Szeklers and Saxons

12th to 16th October 2017

Out journey began with one night in Sibiu. The visit to this capital of the Saxon area was necessarily short as the few days were concentrating on the villages to the West and East of Sighisoara. Those of the Saxons and the Szeklers. The evening was warm and everyone was happy with the Am Ring Hotel. We walked to the Cathedral, which was closed, and to the Orthodox church which was still open.

Petofi memorial at Albesti

We left for the Fronius Hotel in Sighisoara at 09.00.  First, up the remarkable covered, wooden staircase for the pupils to go to school in shelter and then to St. Nicholas.  Trees were blocking the normal path down the Saxon cemetery so we descended via the road. Alta Poste for lunch then to Albesti before 15.00 when the museum closes. The wonderful museum curator, Mr Kiskunfelegyhaza, complained that “Romanians never come”. He was fascinating about the battle of 1849 and the death of the poet, Petofi, who was wandering about unarmed amidst the few Hungarian soldiers who turned up to fight the combined forces of Austria and Russia. So much slaughter – 400 are buried in the grounds of the museum. Yet the night before he was killed, the poet was bewailing that he did not want to die in a soft bed or words to that effect. He did not have to worry. (The statue of Petofi was given by Budapest in 1997.) It makes a good visit and the Albesti castle, which was on the site of the battle field, later owned by the Hallers, was torn down by the communists.  So too, the Bethlen castle over the road.

Cris

Then to Cris – again Bethlen – now beginning to take shape under the eye of the Fransiscan trust.  The pre-war photos make it look quite dull inside but the library, which the communists burnt, must have been a dream.

Under the current Countess Bethlen’s direction the house on the hill is nearly ready to be lived in and rented out. They have removed a concrete eyesore of communism and are about to ‘disappear’ the electric pole. There is also a barn for weddings, etc.  There is another enchanting house for rent and the future of the larger Janos House still has to be decided.

The high point was the spotting of hairy pigs – looking like sheep – in the field opposite the Janos House. They are Mangalica which is a cross of wild boar and a Serbian pig.  Lovely, they come in colours, so Wiki told us, and the bus driver’s father used to breed them.

We dined deliciously and bountifully at Monica Popovici’s  0746676615.  Lovely food, freshly cooked in front of our eyes.

The museum in Cristuru

The museum in Cristuru

We made an early start into Szekler land. No time, alas, to stop at the Calvinist, Roman Catholic nor Unitarian churches but straight to the museum on the site of the town casino. The museum was opened especially for us by the charming, shy curator, Dr. Vari Istvan. Levante Csiszer, whose grandfather once sold shoes in the marketplace, was on hand to translate for his brother in law, Levante Domokos, who is one of the foremost conservators in the Szekler lands. In that small, beautifully-displayed museum are stove tiles which tell the story from the Renaissance, including the strange rubic characters found on so much here. An Islamic bell, an arrow head with intials of the owner and other curiosities reflected the comings and goings in this part of Europe right on the east of Rome’s European Empire.

Mill for beech nuts

Perhaps the most fascinating part is the long shed in the garden showing the various mills for maize, beechnut oil, wool and cider. Some were multifunctional and some with with male and female playing different roles. Size too was dependant on the force of the water in the foot hills where the Tarnava Mare rises. Some streams are a dribble. A textile specialist in our party thought a narrow bucket was too small for fulling. She then realised her mistake when she found a blanket in the Szekler house made up of very narrow woven strips of linen and wool. This detail is a delight.

Szekler costume and dance

Then to Bogoz/Mugeni to see the frescoes on the north wall of the story of St. Lazslo and the Maiden showing fighting scenes between the Christians and the Cumans. This is a fiercely nationalistic story for the Hungarians. Prominent in the church was the Szekler flag and we were treated to dancing and prize giving to young men who had progressed with their fighting skills in chain mail and with swords and arrows.

Frescoes of St Ladislaus

Frescoes of St Ladislaus

Lunch in Odorheiu Secuiesc was a wonder in the Fogadoes Csarda. The food, wine and atmosphere perfect with a baptism and a young mums’ lunch all going on at the same time. Far too little time to get to the centre of this cultured town, which is so remarkable, as we had to be at the Chapel of Holy Jesus for the keeper of the key. The chapel  is the shape of a 4-leaved clover encircled by later, low walls. There is a tiny priest’s house – well worth a visit. But the best part was the curator resplendent with matching bright red lips and trainers. I knew that there was no way we could get away in 3 minutes. Her name is Imola Kolumban and she would have fought off armies of Turks. The building has a strange history with bodies beneath the floor; it was built in the 17th century as a votif chapel. On our way back to see the centre we passed 3 horsemen in Hungarian cavalry dress of the early nineteenth century. All part of the break away ideal. You supply your own horse, if you can, and make your costume. Very dashing and politically interesting. A parallel to the dancing and prize giving in the church at Bogoz/Mugeni. Everyone seems fed up with the government in Bucharest.

Harvest festival at Malancrav

Harvest festival at Malancrav

The church at Malancrav, once an important part of the Apafy estates, is Hungarian with its low wall and is not really a fortified church. The internationally important frescoes and the outstanding altarpiece point to the rich, international and courtly patronage of the family. The church was made all the more glorious by the bounteous decoration for Harvest Festival. Regina gave us the most delicious food in the Manor House (0269 44 87 80).

Herr Schaas had arisen from his sick bed to wait for us in the church at Richis which meant that we had little time for the glories of Biertan. He, as usual, talked of local sinners and I had to lure people away to look at the beauty of the organ restored by great craftsmen from the UK and Romania.

We visited the Priest House and the MET house on the way to 24 Richis. Here, our housekeeper, Clara, had laid out a long table in the sitting room with the last of the flowers from my garden.

Dumbraveni was rather dispiriting. Mr Calinescu, the church warden, did not even have the funding he wanted for the church, let alone the castle which was to stand as a monument to the Armenian community. Then to Medias which was a triumph. The church is so good and the stolen carpets had been copied in Italy; these replacements were looking splendid. That evening we had a lovely and lavish meal at a private house on Strada Gheorghe Doja, Medias. This was a wonderful finale to these few days of extraordinary contrasts, so typical of this part of Romania.

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