Learning about Brasov

August 4. I spent the day in Brasov.  I had a hankering for a latte, and spent too long looking for a good cafe.  Most had beans from Spain or Italy, both of which seemed very suspect.  I finally settled on one with beans from Dubai.  Weird.  But the latte was good, and I ended up coming back in the evening to catch up on my blog.  The day was already scalding, and I sought shelter in cool museums and churches.  No one has A/C in Romania, it seems.  So you have to depend on the quality of the building material.  If it’s made of stone, it’ll be cool.  The Council Square (Piata Sfatului), known to the Saxon population as the Marktplatz, is the heart of the old medieval Brasov. In the center lies the Council House, built in 1420. The Trumpets Tower is in fact much older, and was used as a watchtower to warn of approaching armies. The building was restored after the great fire of 1689.  The Council House served as meeting place for the town councillors, known as centurions who were the decision makers of that day and who would all have been Saxons.  It turns out that Romanians were forced to live outside the Brasov city walls and were only allowed in on holidays or fair days.

The Brasov History Museum has been located in the Council House since the 1950’s. It has 3 sections: archaeology, medieval history and modern history.  I especially liked the models of an apothecary shop, as well as the various guild items, both those things important to the guild (seals, keys, chests, banners, signs, mugs, etc) as well as examples of their work. Luckily for me there was information in English, though it was microscopic.  I don’t remember the details, but hopefully they will become accessible when needed.  I particularly liked the wooden and porcelain hand-painted apothecary jars that still had the name of remedies like arnica, glycerine, mint, white willow, and opium from days gone by.  As I read at the skanzen in Sibiu, the people of Romania had little medicine except that provided by nature. They may have been lucky, as most medicine at that time was pretty barbaric.  Barbers were surgeons.  Literally.  They were expert cutters. As for the archaeological remains, I was interested in those of the Dacians, whose life philosophy had been expressed on the graves in the Merry Cemetery at Săpânța.  There were Dacian ritual items consisting of a 3 or 4-lobed container, and I wondered at their use and how archaeologists knew this.

After much reading, I made my way to the Biserica Neagră, or Black Church.  Doesn’t Biserica Neagră sound more interesting? It was built by the German community (Transylvanian Saxons) of the city and stands as the main Gothic style monument in the country, as well as being the largest and one of the most important Lutheran (Evangelical Church of Augustan Confession in Romania) places of worship in the region. The originally-Roman Catholic structure was known as the Church of Saint Mary, replacing an older building used for the same purpose. Construction on it began during the late 14th century employing Bulgarian workers and craftsmen who proceeded to establish the Brașov Bulgarian colony in Șcheii Brașovului. The eastern portal, commissioned by the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, was completed in 1476, marking the final stage in the church construction. The result was a three-nave basilica, all the same height, as was preferred during the 15th and 16th centuries in the German lands, where most of the architects and masons originated.

The Catholic services were replaced with Lutheran ones during the Protestant Reformation, coinciding with the influence exercised by Johannes Honter. A statue in memory of Honter was later erected on one side of the building. The structure was partially destroyed during a great fire set by invading Hapsburg forces on the April 21, 1689 (during the Great Turkish War). Afterwards, it became known as the Black Church. A large part of the inner structure was modified during the 18th century, breaking with the original design. Honter was important for implementing the Lutheran reform in Transylvania, whose ripples emanated from his parish at the Black Church in Brasov. I spent over an hour getting a tour of important features of the church as well as learning about the history of Protestantism in Eastern Europe.  It was very informative and I left feeling considerably more knowledgeable about the subject.  The presentation was akin to that I had received at the church where Luther had been questioned by a representative of the pope in Augsburg.

From there I headed to the Neologe Synagoge, which was one of the few that was open to the public.  Unfortunately it had just closed 5 minutes before I arrived.  I peered in the windows and admired the beautiful yet subtle decor.  It was the best preserved synagogue I’ve seen in Romania. Jews were allowed into the city walls beginning in 1807, and many Jews had businesses and kosher restaurants near the synagogue. In the 1960’s and 1970’s most immigrated to Israel. The current president of the Jewish community in Brasov, Mr.Tiberiu Roth, is taking care of the synagogue and preserving the traditions.  The synagogue is open for services on Saturdays and occasionally Friday nights.  I was glad to know that there were still some Jews in the area.  It seems that those Jews who survived the Holocaust left when they had the chance.  Who would blame them.

I met two Americans currently living in London while peering through the synagogue’s window.  Kelly and Diane had studied received their MBA in London and were in marketing.  Kelly had just left her job doing marketing for big pharma, for which she had sold her soul.  After 7 long years, she was taking a gap year, and loved living in London and being able to fly to Romania for the weekend.  They were on a whirlwind tour, and would be leaving the next day.

I think they were smarter than I, who ended up staying in the sweltering heat.  I felt like a climate change refugee.  Like the polar bear lying on ice blocks in the Bucharest zoo, or the tiger chewing on ice in Rome,  I needed to cool off.  I sought refuge in the nice cafe that I’d found that morning and wrote for the next 5 hours.  It was even hotter inside, but I needed WIFI and electricity.  So I put up with the 98 F temperature.


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