Brașov: Romania’s medieval jewel
Welcome to Brașov – one of Romania’s best preserved medieval cities and the country’s most popular tourist destination.
It was with some relief that we left Viscri and rural Romania behind this morning, headed for the city of Brașov. With a population of just over 250,000, this is one Romania’s biggest cities and home to 3 of the country’s most prestigious universities. Brașov has an awesome vibe about it – relaxed but cosmopolitan. It’s all very civilised, especially compared to where we’ve just come from!
We’re staying in a great boutique hotel right on the central square, which is perfect for people watching. There are heaps of cafes and restaurants all around our hotel and we had a great afternoon wandering through the old town, soaking up the city’s cool vibe. Being a Saturday there were lots of families and young couples out enjoying the unseasonably warm autumn afternoon. This is definitely a more modern and “European” side of Romania, and much more our style.
We took an instant liking to Brașov. With its cobbled streets and epic Gothic cathedral, this is a very pretty town. Part of the reason Brașov appeals to us so much is that it surrounded by the Southern Carpathian Mountains. With the trees al yellow, orange and red, the forested hills around Brașov’s old town look like they’re made of fire. It’s just stunning. One of the first things we did when we arrived this afternoon was catch the cable car up Mt Tampa to see the city from its lofty heights.
The old part of Brașov is beautifully preserved and reminds us a bit of Meissen in Saxony (Germany). The similarities make sense when you realise that Brasov was built by German settlers from Saxony, invited here in the 12th century by the King of Hungary. Originally a Dacian citadel, Brașov only began to flourish and propser when German craftsmen, tradesmen and merchants arrived and fortified the town against attacks by the Tatars, Mongols, and later, the Turks.
The location of the city at the intersection of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe, together with tax exemptions granted to them by the Hungarian king, allowed the Saxon settlers to propser and Brașov soon became one of the wealthiest cities in the region. This wealth meant fortifications around the city could be continually expanded, and watchtowers built to provide early warning against attacks. As we saw today, walking around the perimeter of the old town, most of the original city walls and a few of the old watchtowers are still standing today.
Within the old town itself, one of Brașov’s most striking landmarks is La Biserica Neagră (translation = the Black Church). This enormous Gothic cathedral was built by the Lutheran German-Romanians in the 15th century and got its name after a huge fire engulfed the town (and burnt half of it down) in 1689. The fire destroyed the church roof and left it balck with soot; and even though most of the black has been cleaned off, the name remains.
After an afternoon of sightseeing on our own we headed out for dinner to a local restaurant with our tour group and enjoyed a hearty meal of fresh, free range, organic foods. One of the highlights of our time in Romania so far has definitely been the food; not because of its complexity or sophistication, but just simply because eveyrthing is so fresh. As much as we might poke fun at how rural and rustic much of Romania is, it’s actually been lovely seeing people live so close to the land and enjoy such a strong connection with their food, their community and their country. Even here in the “big smoke” of Brașov, life seems to function at a slightly slower pace and many things still seem a little more “real”.