the guard gave the curfew signal, before closing the city’s gates. And this time was rather important as afterwards it was prohibited to enter or leave the city, and the residents were required not to pass through its streets and not to maintain outdoor fires that would have made the town visible from a distance and thus render it unsafe.
Today the Chindia tower rises at a height of 27 meters and measures 9 meters in diameter. When Prince Bibescu restored it, his builders also rose the tower by 5 meters.
For this reason, out of pro-Christian or pro-Ottoman beliefs, the Wallachian rulers of 16thcentury will shift the location of their princely court from Târgovişte to Bucharest and back again. Also, Târgovişte was often used as a summer residence, while Bucharest as a winter one.
Dealu Monastery was built by Radu IV the Great at the very beginning of the 16th century, on a previous monastic settlement. This is rather important, as previously in Târgovişte we only had a Franciscan and a Dominican monastery, but not a Christian Orthodox one.
The grand Metropolitan Church was raised under the ruling of Neagoe Basarab, early 16th century. During the same time the seal of Târgovişte town depicting Virgin and Infant is created.
Târgovişte sees another rebirth at the end of the 16th century, under the ruling of Petru II of the Earring, who brings Italian and French cultural influences. Franco Sivori, Petru’s private secretary, mentions gardens designed after the Italian fashion as well as the Prince’s menagerie found at Târgovişte.
Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) rules from here for a short time briefly bringing the three principalities under his personal union at 1600.
Although fortified, Târgovişte falls during the Turk-Tatar invasion of 1658 and is destroyed, its ruins being brought back to life 30 years later under the ruling of Constantin Brâncoveanu – till his tragic death.
18th century Târgovişte was on the world map
The most usual route on the way to Istanbul from western Europe, crossing Transylvania and Wallachia, passed through the towns of Cluj – Alba-Iulia – Sibiu, where it divided into two roads to Bucharest. One crossed the Carpathians through the gorge of Turnu Roşu, going down to the capital by Râmnicu Vâlcea and Piteşti, and the other passed through Braşov – Rucăr pass – Câineni – Câmpulung – Târgovişte, or along Valea Prahovei through Ploieşti, both routes passing through Bucharest.
Read the observations of an 18th century traveler returning from Istanbul and passing into Wallachia, a province still under the domination of the Porte (Ottoman Empire). Daniel Clarke traveled by carriage and this is his account on the different types of mentality he witnessed: “On April 16”, – writes Daniel Clarke – “we crossed the Danube [moving north, towards Wallachia]. On the other bank, the carriages of Wallachia’s ruler. […] Some of the Turks had never before sat in a wheeled vehicle and when the carriages set in motion they stuck their bearded heads out the windows throwing the most pitiful looks one can imagine. […] For us the change wasn’t less memorable either, as one year and a half had passed since we had left Russia and we had spent the entire time traveling without once having at our disposal a wheeled carriage”
As he crossed the Danube river, the British traveler on his way from Istanbul to England entered Wallachia. But for the travelers there was no militarized border with the Ottoman Empire as Wallachia had been for a few centuries under the domination of the Ottoman Porte (Sublime Porte), and in the 18th century the Ottoman Empire had increased its presence in the Romanian space.
There is an incredible 19th century story about the local villagers who fought for the conservation of the princely court with the Wallachian ruler of the time who had been named in position by the Ottoman court: Ioan Caradja (of Greek-Turkish origin). Caradja wanted the court demolished, but the villagers not only opposed, but they also preserved and rebuilt it.
The royal court of Târgovişte has next witnessed the Russo-Turk war, an earthquake and a fire, before a final rebirth during the late 19th century under the exemplary ruling of Alexandru Ioan Cuza and King Carol I.
Half a century after Dealu Monastery was built, a Military Highschool rose in Târgovişte in 1912, while King Carol I lead the Romanians. In 1930 Mihai I (the last King of Romania) and great-grandson of King Carol I (from his brother’s blood lineage) studied here. And Mihai was thus named after Romanian King Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul), the first to rule over an united Romania in 1600.
Sources: *Markus Peter Beham, Braşov (Kronstadt) in the Defence against the Turks *Laurentiu Radvan, Orasele din Tarile Romane in Evul Mediu *Sorin ŞIPOŞ – FOREIGN TRAVELLERS IN THE ROMANIAN SPACE AND BORDER SYMBOLISM (1797-1810) *Camelia TEODORESCU, Laurentiu Stefan SZEMKOVICS, Roxana RADU, FROM VLAD ŢEPEŞ – WALLACHIAN RULER – TO DRACULA. CONCLUSIVE DOCUMENTS REGARDING HIS NAME AND “FAME” *DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA
My next work of fiction is a contemporary story glancing over the shoulder at some incredible events dating from Medieval Romania. Subscribe to my newsletter ad be among the first to know when it will come out 🙂
Their plan was to arrive at the church before closing time, when the sanctuary was still open to visitors, but voided of worshipers, and the church custodian would be too tired of curious tourists and too exasperated by chatty old crones, so he would wave them in and then rush to finish his last chores.
They reached the holy ground well after nigh fall. It’s been the old town that threw them off, one that none was familiar with, full of labyrinthine nooks where Google Maps had never set foot. They lost their way a few times. As if the town had a mind of its own. As if its troubled spirits, the ones denied for eternity the sanctity of a peaceful sleep, were trying to stop them.
The church rose behind a curtain of trees. Or at least they hoped it was there, cradled in the sombre, hollow space at the back. The street lamps were off and it was too early for the moon to rise.
So why they pushed on? Because they came thus far. And she needed to get an answer.
The church door should face the front, the street, Kate knew that much. The altar would face east and that was to the right.
They would have knocked they heads in the sanctuary’s door, should she not have extended her arms. It was that dark underneath the old trees. She had removed her gloves earlier one, heated from the march, so the door felt warm and cold under her hands, smooth and rough.
Drachen thumbed on a flashlight.
The door, ten feet tall, had been forged five centuries ago during the times of its founder, Vlad the Monk. Kate’s hands rose and sank with the wood rods that seemed to have been twisted by time, reinforced in battle. Old oak, like the one that it was still alive around them, standing guard. The breams were reinforced with iron plates fixed in place with iron studs, hammered while the metal was still red. The wood and iron were spotted with years of water damage, be it from heavy summer rains or hibernal blizzards. Kate wondered how many battles it witnessed, how many Ottomans and Tatars it fought in silence. For how many weddings it pulled aside quietly, shrinking in the shadows, keeping its smoked-patina away from the pristine ivory of the bride’s gown. Or how many secrets it bear witness to, unwillingly. Unknowingly.
Kate always found churches approachable, a spiritual consecutiveness between man and god, people and families, intended for peace making. But this door looked as if it’s been forged to keep the intruders, and the worst of the weather, out.
‘As old as the church,’ said Drachen and his words came out in whisper. As if he didn’t want anyone else to hear them. Although there was no one else around.
Except for them, the spirits, a thought crossed Kate’s mind and she shook it off right away, surprised by her naïve predisposition to superstition.
‘Its locking mechanism is incredible, I saw a design once, for another door. It is a complex system made up of no less than 19 locks created in 1515 by local craftsmen, intended to shield the Episcopal treasure kept inside. Only one key can open it,’ he said.
‘A Bramah key?’
‘No, no Kate. You mean the cylindrical keys with different slots of varying depths? You’re nearly three centuries off. The Bramah lock was invented towards the end of the 18th century.’ He leaned towards the door, almost smelling it. ‘ Would you hold the flashlight, please,’ and Drachen leaned on his hands, both palms spread over the door’s relief, the only two areas that reflected the beam coming from the torch.
‘Now this, this is something much better.’
Behind the door with its 19 locks was the old church, full of secrets. One of them, hers.
A gate door along the narrow cobblestone streets winding through Schei, Brasov’s traditional Romanian quarter:
The Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov (Hebrew: בית ישראל):
The lovely lady in the rope-ed statue below points towards Strada Sforii (Rope Street), a medieval lane and one of the most narrow streets in the world:
Doors are like people. Some stand proud, some pull in the shadows, some look inviting and throw open both arms, some keep to themselves. Some are round, some tall and dark, some fancy, some barely keeping up. But all, all doors have a story to tell. At least one. What is your story, I ask each one as I walk past. I’m listening.
See you all next Thursday! 🙂 Thank you for visiting.
Thursday Doors is a weekly feature that brings door lovers from around the world together, while sharing their joy towards door photography. Feel free to join by creating your own weekly Thursday Doors post and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).
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I invite you to travel to Romania via a few amazing photos because Romania is a country that deserves to be seen. Not many know, but its brave people have watched over the central and western Europe for centuries, acting like a breathing barrier against the Ottoman and Russian powers.
Alone and awake, Romania is a guardian of the world, coming from the eternity and sure to remain in the pages of history. Romania has views that last, a heart that beats proudly to the rush of its streams; and slowly, to the rhythm of its sunsets; a mysterious spirit in tune to the song of its forests.
Travel to Romania via a few amazing photos that will show you the peaceful shades of its landscape, the endless poetry of its shadows, the smile of its innocence, or the islands of silence that punctuate the song of its birds.
See the kneeling of the twilight, Hear the hesitation of a footstep at dawn, Admire old landscapes, Growing young with the joy they give. A light that calls Through history, Stories that perpetuate, For each one of us Is a facet of their reflection.
Where do our thoughts escape to? The wondrous one that sneaks out while we languidly watch the sea change its colors? The pressing ones that run away as soon as our mind got caught in the seagull’s wing. The long forgotten ones that elope us before we even blink the sun away. Where do they go? Join me in Looking at the Sea.
A World Class Capital City, Bucharest
In the period between the two World Wars, Bucharest’s elegant architecture and the sophistication of its elite earned the capital city of Romania the nickname of ‘Paris of the East’ or ‘Little Paris’.
This past holiday I chose to look up, towards the sun, the sky and the buildings’ roofs. I discovered some surprising sights that put a smile on my face. Lamp posts can have intricate designs while bordering past and present – which side would you choose? Let’s look up together, in Bucharest.
Brasov is a town that’s sure to enchant you, whether you visit during summer or winter. Brasov, Corona in Latin or Kronstadt in German, is a historical and cultural city found in the heart of Transylvania, in the heart of Romania, and not far from Sighisoara. It was first mentioned in 1235 and, not many know, it was the birth place of Katharina Siegel, the only woman Vlad Tepes (Dracula) is said to have ever loved.
Let’s move on. Let’s travel to Romania via some more amazing photos of…
Exploring Romania’s Top Movie Locations: Peles Castle – Peles Castle belongs to Hohenzollern Family, a German ruling dynasty. The castle was built between 1873 – 1914 in Neo-Renaissance style, at the order of King Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. King Carol I was the monarch of Romania between 1866 – 1914.
Corvin Castle is a fairy-tale castle of Gothic-renaissance architecture, built on an old Roman fortification and a stunning sight – read more about it here.
The Sculptural Ensemble of Constantin Brâncuși at Târgu Jiu is an homage to the Romanian heroes of the First World War. The ensemble comprises three sculptures: The Table of Silence, The Gate of the Kiss and the Endless Column. The ensemble is considered to be one of the great works of 20th-century outdoor sculpture.
A contemporary of Auguste Renoir, next to whom he trained as a painter, Grigorescu took part as war painter in the Romanian War of Independence of 1877 against the Ottoman Empire. Grigorescu is considered one of the painters who established the Romanian modern art.
Much or less is known about Afghanistan and its dangerous landscape. An old Afghan proverb says: ‘There is a path to the top of even the highest mountain.’ Of course there is, and a view to go with it. A history lesson too, I would add.
Jalalabad to Kabul National Highway, Afghanistan, a tarred dangerous landscape
This road is on World Health Organization’s list of dangerous roads
The 65-km stretch from Jalalabad to Kabul , also known as National Highway 08 (NH08), loops through Taliban territory and the Kabul gorge, the Tang-e Gharu gorge. Speaking of being trapped between Scylla and Charybdis.
But it’s not the threat of insurgency that makes Highway 1 so dangerous — it’s a combination of the narrow, winding lanes that climb up to 600 m through the Kabul gorge.
‘The highway snaked through the deadly desert, a ribbon of asphalt put there by the U.S. army as an illusion of U.S. soil under the tires, secure and everlasting.’
The remote Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan, a geographical dangerous landscape
On the North-West of Afghanistan a narrow, looking like a dagger, protrudes into neighboring China and separates the two more adjacent neighbors, Tajikistan from Pakistan. It is the Wakhan Corridor and the most remote place you can think of in Afghanistan, complete with wild river crossings, long slogs up steep mountains and many miles of beautiful single-track.
Although the terrain is extremely rugged, the Corridor was historically used as a trading route between Badakhshan and Yarkand (east and west). It appears that even Marco Polo traveled this way.
Noshaq – Afghanistan’s highest peak
At 7 492 m (24,580 ft) Noshaq is Afghanistan’s highest mountain peak and is part of the Hindu Kush Range, this 800 km mountains stretching at the north of Afghanistan like the spine of a sleeping dragon. Noshaq (also called Nowshak or Nōshākh) may be the highest peak in Afghanisatn, but the highest peak of the Hindu Kush Range is Tirich Mir (at 7,492 m, 24,580 ft) located in Pakistan.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, mountaineers stopped visiting Noshaq because of the dangerous political climate. The laying of landmines in Noshaq Valley during the country’s civil war in the 1990s further isolated the enormous mountain.
The alluring Durand Line, a political dangerous landscape
The Durand Line is the 2,640-kilometer (1,640-mile) border between Afghanistan and Pakistan established in 1893 for political reasons. It is the result of an agreement between Sir Mortimer Durand, the secretary of the British Indian government at the time, and Abdur Rahman Khan, the emir of Afghanistan. The agreement was signed on November 12, 1893, in Kabul, Afghanistan. When the Durand Line was created Pakistan was still a part of India. India was in turn controlled by the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom ruled India from 1858 until India’s independence in 1947. Pakistan also became a nation in 1947.
The Durand Line is a historic, much disputed border that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan nations and families.
‘You want to ask why they don’t close the border, Marine? Think of the U.S. southern border, of Germany’s borders during the Communist Bloc and, lately, the North-Korean border. Could those be closed? Has the Durand Line, cutting through Pashtun and Baloch tribal areas, worked?
‘There is a natural flow of movement between Pakistan and Afghanistan that does not pose a threat to any of the two countries. Nor does it pose a threat to regional security and stability. It is the transhumance. The pastoral nomadism of livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures found on both sides of the Pakistan – Afghan border means that shepherds need to feed their livestock in winter to keep their families alive. And these families, residing on both sides of the border, feel stronger about their ethnicity then they do about their nationality.’
Afghanistan’s Highway 1, the Ring Road, the Afghan Highway to Hell
Afghanistan’s H1 is a 2,200 kilometer nationwide highway network circulating Afghanistan. The road is extremely dangerous because of Taliban and insurgent attacks and ambushes, of roadside bombs as well as extreme weather conditions. Although police checkpoints are scattered along the road and patrols are sent out daily to secure portions of the highway when NATO convoys pass, roadside bombs and ambushes make Highway 1 one of the most dangerous roads in the world.
‘Both Smit and Welsh were part of a critical security unit operating at the nearby notorious bridge where AH1, Afghanistan’s Highway 1 or the Ring Road, crossed over the Helmand River. During the past ten years of war, Taliban ambushes and shrewdly placed IEDs have killed hundreds of troops and innocent civilians in this specific location. Every stop and search had the potential to become a lethal one for the soldier on duty, as performing searches on suspicious looking vehicles had a high potential to turn lethal, while pedestrian body search was something Muslims felt highly against. To help alleviate the situation the army introduced female soldiers in these checkpoints, their job being body searching Muslim women they estimated as suspicious looking.’
Tracing the history of name Furstenberg I discovered some coins, perhaps part of a treasure found in a castle, as well as porcelain fit for a King residing on a Parisian Street.
First there was the Fürstenberg castle
Fürstenberg Castle was a medieval fortress located on Fürstenberg hill, in Baden-Württemberg region of south-west Germany, near the source of the Danube river.
The name actually means Prince Mountain, or Prince of the Mountain.
The castle was first mentioned in a deed of 1175. Around 1250 Count Henry of Urach (a land nearby) made it his residence and was the first to call himself a Count of Fürstenberg.
Sadly, the original castle was devastated during the Thirty Years’ War (at the beginning of the 17th century) and never rebuilt. But the Fürstenberg county and the Fürstenberg clan survived history.
Over the years, as it often happened with any big family, holdings were partitioned between different branches of the clan, then unified again as family lines went extinct. One such memorable member was Count Henry VII von Fürstenberg-Fürstenbergmentioned in 1408.
One of the oldest Fürstenberg coins
A Theodore von Furstenberg silver coin from 1614
In 1664, Hermann Egon of Fürstenberg-Heiligenberg and his brothers, the bishops Franz Egon of Strasbourg and Cardinal William Egon of Fürstenberg, became Princes of the Holy Roman Empire and the first to be raised to imperial princely status by emperor Leopold I. Therefor Hermann Egon is seen as the founder of the Principality of Fürstenberg-Fürstenberg.
Furstenberg coins from 16th and 17th centuries
Minted under Dietrich von Fürstenberg, Bishop of Paderborn, 1585-1618 (left) and under Ferdinand von Fürstenberg, Bishop of Paderborn and Münster, 1661-1683 (right):
In 1716, Count Joseph Wilhelm Ernst becomes (again) Prince of Fürstenberg-Fürstenberg (due to various partitions followed by unification of the small counties). It was he who changed his residency to Donaueschingen, a small settlement near the confluence of the Brigach and Breg rivers, the source of the Danube river. There he built a residence fit for a prince, he organized the administration of the county and is seen as the founder of the Principality of Fürstenberg-Fürstenberg.
A Furstenberg-Stuhlingen Taler from 1729
A coin that should not exist in such a fine state. The obverse: we see the bust of Josef Wilhelm Ernst Furstenberg-Stuhlingen in armored suit. Do notice the fine details: the edge of each curl fully defined, and his facial features easily pronounced. Also, notice the flan (or planchet, the round metal disk that is ready to be struck as a coin): in russets and golden hues just like a painter’s brush strokes. The reverse: figures at work, with a view of the mines and valley in the background. Do notice the excellent proportions of the details and the 3D perspective created with the use of repoussoir (an object along the right or left foreground that directs the viewer’s eye into the composition by framing the edge).
The Fürstenberg porcelain
Duke Charles I of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, who reigned as Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from 1735 until his death, requested that a porcelain factory be built in 1747 in Fürstenberg.
Below is one of the oldest drawing used by Fürstenberg porcelain factory dating from 1760: the castle and the factory, and painted by Pascha Johann Weitsch. The plate is from the Duke Carl I of Brunswick-Wolfenbuettel set.
It is interesting to know that the Fürstenberg porcelain trademark, the blue “F”, dates since 1740 and the ALT FÜRSTENBERG range is still produced today in its original Rococo style.
Moving on with the history of the Fürstenberg family…
At the end of the 18th century, Prince Joseph Maria Benedikt, the third Prince of the House of Fürstenberg-Stühlingen, is known to have studied at the University of Salzburg and was a passionate musician and a patron of the arts. For this, the Prince upgraded the riding school in Donaueschingen into a 500 seat theater to play the works of great composers of the day. He is also remembered to have regulated the lives of his subjects with moral severity…
In 1766 and age 10, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart visited the Fürstenberg home in Donaueschingen for twelve days and performed for the Prince, his family, and guests. Both Mozart and his sister received diamond rings as a sign of gratitude for their performance.
Later, Mozart proposed that the Prince of Fürstenberg pay him a regular annual salary in return for new compositions for exclusive use at the court in Donaueschingen. The Prince purchased three symphonies and three piano concertos but, sadly, decided not to pay Mozart the salary the musician hoped for. If only he would have.
The Furstenberg-Stuhlingen coin of 1767 worth nearly 40 000 USD
A Josef Wenzel Furstenberg-Stuhlingen coin, struck as part of the Mining Taler series featuring St. Wenceslas standing in front of the Wenceslas Mine:
In November 15, 1772 the Prince of Fürstenberg was contracted to marry Princess Maria Theresa of Thurn and Taxis but it didn’t work out as the princess changed her mind. He married instead Maria Antonia of Hohenzollern-Hechingen in 1778. An alliance that did not work out wither, although they shared a passion for music and she was an “excellent soprano”, courageous, determined and ingenious although unusually small.
Over the centuries members of Fürstenberg family have risen to prominence as soldiers, churchmen, diplomats, and academics. Sometimes the name was gallicized as de Furstenberg or anglicized as Furstenberg. 🙂
The Principality of Fürstenberg was one of 16 principalities dissolved by the treaty of the Rhine In 1806. Most part was annexed to the Grand Duchy of Baden, smaller parts were given to the Kingdom of Württemberg, the principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen and the Kingdom of Bavaria.
The Fürstenbergnoble title was retired.
The Fürstenberg family no longer rules as princes, yet it still resides at Donaueschingen (with its gardens, grounds and an extensive library), at Heiligenberg and Weitra.
And a Furstenberg street in chic Paris
Rue de Furstemberg is located in one of the most charming squares in Paris.
The street was named after Cardinal Guillaume-Egon de Fürstenberg (1629-1704), ordained Abbot of Saint-Germain-des -Prés in 1697. He was the same Guillaume-Egon which, in 1664 and together with his brothers Hermann Egon of Fürstenberg-Heiligenberg and bishop Franz Egon of Strasbourg, were raised to the status of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire by emperor Leopold I.
Place de Furstenberg or Rue de Furstemberg is in the heart of the wealthy 6tharrondissement, tucked between the web of streets found between the left bank of the Seine and Boulevard Saint-Germain.
The square is the foreground to the entrance of the Abbatial Palace constructed in 1586 by Cardinal Charles I de Bourbon and named after the Cardinal Guillaume-Egon de Furstenberg.
Notice below Rue de Cardinal perpendicularly to Rue de Furstenberg?
Rue de Furstemberg, 75006 Paris, France
The surrounding buildings here are placed around a central island and form a charming courtyard. Noticeable here is the Haussmannian architecture that defines Paris, a subtle hint of the romantic and traditional Parisian charm.
A hotspot for intellectuals and artists, Rue de Furstenberg is also famous for having been home to Eugène Delacroix who moved there to be nearer to the Eglise Saint-Sulpice which he had been commissioned to decorate.
Not any know, but an unfinished Medieval statue of the Virgin with Child was reassembled from three pieces of rock discovered in an archeological dig on the Rue de Furstenberg in 1999. The Statue can be admired in the Church of Saint-Germain des Prés nearby, the oldest church in Paris.
Discovering the history behind a family name is a fascinating journey, one I hope you enjoyed taking with me. Thank you for reading ‘A History of Furstenberg: Coins, a Castle, Porcelain, and a Street.’ Until next time.
Renowned Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu performed ‘Tatăl Nostru‘,Pater Noster or the Lord’s Prayer, accompanied by Romanian violonist Alexandru Tomescu in front of the Romanian Atheneum, in a deserted Bucharest.
I would like to share her performance with you and take you through a few places of my native Bucharest.
The recording was made on 19 April 2020 by Pro TV, Romania’s most watched private television network.
‘During such times, I wish everyone courage, love and hope!’ (Angela Gheorghiu).
Alexandru Tomescu performed on a Stradivarius Elder-Voicu violin on loan from the Romanian government until 2023 – a privilege won through a contest. The violin is listed as a national patrimony item. It was manufactured in 1702 and purchased in 1956 by the Romanian state to be used by violinist Ion Voicu. In 2007, it was estimated at USD 1.2 million.
Composer: Anton Pann Producer: Sabina Ulubeanu Sound: Andrei Kerestely A PRO TV (2020) production.
I have to admit I am a big fan of Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu. I think she is not only gorgeous, but talented too. Nothing comes without hard work and sacrifice though, and she proved it more than once. Since her professional debut in 1990, she has performed in leading roles of several operas at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, London’s Royal Opera House, the Vienna State Opera, Milan’s La Scala, and many other opera houses in Europe and the United States. She has a substantial discography primarily with EMI Classics and Decca and is especially known for her performances in the operas of Puccini.
The Romanian Athenaeum is the-most-gorgeous-concert-hall-ever. Of course is located in Bucharest! The building was designed by the French architect Albert Galleron, for the Romanian Atheneum Cultural Society and built on a property that belonged to the Văcărescu family (one of the oldest noble families of Wallachia, now Romania). It was inaugurated in 1888. The construction showcases the neoclassical style typical for the era with some romantic touches. The Romanian Atheneum is a symbol of Romanian culture and an European Heritage Site as well as one of Seven Wonders of Romania.
Bucharest is my home town so this recording is special to me. I have never seen this city so deserted during day time. If you don’t know, Romania is one of the safest countries to live in.
Follow me through the video.
Romanian Atheneum above, Cismigiu Park below – I have never seen Cismigiu so deserted. Cismigiu is lovely in summer for a stroll in the shade or a leisurely row and fantastic in winter for ice skating all day long and under the spotlight in the night.