The Braşov cultural itinerary is an itinerary of the city of Braşov (in Transylvania, Romania) from a cultural point of view. This will take you to all important sites in Braşov and through an important part of the old town. It takes about 5-7 hours. The first part of this article is a short introduction which will give you an understanding of Braşov in the context of Transylvania and different cultural developments. The sites will be later related to these cultural developments. The itinerary will take into consideration all major ethnic groups that left their mark on Brasov, but there will be a bias towards Romanians, because they now play the most important role in Brasov.
Eastern Romania and a part of Ukraine have been home to the first urban civilization in Europe: the Cucuteni or Trypillion Culture was contemporary with the Sumerian one and almost just as developed (3,000 - 4,000 BC). In spite of this, the epic of Romanian history is considered to start with the Dacian culture (about 500 BC). This was a conglomerate of tribes that stretched all over what today is Romania and even beyond. The Dacians have been conquered by the Roman Empire around the year 100 AD so that Romanians come out of the mix between Dacians ans Romans.
Until the 11th century there is a total lack of documents about what has been going on in the territory of Romania. However in the 12th century Romania was fractured. The historic regions of Moldova and Tara Romaneasca have been consolidated in the 15th century. Transylvania was conquered by Hungary in the 12th century. In the 12th century the Hungarian king settled Transylvania with Germans which are known as Saxons. This way the 12th century is the beginning of the saga of the cohabitation of Romanians, Hungarians and Saxons in Transylvania. Romanians were a majority but they had no rights during Hungarian rule, while the Saxons have been a privileged minority.
Braşov was given the Latin name Corona (crown) in 1235, and for many centuries it was the most important Saxon (German) city in Transylvania. The fortifications were built in the late 14th century; the fortified city was inhabited by the Saxons, while the settlements around it were inhabited by Saxons (Brasovechi), Romanians (Schei), and Hungarians (Blumana) - today these are part of the city. The fortifications have been challenged repeatedly by Tatars and Turks, because Braşov was a border city. In 1477 the construction of the Black Church was finished.
In the 16th century Brașov was an important cultural centre for all three ethnic groups, and it had two printing presses and a paper mill. The humanist Johannes Honter implemented the Lutheran reform, founded schools, and authored many books.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Transylvania was a semi-independent state, ruled primarily by Hungarian princes. Near the end of the 17th century it became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In 1688 the Saxons of Brașov protested against the Austrian occupation, but they were not successful. One year later a huge fire burned down most of the city, and it took about 100 years to rebuild it.
The introduction of street lights in 1804 became a symbol for the cultural illumination of the city. In the second half of the 19th century, Brașov became home of the first credit institution in Transylvania, and it also got a telegraph, train station, public transport, and a telephone line.
The Romanians in Transylvania have been an important part of the creation of unity and fight for a national ideal. In this time intense cultural activities have been going on in Hungarian and Saxon ruling minorities as well. Art, literature and science developed fast, almost to be up to date with western Europe. The 19th century has been a century of intense struggle for the Romanian national ideal and the reunification of the three provinces. In 1848 revolutions took place in all provinces, but they have not been successful, so that the fight has been moved into an intellectual realm in Transylvania.
In 1918, Transylvania was united with the kingdom of Romania, and became Greater Romania. The time between the two world wars is considered to be Romania's greatest time, as it was a flourishing country, and a key player in Europe. After the second world war the Communist regime landed like a dust bomb in Romania to turn everything gray: neighborhoods of historical houses have been destroyed, small business owners (which were mostly Hungarian, Jewish and Saxon) and intellectuals have been imprisoned and killed. Propaganda and oppression of everybody who was against the regime became the norm. In 1987, a precursor of the Romanian anticommunist revolution took place in Brașov. Two years later the Communist regime became history.
The itinerary starts from Piata Unirii, or Union Square. The name refers to the Great Union, i.e. the unification of all Romanian provinces in 1918 and the birth of modern Romania. You can get here from Livada Postei with line 50, or from the train station, Onix or Mesota with the line 51.
Piata Unirii is in the Schei district, which used to be the Romanian district: Romanian merchants were allowed to enter the fortified city of Brașov only during daytime, and were subject to a fee.
St. Nicholas Church and First Romanian School
- The St. Nicholas Church is an Orthodox stone church dating from the 16th century, visible from the square. Inside there are beautiful frescoes painted by local artist Mișu Popp.
- Next to the church there is a small building, the First Romanian School, also dating from the 16th century. It is a place of major importance for Romanian culture because it represents the beginning of preoccupation for writing and reading. It is also home to the first Romanian printing press used by Diaconul Coresi. The school can be visited: you can see an original classroom, and many extraordinary books (first Russian bible, early Romanian books) as well as a demonstration with the printing press. Entrance fee 2 lei for students, 5 lei regular.
If the school is closed, go outside of the church complex and then the first door to the left (it is not directly visible from the exit of the complex because of the curved wall). Here you will find the keeper and the guide of the museum. He is doing the tour with great enthusiasm and it would be nice to buy something or tip him, because this is the only financial source for this great museum. Books are also on sale here, several in English.
The city gates
As you get out of the church complex, go right and walk down on Prundului street. You will pass a yellow building which is the headquarters of the Romanian Information Service. Then you will pass a bigger yellow building, the Andrei Saguna High School (1850), the first Romanian high school of the city. In front of you, you will see two beautiful gates. Walk into the old city through the one on the left (Catherine's Gate) and walk out on the one to the right (Schei Gate), because there is another stop before you will see the old city.
Cathrine's Gate was built in the 16th century so that the Romanians could enter the city from the Schei district. It was suited with 8 canons imported from Praha. Later the gate became unusable and only the tower remained. To compensate for this, the Schei Gate was built in 1827. These are the only two remaining from the city's original 7 gates.
As you exit the old city through the Schei gate, go left up the hill on one of the roads that goes besides the stadium. You can observe the one of the walls of the stadium is the old city wall. The stadium was renovated with the help of the famous Romanian tennis player and manager Ion Tiriac.
Right next to the stadium is a tennis court, and behind it the Weavers Bastion. The Weavers bastion was built in the 15th century, and two more floors have been added in the 16th century. The walls are 4 m wide at the base and 1m wide at the top. Inside it there is a small museum where you can see besides weapons, a very old replica of the city as it was in the 17th century. Entrance fee 1 leu for students, 4 lei normal.
Brasov had 8 bastions, 4 of which still exist, another 2 are in ruins, and 2 have been demolished completely. It also had 36 towers: fortification was very important for Brasov and the locals invested a lot into their safety. Every bastion, tower, and gate was maintained by a guild.
Walk back into the city from where you came, through the Schei gate. Then walk down the Poarta Schei street. Now you are in the old city of Brasov.
After you enter the old city you will soon be able to see the white Beth Israel Synagogue to your left, built in 1899. This is the first temple of 4 you will encounter in just a few hundred meters. Braşov had an important Jewish community, that in 1930 represented 3.8% of the population of the city. Today there are fewer than 150 Jews in Brasov. Entrance fee for visitors is 5 lei.
Continue your stroll on Poarta Schei street, but then go left on Benkner or Roth street.
You will reach the courtyard of the German school founded by Johannes Honter in the 16th century. He also introduced one the first printing presses to Transylvania.
Next to the school the Black Church is giving shadow to travelers. It was built in 1380 as a Catholic church. It became Evangelical after the Reformation. It was partially destroyed by the big fire of 1689. It is the biggest Gothic church in eastern Europe: 89 meters long, 38 meters wide and 42 meters high. It has room for 5,000 people. The organ in the church has about 400 tubes. There are weekly organ concerts held Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. You have to pay to visit it inside: 5 lei.
Continue along the church to the town square.
The town square (Piata Sfatului, in English often called Council Square), used to be a huge market place; today many events and festivals take place here. The yellow building in the middle is the former 15th century town hall, now a history museum: if you wish you can visit it now, but it is recommended you visit it only later, if you like. There are two other museums in the square: Museum of Urban Civilisation and Casa Muresenilor (dedicated to the family Mureseanu).
Through a Byzantine-style building, you can enter a smaller square to visit the Romanian Orthodox church Dormition of the Mother of God. It was built towards the end of the 19th century and is a symbol for the emancipation of Romanians and improved relations with Germans and Hungarians. It was built after the model of the Greek church in Vienna. You can go inside and be surprised by the atypical interior.
After seeing the synagogue, the German Church and the Romanian Church, it is time to go right as you exit this site and walk down on Muresenilor street to see the Hungarian church.
The Roman Catholic Church on Muresenilor street was built in 1782 on the site of an older Dominican monastery. It is in a baroque style. You can also visit it inside. Services are usually held in Hungarian, and twice a week in Romanian.
Keep walking down on Muresenilor street and you will reach Livada Postei, an open space where a lot of buses stop. To your left you will see the local Transylvania University headquarters, and in front of you the Ballroom of the Army. Under the hill there is the yellow library, built in a typical Romanian style, the Brancovenescu style. Go left again, pass the bus stop and go left again (passing the library). You will end up in a big parking space. Here, just before the old wall starts is another yellow building: the Hungarian High School Áprily Lajos.
Old wall and the two towers
Keep walking under the hill besides the old town wall. This is part of the original fortification, which used to be a double wall. Today most of the inner wall has been demolished. You will soon reach the Graft Bastion, which used to link the White Tower to the city by a mobile bridge. There is a small museum in the bastion upper floor, usually open only in the summer.
Next to Graft Bastion, up the hill, there is the White Tower. It was built in the 15th century and was the highest tower in Braşov. Go up the stairs to see it and have a great view over the city. From here you can see not only the old walled town, but also the Schei district, the new neighbourhoods to the north, and Tâmpa hill.
As you watch the city from the White tower you will observe a road to the right at the base of the tower. Follow that road through the forest and then go left. You will reach the Black Tower. It was built in the 16th century and had a mobile bridge to communicate with the city by the means of the Blacksmith Bastion.
After admiring a more close-up view from this tower you can venture back into the city. Going down the road will take you back to the wall, where you can continue your way to the right. You will be back in the old center and as you do a 180° turn onto Muresenilor street you will pass the Blacksmith Bastion which houses the National Archives today. The Blacksmith Bastion dates from the beginning of the 16th century, but it was destroyed twice: once by a flood and once by the 1689 fire.
Walk down Muresenilor street, back to the town square; visit the museums if you like. Then proceed through the square on the wide Republicii street, the main shopping street. You can also have a drink here, before you will have a final walk along the other part of the wall.
Republicii street will be a crowded place with lots of cool showcases. However, you will see much more if you look up, over the stores and admire the architecture. It is a crowded place, so take extra precaution to avoid having something stolen.
When you reach the end of Republicii street you will end up in another open space. Before you go right you can admire the large county administration building in front of you, the post service to the left, and town hall further to the left. As you go to the right you will pass the Unirea High School (1897), which still has some bullet holes from the 1989 revolution. Keep going straight, pass the communist mega-store Star and go up the hill.
Under Tâmpa hill
Now you will walk under the hill Tâmpa along the old wall. First you will see the ruin of the Leatherworkers' Bastion (15th century). Immediately after it there is the Drapers' Bastion, which is now a museum. It dates from approximately the same time as the Leatherworkers Bastion, and used to have canons imported from Prague. As you keep walking you might be able to see the former 19th century aqueduct, before you will see the Spinners' Bastion to the right. This is the first bastion to be mentioned in documents and dates from the beginning of the 15th century.
You can either take the road to the right before the Ropers Bastion, which will eventually take you to the town square, or you can keep on walking along the wall and you will end up at the Weavers Bastion again, from where you can enter the old center again by the Schei Gate or by the Catherine Gate. You can also go up Tâmpa hill from where is a great view over the city (there is a lookout point near the Hollywood-style letters). You can walk (trail marked with red triangle, about 1 hour), or take the cable car (about 2 minutes).