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|Sibiu (German: Hermannstadt; Hungarian: Nagyszeben) population of 147,250 is located some 215 km (134 mi) north-west of Bucharest, on the Cibin River, a tributary of the river Olt.
Formerly the centre of the Transylvanian Saxons, between 1692 and 1791 and 1849 to 1865 Sibiu was the capital of the Principality of Transylvania. Until 1920 it belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary.
Sibiu is one of the most important cultural centres of Romania.
In 2007 Sibiu was designated the European Capital of Culture (changes annually); and was ranked as one of Europe's "most idyllic places to live".
Driving into Sibiu was interesting. Out hotel was in the middle of the old city which is approached through a steeply rising cutting that has the aspect of a tunnel due to a bridge across it half way up. The cutting to the old city is protected by boom gates, like a car park, which is essentially what it is. Once in, we paid for parking and the hotel provided a dashboard notice so that we could park for the duration of out stay.
The town was living up to its cultural reputation. Not far from out hotel in the main square a large stage was setup for a dance show that was to be televised that evening. Rehearsals went on through much of our second day there.
Sibiu was good for exercise. Vehicle traffic is restricted and we had a good parking spot so that we spent our time walking. Similarly the hotel in this heritage part of town, lacked lifts and so we had to carry our heavy bags up to the top floor and along lengthy corridors. Fortunately the hotel was recently renovated so the room, with a view out to the city, was fresh, well decorated with an excellent bed and good linen. Similarly the bathroom was modern with plenty of hot water and ample towels - all one needs in an hotel.
There was an amusing incident in one of the corridors where the staff were attempting to fold a portable cot. Seeing what they were doing wrong as we approached I went to their aid, demonstrating the folding and unfolding trick. The young women were very grateful and surprised that an 'older' man knew how to do this. "Opa, Grandfather," I explained to their great amusement, "It's my job at home".
In the square below there were numerous restaurants and cafés, spilling out under marquees, and a lot of day tourists. A shopping street (Strada Nicolae Bălcescuwith), with Zara and similar shrines to consumerism, runs away to the south west. This left unsatisfied Wendy's shopaholic cravings as I went looking for more ancient interests.
There are two major churches in the middle of Sibiu. The largest is the Saxon cathedral - obviously now the Lutheran Cathedral of Saint Mary.
Below: The Lutheran Cathedral and the Memorial
As in other Saxon churches there are memorials to fallen soldiers in both world wars. In the Lutheran Cathedral in Sibiu there is an interesting in memorial that reads:
Sie starben im kampf fur volk und vaterland
Thus, as we are well aware, both sides in the Great War appealed to the same Saviour when encouraging young men to make the same sacrifice 'fur volk und vaterland'.
The other is the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, that you can see in the Large Square photo above. I hadn't expected that. It's quite plain on the outside, so at first I imagined that it too was Lutheran, which seemed an excess given the large cathedral nearby. But I correctly decided that it was unlikely to be Eastern orthodox, as 81% of Romanians are today.
Like those in St Petersburg this church became a museum and in 1948 under the Communists. So at that time a statue of St. Nepomuk, that had stood in the Large Square, was removed to the churchyard. In contrast to it's plain exterior, inside it's richly decorated with colourful Moorish columns, frescos, gold framed sacred images, gold altarpiece and leaded pictorial window in Viennese baroque style.
How on earth did it get here?
It illustrates another chapter in Romanian history. It was built when Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the mid 18th century. The Viennese Jesuits built the church to rival the Protestants; and also inaugurated a Jesuit Convent, now the parish house. They were also responsible for the statue of St. Nepomuk.
During the Communist period religious worship was suppressed so that when it was again permitted the Eastern church revived to a spectacular degree, as it has in Russia. As a result Romania is now one of the most religious countries in Europe but almost entirely Romanian Orthodox and neither of these western churches appears to have a huge congregation. So both still function, mainly, as museums and charge for entry, like most other cathedrals and large churches in Europe these days.
Wendy soon tired of shopping and together we explored the rest of the old town, giving the natural history museum a miss on this occasion. Unlike Poland Romania escaped the worst ravages of the twentieth century wars, so the walls of Sibiu are still largely in tact. There are three distinct stages of fortifications. Set back from the most solid and recent of these is a series of older defensive towers, which like those in other European cities we have seen, were each supported by one of the town's guilds. Thus there are the Potter's tower, the Carpenter's Tower, the Cooper's Tower and so on.
Below: Three generations of city wall
That evening Cântecele Munţilor the International Folklore Festival - Songs of the Mountains was televised, thanks to the Center for Preservation and Promotion of Traditional Culture. We joined the throng then ate in one of the overlooking cafés. You can even see it on YouTube - which goes to show that TV and quick edits can improve almost anything - even grass growing becomes exciting:
The following day after a relaxing breakfast we said our farewells to pleasant Sibiu and headed southeast through the Transylvanian Alps to Curtea de Arges.