Brasov – rich history in the heart of Romania

Brasov
Panorama of Brasov’s Old Town

Brasov is considered to be the heart of Romania. It is one of the most important economic and cultural cities in the country. Settled along one of the oldest trade routes between Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania, this splendid city is full of history, mystery, and traditions. 170 km north of Bucharest, Brasov benefits from convenient (and picturesque) access routes, which cross the Carpathians through the Timis and Prahova valleys. The city is placed in the inner Carpathian curve, at the foot of Tampa Mountain.

Its history is ancient, with numerous settlements dating from the Neolithic era. Later, the Dacians had stable settlements in these valleys, which stretched up to the gates of the present city.

Its existence was first mentioned in a scroll dating from 1234. Brasov has thrived during those times due to the craftsmen who lived in the city and also due to the intense trade relations it maintained with cities from Wallachia and Moldavia.

At the end of the 13th century, the people from Brasov began building a fortress, but its walls were not yet ready at the time of the first Turkish invasion in Transylvania (in 1421). As the city was conquered and burned by the Turkish army, the fortress never reached completion. However, the Turkish occupation did not last for long and by the time the Ottoman Empire tried once again to conquer the area (in 1432), strong walls surrounding the city had been built, so the Turkish army’s attempt failed. Sheltered by its walls, the city became a thriving cultural centre, which grew and became one of the most influential cities to this day.

Brasov – the Center of Transylvanian history

Brasov 11
The Black Church

Walking on the streets of Brasov means walking through history; with every step you take, you discover very well preserved remains of ancient times.

The Black Church is the most important monument created by the Transylvanian Saxons. Its construction was started at first by the priest Thomas Sander, in 1383, on the site where another church, dating from the first half of the 13th century, had been. When it was almost complete, the church suffered serious damage during the first Turkish invasion, in 1421. Nevertheless, by 1477, its construction was completed and the church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.

Between 1710 and 1720, lateral Baroque galleries were added in order to increase the capacity of the church, so that all faithful people could attend the religious services held there. The galleries were built with great finesse, fitting perfectly into the architectural ensemble.

Because of the frequent earthquakes that have been occurring in this region and because soft sandstone was used for the construction the building required ongoing maintenance works over time. Extensive restoration works were carried out in the 19th and in the 20th century. The statues placed in the lofts, dating from the 15th century, were heavily damaged due to bad weather, so they were replaced with replicas. The columns decorated with floral crosses had to be replaced as well. Between 1970 and 1984, extensive and costly restoration works were carried yet again. The roof above the southern façade and the inside of the church were repaired. Also, all the windows were replaced with new ones, which filter the light, preventing the ultraviolet rays from harming the valuable collection of oriental carpets displayed inside the church. The pews inside the church represent another important element included in the heritage of the Black Church, as well as the famous organ with 4,000 pipes, installed in 1839.

The Council Square – the heart of the Old Town

The Old Town Square in Brasov
The Old Town Square in Brasov

The Council Square is probably the best known and the most visited place in Brasov, sought after by travelers who are looking not only for a place where they can relax, but also for a suitable spot from where some of the unique sights of the city can be admired. It is also a place where one can have a lot of fun: cultural and artistic events, outdoor concerts or fairs (The Craftsmen’ Fair, The Flowers’ Fair) are frequently organised here. Moreover, the Council Square is the best place to start your exploration of the Old Town.

Brasov also benefits from well preserved fortifications dating back to the Middle Ages. Among them, the Black Tower – built in the 14th century as an observation point, integrated in the city walls. In the past, the tower was connected to the city through a bridge, which was later replaced by the Blacksmiths’ Bastion. The original roof was destroyed by lightning in 1559 and then again, by a fire, in 1689. The walls darkened with soot – hence the current name. In 1991, the southern wall of the tower collapsed after a heavy rain, but restoration works were carried in 1996.

Descending from the Schei Gate (former border between the Saxon and Romanian parts of the city), about 100 m on the right, you will come across one of the narrowest streets in Eastern Europe, the Rope Street. This tiny alley dates back to the early 13th century and it is the only street in the town where you can touch the walls as you walk on it. It is only 1.32 m wide and 83 m long. The Rope Street has recently been restored and it’s now one of the important sights in the Old Town.

The Graft Bastion or the Gate Bastion, as it has been called because of its shape, was built between 1515 and 1521. It was originally designed to connect the city and the White Tower. Located near the middle of the north-western part of the city, the bastion had strategic purposes as well: the route passing near the river bearing the same name and the outer walls of this part of the city could be more easily defended from here.

Shaped as a pentagon, the Blacksmiths’ Bastion was the defensive point of city at the north. The earliest mention of the bastion in a document dates back to 1529. Today, it houses the Brasov branch of the State Archives. This institution preserves, among many other valuable documents, the oldest letter written in the Romanian language and preserved until today – the letter written by a merchant named Neacşu from Campulung in 1521.

The Draper’s Bastion was one of the strongest points of defense of the medieval fortress. Its walls are 2 m thick and it has a diameter of 16 m, with a height of 13 m. Located in the eastern corner of the city and designed in the shape of an ellipse, the bastion that can be seen today is the result of various restoration works that have been carried over the last years. The bastion originally belonged to Goldsmiths’ guild, which, as it is attested in a document, received 10 bombers and 16 harquebuses ordered from the city of Prague as a gift. In 1640, the bastion was entrusted to the Drapers by the Goldsmiths.

The Ethnographical Museum in Brasov boasts collections that include ceramics, 18th and 19th century glass items, a very rich collection of costumes and textiles, painted eggs and icons painted on glass, metal, leather and even on bone. The heritage that is preserved in this museum includes over 13,600 objects, dating from the 17th to the 20th century.

Brasov 12
The fortress overlooking Brasov

The Brasov Citadel, originally a wooden fort with four towers, was built in 1524 on the hill where the central part of the city lies today. A high fortress wall had been on the very same spot where the wooden fort was later built, but it had burned in 1618. It was rebuilt in 1625 and in 1630, four towers were added at the corners. These towers have been preserved until today. An 81 m deep well was built in 1627 and the city’s emblem was imprinted in 1630 on the entrance wall. In 1688, when the masses rebelled against the Habsburg rulers, the leaders of the city were imprisoned in this fortress. The fortress became the headquarters of military garrison in the 18th century.

The First Romanian School Museum is housed in the old Romanian school that belonged to St. Nicholas Church. The edifice was first mentioned in documents in 1495, but the current building dates from 1760-1761, when it was rebuilt in the Baroque style. Deacon Coresi, an important Romanian scholar and printer of the 16th century, was active in this school. Editor and translator of various books in Romanian, Coresi laid the foundations of the Romanian literary language.

Don’t forget to ask your Balkantrails guide about all the other ancient treasures of BRASOV’s history, such as the Franciscan Church of Saint John, The White Tower, Catherine’s Gate, The Roman Catholic Church or St. Bartholomew’s Church. Some of them might be a bit off the beaten track, but are well worth a visit.

From Brasov with Balkantrails to:

There are many places worth visiting near Brasov. Your guide can help you plan some interesting trips to places that are no further than one or two hours drive away from Brasov:

The Peles Palace

The Peles Castle
The Peles Castle

This splendid architectural ensemble built on the left bank of the Peles River, in a very picturesque area, by King Carol I is one of the most appreciated sights in the Prahova Valley. The palace is considered one of the most important historical edifices in Romania, with a unique character and of great artistic value. It is, in fact, one of the most important monuments of this kind in Europe, dating from the second half of the nineteenth century.

– 

Bran Castle

Bran Castle
Bran Castle

Less than 30 km from the city, on the road that links Brasov and Campulung, going through the old St. Bartholomew neighbourhood, Bran Castle is built on a cliff, in a key strategic point. Initially, Bran Castle was a irregular quadrilateral-shaped fortress, built for transient military purposes. In time, the fortress underwent many changes, such as the addition of the South Tower or the construction of the rectangular tower at the east. Between 1883 and 1886, the roof was covered with tiles. It was transformed into a residence in 1920, under the ownership of Queen Mary. The most important restoration works were carried after this date, as the Queen turned the former military garrison into a comfortable, yet simple residence. It is best known to travellers as Dracula’s Castle, though its history does not have much to do with Vlad the Impaler.

Rasnov Fortress

The Rasnov citadel
The Rasnov citadel

Rasnov had initially been an old peasant citadel. It was built during the 13th and the 14th centuries by the inhabitants of the settlement bearing the same name, with the main purpose of defending the area against the Tartars’ attacks, and it is one of the best preserved peasant fortresses in Transylvania.

The complex is made up of two yards: an external one, towards the eastern wall of the fortress, which is bordered by a fortified wall and features a square tower called “The Old Tower”; and an inner yard, surrounded by walls and towers. Currently, the fortress has been restored and it houses a museum where items of great importance to the local history, such as photocopies of various documents, weapons and tools, are displayed.