Places

The remains of the Seneca Stone-Cutting Mill

Should you find yourself hiking the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail, you’ll find the remains of a red stone building somewhere near Riley’s Lock, between the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. These ruins are what used to be the Seneca Stone-Cutting Mill, a quarry that operated on and off from 1837 to 1901. The quarry’s good years were from 1837 to 1876, particularly 1837 to 1848, according to this source. The tract of land on which the quarry was located was sold to the State of Maryland in 1972 and it became part of the Seneca Creek State Park.

The remains that can be seen now give little indication of what once was, or how the mill operated, but thankfully some of this information has been preserved on the site linked above. I’ll quote from it here:

A large rough piece of sandstone was place on a little car and brought into the mill. It was placed under the saw blade which was then lowered onto the stone. The blade went back and forth just like people sawing wood. When a piece of stone was sawed off, they took the remaining stone back outside the mill, turned it over, put it back on the car, and brought it back into the mill to saw that side off. If they wanted all sides sawed, they’d repeat the process until they sawed it square.
To polish the stone, they would place it on a big round wheel which turned underneath the stone. Water and sand were poured on the wheel to grind the sandstone smooth. It was called a planing wheel… [An] 1882 auction described the property as a large Stone Mill, with the necessary machinery for twenty gangs of saws: a Second Mill with the machinery for four gangs of saws. The saws cut thru the sandstone at the rate of about one inch an hour. Water was dripped onto the saws to lubricate the blades. Perhaps the trough also collected the water and channeled it outside the mill.

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Website

Ligia and I visited the remains of the mill in the spring of 2008. Here is a gallery of photographs I took at that time. Enjoy!

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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

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Places

The Bolyai Castle

This castle with a rich history is now found in an advanced state of ruin in the out-of-the-way village of Buia (“Bell” in German, “Bólya” in Hungarian) in Transilvania, Romania. I took these photographs in 2009. I don’t know how much of it still stands today, eight years later. The castle isn’t big but it is interesting in its mix of gothic and baroque architecture and it must have looked beautiful when it was in good shape. In its heyday, it had 12 rooms. The courtyard was paved and furnished with stone tables and chairs. Outside, there was a walking alley lined with chestnut trees. Pine trees were planted all around the castle. One source says the castle’s chapel possibly existed even before the castle itself and was integrated into one of its wings afterward. Another source says there existed at one point a particularly gruesome execution room where the guilty were thrown into sickle blades, and that there was a tall linden tree just outside the castle where people were hung and kept there as an example for others.

The full name of the place is the Toldi-Bolyai Castle and its construction dates from 1324. If the name Bolyai sounds familiar to you, that’s because the largest university in Romania is named Babeș-Bolyai and it’s in Cluj-Napoca, about 2 hours away by car from this castle. Another written mention from 1467 says it belonged to Vízaknai Miklós, about whom I cannot find more information, but given that Vízaknai is Ocna Sibiului, which is not far away from Buia, I take it Miklós was the ruler of the region at that time. In 1599, we find the castle in the possession of Mihai Viteazul, a legendary Romanian ruler, to whom it was gifted by Báthory Zsigmond (the ruler of Transilvania at the time) after the battle of Șelimbăr, along with a number of villages in the area. After Mihai’s death, the castle came to the Gálfi family; Gálfi János left an inscription above the castle’s entrance which is barely visible now. It was then gifted to Toldi György (hence the castle’s name) by Bethlen Gábor, who was Prince of Transilvania at the time. The Toldi family kept the castle until the 19th century. In 1920, the castle became the property of the government of Romania. A village dispensary was built there by modifying some of the rooms for the needs of medical personnel. It functioned until 1978, after which the place was left to the winds and was used for the storage of various village goods without any care at all for its state.

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Places

The Rupea Fortress

We visited the Rupea Fortress a number of years ago, before the restoration work began. Now the work is complete and it’s amazing to see the difference. We visited it recently and took another set of photos. Those are coming soon. In the meantime, here is a set of the photos taken back when it was still falling apart.

There’s a lot of history packed into that hilltop where the fortress is built. Archeological digs found evidence of settlements dating back to 5500-3500 BC. When Romania was known as Dacia, before it was conquered and colonized by the Romans, the place was known as Rumidava. Afterward, it became known as Rupes, from the basaltic rock of the hill where it’s built. When the Saxons colonized Transilvania, the fortress became known as Castrum Kuholm, the word “kuholm” refering once again to the same basaltic rock. There is more information here, should you be interested.

I hope you enjoyed the photos! I took them with my Canon EOS 5D and the EF 24-105mm f/4L lens.

Canon EOS 5D (front)

Canon EOS 5D

Canon EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens

Canon EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM Lens

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The Bethlen-Cris Castle is located in its namesake village, Cris, which is in Southern Transilvania, Romania. The medieval castle has been declared an historic monument. It dates back to the 14th century, having been modified and enlarged until the 18th century. Some say it is the prettiest Renaisance castle in Transilvania.

It has a square plan, having been built as a fortified residence for the Bethlen family. It has towers at all four corners and high walls on all sides. Well, it had high walls on all sides in the past. During Romania’s comunist  times, the castle fell into ruins and some of its living quarters were even used as stables, which was a standard communist practice applied to all aristocratic castles in the country.

When we visited it, in 2010, the castle was undergoing a renovation and restoration process. The caretaker told us there was talk of converting one of its wings into a pension/hotel. At any rate, we’re glad the castle is being restored and will be used again.

Here is a gallery of selected photos I took there.

Places

The Bethlen-Cris Castle

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Places

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

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Places

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.

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Places

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.

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Places

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.

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Places

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. 🙂

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