Braşov was one of those places I ended up staying longer than planned. While you could see the main sights in a day or two counting Bran Castle, my penchant for sleeping in and sitting in cafes meant it took a bit longer. A lot of people came and went from the hostel in the time I was there. So what did I do in all this time? Here’s a few things
Piata Sfatului – the Council Square
Piata Sfatului is a beautiful square lined with colourful Baroque buildings. In the centre stands the Old Town Hall, which now houses a tourist information centre and the Braşov History Museum. I never actually made it to the museum, but the building itself is quite nice. There’s a large fountain in the square, but the water had been turned off when I was there. I don’t know why, but after noticing that a number of fountains in Romania and later Bulgaria were devoid of water I thought that this could be to prevent it freezing and damaging the pipes. I’m probably way off on that. Like most town squares it appeared to be the meeting place for all the local pigeons, subsequently attracting families with small children who enjoyed feeding them and chasing them, usually at the same time.
Biserica Neagră – the Black Church
The Black Church is situated just off the council square, and its significance seems diminished by the fact that the area around it, apparently within about a metre of the church, is a car park. It dates to the late fourteenth century, when construction began on the then Roman Catholic church dedicated to Mary. Completed in the mid fifteenth century, it late became a Lutheran church during the Reformation. Today, weekly services are held and the church displays a fantastic collection of Turkish carpets that were donated by merchants in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. No photographs are allowed, but the church is definitely worth visiting.
Fortifications and Bastions
Braşov was a fortified Saxon city and as such was surrounded by defensive walls, built mostly between 1400 and 1650, some more than ten metres high and seven metres thick. Some of the walls still stand, but most were pulled down in the nineteenth century as the city expanded. Walking beside the remains of the walls is a lovely way to spend some time on a sunny afternoon; a footpath exists around the walls, and on the other side the mountain slopes up softly and tall white branching trees drop vibrant autumn-hued leaves. Steps lead up to the White Tower and the Black Tower, and while these were closed the day I was there I still climbed the steps to the Black Tower to enjoy the views over the city. A number of the original bastions remain, most now functioning as museums associated with medieval trade guilds.
Braşov, Hollywood Style
I found it quite funny that Braşov felt the need to remind everyone where they were by putting the name of the town on the mountain in big white letters, Hollywood style. You can see it from just about everywhere in Braşov, and you can even visit it.
Cable Car up the Mountain
Braşov is in a valley, and while the ‘mountains’ surrounding it aren’t exactly impressive it’s still easier and more enjoyable [in my opinion] to take the cable car up to the top than it is to walk. It cost 15 lei, about $5, for the return ticket. There’s a restaurant up the top and lots of trails for hiking; I was lazy and only walked to the panorama viewpoint about ten to fifteen minutes away. It was too cold for hiking in my books! The panorama viewpoint is right beside the Braşov sign, and you could climb to the top of the sign if no one was around – of course it’s not allowed. If only there was no other people there! The view would have been far more impressive if the air quality wasn’t so terrible – a horrible smog hangs heavily over the city clouding and obstructing the view. Still, it was worth seeing the city from above.
Strada Sforii – The Third Most Narrow Street in Europe
Strada Sforii, or String Street, is pretty narrow – it varies between 111 and 135cm, and you can’t stretch out both arms. It’s about eighty metres long and the novelty has made it a tourist attraction, although it’s still used as a thoroughfare by the locals. The walls are green for part and pink for part, and reaching the end the Hollywood style Braşov sign on the mountain peeks out between the buildings.
I can’t help myself when it comes to ethnographic museums. Braşov’s is quite small, with only two rooms, but it has a wonderful exhibit on weaving and another on traditional costumes. I spent ages in the weaving room, as they had documented the process from start to finish and I found it quite fascinating. They had a book with information in English which was very handy as I don’t speak Romanian!
Back when Braşov was a Saxon city, Romanians were not allowed to live or even be in the citadel, with the exception of certain times – they even had to pay a toll to be able to sell their produce inside the city walls. So they settled outside the walls, and looking from above it’s easy to distinguish the old Saxon and Romanian quarters. The Saxon part is very orderly and planned, while the Romanian district is a haphazard mess of streets and alleys, with no logic or planning evident in the layout.
The main square in the Schei district was under construction while I was there. The major sights are the Romanian Orthodox St. Nicholas Church and the first Romanian school, which is now a museum. St Nicholas’ Church was rebuilt between 1495 and 1594 – a church existed on this site since at least the thirteenth century. I was surprised at the age of the church, as I thought it was relatively new – clearly, I was very wrong. The iconostasis seems to be a little more recent than the church, and the outside of the church bears the remains of frescoes mostly destroyed by time. Beside the church, through a gate in the fortified walls surrounding it, lies a picturesque cemetery.
There are plenty of other museums and churches, and there’s also Braşov Fortress which for some reason I never made it to. Basically, there’s plenty to do in Braşov. It’s nice to just spend time exploring the town – the streets and the parks are lovely. There’s also a wonderful little tea shop that also has sheesha pipes, which may explain why I didn’t get to the fortress – it was far too nice sitting in there reading a book with a cup of tea and some double apple sheesha.