You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
The Szeklers inhabit a mountainous country, and are consequently poor; but it was easy to see they are far more industrious than any of the Transylvanians we had before visited. From all I heard of their character, they seem a good deal to resemble the Scotch. The same pride and poverty, the same industry and enterprise, and if they are not belied, the same sharp regard to their own interests.
(..) When Transylvania was contending for an independent sovereignty, the Saxons joined the Hungarian nobles in opposition to Austria, and a union of the Magyars, Szeklers, and Saxons was formed, by which each party was secured in its own rights and privileges, and to each was given a fair share in the common legislative assembly. They still, however, retained their own laws and municipal institutions.
John Paget - Hungary and Transylvania - 1839
The Cordon, the Austrian military frontier of Transylyania is not organised like that of Hungary. It forms no separate territory in which the whole population incurs the obligation of military service, but the troops, on whom this duty is laid live scattered about in various parts of the country, and come at the appointed time from great distances to the Cordon. The finest of these troops are the Szekler hussars, though the Szeklers have besides two infantry regiments. These Szeklers form one of the three nations inhabiting Transylvania (Saxons and Magyars are the other two), for the most numerous people, the Walachians, pass for no nation at all. The Szeklers boast of being the direct descendants of the men of Attila, although this can be just as little proved as that they are a Magyar people, as is asserted by the Hungarians. One thing, however, is certain, that the Szeklers speak the purest Hungarian, and have longest preserved the ancient customs of their supposed ancestors. Each of the houses on the frontier belonging to the Szekler regiment are obliged to furnish one hussar, and to equip him from head to foot. The officers equip themselves, and in consideration of this are released from all other public burdens. The Szekler hussars have the best horses and the best uniform; and while the other eleven Hungarian regiments of hussars are said to excel all the other hussars in the world, these Szeklers again are considered to be the aristocracy of the hussars of Hungary. They are the lightest and most skilful cavalry in the world, and at the same time a bold, frank, and noble spirited sort of men. Their high reputation, and their romantic life on these Turkish frontiers, has induced many English officers to join them. The whole regiment does not come together above once in every four years, but to those who take an interest in these things, to see the Szekler hussars go through their exercise, is counted one of the prettiest spectacles in Europe, and alone worth a considerable journey.
Johann Georg Kohl - Austria, Vienna, Hungary, etc - 1843
The government of Transylvania was formerly divided among the "three politically privileged nations": the Magyars, settled mainly in the N.W. districts (800,000, incl. the Szeklers); the Szeklers or Szekely, kinsfolk of the Magyars, who were settled in E. Transylvania at an unknown date, in order to act as "Szekler", or guardians of the frontier, and the Saxons (ca. 220.000), the descendants of the German immigrants. The Roumanians however (1,500,000), now form the largest part of the population. (..)
Maros-Vasarhely, Rom. Targu Mures, capital of the county of Torda-Maros and seat of a court of appeal, has 25,350 Szekler inhab. (chiefly Prot.).
1911 Baedeker's Guide Book of Austria - Hungary, with excursions to Cetinje, Belgrade and Bucharest.
(left) Fortress Church; (right) its main / western portal
In showing us the old Gothic church, which occupies the centre of the former fortress, Professor Dosa observed that it was very nearly being destroyed during the reign of Maria Theresa, because the Protestants were not then allowed to repair their churches; and it was not till Joseph II broke down the force of the bigots that the Vasarhely Protestants were permitted to new-roof their church. Paget
The church was built between 1400 and 1450 by the Franciscans. It has only one nave. The size of the construction - much larger than the city needed at that time - can only be explained by the support of the central authorities to create a place of pilgrimage. The church walls are reinforced with buttresses. Except for the portals on the Western and Southern facades, there are no significant decorations on the outside. The gate-posts of the main portal are connected to the archivolt by a decorative frieze of sculpted grape clusters and vine leaves. The church may have been originally decorated with frescoes, as traces of mural paintings were found inside. The almost complete disappearance of these paintings is due to the fact that in 1557 the church became the property of reformed believers, chiefly Calvinists, who were against paintings or statues in their churches.
(left) Catholic Church of Saint John the Baptist; it is very similar to XVIIIth century Catholic churches outside the walls of Vienna; (right) interior: 1900 fresco by Szirmai Antal depicting the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in an XVIIIth century style which calls to mind some Roman churches, e.g. S. Nicola dei Lorenesi
We reached Maros Vasarhely, the capital of the Szekler-land, about twelve o'clock on the second morning. (..) Both Protestants and Catholics have colleges here; the Protestant contains eight hundred, the Catholic three hundred scholars, and these institutions give something of a literary air to its society. Paget
In the XVIIIth century the Austrian Emperors, and in particular Charles VI, promoted the recatholicization of Hungary and Transylvania and the Jesuits had a major role in this effort. In 1704 they bought a plot of land in order to build their church at Targo Mures. Facing the diffidence of the mostly Protestant population, but supported by Vienna, the Jesuits began erecting the church as late as 1728. Their churches were characterized by a rich decoration, e.g. Jesuitenkirche in Vienna and Chiesa del Ges¨ in Rome.
(left) Teleki House with a 1994 statue of Bernady Gyorgy, a mayor of the town; (right) 1803 inscription
The great pride of the town is the fine library of the Telekis, founded by the Chancellor Teleki (Count Samuel Teleki de Szek 1739-1822), chancellor of Transylvania, founder of the Teleki library, and left to his family on the condition of its being always open to the public. It contains about eighty thousand volumes, which are placed in a very handsome building, and kept in excellent order. A reading-room is attached, which is always open, where books are supplied to any one who demands them. There are funds for its support, and the family still continue to add to it as far as they are able. It is most rich in choice editions of the Latin and Greek classics. These works were the favourite studies of the Chancellor himself, who was a man of very extensive learning. What renders this the more remarkable is the fact of his having entirely acquired it after the age of twenty, and that too, during the little leisure afforded him from public business. Among the bibliographical curiosities pointed out to us, was an illustrated Latin Bible, which was said to be written on a vegetable leaf. The substance employed was certainly not papyrus; I should have taken it for very fine vellum. There was a beautiful MS. of Tacitus from the library of Mathias Corvinus, and splendidly bound, as indeed the whole of that library was. Paget
Buildings in Rose Square in the centre of the town, including the bell tower of a Catholic Church which was demolished in the 1950s
Although there is nothing very imposing in the wide streets and small houses, of which Maros Vasarhely is mostly composed, it is rather an important place, and, in winter, many of the gentry in the neighbourhood take up their residence within it. Paget
Since 1867 Transylvania has been in legislative and administrative respects incorporated with Hungary. Baedeker
The Szeklers were regarded as Hungarians and the development and renovation of the town was favoured by the Budapest government. The Teleki held key positions in the cabinet, e.g. Interior Minister.
Toldalagi Palace (1762)
Maros Vasarhely is also the seat of the highest legal tribunal in Transylvania, the Royal table, and it is in consequence the great law school of the country. Almost all the young nobles who desire to take any part in public business, as well as all the lawyers, after having finished the regular course of study, think it necessary, under the name of Juraten, to pass a year or two here in reading law and attending the court. (..)
We were shown the Casino, which seems a flourishing and well-conducted establishment. It numbers two hundred members. As many of the students are too poor to become subscribers to it, and as it is the wish of the professors to give as many as possible an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the utility and conduct of such institutions, free admissions are granted to six of them every month. Paget
Toldalagi Palace and other monuments of the town were painted (or repainted) in a tint of yellow which is named after Empress Maria Theresa, who had a predilection for it. You may wish to see Kinsky Palace in Vienna and Knappenhof at nearby Perchtoldsdorf.
Old Town Hall (1905-1907 by Marcell Komor)
In the late XIXth century Vienna saw the development of two very new architectural styles, usually known as Secession and Modernism. Secession (or Art Nouveau) architects created highly decorated buildings with many floral patterns, e.g. the Otto Wagner Pavillions. A particular Secession style developed in Hungary and Transylvania where it was characterized by the use of colourful tiles and bricks.
Palatul Culturii (1911-1913 by Marcell Komor)
(left) Oldest church; (right) XVth/XVIth century porticoes which characterize the main square of the town
Besztercze (1190 ft.), Ger. Bistritz, a royal
free town and capital of the county of Besztercze-Xaszod, with 13.100 inhab.. chiefly Saxons, was formerly called
Nosen, and gave its name to the Nosner Land. Baedeker
The origins of these colonists, whom the earliest documents call men of Flanders (Flandrenses), or simply Germans (Theotonica), are doubtful and have been much disputed. The likeliest theory is that which, based on linguistic similarities, traces these settlers back to Luxemburg and the valley of the Moselle. As early as 1769, a western traveller recognizes the connection: De Feller, Itineraire I, p. 277: "Les Saxons a Bistritz et aux environs en Transylvanie parlent allemand, mais leur langage propre est l'allemand du Luxembourg."
Eugen Weber - An Introduction to the Study of Saxon Settlement in Transylvania - 1956
As a matter of fact agricultural activities in the Bistrita district consist mostly of wine growing.
Protestant Church; the image used as background for this page shows a gravestone which was removed from the nave and walled on the side of the church
The Gothic Prot.
Church, in the market-place, restored in 1563, has a tower 262 ft.
in height to the left of the main portal. Baedeker
In origin the church had two bell towers at the sides of the fašade which gave it a more Gothic appearance. It was redesigned in a sort of Renaissance style in the XVIth century. Initially self-standing, the new tower, built in several stages, was eventually included in the body of the church.
Protestant Church: interior with a collection of 23 flags which belonged to the former craft guilds
By the end of World War II, during which Bistrita had been annexed to Hungary, most of the citizens of German origin had left the town and only few of them have ever returned, but a sizeable Protestant community still exists.
(left) Portal of the Protestant Parish House (ca 1480); (right) Casa Argintarului (Jeweller's House 1560-1563)
The coat of arms/inscription above the Gothic portal of the Protestant Parish House, shows the sun and the moon, historical symbols of the Carpathian region.
The Renaissance house was designed by Petrus Italus, a master mason from Bissone, a very small town in Switzerland, not far from Como; its inhabitants and those of the surrounding region were regarded as skilled stone-cutters. The best known stone-cutter from Bissone is no doubt Francesco Borromini who started his Roman career by sculpting heads of angels for the doors of S. Pietro.
Carpathian forests north of Bistrita
This part of the country, from its frontier position was peculiarly subject to foreign incursions, and when they were made by such nations as the Tartars and Turks, the first murdered all they could lay hold on, and the second spared only to drive away into captivity. Paget
The Transylvanian cordon has also peculiar difficulties to contend with. In the first place the frontier is a dry one, and the line runs either through rocky ravines, or along the top of wild desolate and naked mountain ridges, where for leagues around no human creature is ever seen, but an occasional wandering Walachian shepherd. (..) The traveller is weary of the banditti. He must listen a thousand times to the narrative of all that took place, about two years ago, at Kimpolung, a sort of robber fortress on the borders of Bukovina, and how there was a certain chief at the pass of Boza, who made all the roads in the country unsafe for travellers. Kohl
Small town north of Bistrita, perhaps already in Bukovina / Moldavia
Move on and visit the monasteries of Bukovina/ Moldavia.
Plan of this section:
Crossing the Southern Carpathians: Bran Castle and Cozia Monastery
Sighisoara and Biertan
Other locations in Transylvania (Bistrita, Targu Mures and the Eastern Carpathians)