Saturday 19 May 2012, 8am, Miklosvar, Transylvania
We breakfasted on a nutty muesli, omelette, fresh peppers and cheese, then began the drive to Brasov. The first half hour or so was over very rough roads, and sitting in the back of the car I think I could have shaken milk into butter had I carried a pail with me!
We made a stop of Prejmer, another town with a fortified church, this one much larger than at Viscri as befits the size and wealth of the town, together with its location so close to the strategically important Brasov. As many as 1500 people would have packed into the fortifications, each family having a small room of three square metres. Animals were kept in a huge underground tunnel which circled the fortification, and in the centre of everything, as always, an imposing Lutheran church – square, solid and dominating the landscape in its simplicity.
From there it was on to Brasov itself and the Black Church, so named owing to the coating of black soot left when the city was burned by the Habsburgs. The church itself, though damaged, survived and acquired its new epithet, but today careful cleaning and restoration have rendered that name somewhat inappropriate.
Inside the architecture is a bold and sturdy gothic, with a huge organ which played quietly while we were there, but which can apparently shake the foundations at full volume. The carpet collection is also the largest of its kind – all Turkish, as despite the fact that the Saxons and Turks were at war, they still traded. Some of the carpets are of special Transylvanian designs, created by the Turks specifically for the Saxon traders here; and some, bizarrely for a plain Lutheran church, are Muslim prayer mats.
On the stonework inside our guide showed us a modern change to the building – bullet holes. In 1989, when Ceausescu was deposed, there was talk of Saxons and Hungarians splitting off from Romania to form their own nation. In the unrest which went with this, the church itself was attacked as a symbol of the Saxon presence. It was a telling instance of a turbulent period of modern history colliding with this ancient building.
This is the fifth in a series of posts based on diary notes written on a recent trip to Transylvania; but being posted now owing to the lack of internet access at the time!