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. 🙂
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.
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.
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?