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!

Places

The Apafi Castle in Dumbraveni

Gallery

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!

Places

The Armenian Catholic Church in Dumbraveni

Gallery
Reviews

My Olympus PEN E-P3

I purchased this PEN E-P3 just a few days ago, to add it to my collection of Olympus PEN cameras. As I mentioned in my previous post, I now have all the PEN models except the PEN-F.

I love PEN cameras because they are the smallest full-featured cameras out there. Yes, there are smaller cameras, but they have smaller sensors. And there are small cameras with bigger sensors, but they’re not as small as these cameras, and you have to deal with big, heavy lenses. The PEN cameras are just perfect. The sensor is big enough to allow for great resolution without squeezing pixels too close together and small enough to allow for small, lightweight lenses.

PENs are almost as full-featured as the bigger OM-D cameras (which I also love and which have their own charm, purpose and amazing capabilities), but the PENs are small and light and easy to carry, so they’re perfect for traveling light or for an all-day photo shoot in the studio, when you have to move around and hold the camera at all sorts of angles in order to get that perfect photo. That was and is the Olympus MFT promise: small, lightweight gear and superb image quality. This is why my PEN E-P5 has become my main camera, by the way. I love using it in my studio and I use it everywhere else as well. This is also why I wanted to collect all of the PEN models. I wanted to see their evolution firsthand, from the standard-setting E-P1 to the E-P5 and the PEN-F.

I bought my E-P3 second-hand and there were some scratches to the underside of the camera. I also discovered after the purchase that the IBIS wasn’t working. I talked with the seller about it and it wasn’t malice. The fellow was a beginner and didn’t even know how to adjust the IBIS, much less that it wasn’t working. I guess at some point, the mechanism either broke or got stuck, so I packed it up yesterday and sent it in to one of the Olympus Service Centers in Eastern Europe to have it fixed. I look forward to getting it back in full working order and using from time to time, as I also use my other PEN cameras. They’re not just collectibles to me. They’re also working cameras and it’s important to me that each and every one of them is fully operational.

Before I sent this camera in for service, I mounted the 25mm f1.8 lens on it, plus my newly-arrived MCON-P02 Macro Converter (which I definitely recommend) and went into our garden to take photographs. I wanted to see how the E-P3 had improved upon the E-P2 in image quality. And it definitely has! The color gradation is better and so are the details. It has the same resolution as the E-P2 (12.2 megapixels) but the images are better and there’s less noise.

I do wish I had adopted the PEN system earlier, back in 2010 when I reviewed the E-P2. I think I’d have been pretty happy working with PEN cameras all these years and maybe also getting an OM-D camera. While I can’t change the past, I am working with Olympus gear now and I am very happy with it.

Enjoy the photographs!

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Reviews

My Olympus PEN E-P1

Several days ago, I purchased a PEN E-P1. I’ve been thinking about a number of years of collecting all the digital PEN cameras that Olympus has made. I’m not referring to the PL (Pen Lite) or PM (Pen Mini) camera lines, which were launched alongside the regular PEN cameras in an effort to provide lower-cost alternatives for consumers with lower budgets. I’ve wanted to own all of the regular, full-featured PEN cameras, of which there are five models: E-P1, E-P2, E-P3, E-P5 and PEN-F. So when did my love of PEN cameras start? It was when I reviewed the PEN E-P2 back in 2010. I loved that camera and I wanted to have it right there and then, but I was heavily invested in Canon gear at the time. Fast forward to 2018. When I bought the E-P1, I already had the E-P2 and the E-P5 (I also have the first PL model, the E-PL1). Since then, I’ve also purchased the E-P3, so now the only camera left to get for my collection is the PEN-F.

The E-P1 is an important camera. Launched on June 16, 2009, it was the first digital PEN. Fifty years before it came the original PEN, in 1959. Both cameras were revolutionary in their design and their compact size. What Olympus managed to do with the digital PEN was amazing: they managed to give us the features and quality that only came with larger, heavier cameras, in a tiny and light camera body that could be carried in a pocket or a purse. In its time, the E-P1 was the lightest, smallest and most capable camera on the market. It may not have been the best at everything, but it offered image quality that was higher than or comparable to much larger and more expensive cameras with larger sensors. Even today, almost nine years later, when the E-P1 is coupled with a great lens, such as the M.Zuiko 25mm f1.8, it can produce truly beautiful photographs that match quite well the quality of images made with cameras that have full-frame sensors. You’ll see this in the gallery below, which contains photos I’ve taken in our garden with the E-P1 and the 25mm f1.8.

I am fortunate and happy that I was able to build my PEN collection, and that I get to work every day with such great cameras. The PEN E-P5 is my primary camera now, both in the studio and outdoors. I love it. Enjoy the photographs!

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A 1973 Doxa by Synchron Watch
My Watch Collection

A 1973 Doxa by Synchron Watch

I made a video about one of my vintage Doxa watches. There’s an interesting story behind this watch — literally behind it, as in on the back of it. There’s an inscription on the case back that speaks of things and practices that are no longer around.

This Doxa was most likely made in 1973, while Synchron S.A. owned the Doxa company, which they did from 1968 to 1978. The case serial number is a possible indicator of the year of manufacture.

Doxa S.A. was founded in 1889 by Georges Ducommun, and began as a maker of dress watches and other timepieces. Over time, they branched out into jewelry and they are now best known for their diving watches.

Like most Swiss watch companies, they were hit hard by the introduction of quartz watches. They put up a good fight but in the end they were sold and then ceased operations in 1980. The company changed hands multiple times. It was part of Synchron S.A. between 1968-1978, and were then acquired by Aubrey Freres S.A., who held them until 1997, when they sold them to the Swiss Jenny family. In August 2002, Doxa re-started its watchmaking operations and they are now producing special editions of their historical watches in limited quantities.

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