As mentioned in my previous post, I have put together a gallery of photographs from our visit to the Apafi Castle in Dumbraveni, Transilvania, Romania. It’s across the street from the Armenian Catholic church. It’s also worth noting that the Apafi Family also owned this manor in Mălâncrav, a village not far away from Dumbraveni. Legend has it there was and still might be an underground tunnel between the two properties.

When we arrived at the castle, there was no gatekeeper, as seems to be usual at these places. There was a phone number to call, someone answered and told us we’d need to wait about two hours until they got back. We weren’t going to do that, so we walked around the exterior walls and interior courtyard. The place was in a terrible state, as you can see from the photos. I felt an odd kinship with the place, like I’d been there before, a long time ago.

During communist times, it was used as an agricultural cooperative, where they stored and repaired machinery and grains, and the interior of the castle was used as a trade high school. So you can imagine that things look just as bad on the inside as they do on the outside. Gone are the period interiors, the furniture has long disappeared and nothing is the same. Remember though, it was 2011 then, it’s 2018 now, so perhaps the place has been somewhat restored in the meantime.

The history of the castle is not without its ups and downs. If you remember Grigore (Gergely) Apafi from my previous post, he bought all of the land in and around Dumbraveni in the middle of the sixteenth century from the Bethlen family (another ruling family in the region), and built the castle in the years 1552-1567, in the Renaissance style. His son Miklós established the family residence there in 1590. Things went on and even got better.

The castle’s golden age was in the period when Prince Mihaly Apafi made Dumbraveni his princely residence. Unfortunately after the death of his son Mihály in 1713, the family had no male descendants and Countess Bethlen Kata, his wife, came into possession of the estate. She made an agreement with the Treasury of the Austro-Hungarian regime in 1722, according to which she could use the estate during her lifetime, after which the castle would become the property of the Treasury. This agreement was contrary to an inheritance contract between the Apafi and Bethlen families from 1584, which stated that if a family dies without descendants, the other family receives their properties.

This is where things are unclear. One account states that Count Adam Bethlen brought a lawsuit based on the mentioned inheritance contract, and won the right to the property in 1776. Another account states that after the castle became the property of the Treasury, it was given to a boyar (grof) by the name of Gabor Bethlen. Regardless of that outcome, the estate was eventually sold to the Armenians, and the Bethlen family received another estate in turn, the castle remaining in the property of the Armenians.

The castle was in ruins at the end of the 18th century and in the 19th century served as a court, prosecution hall, jail, library and school. Another source says it was also a military post.

In 2010, Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland have provided government support for the renovation of the castle. Supposedly the Union of Armenians of Romania hosts a museum inside the castle, in four rooms, but as I said above, no one was available to show us around.

Enjoy the photographs!


The Apafi Castle in Dumbraveni


Dumbrăveni ((before 1945 “Ibașfalău”; German: “Elisabethstadt”; Saxon dialect: “Eppeschdorf”; Hungarian: “Erzsébetváros”) is an historically significant town in Transilvania. Archaeological digs revealed proof that it was an inhabited place as early as the Paleolithic. We fast-forward through history to come to the time of the Hungarian colonization/occupation of Transilvania, when in 1214, it became part of a region controlled by the Hungarian rulers.

In 1552, the Apafi family obtained all of the land around the town of Dumbraveni and Grigore Apafi became the ruler. He immediately began the construction of a castle in the center of the town, a castle of which I will talk in a future post. The interesting part of it is that the castle adjoins the Armenian Catholic church, or rather that the church ended up being built next to it hundreds of years later.

The Armenians were invited to colonize the region in 1671 by the Apafi family. As they were very good merchants and the town was already a market town, they (and the town) quickly prospered. In turn, they gained a good amount of autonomy and in 1766, they started the construction of this large church right next to the Apafi Castle. The construction ended in 1783 and the church was dedicated to St. Elizabeth, in concordance with the town’s new name (at the time) of Elisabethopolis. (source)

As a structure, the church is striking. You’d have to visit a Western European town to find its equivalent. Scale-size, it is much larger than the churches of its time in Romania. One thing you’ll notice right away is the facade is asymmetric, and that’s because the top of one of the towers was knocked down by a storm in 1927. Instead of re-creating the cupola, the town decided to cover it with a flat roof.

The church altar and statues were made by sculptor Simon Hoffmayer. The church hall houses a valuable collection of books, about 2200 volumes on religion, language and natural sciences from the 16th-19th centuries, written in Italian, Armenian, Hungarian, and French Altin. (source)

By the way, there’s another old Catholic church in Dumbraveni, with catacombs. That one doesn’t seem to be maintained and isn’t known by tourists. You can see it here.

Enjoy the photographs!


The Armenian Catholic Church in Dumbraveni


The Roman-Catholic church in Dumbraveni

On a side street in Dumbraveni, Romania, in a neighborhood full of gypsies, you’ll find the city’s old Roman-Catholic church. It’s over 1,000 years old, and it’s not being properly maintained, as is the case with many of Romania’s historic buildings. Looking at the building itself, it’s hard to believe it’s stood there for a millenium, but there it is. Sure, there are architectural details which date the building, but it’s not imposing, certainly nothing of the scale of the Armenian-Catholic church just a few blocks away from it.

When we got there, it was locked up. The front door — now made of iron — was bolted. The sign marking it as an historic monument was torn. The back doors were nailed shut, and so were the windows. One of the doors was even walled in.

I walked around the building, trying to avoid human feces that marked the grass courtyard, and noticed that even though the cellar doors were nailed shut, I could pry one of them ajar and squeeze through.

My sense of adventure got the better of me, and I went ahead. I grabbed a little LED flashlight from the car, and headed inside. It was clear the vaults underneath the church had been looted and vandalized, numerous times. There were countless footsteps in the sand, and trash left there by hooligans. Important architectural details, like the columns you see in one of the photos, were either shattered and on the floor, or downright missing.

The grave you see below, one of several built into the supporting walls of the vaults, has been desecrated, along with others. If you look carefully, you’ll see human bones among the rubble.

There was an iron door with intricate relief work, which leads to an inner sanctum. It was bolted shut, and I could see a serious amount of time has passed since it was opened.

There is a lower level to the vaults, partially uncovered here. I’m not sure if the walls below are stable enough for someone to go inside. I would have doubts about venturing there.

The intricate design of the mold on the vault walls is a possible indication that they were painted once.

There you have it. I’m not sure of this church’s fate. No caretaker was in sight when I was there, nor were there visible signs that the church was being cared for.