Surrounded by mountains on three out of four sides of the city and with a history of ferocious impaling (What? More about that later 😉 ), Brasov is a city with a tempting and diverse past. The city fares under many different names, such as Kronstadt (referring to its German past), Brassó (Hungarian) or Orasul Stalin during the Communist era.
Even though the city is currently 91% Romanian, 7% Hungarian and not even 1% German (source), it has been mostly shaped by Germans. Invited by Hungarian kings, Germans (back then still known as Saxons) came to Transylvania in the 12th century to boost the economy, build infrastructures and defend the area. Among these were the Teutonic knights, who established a city called Corona (meaning crown in Latin), later known as Kronstadt or simply Brasov.
Our hostel was located just outside the city center and was hidden in a tiny courtyard, in between a dodgy-looking “magasin Alimentar” and a closed pub. Despite the somewhat debatable location, the staff, rooms and general atmosphere were outright awesome. For only 6.5 euros per person per night, we received a first-class treatment and a genuine warm welcome to the city. Delft and its price/quality ratio for student housing can definitely learn something from them ;).
We started our day with a Free Walking Tour by Walkabout, which lasted about 2.5h and took us across the biggest landmarks in the city. From the Biserica Neagra to the 3rd smallest street in Europe to the Poarta Ecatarina, we saw it all that morning.
Brasov is subdivided in three neighbourhoods: the Romanian, German (which is the central one) and the Hungarian. Every year in April, Romanian people gather at the Piata Unirii, in the Southwestern part of the center to celebrate Junii Brasovului. During this festival, where they perform folkloric dances and young Romanian men come out in traditional costumes and ride their horses through the city, in particular through the Porta Schei to symbolise their significance as part of the local community (this happened already as early as 1728, when they were still a tiny minority in Brasov).
We finished our morning walk with a visit to the Black and the White tower. A little fact: both are actually white. The Black Tower got its name after a big fire which blackened its walls, just as the Biserica Neagra got its name that way. After big restaurations, it got its white colour (and a glass roof, so medieval) back. From here, we had a magnificent view over the city center, the Romanian part of the city and the hill on which a Hollywood-like sign of Brasov is displayed. The sign, made by college students, is a symbol against its communist history. In winter, if you pay good attention, you can still see how “STALIN” was once written on the hill by planting a different kind of tree. This was done as a sign of gratitude towards the Soviet dictator, but as soon as the regime fell the trees were replaced.
After a quick lunch at our hostel, we continued our journey to Bran castle, the infamous home of Dracula. Read more about in in my next post!