Romania - Mountains, Monasteries and Medieval Cities

Day Four - Mihai Eminescu Trust

A meeting of a representative with the Trust describing their in preserving the Saxon villages and culture in Transylvania

After breakfast we met Andrea, a representative of the Mihai Eminescu Trust who talked about the work of the Trust and its importance in preserving the Saxon villages, landscape and culture of Transylvania.

Saxon culture in Transylvania dates back to 1153, when King Geza of Hungary recruited mercenaries from the Mosel and Rhineland to guard his kingdom's borders against attacks from the Turks and Tatars. In exchange he gave them fertile land, their own legal system and permanent rights of settlement and autonomy. Over the next eight centuries, the Saxons built their villages, kept their seclusion, intermarried and retained their own laws, religion, educational system and their arts and crafts.

Throughout Transylvania were small Saxon villages with fortified, frescoed churches, cobbled streets, stuccoed and gabled houses surrounded by fields, woods and valleys filled with wild flowers, rare birds and butterflies. Sheep grazed the pastures cared for by a shepherd with his dog and the family cow went out to graze at dawn and returned for milking each night.

Viscri, Romania

The Trust was set up in 1987 in response to concerns that the Saxon culture of Transylvania was in danger of being lost. Ceauşescu had a policy of bulldozing old houses to replace them with concrete apartment blocks or factories as he wanted to transform Romania from an agricultural economy to an industrial based one.

After the fall of Ceauşescu, many of the Saxons living in Romania returned to Germany to live. Houses were boarded up and the fortified churches deserted. Romaniana and Roma moved in. The few remaining Saxons were very worried about their loss of their way of life and cultural heritage.

The larger towns of Sibiu and Sighisoara have received support to restore their old towns, but little support was available for the villages. There was increasing concern that the old way of life would die out.

The Trust has worked with villages like Viscri on what is described as a ‘Whole village Project’ which not only provides help to restore houses, barns and churches but also supports the villagers by reintroducing once thriving old crafts and skills like blacksmithing, weaving, knitting, basket making, painting and wood carving.

Handicrafts, Viscri, Romania

Villagers were taught traditional methods for restoring buildings, keeping as much of the original material as possible and local labour. Restored houses now provide food and accommodation for visitors. All the villagers, Romanians as well as the small number of Saxons, now see a future for themselves, their villages and their traditional way of life. The local economy is being revived through the renewal of its heritage and there is a sense of pride and a future.

Viscri, romania

The Trust is woking with an increasing number of villages who have approached the Trust for help once they have seen the work going on in places like Viscri, which is now a World Heritage Site. The latest restoration was the citadel at Alma Vii near Medias. This has been restored for use by the whole community and once again is becoming the centre of village life, and cared for by the romanians. It has a small museum and also sells locally produced crafts.

The Trust is really making a difference to the people and economy of the area. The importance of  its work is also recognised and supported by Prince Charles who was for many years its chairman and has set up The Prince of Wales’s Foundation Romania in Viscri to continue his work. He has made many visits to Romania and owns houses in the area including one in Viscri. This has helped promote visitor numbers and it is possible to stay in his house in Viscri. 

Viscri, Romania

This is one of the few places where tourism has not destroyed what the tourists originally came to see.

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