Romania, VII.2012, VII.2013
Travelling without a fixed plan and previous geographical inquiry has it’s own irresistible charm. While it is possible to miss an important monument or festival, about which you just didn’t find out, at the same time every new place that we land in is a surprise. Often there are completely unexpected wonders, and lack of prior knowledge and expectations adds a bit of magic of exploration. So rare in today’s described and photographed world.
Frankly speaking, I ended up in Sighișoara by accident as an effect of a choice made semi consiously after a all-night hitchhiking from Slovakia to Tirgu Mureș. It’s name sounded like straight from a fantasy book and was intriguing enough to lure me in. But one glimpse of the Tarnava Mare river, red roofs and towers looking down from a fortified hills and I momentarily knew that I would stay here longer than waiting for another bus south demanded.
What else than amazement to expect from a city established by German settlers, placed in Romania’s region populated greatly by Hungarians? A wonderful mixture of cultures and rich history. The main area of architectonic wonders is the hill overlooking Sighişoara, of course. We can reach it with numerous paths, but the most impressive one leads through the gate in the Clock Tower. Over 60-meters high tower from the 13th century is one of the landmarks of the city and currently hosts a historical museum.
After climb our attention is drawn to an enormous sized monastery of the Dominicans and the City Hall placed behind it. But the thing that inspires to get a bit deeper into city’s history can be found directly between them – a monument depicting Vlad Tepes head, famous Dracula, without whom is hard to think about stereotypical Transylvania.
Sighişoara is a place, where the famous Vlad the Impaler has been born and spent first three years of his life, frolicing as a toddler. “Thanks” to that a whole business exploiting his legend can be found here – Casa Dracula restaurant and numerous accommodation facilities with names targeted for tourists seeking the glimpse of vampire stories. Commercialisation of this single topic is enormous, vampire references can be found at every step, what is being ridiculed by my Romanian friends: “Mister, buy a souvenir, here’s the place where Dracula got down from his horse to take a leak!”. That’s a shame, because there are a lot of interesting stories connected with Transylvanian history lost in the shade of vampires and 15th century tormentor. Locals stated their anger with Dracula’s legend while blocking the construction of a theme park planned in Breite natural reserve close to Sighişoara.
In the surrounding of the main market square, there can be found charming cobbled streets with architecture characteristic for this part of Romania. The atmosphere is completely different during the day when the streets are bathed in the sunshine, and during the night, when you can stroll through the empty quiet streets lit by the lantern. So it is worth to come back to the same places later in the evening.
The next thing that amazed me while discovering the main hill is that at one point I stumbled upon… a next hill on it. A flight of stairs covered with a wooden roof leads even higher, to the Church on the Hill. “Tunnel” that protected students from rain while climbing up to their school establishes a transition from loud market with it’s lively voices to peaceful surrounding of the church. In a way it connects and separates to different worlds: physical and spiritual, human and divine. Why the atmosphere is so different from what we’ve left down below? As you go higher and higher, besides of the Church on the Hill you can also find an old Lutheran cemetery with graves of the Saxon settlers.
In the Church on the Hill concerts of the classical music often take place, so it is worth to check the program to not miss something. My experiencing Sighișoara is in great part connected to music, as I had a chance to listen to the concert on the hill and during my second stay in this city I had an honour to stay in Vali Racila’s house, one of the best Romanian bluesmen. Certainly I can advise to check if during your stay in Sighișoara you can hear him somewhere.
For the fans of festivals and fairs who don’t fear crowds, the best time to visit Sighișoara would be the last weekend of July, when each year the Festivalul Sighişoara medievală takes place. It’s a great gathering of medieval brotherhoods, craftsmen, theaters and musicians, accompanied by stalls spread around the old town, and the city for few days turns into mixture between the medieval and present times. Many of the participants stay in camping Aquarius located in the center of the city and can be advised as a budget accommodation.
Sighișoara is also a wonderful base for short trips into surrounding villages and little towns. In the tourist information, you can rent a bike, definitely the best mean of transportation if you want to experience rural Romania, for example on the way to Biertan. The region is full of picturesque villages and fortified churches, but I guess this is a topic for a whole another story.