Travel to Făgăraș Fortress, Romania

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. 🙂

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.

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.

42 Replies to “Travel to Făgăraș Fortress, Romania”

    1. Uite cine călătorește mult. 🙂 Eu n-am avut plăcerea… incă. Dar arată ca un loc pe care mi-ar plăcea să-l vizitez cândva.

    2. Vai, asa e, Gia. Ai dreptate, acum imi amintesc si eu ce liniste era cand ne-am imprastiat prin curtea castelului 🙂

  1. Où sont les neiges d’antan? These days cheating men don’t gift castles to their wives. 🙂 That particular part of the story, regarding Michael’s wandering eye was pretty funny. 🙂 As for the secret passage, it wouldn’t be a secret if it was mentioned in Historia Domus.

    1. Very well said, Jo 🙂
      Although some European castles that are for sale require quite a bit of work, so one might not want to settle for less…

  2. Magnificent doors and structures. I like the photos of the narrow halls and stairs. The thought of a secret passage is quite interesting. That last photo is amazing.

    1. One thing medieval castles have in common, the narrow, twisting stairways 🙂
      Absolutely, one can only imagine what would feel like to stroll along a passage under the castle, under the moat…

      Sadly, visitors were denied access down those dark steps in the last picture…

      Kind thanks for your visit, Dan.

      1. Even today, my wife has second thoughts about tunnels under water. I would like to think that we build them better than they did back then. Still, if I was trying to escape an attacking army, it would be worth the risk.

  3. I know so little about that part of the world’s history that I always enjoy a glimpse through your eyes and photos. Those winding and steep stairs could cause a big problem if you attempted to negotiate them after a night of drinking! 🙂

    janet

  4. You show many interesting details! I especially the underground quarters. I have been in both Hungary and Rumania during the Iron Curtain period. The thing that stuck me most was the hospitality of the people.I realize it must have been modernized quite a bit after the Iron curtain fell. Who knows I’ll get the opportunity again!

    1. Thank you, Junie-Jesh 🙂

      So many travelers through Eastern Europe remember the hospitality of the people 🙂 It does feel my heart with gladness.
      Well, a lot has changed, and for the better, and – unlike people – places and castles stay put.So at the right time in your life… 🙂

    1. I liked that door too 🙂 Seemed to be a kind door. Maybe even opening into the kitchens! 😉
      Thank you for visiting.

  5. I really enjoy your pictures of Hungarian castles. I wish we’d seen more of Hungary than just Budapest when we were there. I hope I’ll get another opportunity to visit.

    1. Ah, I am so happy to hear this 🙂
      I do hope and I am SURE you will 😉 Romania is a place well worth visiting.

  6. Thanking you kindly, Natalie 🙂
    I do hope you will and maybe even post some Romanian #ThursdayDoors on your blog!

  7. I find your blogs fascinating Pat. I enjoy history and I have little doubt that some type of secret passage (whatever the length or desination) does, or did exist. Such dangerous and dramatic times called for easy escape routes. Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

    1. Ah, I am so pleased you like them, Jacqui 🙂
      If doors could only speak, isn’t it?

      Yes, yes, I don’t know if it’s the light, or the yellow in the bricks, but the last stairway does emanate warmth. Well spotted.

  8. Thrilled to hear this, Annika 🙂
    Perhaps the past spills more into the present than we care to admit. It is easy to overlook it, busy as we think are. But we do catch a glimpse of it out, now and then, of the corner of our eye. If we act on what we see, that’s another story 🙂

  9. The two hallway photos are so LONG they almost make me dizzy! Such interesting history, thanks for sharing. The photo of the 16th century book gave me chills. Imagine how many people thumbed its pages, prayed over it, kept it safe….

  10. Imagine standing at one end of that neverending corridor and awaiting for a messenger to reach you with an important message!

    Indeed, a book whose pages caught many whispered words. And to reach us in such good condition. 🙂

    Thank you for taking time out of your writing schedule 🙂 to comment, Priscilla.

  11. I haven’t had a chance to send well wishes for the new year Pat – hope all is well. Now you know that I HAVE to see what is down those steps haha, I am totally intrigued about that. I was touched by the image of the book from medieval times. It just spoke to me. It absolutely “bears the marks of the events it witnessed”. As someone who loves books, it makes me a little sad that so many have been purposefully destroyed; what stories these ancient books could tell! And of course, it’s a horrid tradition that continued through the centuries. Anyway, thanks for a most interesting read Pat. 🙂

  12. Ah, a joy to read your thoughts, Melanie. 🙂
    Tell you what, next we visit Romania (and Brasov) I’ll take a sneak a peek 🙂
    (Visitors were not allowed, or we would have went to check).

    A wealth of knowledge (and so many secrets) lost with each one of these books that were lost forever. Sad indeed.

    Thank you so much. Best wishes to you too, for a less stressful and a more normal year.

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