Tag Archives: ruins

Poenari Castle

Poenari Castle

Poenari Castle is a medieval stronghold used by Wallachian rulers over the centuries of the Middle Ages. It’s perched on top of a cliff just off the Transfagarasan Road and the only way to access it is to climb 1,480 steps. It takes about 30-45 minutes to get to the top and a little less to get down, though I have to say it is a serious physical effort and particularly taxing on the knees as you climb back down. Keep that in mind if you plan to visit it.

The castle is supposed to have been built in the 13th century, used for a while, abandoned, then restored during the rule of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula), in the 15th century. Stories are told of it being Dracula’s main castle but they have no historical basis. Having visited it, I can tell you it is a small castle with little space for a ruler and his courtly entourage. It is more of a stronghold than a castle and the inherent difficulty in accessing it makes it ideal for defensive purposes but hardly suitable for living quarters (food and water would have to make quite the long trip up the mountain) on narrow paths or stairs, as there is no road.

It is quite possible that Vlad the Impaler used it as a stronghold when attacked by the Turks sometime during his rule. As legend would have it, the Turks managed to drive him out after dragging cannons up the adjacent cliffs and shooting the walls full of holes. He escaped, supposedly, with the aid of three brothers, who mounted horseshoes backward on the hoofs of their mules and thus fooled the Ottoman soldiers as they got away.

Poenari Castle offers impressive views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and it is worth the trek, if you’re in good physical shape.

I would have liked to see it restored to its former glory — perhaps at some point in the future that will happen. This is an artist’s rendering of what it might have looked like. Impressive, isn’t it?

Poenari Castle sketch-frontgate

Castelul Grofului din Pribilesti (Boyar’s Castle)

In the village of Pribilesti, province of Maramures, in Romania, there’s a beautiful little castle called simply “Castelul Grofului”, or, roughly translated, The Boyar’s Castle (see definition of a boyar).

As the story goes, when the Austro-Hungarian empire invaded Romania and took over most of its lands, a ruler was set over that region. The Hungarian boyar built two castles, one in Pribilesti, and another, a larger one, in the mountains. At the time, his castle was the only structure around. He was surrounded by tens of square kilometers of open fields, which were tended by the peasants from the surrounding villages.

Nowadays, houses have sprung up around the castle, and the boyar’s land has been divided and subdivided, sold, and resold,  so much so that there’s no land around the castle anymore. It’s surrounded by the villagers’ houses, all around. It’s an odd sight — a castle with no land around it, but it is what it is.

During Romania’s Communist regime, the castle was taken over by the local farm cooperative, and it was used as a barn for animals. The upper floors were used as offices for the cooperative’s leaders — the members of the Communist Party. The castle’s extensive library was (naturally) burned, the paintings stolen, and everything else of value looted.

Don’t feel too bad for the boyar though. It turns out he was one mean s.o.b. He used to yoke the peasants like cattle and force them to till his land, because he thought they weren’t obedient enough.

After the Communist regime fell in 1989, the boyar’s family got the castle back, but the details are fuzzy. I spoke to a few villagers, and it sounds like either the family’s still got it, or some other foreigner’s got it, but they’re not doing anything with it, and they’re not putting money into renovating the place either. It’s falling apart. It has a new roof courtesy of the Romanian government, who paid for it. Hens and local urchin climb through it every day. Drunks pee on it and inside it. Nobody knows how much longer it’ll stand.

It’s a beautiful place, but what are you going to do? A castle with no land around it isn’t worth much these days. You’d have to sink at least 500,000 Euros into renovating the place, then a few hundred thousand more into buying back some of the land around it, so you’d have a bit of space to breathe.

I do hope someone renovates it. If I had that kind of money, I’d do it. It would be a pity to lose it.

I’ve got more photos from Castelul Grofului in my photo catalog.

Arch

Arch

The arch is a common architectural element at Histria. They seemed to love using bricks in conjunction with field stone, layering them on top of each other in interesting ways. 

Photo taken among the ruins of Histria, the oldest documented city on Romanian territory. Histria is located on the shore of Lake Sinoe, a salt-water lake with a direct link to the Black Sea, near Constanta, in the region of Dobrogea.

The ancient city of Histria

On the shore of Lake Sinoe in Romania, very close to the Black Sea, lie the ruins of the oldest documented city on the territory of modern-day Romania: Histria. (See satellite view below, or go to Google Maps to explore the full map.) We visited it in September of 2008.

It started its life around 630 BC [reference], built by Milesian colonists from Greece, to trade with native Getae tribes (Geti in Romanian). The Getae were Thracian tribes that occupied Dacia, whose territory is matched in smaller proportion by modern-day Romania. They, and the other people who settled in Romania at later times (like the Romans) are the ancestors of modern-day Romanians — my ancestors.

When Histria was built, its port was literally on the shore of the Black Sea. Over its approximately 14 centuries’ existence, silt deposits from the Danube River blocked off its access to the sea and formed what is now Lake Sinoe. This meant that the city’s importance as a port and trading post slowly diminished as the silt deposits grew to become the current land border between the Lake Sinoe and the Black Sea. It must have been painful to try and salvage the city’s livelihood by finding routes through the growing silt, hoping that ships stuck in the increasingly shallow water would somehow want to come back, should they manage to get away. Little did they know that in modern times, a canal would be cut through the silt shore at Periboin, not far from them.

By 100 AD, the city, who had resisted countless attacks and rebuilt its walls time after time after time, could only rely on fishing as a source of income. It managed to survive another 600 years or so, until it was destroyed one last time in the 7th century AD by the Avars and the Slavs. Its inhabitants moved away, and the once bustling and prosperous city, who had forged an important trading link between the Greeks and the Dacians so many centuries ago, began to decay, unoccupied.

Its name forgotten, it didn’t even appear on maps. Its memory swallowed whole by time, its walls covered by the ground itself, it lay in wait until it was re-discovered by a Frenchman, Ernest Desjardins, in 1868. In 1914, Vasile Parvan, a Romanian, began the first excavations of the site. The archeological digs continue to this day, conducted by various multinational teams. This was how we found it a month or so ago.

It was a warm, sunny, late-summer day when we visited. The heat shone down oppresively while we drove through the flat Dobrogea landscape. Yet a soft, cooling breeze from Lake Sinoe met us as soon as we stepped onto the grounds of the city.

There was a peace and quiet at Histria that I can only find when I visit certain ruins. I stood among the remains of the walls, and thought of the people that lived there before I set foot on what used to be their homes. They were born, lived and died there, making a living the best way they knew how, in a famous city by the Black Sea. The breeze must have been stronger then, since the waves of the sea beat against the city’s very shores.

What an adventurous spirit those Greek traders must have had, to get in their boats and travel far off, in hope of establishing a little colony of their own in an unknown land. How did they choose the site? Likely because it sits on top of a slight hill. Just think, the first few families built little homes out of field stone (there are very few trees around), and through hard work applied over time, grew that little settlement into an important port of trade and a fortress, one rich enough to attract the attention of countless attackers.

As I sat there and listened to the lull of the waves, I understood why they rebuilt after each attacks. The peace between each bout of violence was worth the effort, and the surroundings themselves invited (and still invite) company. Had their direct access to the Black Sea not been cut off, I believe Histria would survived to this day, and perhaps the city of Tomis (Constanta) might have had a different fate.

If you walk slowly among the houses or on the streets at Histria, you too will understand why it survived for so long. It’s hard to leave a place like that. It’s so peaceful, so quiet, so welcoming. You want to spend more time there, looking toward the horizon, hoping against hope to spot your ship, which is making its way slowly but surely toward the small port, bearing goods that will replenish your warehouse and provide for your family for another year.

The full set of photos from Histria is available at my online photography catalog. You’re welcome to view them all there. Mircea Angelescu, a Romania researcher, developed a 3D model of Histria which can give you a detailed idea of the city’s layout over time. More info on Histria can be found at Wikipedia.

Downtown Bacau, Romania

Bacau is one of the bigger cities in Romania. I had a chance to visit its downtown area this September. I’d never been there before, so I stopped to take a few photos. It was early on a Sunday morning, so there weren’t many people on the streets.

I love the northern Italian architectural elements used in the facade of the Bacau Theatre building, especially the upper floor, with its balcony, arches and mini-towers.

Teatrul Municipal Bacovia

The entrance to the theatre is quite imposing:

Entrance to Bacau Theatre

Across the street from the theatre, you can see this large condominium building (at least I assume it’s condominiums, I doubt they’re all offices.) I thought the architectural plan was a good way to make a square shape look interesting. It looked pretty good, but, as one finds in Romania, ads were plastered all over its sides. I wonder what the people living in those apartments now obscured by the posters must think of it all. Are they getting paid? Are they just getting annoyed? Who knows.

Vodafone Bacau

Right next door to the building above, we can see a monster left over from communist times… At least this dying breed of an apartment building is one of the better ones I’ve seen in Romania. One mostly sees nasty, crumbling, weather-stained concrete ruins when it comes to communist architecture. This particular building looks pretty well maintained, too. Of course, its central location might have something to do with that.

Complex Comercial Junior

A little ways down the street, we find the public library, but the building is in sore need of restoration. I’m not sure if it’s still being used, but I’d love to get inside it at some point in the future. It could lead to some interesting photographic opportunities.

Biblioteca Bacau

Here’s another view of the library, from the back:

Almost in ruins

There was a public park in the area, with art on display. I found a modern statue, and some post-modern wooden carved poles, styled after folk themes.

Pensive

Abstract wooden sculpture

Hidden behind the park and public library, I found the Bacau Ateneu. One of our friends plays the violin over there. :-)

Ateneu Bacau

Further down the street, you’ll see the county government building. This is the main entrance:

Consiliul Judetean Bacau

I liked the clasically-styled architecture, typical of turn-of-the-century construction. Here’s a window detail. Notice the stucco stripes, columns and arches.

Striped and arched

That concludes my sightseeing tour of downtown Bacau. Who knows, maybe I’ll get to visit it again in the future and take more photos. :-)

Biking on the Via Appia (part 2)

This is a two-part article. Here’s Part 1.

While in Rome, my brother kept dangling this promise of taking our bicycles out to Via Appia and making a day trip out of it. I wanted to see it because the Via Appia was the most important Roman road of its time. Roman bases, villas and famous tombs adorned its sides in its heyday, and their ruins can be seen even today. The road itself was a marvel of Roman engineering. It was so well-made that portions of it are still preserved, thousands of years later.

Well, I kept feeling like the horse that can’t reach the carrot, since my brother still buried his nose in books every day. But, I kept nagging him, and in my last week there, we managed to make a half-day trip out of it. It was a wonderful time!

We took our bikes and rode through the city till we reached the highway shown below (don’t ask me for the name, I forgot it), rode alongside it for a bit, then took a side street down a little hill that took us to the start of the Via Appia. From then on, it was an easy (and beautiful) ride out into the countryside.

Along the way, we stopped so I could take photos (of course), and also snuck into some pretty unsafe ruins, as you’ll see below. I’m still amazed the floors didn’t crumble under us as we climbed onto the second floor of a villa. I can only attribute it to good, old, solid Roman construction.

Toward the Via Appia

Roman highway

Time takes its toll

The way we came

Keeping up appearances

Greeting the visitors

Light at the end of the tunnel

Looking right through

You can also read more about the Via Appia over at Wikipedia. Stay tuned for my post on Florence.

Walking along the Constanta wharf

Constanta, located on the Black Sea, is one of the main cities of Romania. It’s a busy port, and a city with a lot of history. I guess its equivalent here in the States would be Miami. I visited Constanta with Ligia in April of 2003 and took some photos on the wharf, which is a pretty famous spot. It, and the Casino built on it, have been featured in several famous Romanian movies.

The building that now houses the Casino was planned and drawn by a Romanian architect, and built in 1909 in the Art Nouveau style. The architect’s wife drowned in the Black Sea, and he wanted to pay homage to her memory through the majestic building.

Casino Palace

I’d walked along the same wharf as a child, with my parents, many years ago. Revisiting the spot was bitter-sweet, and the cold, damp spring day didn’t make it any sweeter. I’d watched the same concrete embankment as a child, and was fascinated by the fury of the waves breaking against it. That same embankment was still standing in 2003 — the very same stones — although they were now showing their age.

Waves splashing against the embankment

Embankment, embattled

A furious endeavor

Constanta wharf

Before reaching the wharf, we walked along the main street that leads from downtown to the beach, and visited the ruins of an old Roman building which was probably a public bath house at some point. On the hill, homes of the old aristocracy stood as a reminder of Romania’s monarchic past. I for one miss the monarchy. With a king, you know who’s in charge and who’s to blame. Politicians blame each other, blame circumstances, lie and steal — it’s a circus, and no one is ever held accountable.

Ruins of a Roman building

Old aristocratic homes

As we walked off the beach and back toward downtown, we saw this odd building, a mix of modern and old architectural styles.

City buildings