Category Archives: History

Romanian A-Z: L and a visit to the Parc Etnografic

Yes, I know. Neither ‘Parc‘ nor ‘Etnografic‘ begin with L. Also, it’s been some time since I last blogged… and even longer since we visited said park! Before Christmas, other things in life took over and it’s taken me a little while to get back to where I left off…

In this case, L for lebeniță:

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I chose to talk about this because its popularity at the end of last summer led me to discover that it has a number of different names in Romania. Language apps will tell you that it is un pepene roșu (a name that comes from Latin). The family here tell me that, in Transylvania, it is called o lebeniță. Others will tell you that it’s o lubeniță. (Both these are related to the Bulgarian). Then, up near the border with Moldova, it’s un harbuz (from the Ukrainian).

Whatever you choose to call it, unless you have grown it yourself, you will need some of these to buy one:

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The leu – plural lei. The word also means lion, as might be guessed from its resemblance to the Latin leo and the Welsh lleu. In pronunciation, though, it’s more like the Welsh llew, a vowel sound not really found in English. The above note is equivalent to 100 bani and worth about 20 pence, so you’d need an awful lot of them to buy…

dav

Lemn. In many senses, the life blood of the people of Romania. The above pile is just part of what has been keeping us warm through the winter and horses pulling carts of wood were a very common sight in the villages through October and November. Duncan has commented more than once about so much ‘quality wood’ (beech, for example) going up in smoke, but the fact remains that one burns what’s available when one’s life depends upon it.

Meanwhile, a visit to the Parcul Etnografic Național in Cluj-Napoca in October showed us the huge variety of uses wood has been put to in Transylvania in the past 300 years, apart from lemn de foc (firewood).

Gospodărie – Imper, jud. Harghita, 1678 (2)

The above cottage dates from 1678 and has been constructed from logs.

Gospodărie – Jelna, jud. Bistriţa-Năsăud, 1789 1s

100 years later, when this was built, the preference had shifted to planks. This is a Saxon cottage, of a similar style, though much older, to the one we stayed in last summer.

Gospodărie – Cămârzana, jud. Satu Mare, 1725s

A farm outbuilding from 1725 (above) and gateway from 1882 (below).

Gospodărie – Almaş 1882 1s

We’ve seen wooden houses of a similar plank construction still in use in villages in the Apuseni – as well as more modern ones.

Gospodărie – Almaş 1882 2s

The well inside the above gateway (above) and from 100 years earlier (below):

Gospodărie – Berbeşti, jud. Maramureş, 1795 4s

The park also has various items of wooden machinery on show that were used for grinding and processing both food and minerals.

Transylvania is also famous for its wooden Orthodox churches, particularly in the Maramureș region. Most were built in the 17th to 19th Centuries as a response to the prohibition against the building of stone Orthodox churches by the Roman Catholic Austro-Hungarian authorities. There are three on show at the Ethnographic Park, but the light was failing, so I wasn’t able to get a good photograph. Instead, here’s one we stumbled upon in Bica, a village not far from Huedin, which was built in 1674/5.

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The wooden tiles on these churches, the gateway and one of the wells above are a work of art in themselves (click on any of the pictures to see a larger version):

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Lemn. Wood. A significant feature in the landscape of Transylvania, not least because a fair bit of it is still covered in forest. My hope is that, despite its continued use, those forests will remain for future generations. But I’ll come to that when I get to P…

 

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Romanian A-Z: E

As with D, many Romanian E words resemble their English translations, including expediție (expedition), excursie (excursion) and explorare (exploration). This is convenient because, over this past weekend, we have been on our first major expedition since we arrived in Romania.

Last Friday, our car still wasn’t on the road, so our ‘landlord’ very kindly drove us the 100 miles to Criș, a little village not far from Sighișoara. We had been invited to stay in one of the old Saxon cottages for the weekend so that we could help clear some rubbish from the garden.

The cottage had, as the Estate Agents would say, ‘many character features’:

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It also offered a number of other benefits, including easily accessible wildlife:

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Swallows’ nest just inside the porch

And a prime location in a historic village.

Or, to put it another way, it had mains electricity and hence kettle and fridge, but a thunder storm on Sunday afternoon meant going to bed by candlelight and having a longer wait for coffee on Monday morning:

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In fact, the whole experience reminded me somewhat of the guide camps of my youth: basic washing facilities, meals cooked on wood fires and hot sun followed by thunder storms. The only real difference was that we had solid shelter. And it was solid, too, unlike some other local properties:

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The reason for such dilapidation is that Criș is in a part of Romania that was previously inhabited by Saxon (i.e. German-speaking) people, most of whom left during the Communist era or soon afterwards. (More about this here). As a result, many of their properties fell into disrepair and neglect and only now are being refurbished.

They have a number of distinctive features, including the tiling, the chimney pots and the presence of arches, which often join one property to the next:

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We also noticed that many of them have a simple Latin cross on the outside, just below the roof, although the cross on one of the above cottages is more like those we have seen associated with the Romanian Orthodox church, being more ornate and having the sun’s rays at its centre.

Criș also has a castle, which we went to explore on Sunday afternoon:

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(The photos have been ‘enhanced’ to make the stonework stand out more).

If you are interested, you can read more about the castle’s history and architecture here and here. It is now open to visitors and (as we understood it) is slowly being refurbished with a view to reopening as a Franciscan ‘House of Peace’ in a few years’ time. (The lady on the door only spoke Hungarian, so we weren’t able to find out the details).

On Monday, we took a taxi to nearby Sighișoara, where we enjoyed the luxury of a night in a hotel in the walled citadel:

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As you can see below, the citadel is also of Saxon origin. Sighișoara was first listed as a Saxon settlement in 1191 and then as a town (built on the site of a Roman fort) in 1280. The clock tower dates from around that time.

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And that brings me to the end of our Saxon adventure.

Several of my friends have commented on previous posts that Romania ‘looks beautiful’. I’m not going to dispute that because there are plenty of very beautiful places in Romania and because we enjoyed our weekend in Criș and Sighișoara very much. However, to help put things in perspective, I took a few photos out of the window on our way back:

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From these, you can see that tractors do exist here (and hold up the traffic on major routes, just like they do in Somerset!), that hedges between fields do not and that many of the hills are as bare as any in England and less green. Unlike England, lots are still tree-covered, but preserving the ancient forests is an uphill struggle in a country where the winters are cold and gas expensive. In short, as everywhere, humans have made a considerable impact on the landscape and they continue to do so.