Brasov: City of Tales
by Danut & Lorena
It’s been many years since I first visited this city located in Romania’s province of Transylvania, but the landscape that unfolded before my eyes remains vivid in my mind and heart. As you probably know, Transylvania was awarded best region to visit in 2016 by the renowned travel guide Lonely Planet. It’s easy to see from the moment you set foot in this place filled with history and tales that you could spend countless days roaming the streets of Brasov and never get bored. There is another thing that you soon realize. One trip here is not enough; you have to come to see this city again and again. There are more breathtaking landscapes you want to see, there are more secrets you have to discover. In these paragraphs we can only give you a taste of what’s really like to experience life in Brasov, it would take books to tell the whole tale of this city.
Position of the City
The nature was kind enough to create a wall of mountains surrounding the old city and guarding it from three sides. These mountains are part of the Carpathians which were from ancient times tireless guardians for this people. We should note that near Brasov, about 15 km away, these mountains hide Romania’s most notorious ski resort, Poiana Brasov, but its story remains to be told at a different time.
A Short History
Brasov is one of the most visited places in Romania, due to its historic heritage and beautiful gothic and baroque architecture. The history of the city goes way back to the Bronze Age according to archeologists, which found evidence of human communities in several places in Brasov. Back in the 13th century, the Teutonic Knights figured out this place has an excellent strategic position and it can be easily defended. So they started to build a walled city here and they called it Kronstadt, which means “The City of the Crown” in German. It was first mentioned in the historic documents in 1234.
One of Brasov’s citadels was built on top of the mountain called Tampa, which looks over the city like a faithful guardian. Looking down towards the city we clearly see the old neighborhoods, where the German colonists settled hundreds of years ago. The arrays of houses look like countless sheep descending the mountains and gathering for a joyous feast around the main square.
What to Visit
Mount Tampa is elevated about 300 meters from the city’s level. Its highest altitude is 967 meters and it’s a fun and fairly easy hike to the top. There are several trails that can take you there and it won’t take more than an hour to get to the top. Be careful though and don’t forget to wear proper hiking shoes, the path can get rocky and slippery from time to time. Of course, if you’re not able to hike or simply don’t have time to do that, you can take the cable car. In two minutes it’s up there. At the other end of the cable there is the Panoramic restaurant which seems to be from a different era. The people in Brasov were inspired by the fellows in California and raised a huge sign on the side of the mountain which says BRASOV. It is beautiful to behold and it feels like it’s there to remind us there’s no other place like it on Earth.
The Council Square – or Piata Sfatului in Romanian – is situated in the heart of the medieval Brasov fortress, which used to be the commercial area. At every corner you can see shops, bars and restaurants, where you can relax and enjoy the feeling of this iconic place.
The square is dominated by the Council House or City Hall (Casa Sfatului) which houses the History Museum. In a different era, when laws were merciless and people were rough, this was the place where criminals were tried and executed. Sometimes they were hanged in the square to be made an example. In the middle of the square there is a fountain where kids love to play and all kinds of people enjoy the spirit of the city and cool their feet in the hot summer days. Every season is a different kind of garment for Brasov, as nature knows best how to dress it up. In spring colorful flowers bloom everywhere as if the city is preparing for a big party. In summer the rich forests with their fresh green color make the city look healthy. Autumn comes with all kinds of red tones and Tampa is just wonderful, worthy of every photographer’s attention. Winter is the magical season when a thick white blanket covers everything and a huge colorful Christmas tree appears in the middle of the square.
At one end of the square there is one of the most recognizable buildings in Romania, the Black Church. It was started in the fourteen century and it took one hundred years to be finished. Well, not exactly finished, because the original plan was to build two towers but only one of them became reality due to financial issues. This cultural establishment has great value for Romanians and not only them. Inside the church there is the largest organ in the south eastern Europe and during summer it is used for live concerts. Also the church is home for a wealth of colorful carpets brought from the Otoman Empire by the nobles of those times. They are protected from the sun’s harmful rays by windows with special UV filters. The 65 meters tall tower houses the largest church bell in Romania, weighing 6.3 tons. The tower is usually not open for visiting but we were lucky enough to make an acquaintance with the priest’s wife and she gave us a tour. The church has many secrets and the elderly Brasovians know fascinating stories about it. One of the well known legends is about the leaning boy, who was one of the builder’s disciples. The boy’s story is tragic as he fell off the church’s roof, or was thrown – as another variant of the legend says. In his memory there is a small statue on top of one pillar from the northern side. You will only spot it if you earnestly look for it. The Black Church received its name after a massive fire in the 17th century, when a large portion of the city burned. As the church’s walls are built out of sandstone, the fire darkened the stone and it remained like that as a remembrance of those events.
The old city is surrounded by thick walls which were restored recently to their former glory. Here and there you can see bastions and each of them belonged to a different guild such as the workers in leather or the armorers. All these are worth a visit and are a veritable travel back in time.
Brasov boasts with one of the narrowest streets in Europe called the Rope Street, which is approximately 1,2 m wide. Walking down this narrow passage is impossible not to rub shoulders with some stranger coming from the opposite direction. What is very interesting about this street is that it was originally elaborated as a corridor for the firemen to get to the other side.
Catherine’s Gate is another place worth visiting, especially if you love history, as it is one of the oldest buildings in Brasov. This gate was preserved since medieval times, and it was part of a wall whose purpose was that of defending the citadel. In fact, the way the turrets were arranged signified that those who committed crimes could be sentenced to death.
If you go a little bit further you will reach the Schei region where you can visit the Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church, which was built in the 16th century and has an impressive architecture. In the same courtyard there is The First Romanian School which was established right after Brasov was no longer under Hungarian occupation. This is home to unique old documents and books, as well as rare artifacts.
Another point of interest is the Brasov Citadel, which is a unique fortress built in the 16th century. During the 18th century it was used also as a prison and quarantine. Nowadays it hosts a restaurant and sometimes concerts and festivals take place within its walls. This is also one of the best places for a panoramic view of the city and can be accessed via two routes; the shorter variant consists of a little bit of hiking on a narrow path and the longer one goes along the cars road. Either way you choose, it is worth going there to admire the breathtaking landscape that unveils in front of you.
Where to Eat
Sightseeing is great but after so many hours of wandering on Brasov’s streets your feet are tired and the fresh mountain air opened your appetite for some Romanian traditional food. There are many good restaurants out there as Romanians are fond of tasty food. One of them is called Sergiana and you can find it in the cellar of an old building on the Muresenilor Street. They will greet you with pork-scraps and red onions which is only a preview of the tasty food that is yet to come.
There are many other places in Brasov that will make you fall in love with the city even more. We could tell you about the White and Black Towers, The Schei Gate or the long relaxing strolls along the wall under Tampa, but we think it’s best for you to see all these in person. All the moments you’ll spend there will be unforgettable.