Some mornings I wake up early. It’s not often that it happens. I’m a late sleeper, always have been. But when I do wake up at the crack of dawn and it’s snowing outside, I will get out of bed, put on some warm winter clothes, grab my camera and head out for a walk. Today was one of those days. 

As I write this, about three hours after taking the photos, it’s still snowing lightly. This was a good snowfall. We’ve had some other ones this year, of which one in particular sticks in my mind. It happened earlier this week, with snowflakes almost as big as my palm. That was magical — but it didn’t last. With -1 degrees Celsius outside right now, this snowfall looks like it might last longer than a few hours, so that makes it the first good snowfall of this winter. 

As always, I hope you enjoy the photos. These were taken in the historic town center of Medias — known as Mediasch in German and Medgyes in Hungarian — and known to me as my hometown. 

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A morning walk through the snow

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The fortified church in Mosna

The village of Moșna, known as Meschen in German and Muzsna in Hungarian, is first mentioned in written documents in 1283, and there is evidence that a settlement existed there since the 1st century AD (source). Moşna was also the home of Stephan Ludwig Roth (1796-1849), a famous Saxon priest, pedagogue and human rights campaigner (source).

The Saxon settlers in the area first built a Romanesque basilica in the 13th century, which was then modified and expanded in the late 15th and early 16th centuries in the Gothic style. The man responsible for the project was Andreas Lapicidas of Sibiu (Hermannstadt), a master stone mason, known as Endreas Steinmetz in Sachsen. His initials can be seen inside the church, carved on a lintel.

The Moșna fortified church is one of the biggest in Transilvania and it is a remarkable work of Gothic architecture. The church itself is structured around three naves with ribbed vaults for ceilings. The naves are separated through four pairs of columns, the ones in the west side having been made of bricks and decorated differently so as to preserve the eastern group of columns intact, since the latter was erected using stone from the pillars of the former Romanesque basilica. Inside, the most noteworthy architectural elements are the door to the sacristy, the stone pulpit and the monumental tabernacle which measures 11.05 m in height.

The fortifications include five towers and a 9m defense wall that surrounds the church and allows for ample space inside the fortress. The bell tower has seven levels and three bells, the oldest of which dates from 1515. The gate tower in the south-eastern corner has five levels. The northern side of the fortification is guarded by a tower with four levels. A shorter, three-level tower stands to the south and it hosts a museum dedicated mostly to the trades and customs of the Saxon community but which also includes exhibits discovered during various archaeological explorations, such as coins and fragments of weaponry.

When we visited in 2011, we arrived right around noon, which as some of you may know, is the worst time of the day for photos. I also had with me a camera that was more remarkable for its zoom (30x) than the dynamic range of its sensor and the quality of its photos. I plan to visit again soon and take some photographs that will do the place justice. It’s undergone significant repairs and restoration work since 2011, so it looks different now. We’ve actually revisited it just a couple of months ago, but it was for a photoshoot for Ligia’s ongoing project, Straie Alese, so I didn’t focus on capturing the architecture.

Enjoy the photos!

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Sighisoara from a distance

The same day I took these photos, we decided to drive into the hills surrounding the town and see if we could find a scenic spot from whence to photograph it. We found a couple of spots. There are a couple of pensions perched up there, with great views of the valley and the town. While the pensions/restaurants themselves are underwhelming (one was closed, another only served water and bad coffee), the views are worth the drive.

By the time I set up my equipment, it was dusk and twilight was fast approaching. You’ll have to excuse the liberal use of noise reduction in the photographs, but I was shooting with the long end of a 70-300mm lens at f5.6, fast shutter speeds and high ISO. What made the photos more interesting was the creeping fog, which was enveloping the town from all sides. I can see the appeal of such scenery in stories about vampires, but I assure you, there are none there.

When night fell over the valley, we drove back down and I took a few shots of an historic church and of the Târnava Mare river which passes through the town. One last thing: the mountains which you see in some of the photographs are the Southern Carpathians, more specifically the Făgăraș Mountains.

Enjoy the photographs!

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The fortified church in Zagar

There is a fortified church in the village of Zagăr, which is located in the county of Mureș, Transilvania. I was not able to find out any information about it online; I don’t know why it’s not documented. The only thing I was able to find was a mention of the vineyards in the region, which are known for their white wines (source). The village is known as Rode in German and Zágor in Hungarian. It was first mentioned in written documents in 1412 (source). The same source states that the church was rebuilt in the year 1640 but does not give a reason why.

We also weren’t able to visit the buildings themselves (the church and the parochial house) when we visited in 2011, because the place was locked up and no one was around. On the upside, it’s a well-maintained place, restored in 2007, judging by the inscription on the back gate. Perhaps at some time in the future we’ll revisit it.

Enjoy the photographs!

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These were taken in November of 2010, so let’s say it was eight years ago or so. Things may look different now — hopefully better, given how much tourism this little town gets each year.

It was one of our typical jaunts through the medieval fortress, along its walls and back down the stairs toward the bottom of the hill. Still, the images show different spots from the ones you’ve seen here and here.

Should you want to know more about the town, click here and here. Enjoy the photographs!

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More images from Sighisoara

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The fortified church in Hetiur

Hetiur is a small village located between Sighișoara and Tg. Mureș in Transilvania, about 10 km away from the former. Formerly named Hetur and Hetura, known in Saxon as Marembrich and Hungarian as Hétúr, it is a Saxon settlement first mentioned in written documents in 1301. As is typical with settlements in Romania, the place is much older than the written documents. Coins from the time of Hadrian, made between 119-121 AD, were found in the village. Pieces of gold and silver jewelry made by the Daci were also found there. The village’s curious name comes from Hungarian and it means “seven masters” or “seven rulers”.

The fortified church was built in the 15th century in the Gothic style and underwent modifications and repairs in the 17th and 19th centuries. The church was blessed in person by Pope Martin the 5th, who also granted it a tax-free status, meaning the church no longer had to pay yearly dues to the Catholic Church. (source)

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Not much is known about the small medieval church in this Transylvanian village. Known in Romanian as Viișoara, it is Hundorf in German and Csatófalva in Hungarian. The clue about it not being fortified perhaps lies in its German name: “Hun-dorf” means “Hungarian village”. Since it was predominantly Hungarian with few Saxons, and it was the Saxons who fortified churches during medieval times… it didn’t happen here.

One source states the church was finished in the 15th century and then underwent modifications or restorations in 16th, 17th and 19th centuries. When we visited it in 2011, it wasn’t in the greatest of shapes. A date on one of the buttresses said “2010”, as in some repairs had been made just a year before our visit, but the place didn’t look it. Still, it wasn’t falling down either, so it was getting some care, though it wasn’t getting any good use.

Enjoy the photographs!

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The medieval church in Viișoara

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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!

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The Apafi Castle in Dumbraveni

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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!

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The Armenian Catholic Church in Dumbraveni

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Valea Viilor (“Wurmloch” in German, “Nagybaromlak” in Hungarian) is a village in Sibiu County, Transilvania, in a region known for its wine production during medieval times. Its name is translated in English as “The Valley of the Vineyards”. It is first mentioned in written documents in 1263 as “posessio Barwmlak”.

The church in this Saxon village was first built in the 14th century (see source). Its ruins can be seen beneath the floor of the sacristy. In 1414 a new church was erected over it. In turn, most of that later structure was then demolished or modified during the years 1500-1528, as the church was enlarged and fortified walls were built around it, making it a fortified church (see source).

Unlike a lot of other Saxon fortified churches in Transilvania, this structure received attention from later generations, and underwent needed repairs in 1738, 1782, 1826, 1969, 1987, 1996 and in recent years as well.

When we visited it back in April of 2011, the gates were locked and no gatekeeper was to be found, so we walked around its defensive walls, admiring the solid medieval architecture that has stood the test of time. Enjoy the photographs!

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The fortified church in Valea Viilor

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