Vlad Tepes, Bucharest, and a Medieval Curse out of Context

Vlad Tepes Bucharest curse

Vlad Tepes built a fortified fortress in 1458 Bucharest part of his defense plan against Ottoman attacks, no curse here. Vlad’s princely court remained at Târgovişte, but with fortresses at Bucharest, Comana and Snagov Vlad Ţepeş knew that his chances of fighting off any Turkish bad spells increased.

Vlad the Impaler, Curtea Veche Bucuresti

Thus, the Royal Courthouse, Curtea Veche, Vlad’s royal palace soon became the heart of Bucharest, a city nesting between the rivers of Dâmboviţa and Colentina, and with the rivulet of Bucureştioara (Little Bucharest) as a defense moat for the fortress.

Vlad-Impaler-Curtea-Veche-Bucharest

Today the plains surrounding Bucharest, the capital city of Romania are flat, and intensely involved in agriculture. But during the Middle Ages a dense forest grew here, known as Codrii Vlăsiei, the Lowland Woods (stretching it a bit, the Vlach’s Woodland). It was here, on a hill in the town of Bucur, Bucuresti, that Vlad ordered master builders from Brasov to raise him a brick and stone fortress.

Vlad-Impaler-Curtea-Veche-Bucharest close up

It is Vlad the Impaler’s Charter from 20 September 1459 that is the first ever official mention on Bucharest, thus the city’s birth certificate.

Vlad-Impaler-fortress-Bucharest

Although legend says that Bucharest’s foundation was set by a shepherd, Bucur, it is most plausible that the city was founded by Mircea cel Bătrân, Mircea the Elder, Wallachian ruler and Vlad Tepes’ paternal grandfather, on a prehistorical site.

A paragraph was included at the end of the document signed by Vlad the Impaler, document that also mentions land being purchased and sold, and such wording was common during those times in order to oblige everyone to honor the terms of the contract:

document atestare Bucuresti Vlad Tepes

“S-a scris în septembrie 20, în cetatea București, în anul 6968 (1459) Io Vlad voievod, din mila lui Dumnezeu, domn”.
“Written on September 20, in the citadel of Bucharest, in year 6968 (1459), I Vlad voievode, by the mercy of God, ruler.”

Bucharest today
A building in Bucharest.

“And he and his flesh shall be destroyed by the word of the good Lord and in the afterlife his soul shall be with Judas and Arius and with others that said: his blood over them and over their children, what it is and it will always be forever, amen.”
In the Romanian translation (as the document was originally written in Slavic, the language widely used in the Tara Romaneasca at that time:
“Pe acela Domnul Dumnezeu să-l nimicească şi să-l ucidă aici cu trupul, iar în veacul viitor sufletul lui, să fie părtaş lui Iuda şi lui Arie şi cu ceilalti care au spus: sângele lui asupra lor şi asupra copiilor lor, ceea ce este şi va fi in veci, amin.”

Romanian Commercal Bank, BCR, at Universitate Square, Bucharest
Romanian Commerical Bank, BCR, at University Square, Bucharest

Taken out of context, along the years many decided to see this curse as having being cast upon the city of Bucharest itself, yet it is not. How could it be, when Vlad the Impaler’s heart beat for his land and his people – and Vlad wrote the above charter “with his whole benevolence, with a clean and enlightened heart,” – “cu a sa bunăvoinţă, cu inimă curată şi luminată“

Bucuresti Liceul Lazar
Bucharest Lazar Highschool near Cismigiu Park

Invoking Divine wrath against those who don’t follow the Price’s or Voievode’s command was common practice in documents written in both Latin and Slavic during those times (especially between the 14ht and the 17th centuries), by the rulers of Ţara Romaneasca and Moldova. Such fashion came from the Byzantine Empire, through the Orthodox church, or influenced by the rulers of the countries south of Danube. The Hungarian rulers, however, under the Catholic faith, used not such means of threat in their official documents.

Bucharest, closing the door on history
Bucharest, closing the door on history

I grew up in Bucharest and lived there for nearly three decades, I couldn’t have left this one slip, Vlad Tepes built a royal fortified fortress in Bucharest, Curtea Veche, but the Medieval curse connected with it is out of Context 🙂 Bucharest is a vibrant, beautiful city, filled with history, art, and wonderful people.

thursday doors, 100 words story

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

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages

History Transylvania middle ages

Early Middle Ages, history tells us, found the rich lands of Transylvania and the Romanian territories south and east of the Carpathians, Muntenia, Oltenia, and Moldavia respectively, as a  lively congregation of various cultures and traditions, brought together by the need for trade, the hope for a better life, but mostly by the local’s love and respect for their ancestor’s land.

But what was happening in the western Europe right about now? For no land can ever be isolated from the rest of the world, nor can it be observed on its own. Just as no level of the emerging, yet highly hierarchic feudal system can be understood as an isolated occurrence.

The Early Middle Ages in Europe

The three years of civil war in western Europe conclude with the Treaty of Verdun in the 9th century as the fights between the three grandsons of Charlemagne shattered the flourishing Frankish Empire. Thus, nowadays France, Austria and Germany were born. As new kingdoms formed, the growth of their population pushed to expansion – soon migration – and, quite soon, the Church of the West seized this opportunity and increased its spiritual, economic and military powers. As a result, the Church controlled an emerging educational system as well as the ruling classes.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages

Before the Magyar (Hungarian) tribes arrived in Transylvania…

The Magyar Tribes’ forced migration

Over in the east, in Asia, the Turk-Mongol tribes started expanding and moving westward, much like a tsunami wave, disturbing, overpowering , uprooting the local, smaller tribes often focused on their livelihood and not on their combat skills. These expanding new kingdoms soon advanced and conquered further western lands, setting a fur-lined boot with upturned toe in Europe’s far east, thus forcing the steppe’s nomad peoples and their light cavalry towards west, and south. These, last mentioned, were the Hungarians or Magyars (as they still refer to themselves), nomads originated east of the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus where they led a life of horsemen and livestock farmers. The Hungarian’s origin is doubtful as their language is Finno-Ugric (like Finnish, Estonian, and others), while their royal family holds Turkish blood. Their name, Hungarian, is thought to be derived from Oghur-Turkic On-Ogur (literally “Ten Arrows” or “Ten Tribes”).

The Magyars settle in Pannonian Basin

The Magyars from Ukraine (Kiev) in the Pannonian Fields are thus obliged by the Turk-Mongol tribes to flee south-west. They tried to cross the Danube in 880 but were stopped by the Bulgars so they adjusted their plans, turned 180 degrees, and invaded the south of the Carpathians, today Romanian plains but back then forested and inhabited by Vlachs, Dacians and Slavs too. And even further north the Hungarians pushed, crossing the Carpathians but mostly from the west, where the path was more accessible. Remember, the Hungarians were not mountain people, like the Vlachs and the Dacians were, but rather used to travel on horseback, over flat, dry steppe. As the Magyars pushed in, the local population, the Vlachs especially, retreated to the mountainous valleys.

Transylvania, its origin and ethymology. Pannonian Basin, Carpathian Mountais and Transylvania,
The Pannonian Basin (marked III.), enclosed by the Carpathians and the Transylvanian Plateau (IV.) to the east and north. Also shown: the Romanian Lowlands (II.) and the Outer Sub-Carpathian depressions (I.) beyond the Carpathians (also known as Transcarpathia)

I have a story for you, about the Hungarian conquest of Transylvania.

The Magyar tribes, the Hungarians, raid Latin Europe

By 890 the Hungarians had moved into the Pannonian Basin, ideal for their herds of horses, and from there they rallied the German and Franc villages located further west… But the Hungarians were soon stopped in their attempts to invade the West (the Latin Europe) by Emperor Otto I at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955. It was hot news by now, and broadcasted at each Royal Court of Western Europe, that the Asiatic danger to the Christian lands and forgotten for a century was back, in the shape of the Hungarian’s savage raids.

Hungarian conquest of Transylvania - Romanian territory IX - XIII centuries. We can see in the middle the Dutchy (Voievodatul) of Gelou / Gyula. Left is Dutchy of Menumorut and below it is Dutchy of Glad / Aftum.
Romanian territory IX – XIII centuries. We can see in the middle the Dutchy (Voievodatul) of Gelou / Gyula. Left is Dutchy of Menumorut and below it is Dutchy of Glad / Aftum. And complete left of Tisa River is Regatul Ungariei (Kingdom of Hungary). We can also see all the little dutchies that today form Romania: Timisului, Craiovei, Iasilor, Maramuresului, Banatul, Baragan, etc – all the way to Danube in the south, Prut in the east, close to Tisa in north west.

The Magyars, Hungarians, settle for Transylvania

The Vlachs in Transylvania, ruled by Gelou, holding their capital at Dăbâca (today Cluj County), lost the battle against the invading Magyars. But the Hungarians who settled in Transylvania were not numerous, and they needed reinforcements, and urgent, to keep the local Vlachs at bay. It took an entire European conjecture, the Crusades, the great ideal of Christendom and an increase in western population until the request of King Geza II of Hungary was fulfilled and priests, peasants and horsemen immigrated to Transylvania, Ţara Barsei and Bistrita – for the promise of free land (outside the one already owned by the Hungarian nobility), and no taxes.

The massive, Middle-Ages immigration to Transylvania

The first to arrive in Transylvania were the border-soldiers. They arrived in the Carpathian space soon after the Hungarians settled and were called Szâkely, secui in Romanian. Their role was to stand against the local tribes of Pechenegs and Cumans (the local, Black Cumans still living here for the past 200 years). It might have even been the Cumans who taught the Vallachians the war art of attacking on horse back – and how handy it came, half a century later, to Vlad Tepes during his famous night attack against the Ottomans led by Mehmed II, at Targoviste, June 17, 1462.

The actual process of colonization of Transylvania and Muntenia (later part of Wallachia) started at the end of the 12th century. First to arrive were the German settlers who left their home lands of north-western Germany, close to the Netherlands, as well as Flanders, Cologne, Aachen, Liège, Lorraine, and Luxembourg. As some arrived from the east, from old Saxony (near the North Sea coast of what is now Germany) the German populations of Transylvania was called the Saxons.

This German population was promised a better life in the hope that it will introduce an advanced agriculture, crafts and good business practices, and that it will to set up cities like the German ones, with reinforcements. Of the cities, burgs, established by the Saxons seven will be more significant, hence the name Siebenbürgen (seven citadels, seven burgs) given by the Germans to Transylvania. Between these seven two stand out for us, Brasov and Sibiu, or Kronstadt and Hermannstadt.

But let’s remember that Sibiu was initially a Daco-Roman urbs named Cedonia and in Brasov area were discovered traces of Dacian citadels.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages, cioban frm Hunedoara, Transylvania, Dacian origin
Romanian words of Dacian origin: this is a shepherd (baci), wearing a mustache above his upper lip (buză), a hat (căciulă), a wide belt (brâu). here are trees (copaci) between him and his hamlet (cătun), a brook (pârâu) too. His sheep will give milk for good cheese (brânză), whey-cheese (urdă) too. His clever dog probably doesn’t ned a collar (zgardă) and it brings the man great joy (bucurie).

The story of Pied Piper of Hamelin or Pan Piper

‘Tis about the children of medieval Hamelin, in Lower Saxony, who were led underground by the (now) legendary Pied Piper only to reemerged thousands of miles to the southeast, in the Carpathian Mountains.

There are a few explanations for this fable, from death by natural causes to emigration.

Life in Transylvania during the Middle-Ages

The Transylvanian settlers led a pretty good life. They were held in high regard by the King of Hungary who considering them guests, even allowing them to exploit his forests and lakes, to hunt and fish for their families, a diversion normally reserved for the King.

The first settlers in Sibiu area were appointed “primi hospites regi”(the first royal guests) in the Royal seal of 1206.

On arrival, the Saxons received land and were allowed to held political gatherings, to choose and pay their own priests, thus keeping up with their culture and traditions, their national image (although this concept will only appear several hundred years later).

The settlers were exempted from paying taxes at local markets and the Transylvanian merchants were exempted from taxes when traveling within the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom too. They led a free life in free cities where there was no notable difference between nobles, bourgeois and artisans – at a time when the feudal tradition was well established in the rest of Europe, as was in other parts of Transylvania and Wallachia.

Worth mentioning s that the Saxon’s tax exemption will cause quite an uphill during the times when Vlad the Impaler ruled Wallachia.

A large number of settlers, considering distances and ways of transport, 3000 (around 500 families) arrived first, mostly lead by the hope of a better life, and Transylvania flourished as a good balance between duties and freedom was in place. For example, the agricultural system practiced was called clacă, meaning voluntary collective work performed by peasants to help each other. Also, when a young couple got married the entire village helped to build their new house.

Only if Transylvania joined the Hungarian Kingdom in war were the Saxons ordered to supply 500 soldiers, and in case of an external war 100 armed men, but if the King was not personally participating in the campaign only 50 men. And only 500 silver marks per year were paid to the King of Hungary by all the Transylvanian lands occupied by Saxons.

The first mention of a Voivode of Transylvania is that of Mercurius, a most distinguished Hungarian nobleman who reigned rather shortly, between 1111 and 1113.

During the Second and the Third Crusade more settlers arrived in Transylvania, in search of safety.

In 1190 the Hungarian King Ladislaus build a church in Hermannstadt, Sibiu, thus the city was mentioned for the first time in an official document, and signed by Pope Celestine III. Soon after, a prior and 12 monks arrived from Pontigny, France, at the request of the wife of King Béla III, Agnes of Antioch, and founded Igriş monastery (Egresch – today Arad) near the river Mureş.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages, Sibiu
Sibiu today

When Emperor Heinrich VI called for yet another crusade in 1195, he raised the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem to the rank of knighthood: Teutonic Order. These Teutonic Knights settled in Transylvania in 1211 and built five fortresses such as Feldioara and Cisnădioara.

Finally, when the Roman Empire fell during the Fourth Crusade in April 1204, together with Constantinople, and the “Latini” settled in Constantinople, a nasty drift appeared between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the Great Schism. Over in the Romanian medieval lands Transylvania embraces the Gothic civilization and Catholicism, while Wallachia and Moldavia maintained their Byzantine tradition.

It is during the Third, Fourth and Fifth Crusades that a movement of people and goods to overseas territories, East, is created, either by sea, but also via land, on Transylvanian routes. This way, more traders and crusaders chose to remain on site, in Transylvania, as well as to keep trading with their land of origin as the previous settlers were already doing.

In 1222, the Bulla Aurea of King Andrew II guaranteed the privileges of the Hungarian nobility. Those of the Saxons were secured in 1224 by the Diploma Andreanum. The success of the Flandrenses encouraged the arrival of new settlers and in 1292, the first hospital in a church-asylum (Franciscan) at Hermannstadt, Sibiu, was opened.

In 1241 we find the name Transylvania mentioned again, and identified with “Septem urbicum” after the seven fortified towns of the region. For sure, the trading routes of the Balkans were strongly linked to those of the Faith, and each time a crusade took place, more peasants and tradesmen traveled through and chose to settle in Transylvania and Wallachia, where life flourished and there was – still – peace.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages, Medieval-Europe-deforestation
Medieval Europe – deforestation

At the end of the 13th century four nations were part of the General Assembly of Transylvania: the Hungarian nobility, the Saxons, the Szecklers (Secui) and the Vlachs although the Secui and the Vlachs had only minor privileges.

The threat of the Mongol Empire

About the same time the threat of the Mongol Empire under Genghis-Han was on the rise from Asia, conquering China and heading East until it reached the eastern parts of Russia. So much so that in 1241 the Mongols advanced in the north of Transylvania and engaged in a fight with the Saxons settled near the Rodna mines. The Mongols even defeated the Hungarian King’s army (King Bela), but retreated suddenly in 1242 when the Great Han died.

However, the Mongols will not withdraw completely from Europe, but establish a state in southeastern Russia on the Lower Volga River, known as the Golden Horde, keeping the Russian principalities as vassals for over 200 years. After assimilating the Cuman population settled here, on the northern shore of the Black Sea, they will be known as Tatar Mongols and will represent a permanent danger especially to Transylvania, Oltenia and Muntenia (the last two will unite in 1330 to form Wallachia). Even from the first decades of the 14th century, we find that the Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian political formations were in relation of vassality towards these Tartar Mongols.

Banat Severin, Great Wallachia, Kingdom Hungary, Byzantine Empire, Mongol Empire 13th century
Banat Severin, Great Wallachia, Kingdom Hungary, Byzantine Empire, Mongol Empire 13th century

About the same time, in 1247, King Bela IV of Hungary and Duke of Transylvania planed an active expansion over the Carpathians, towards the south-west. His plan was to increase the fortifications and setup a defense alliance against the Bulgarian Empire in the event of a second Tatar-Mongol invasion and to rebuild his devastated country. For this reason he allowed the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitaller, to settle on the newly formed border province, on Banat of Severin, or “Land of Severin” – in the mountainous regions between the Danube and the Jiu Rivers. At the same time the Principalities (Knezdoms, Cnezat, from the Slavonic Knyaz or knez meaning prince, duke or count) of  Ioan (on the lower course of Olt River) and of Farcaş  (higher, in the Sub-Carpathian area of Oltenia), the Voivodeships of Litovoi (on the middle and lower course of Jiu River) and of Seneslau (on the left-hand side of Olt River), extending in the mountainous and hilly regions of western Wallachia, also developed (let’s keep in mind that these have been established around the 9th century).

Note that the Lands of Litovoi, Farcas and Seneslau held territories north on Carpathians (in Transylvania), and south.

Romanian provinces XIII century, Cnezatul lui Ioan, Cnezatul lui Farcas, Voievodatul lui Litovoi, Voievodatul lui  Seneslau, Banatul Severinului
Part of the Romanian provinces south of Transylvania during the XIII century,

Only a century later, Clara, the daughter of Ion (lanoş in Hungarian), ban of Severin, marries Alexandru-Nicolae, Voievode of Wallachia (and son of Voievod Basarab I and of Lady Margareta). This was another way for Hungarian rulers to set a foot in Wallachia, and for Pope to spread Catholicism in an Orthodox country. And it didn’t stop here, Lady Clara made it her life’s purpose to convince her step-son, Vladislav Voiedod, if she couldn’t influence her husband, to bring a Catholic episcope in Wallachia, to convert the orthodox Vlach population, Vladislav Voievod included. But Vladislav held his ground, and he even built at Severin, on the border with Transylvania so with the Hungarian Kingdom, an Orthodox church.

Let’s not forget that the Knights of St.John were dressed in an armor weighing as much as themselves, riding the heaviest horses in Europe, who were also covered in armor, each knight being accompanied by ten squires. They arrived preceded by a reputation of skilled builders- and this was the reason why they were invited to settle here. On one condition, to not allow any Vlachs migrating from Transylvania to settle in Banat.

Around the middle of the 14th century, 1366, back in Transylvania the Vlachs’ lifestyle deteriorated as they were excluded from the congregations of the Diet for religious reasons related to the Schism. The Hungarians Kings, vassals of the Pope and therefore Catholics, made it their personal crusade to eliminate the Orthodox Vlachs from their kingdom, although they lived on Romanian land. In less than a century the Romanian Vlach nobility living in Transylvania was reduced to the status of a peasant. Without being under the protection of the King of Hungary they were often hunted and expropriated unless they became Hungarians and converted to Catholicism. The vast majority of Orthodox Vlach peasants soon became serfs, iobagi, tied to the feudal land without the right to self-governance as the other three nations living in Transylvania could.

The way to keep your land and status was by converting to Catholicism and adopting the Hungarian lifestyle and even build family ties with the Magyar nobility. For example, the family of Iancu de Hunedoara, Hunyadi, and even 1387-1456 Voivode of Transylvania, chose to become Hungarian. His son, Matthias Corvinus, Matei Corvin, was able to become King of Hungary.

Stories and History of Transylvania, the Middle Ages

The Land of Severin, placed between the Lower Danube and the Olt River (around the city of Turnu-Severin on the map above, between the territories in mustard and green), was previously populated but countless battles between the Hungarian and Bulgarian kingdoms have forced part of the local population to flee, probably eastward, towards the (then) rich valleys and forested planes of Oltenia and Muntenia, as well as drawn towards the trade at Danube and the Black Sea.

Under the Knights Hospitallers the Land of Severin received a bishop and became a kenezatus (almost a state of its own) ruled by two rulers, cneji, Ioan and Farcaş (a Hungarian translation of Romanian Lupu, wolf), both brought from the north, from Banat (a Romanian territory west of Transylvania and under Hungarian sovereignty). But these administrative structures had their own Romanian organization, and the vassalage relations to the Hungarian Crown did not influence the full right of the Romanian states to their own domestic organization.

The first ruler of Oltenia (later part of Wallachia) held territory in Transylvania too

It is of outermost importance that I mention now the very first ruler of Oltenia, a Romanian Land and territory between the Olt river and the Danube, Litovoi Voievode.

The Diploma of the Joannites even mentions the land of the kenazate of Voivode Litovoi, which the king left to the Vlachs “as they had held it”, and not granted to the Knights Hospitaller. The small print, though, stated that he had to pay tribute to the Hungarian Crown during 25 years, 1247-1272.

At the same time in neighboring Muntenia (Ţara Românească, Terra Blacorum) ruled Voievode Seneslau.

Both Litovoi and Seneslau looked at the promises made by the Hungarian King, that of protection against the Tatar invasions IF only they convert to Catholicism. But they also noticed how weak the Hungarian defense was. So they thought, and thought, and decided that united – and keeping their Christian beliefs -they stood a better chance against the Tatar invasion.

Between 1277 – 1280 Litovoi ruled over land on each side of the Carpathians, namely Retezat Mountains, (including Hațeg Country in Transylvania and the area that is today Oltenia) but was at war with the Hungarians over land that the Crown wanted for itself. Voievode Litovoi fell in a trap and perished in battle.

He was succeeded by his brother, named Bărbat, meaning man in Romanian. Bărbat‘s son in law was Tihomir who held both territories, left and right of Olr River, until 1310, while in 1301 the Arpad dinasty perished with the death of Andrew III. It was a marriage union between Tihomir’s son, Basarab, and countess Margareta (Marghita) that brings to the Romanian territories two lands from Transilvania, Făgăraş amd Almaş.

In 1310 all the Vlach boyars as well as those from Ardeal, chose Basarab I as their ruler, thus founding Wallachia, and sealed through the Battle of Posada in November 1330. Although legend says that it was Radu the Black in 1290… Around 1290 legendary Negru Vodă, Radu the Black, arrived from Făgăraş County and settled in Câmpulung, while his successors moved over to Argeş, from where they extended their authority all the way to Danube. The dynasty thus established had a highland origin, from the mountain (munte). It is from this “Muntenian” origin of the dynasty that the name of Muntenia probably derived, traditionally given to the whole country – a country dominated by plains.

Transylvania under the Mongol and Turkish threat of the Middle Ages

In Transylvania, the city of Sibiu (Hermannsdorf, Hermannstadt) increased its fortifications especially after the 13th century Mongol invasion of Europe. This was possible as the trade of local artisans, mainly Saxons trading in clothing and tools, flourished but all the 19 guilds thrived and this afforded the city to increase its defense system. Soon Sibiu became the most important ethnic German city among the seven cities of Transylvania.

Wallachia, 1390
Wallachia, 1390

But the flourishing period of Sibiu will soon be overshadowed by the Mongol and the Turkish threats, especially the Turks in 1394, 1432, 1437, 1438, 1442. As a result Sibiu became a defendant outpost of Christendom. In 1438 Sultan Murad II, the predecessor and father of Mehmed II the Conqueror, led an unsuccessful siege on Sibiu and again in 1442 when Sibiu was aided in his defense by the army of Iancu de Hunedoara.

Transylvania and Wallachia under the threat of the Ottoman Empire

The Hungarian King between 1387-1437, King Sigismund of Luxembourg, spent a great amount of time in Transylvania, especially in Hermannstadt, Sibiu, and Kronstadt, Braşov, where he improved the cities’ defenses against this new threat, the Turks.

Sadly, the East–West Schism between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches proved once again what strength the ecclesiastics held during the Middle Ages, for it influenced and sabotaged the communication between the Lords of the West and the old Byzantine Voyevodes – such as Vlad the Impaler.

After the defeat of the Western armies by the Ottomans led by Bayezid I (father of Mehmed I) in the Battle of Nicopolis (25 September 1396), the Crusaders (comprising of Hungarian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Wallachian, French, German, Burgundian, Italian, Portuguese, and Polish troops) were pretty much left on their own, the West powers giving up to the idea of yet another Crusade. This decision left the Wallachian and Moldavian princes to resist on their own against future Ottoman invasions.

It was now that King Sigismund of Luxembourg created the Order of the Dragon, in 1408, and one of its eminent members, Wallachian prince Vlad Dracul (father of Vlad Tepeș, Dracula), got caught in the conflict between Hungary, Poland and the onset of Ottomans in Europe that isolated Transylvania – sealing the lives of many.

Saving not only his own people, his beloved Vlachs, but also the Hungarian and the Polish Kingdoms, and further westwards the other European lands, in 1462 Vlad Tepes, the Impaler, defeated the invading Ottoman troops under Sultan Mehmed II, sending them fleeing southward during the famous Night Attack at Targoviste.

Dracula, as he was nicknames, meaning Son of the Dragon, is still regarded in his homeland as a champion of Christianity.

War threats or not, trade flourished between the three principalities, especially Transylvania and Moldova, although Wallachia, in the south, held the trade monopoly at Danube and the Black Sea. A flourishing trade meant strong defenses built around the cities as well as moats and towers, and fortified churches with rooms for provisions (the harvest was stored there immediately, for sage-keeping), livestock and refuge. In case of a Turkish attack, even if the wooden and thatched farms were burned down all that was kept within these stone walls was safe.

Such is the St. Mihail fortified Church of Cisnădioara / Michelsberg built as a Roman basilica at the end of the 12th century, and fortified a century later.

Fortified 12 century church „Sf. Mihail" Cisnădioara, Sibiu
Fortified 12 century church „Sf. Mihail” Cisnădioara, Sibiu

And where fortifications were not enough, tunnels and underground chambers for food storage or as escape routes were built, such as the ones still present underneath Brasov.

Before its fall in 1453 the great Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was already paying tribute to the Turks. After it fell and Orthodox Greece fell into Ottoman hands Islam moved in front of Christendom and began advancing towards the south-east Europe, towards the great Catholic powers in the west.

The threat lasted until the late-14th and early-15th centuries when new crusades were finally organized by the kingdoms of Hungary (Transylvania included), Poland, Wallachia, and Serbia. These were defensive campaigns intended to prevent further expansion to the west of the Ottoman Empire rather than the traditional expeditions aimed at the recovery of Jerusalem.

One more idea need be explained here, that unlike the west of Europe in the Balkans an ethnic group’s consciousness and main loyalty was to their immediate habitat, be it the clan, the village, the principality, their side of mountain or valley. And, yes, a national concept was found here during the Middle Ages, although such an ideology was only expanded on in Western Europe during the early nineteenth century.

Have you read…

Stories and History of Transylvania, Prehistory to Roman Dacia ?

Transylvania during the Roman Dacia and until 4th century AD ?

Transylvania, Romania, Its Origin and Etymology ?

As part of my ongoing research for my next novel, the culture in medieval Transylvania will have to be a blog post on its own, coming soon.

Books by Patricia Furstenberg on Amazon

The Golden Gate Portal of Black Church, Brasov, and a Story

golden gate portal black church brasov

The Golden Gate Portal of Black Church, Brasov dates from 1450, a time when Vlad Tepes was a lad of only 19 years old and already an ex-prince (3 month Voievode of Wallachia at the age of 17), and now a political fugitive, a nomad in Moldavia where he was consolidating his friendship with his maternal cousin, future Stephen the Great.

There are seven points of entrance into the Black Church of Brasov. Starting west, in clock wise motion, they are the West Portal and also the main entrance, the Sacrificial Portal and the Golden Gate Portal (1450) on the North side, and on the South side the door to the vestry and a small access door followed by the South Portal (1467), and the Confessional Door.

For over five hundred years have the bells of Black Church (which began to raise at the end of the 14th century on the grounds of a Catholic nunnery belonging to the Order of Prémontré) called the worshipers to service, or punctuated important events. The bells were first mentioned in 1476 when the inhabitants of Brasov (Corona in Latin or Kronstadt in German) were urged to celebrate the crowning of Vlad Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, as ruler, voievode of Wallachia.

The Golden Gate Portal of Black Church, Brasov
The Golden Gate Portal of Black Church, Brasov (one of the two North portals, dating from 1450). Source, Pat Furstenberg

It is easy to recognize the Gothic architectural of Black Church. Know that it was modeled after the magnificent Saint Sebaldus Church in Nürnberg due to the flourishing commercial and handcraft relations between Brașov and the imperial city of Nürnberg.

The Golden Gate Portal of Black Church faces a rather narrow passage. Only five meters separate the Black Church from the high brick wall of its neighbors, the people of Brasov. Thus, even with your back against this wall one would struggle to see the roof top placed at a height of approximately 65 meters. And the strange statues atop…

The Golden Gate Portal of Black Church ~WIP extract~

She met the church at its north-west corner, the bell tower profiling ahead, aiming to touch the heavens.

The church was not black, but it shot upwards as a body of stones in as many shades of gray as the souls who prayed inside; some dark, some uncertain, and, in between, a few almost pure.

Her steps took her straight ahead, past the west portal with its main entrance, and around the solitary bell tower. Waiting for her as she turned the corner was a man dressed in an ankle-length overrobe with a brimless cap balancing his opulent beard. From the height of his pedestal, he was pointing away with an extended right finger, while in his left hand he held an open book.  What was he pointing at?

She hurried past the statue, past the inconspicuous door of the confessional with strange vertical markings in its stony pillars, past a double-door portal, her steps lost in a crisscrossing of fresh marks, her mind chasing one thought after the other. Then around she turned, following the church’s east arc inside which the altar with its numerous lacet windows was sheltered, each one guarded by effigies staring down.

A couple walked past, arm in arm, their unison stride yielding a sole crunching noise on the icy snow underfoot.
If Drachen doesn’t show up I’m on my own.
The pair’s synchronized dance singled her out.
Nice one, Kate. You got yourself to trust a stranger again, she admonished herself.

By the time she reached the north facade, the silence reigned as the snow, fresher here, swallowed and hushed her footsteps. She saw her breath leaving her mouth in small puffs, lonely signs of life, and wondered, if her soul would leave her body that very instant, would she tell the difference?

Get a grip, Kate!

She dug her feet into the snow eager to make a noise where none prevailed, but her legs slowed down as she neared the Golden Gate Portal. Not because it was the famous north portal of the Black Church, but because ahead there were no footprints, the snow as untainted as a paper not even touched by thought. Kate held her breath and urged her heart so slow down, to slow down the hammering she heard in her ears. Or were those footprints? She spun, expecting to find someone behind. No one in sight. She stood alone between the gray walls of the Black Church to her left, massive in their silence, and the brick wall of an adjacent property to her right, a sinuous line stretching ahead.

And again, the feeling that a strange pair of eyes were upon her. Was there someone on the church’s lofty roof? With her back pressed against the brick wall to maximize her view, Kate scrutinized the temple’s rooftop.

the statue of a child peering down atop the roof near the Golden Portal, Black Church, Brasov
The statue of a child peering down atop the roof near the Golden Portal, Black Church, Brasov (source Wikimedia)

Was it? Her eyes caught a human shape. Yes, there! On the roof, to the left side of the portal, it looked like a child was peering down. Could he see her? Her hands flew to her mouth. Was he scared? He must be, so precariously balancing towards the abyss. What was he doing there? Was he reaching towards her? She opened her mouth to call but stopped, aware of the stillness in the air. Even the snowflakes seemed suspended, frozen in the past, the height of the church protecting the narrow alley against any harsh weather. Here, where she stood, it was as if there was no climate at all. She looked right, along the length of the path. She looked left. No one. Whom could she call for help? She searched the roof again. She’ll signal the child to wait. She’ll help. But the boy had vanished.

Kate strode forward. Find someone. Wrestling the fresh snow, she glanced up, over her shoulder. Help that boy. Her feet zigzagged out of balance, all reservations of spoiling the pristine canvas snowballed into concern. Rescue him. But where is he now?

The Golden Gate Portal of Black Church, Brasov, and the window above it. Source, Pat Furstenberg
The Golden Gate Portal of Black Church, Brasov, and the window above it. Source, Pat Furstenberg

The more concerned she got, the wider her stride became. The wider her stride, the more she struggled. The more she struggled, the more determined she was to reached the end of that narrow path, the unblemished path over which a sentence hanged. And she did not want to be the one to carry it out. On she pushed, bursting into the safety of the market’s open space, of bustling civilization. Yes, she’d heard the clanking of a truck. She’ll go inside the church and ask for help. Look! By the church’s main portal there was a priest, she recognized him by his long, black cassock.

‘Wait,’ Kate called. ‘Parinte,’ Father, in the local language, the appellative for a priest.

But the man in the black cassock did not hear her and he did not enter the church either but turned sharply left, along its southern facade.

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Black Church Golden Portal, gothic style, focus on tympanum and archivolts
Black Church Golden Portal, gothic style, focus on tympanum and archivolts. Source, Pat Furstenberg
The carved doors of Black Church Golden Portal
The carved doors of Black Church Golden Portal. Source, Pat Furstenberg

Thank you for visiting.

thursday doors, 100 words story

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

Travel to Făgăraș Fortress, Romania

travel Fagaras Fortress Romania thursday Doors

We travel again to Făgăraș Fortress, Romania, sliding down the memory lane for Thursday Doors, after we glimpsed at its Iron Maiden and looked up at some of its wrought iron lanterns.

A (very short) history of Făgăraș Fortress, Romania

Făgăraș Fortress blossomed from a 12th century wooden forth surrounded by a simple moat and dirt retaining wall into a stone and brick fortress finessed between the 14th and 17th centuries, to become the jewel of a castle any visitor can enjoy today. We were lucky to visit during the pre-Covid era. 🙂

Fagaras Fortress

It was Ladislaus (III) Kán, a Hungarian oligarch who ruled Transylvania independently until his death, who saw potential in the location of Făgăraș fortress (namely to protect south-east Transylvania against Tatar invasions and later Ottoman ones) and who started revamping the wooden fort.

Ladislaus was quite a character, doing everything in his power to strengthen his authority and increase the size of his voivodeship. Although he was a partisan of King Andrew III of Hungary (1290–1301) Ladislaus seized the opportunity to capture King Otto of Hungary (a rival of wannabe King Charles I) while the King was visiting Transylvania in 1307 and even to get hold of the royal crown of Hungary!

It took Ladislaus until 1310 to acknowledge King Charles I as his sovereign and return the royal crown of Hungary (that was kept during these years in one of his many castles in Transylvania, perhaps even Deva castle, the center of his domain).

One of the Hungarian Crown’s customs and ‘only’ for good behavior was to offer various counties to Wallachia Voivodes who asked for their political protection – such as the lands of Făgăraș and Amlaș (today Amnaș, in beautiful Sibiu county.

Travel to Făgăraș Fortress, Romania, photos
Travel to Făgăraș Fortress, Romania, photos

Thus Făgăraș Fortress was, over the centuries, home to a few important rulers of Wallachia (Țara Românească): Vladislav Vlaicu, Mircea the Elder (Mircea cel Bătrân) (1386-1394 and 1397-1418) – grandfather to Vlad Țepeș, and Michael the Brave (the first ruler to gather under his reign all three Romanian principalities) who gifted the fortress to his wife, Doamna Stanca. If Michael gifted Făgăraș Fortress to his wife out of love or feeling guilty for his wondering eye, that’s another story.

Is there a secret passage underneath Făgăraș Fortress?

Word of mouth mentions a secret passage running well underneath the moat and connecting the cellars of Făgăraș Fortress to the monastery of the Franciscan Church, some half a kilometer south-east.

The church is a maze in itself and the secret passage allowed the priests to reach the fortress (in safety, especially during foul weather) and celebrate Mass in the Diet Hall (then a chapel), but it was also a secondary, secret way out from the fortress.

Fagaras Castle1520 Orthodox religious book, Easter sermon
Fagaras Fortress, a 1520 Orthodox religious book containing the Easter Mass sermon

On the hazardous life of medieval books

I see water damage on the book above and the margins of its covers look frail. Like all medieval books that reached us it bears the marks of the events it witnessed from the moment of its creations – with a sensible purpose in mind – to the moment of its rediscovery and thoughtful placement on the cultural patrimony list.

Not all medieval books had such a happy faith. Some were forgotten and lost to decay, others were trimmed or stripped of decorative plates or covers. Some medieval books were even symbolically destroyed, burned in bonfires or other random and catastrophic events of a violent nature, like a war or a rebellion, while others were practically reused as wrappers and binding materials.

On medieval Transylvania and the orthodox Romanians of that time

Throughout the Middle Ages and up until Hungarian Kingdom fell under the hand of the Ottomans (Battle of Buda in 1541) the Principality of Transylvania, although it held political autonomy, was under the hand of the Hungarian Crown. So much so that the Hungarians, the Saxons, and the Szeklers living here formed the Unio Trio Nationum in 1437, agreeing to support each other’s political and economic interests, while the majority population, the native Romanians, were seen as a tolerated nation without representatives in the Diet.

The consequences of the Unio Trio Nationum became obvious in the organized religion too, Transylvania being recognized as a multi-religious principality with the Orthodox Church being one of the tolerated faiths.

Thus, the survival of an early 16th century Orthodox volume celebrating the Easter Mass is a celebration in itself.

The priest’s book, Historia Domus, in which each pastor includes the main events witnessed, with entries dating back to 1773 (and still available in the church) does not mention such a secret passage. Yet this does not mean that one did not exist before 18th century or it was simply considered a secret too big for words.

Don’t you think?

Travel to Făgăraș Fortress, Romania for a secret passage

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

Time Stands Still in Romania and Taking Kindly to It

Time Stands Still in Romania, road to Vama Bran Castle

I am telling you, time stands still in Romania – or in any other place in the world, if one was born there. So let’s all take kindly to it.

We have snapshots saved in our mind, of trees in autumn or summer sunsets peeking between traffic, of old buildings and tramway rides, snapshots accompanied by scents and sounds. Lindens in bloom, snow crunching underfoot, hot summer dancing over asphalt, the first tram echoing in rhythm each morning. Easy to remember, yet forgotten until we spot the same place again, hear the same chime, or a scent washes over us, two decades later. Time stands still in the spot where one was born.

A Romanian saying goes like this: eternity was born in a hamlet. And how much truth lies in it…

A hamlet, the simplest form of rural settlement whose population measures its life between sowing and plowing, its spirit still tightly woven in its ancestor’s web of traditions and beliefs. Here, life is an oasis of peace and eternity.

Sure, 21st century arrived in the form of a train station – soon abandoned for no one got off and nobody ever left. And the modern lifestyle came in the form of a cellphone tower too. For whose benefit is still a mystery, since locals don’t use such modern technology and no tourists set foot along their main road either. Only the cows stir its dirt in the morning, and again in the evening when each one knows exactly through which gate to push to arrive home.

With kerchiefs over their heads, a habit they picked it up as children, and blouses with hand stitched flowers motifs, spirals and crosses too, women here smile a lot, speak little, cook finger licking, simple meals, and worry and pray. And their men look after them, and after their crops and their herds, are quick in temper, yet soft in the look they give you, guarded by thick eyebrows.

Time Stands Still in Romania, a quiet village along the road to Bran Castle
Time Stands Still in Romania, a quiet village along the road to Bran Castle

And, with their cows coming and going, with the sun rising at the rooster’s call and setting in the hushing of the leaves and the singing of the crickets, these people live for today.

For today is eternal, as much as the clouds are overhead and the land underfoot. Yesterday is gone like the storm, taking its thunder with it. Tomorrow might never come, although it is a promise from God. And He always keeps His word. But today, today is eternal, and because of this time stands still in a hamlet in Romania.

Time Stands Still in Romania, road to Vama Bran Castle
Time Stands Still in Romania, taking kindly to it, on the road to Bran Castle Medieval Border (Bran Pass)

I snapped the picture above while we drove from Sinaia to Bran. Very near this spot was the medieval border of Bran Castle, close to the Bran Pass, that was the 14th century toll gate between Transylvania and Wallachia.

It was through here that caravans loaded with merchants’ goods passed between the two principalities. The mountainous and rugged terrain, the relatively narrow pass and the vast coniferous forests, made the route quite risky for caravans.

But Bran Castle was also a point of defense – especially against Turk invasions – and therefore the establishment of a border point here was necessary and soon became profitable for the entire area.

Prince Mircea the Elder, Voivode of Wallachia, was the one who, through a privilege granted to Brasov merchants, established the customs of Wallachia in 1413 atTurciu (today Bran). The medieval Bran customs point was defended against robbers by guards that were backed-up by guards from Bran Castle. Due to their importance, the customs buildings will be rebuilt and consolidated over centuries. It was at the end of the 15th century that Bran border point became the responsibility of merchants from Brasov, Transylvania.

Just imagine, it was through these woods that Vlad Tepes and his brave men, his Viteji, rode back and forth.

But more about this in my next book 🙂

Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.

Squarres Photography

Time Stands Still in Romania and Taking Kindly to It is my contribution to Becky’s incredible October Squares #KindaSquare blog feature. Do have a look 🙂

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