As you’ve probably seen on my Instagram account a few days ago, I’ve made some new friends last week and together we’ve went in a small adventure through our country, to bring some beautiful places, filled with history, and a few picturesque areas from our countryside, closer to you – I’m talking about a small part of our rich cultural heritage, a part that deserves to be discovered and fully appreciated by every single one of us.
This wonderful project was born at Zaga Brand, that teamed up with the Romanian National Institute for Heritage and a few young people looking forward to promote our country, to form “Cronicari Digitali”, a group of digital storytellers that I was happily part of. We were just 11 people, from different backgrounds, but with the same thoughts in mind, to discover and to promote our cultural heritage and to show you some of Romania’s hidden secrets and traditions 🙂
We’ve started our journey in a place that’s very close to my heart, because it’s just a few kilometers away from the place where I grew up. In Maldaresti, Valcea, you will find the wonderful Maldaresti museum complex, which includes the fortified mansions of Greceanu and Duca, two of the best kept Romanian cule, as well as the memorial house of former Prime Minister I.G Duca.
If you don’t know this already, the world “cula” comes from the Turkish language and basically means tower, and these “cule” were fortified houses built by the great boyars (noblemen) in Oltenia. Cula Greceanu is the oldest one in Romania, and also one of the best preserved cule from the 27 houses like this that still exist in our country. Its story supposedly started from Tudor Maldar, a captain in the army of Michael the Brave.
Then, just a few minutes away from Cula Greceanu you’ll find Cula Duca, which is even more impressive if you ask me. The largest fortified mansion like this, Cula Duca belonged to the local family of boyars called Maldarescu, and in 1907 it was acquired by I.G Duca. The former Romanian PM was very impressed by the unique architecture of these traditional fortified homes, and he even built a holiday home nearby, where you can see a few details inspired by these two fortified homes.
We’ve spent a few hours here, listening with great interest the history of these houses, which are included in the tentative list for UNESCO, and then we’ve left to Hunedoara, crossing the gorgeous Jiu Valley, where we were simply charmed by so many beautiful landscapes. But the next stop for our team of Digital Storytellers was at.. Sarmizegetusa Regia :D, the capital and most important military, religious and political center of the Dacians.
Sarmizegetusa Regia was built between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, and even though if it was destroyed almost entirely after the wars with the Roman Empire, its ruins still give us an absolutely stunning picture of how the Dacians lived. Their craftsmanship, architectural techniques, sacred temples and military fortifications showed us that the Dacians enjoyed a very high cultural and socio-economic level.
Today, the Dacian fortresses from the Orastie Mountains, Sarmizegetusa Regia, Luncani – Piatra Rosie, Costesti – Blidaru, Costesti – Cetatuie, Capalna and Banita are all part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
I’ve been to this spectacular place already when I was around 14 years old, but I didn’t remember anything right now. Our visit was ten times better because we’ve had Stefan (the director of the National Institute for Heritage) telling us many things about Sarmizegetusa Regia and how the Dacians used to live.
Credit foto : Radu Nita
We even got a glimpse of the sunset here and the entire place seemed even more charming. I just wanted to stay there all day long, and imagine how it must have been to live here around 2,000 years ago. It’s absolutely incredible how well they planned everything, from the buildings in the sacred area, to the Dacian paved road, the defense walls or the way they were building their houses. When you realize that everything was done using just a chisel and a hammer, you will realize how advanced the Dacians were.
We’ve ended our first day in an equally interesting place at the Werk restaurant in Hunedoara, that’s nestled in a former metal factory, right at the base of the Corvin Castle. The restaurant itself is a fine example of how old industrial buildings can be restored and converted into a hip place.
Our second day started very early in Blajeni-Vulcan, a small village hidden in a picturesque part of Hunedoara, where we felt disconnected from the real world. Actually, we had no phone signal there, so that’s not far from the truth. We were welcomed by a warm family right in their house, where we learned how the wooden shingles are made in the traditional way. You could say we took a lesson on the art of wood working manually 🙂
Usually these crafts are passed from one generation to the next, but in Blajeni we’ve seen an atypical transfer, as the son taught his father how to shingles manually 😀 The son is the director of the Astra National Museum Complex in Sibiu and, since he wanted to keep this unique craft alive, he taught his father, people there are just a few people left out there who know how to make it step by step, from choosing the right trees in the forest to the final shape of the shingles.
It’s a craft that might disappear in the future, but it still exists in its organic form in my country, uncontrolled by various mechanical processes. In other countries, crafts like this one have been long lost and they’re trying to bring them back somehow through various forms of institutionalization.
We’ve listened with interest and we’ve seen most parts of the process, and then we were greeted with some traditional goodies, including an apple pie that teased all our senses. We’ve talked a lot, we ate, we joked a bit and we were so glad we found this wonderful place, but we had to move along, even though I wanted to spend more time here (I’m still thinking about that pie :D).
Then we were back on the road again and our next destination was Rosia Montana. The oldest mining town in Romania and one of the oldest in Europe, Rosia Montana was founded by the Romans and colonized with the Illyrian miners brought here from Dalmatia. It was known as Alburnus Maior, its Latin name, and the first document in which this name appeared was on a wax sheet on February 6, 131 AD. The current name of this place, Rosia Montana, comes from the river flowing through the valley around this village, the Rosia River, a river that’s rich in reddish-colored minerals which gives this red color.
Over the years, hundreds of thousands of tons of gold have been extracted from Rosia Montana. The Romans extracted the gold by going on the gold-bearing veins, digging kilometers of galleries deep in the mountains using only chisels and hammers. The Roman galleries from Rosia Montana are around 2,000 years old and they’re absolutely impressive, with a trapezoidal structure, traces of carving and digging up to 50-60 cm per day, or traces of oil lamps. A working day in the mine was measured after burning this oil lamp.
From Rosia Montana, the Romans were the ones who extracted gold first, although there are a few signs the Dacians might have extracted gold from there, but those are just theories. Then, the Habsburgs started mining for gold again and last but not least, the communists, who extracted in the most brutal way, using dynamite and destroying the whole mountain. I’m now looking back at the Romans and how well they’ve worked, while respecting the mountain and all its surroundings. Why can’t everyone do that ?
We’ve stayed there for a few hours, but since our time was once again limited, we climbed the Cetate mountain to see a view from atop. Sadly, the marks left by the communist mining program are massive and painful to watch, for a mountain that’s so rich in minerals and also filled with history. Finally, we’ve seen the Zeus Galleries Complex and we went back to the village to see some old miners’ houses and the Unitarian church.
We left from there with a very important conclusion: Rosia Montana is Archeology, Architecture, Craftsmanship, Cultural Landscape, Community and Universal Heritage.
On our third day we’ve made our first stop in the charming village of Rimetea, a former mining village nestled right at the base of the Trascau mountains, with a special architecture of the houses, complemented by a breathtaking view of the mountain and all its terraces. Rimetea is easily one of the most beautiful villages in Romania, a village that has even been awarded the Europa Nostra Award of the European Commission for keeping its cultural heritage intact, for restoration and revitalization of the entire village. It’s a place that you should totally visit, at least for a few hours 🙂
Credit foto : Radu Nita
Speaking of hours, one hour away from Rimetea you can arrive in Rimet, a traditional mountain village, with scattered huts, where old houses with thatched roofs and an amazing landscape will take you back in time to a world that’s long forgotten. I felt like I was in an open air museum there and it gave me such a positive vibe. I’m glad I’ve discovered this place and I couldn’t have done it without this awesome team 🙂
We also stayed here for a few hours, just admiring this breathtaking setting and enjoying the silence. You could even listen to your own thoughts here, with only a few little birds and crickets making you realize you’re not really alone 😀 Unfortunately we had a long drive back and we still had one last stop planned for the day, so were back in our cars and off to the Martinuzzi Castle, a ruined castle from Vintu de Jos.
Over time, this former castle went through a lot of changes. It was originally a Dominican monastery and then it was turned into a castle. Between 1546-1551 the castle was strengthened and expanded by Gheorghe Martinuzzi, former governor of Transylvania, and then after his death, this castle was owned by several influential people of the time, but it also went through several attacks.
Finally, during the communist period it was nationalized and used as a warehouse, grain storage, furniture storage, and even as a meat processing factory. In 1981 the northern side of the castle collapsed completely, and the rest is in a state of great degradation. Nowadays, it’s just a ruin, but there are so many legends about this castle, that it might hide several treasures underneath and that the great Empress Maria Theresa would have come here with her lovers, who were killed afterwards.
In the end, we’ve just crossed the street and went to see the evangelical church in Vintu de Jos, a medieval church that has gone through many architectural forms, basilica, romantic, even as Gothic church. Here was the last part of my trip with Cronicari Digitali, so we’ve just stayed and listened to the conclusions of these 3 days we’ve spent together, 3 days in which we discovered many beautiful places and interesting traditions that are part of our cultural heritage.
My conclusion is this: We have an absolutely beautiful country and it’s our duty to keep all these amazing places and traditions intact, because they are not only part of our national heritage, they are our inheritance, that must be passed to the next generation, as it was left to us by our ancestors.
Thanks a lot to the team from Zaga Brand because you’ve asked me to join this group – it was definitely an unforgettable experience 🙂