Romania - Mountains, Monasteries and Medieval Cities
We drove from Sibiu to Sighisoara, with a stop at the small Saxon village of Biertan
is a very attractive drive north east from Sibiu to Biertan and
Sighisoara. This is a very rural landscape of rolling hills, with
pasture and fields. The remains of terracing can still be see on the
hillsides, left from whenSaxons used to grow grapes and
producing a very good white wine. When the Saxons left, the vines
were grubbed out and the land redistributed among Romanian
families. Most of the land is now used as pasture for sheep and cows.
This is still a very rural economy with people working in the fields and
horses and carts.
The small Saxon villages spread along the sides of the road with single storey houses with painted plaster and small yards attached. All have a small garden used to grow fruit and vegetables for family use. The produce from the fields surrounding the village is either sold at local markets or through a middle man.
There are now few Saxon families left in the area and it is mainly Romanians or Roma families brought here in the 1970 and 1980s. The Roma tend to live in small communities and we drove through one Roma village. The women dressed in local costume were selling pots and pans along the road side. There were several huge and unfinished buildings which were built as displays of wealth and never intended to be lived in.
Villages grew up around fortified churches, built in response to Tatar invasions in the C15th. These were intended as a refuge with villagers retreating behind the walls until the marauders had left. It was never intended as a base to launch an attack. Originally there were over 300 fortified churches in the area but since the Saxons left after the fall of Communism in 1989, many of the churches have closed.
We dove through Copsa Mica which used to be the most polluted town in Romania in the 1990s with factories producing black dyes for rubber products and smelter for non ferrous metals. Now the factories are closed and their ruins stand as stark reminders of those times. The industry may have gone but the area is still blighted by pollutions and unemployment. Bamboo plants are being grown to absorb pollutants from the soil but have to be destroyed after harvest.
Medias was one of the seven Saxon towns and is still an industrial centre, located on one of the largest natural gasfields in Romania. It has a prosperous feel to it with factories producing glass products as well as a very good salami. During Communist times it also produced military equipment eg rifles, although the factories were described as producing ‘bicycles’.
We did a short detour down a side road to Biertan, an unspoilt small C13th Saxon village, off the main road and surrounded by woodland and pasture.
It was an important market town by the C16th and the seat of the Lutheran bishopric until the C19th. It then declined in importance with the rise of neighbouring Sighisoara.
Apart from the main square and road into the village, roads are unpaved with wide grassy verges.
Houses are well cared for and were built of wood covered with painted plaster. They have gateways leading into yards with barns and workshops.
The main road into the village is lined with larger more splendid houses. There is a small general shop and several restaurants aimed at the tourist trade.
The police station is on the main square.
The fortified church is built at on the highest part of the village and dominates its surroundings. It is now a World Heritage Site. It is one of the best conserved churches and still has services.
It is surrounded by three walls and had two gateways - one for pedestrian use and a larger one for carts.
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