Transylvania

Travel Guide Europe Romania Transylvania

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Introduction

Transylvania may be best known as the place where Dracula comes from, but in reality it's a very large part of central and northern Romania. It includes medieval castles and towns, forests and even snowy peaks in the Transylvanian Alps in the north. The Transylvanian villages with their fortified churches in southern Transylvania are on the UNESCO World Heritage list, while cities like Cluj-Napoca, Brasov, Sibiu, Sighisoara and Timisoara form the biggest cities, some of which have excellent preserved historical centres (like Sighisoara). One way to get around this huge piece of land is to do the Transylvania Triangle Train Tour, a fantastic journey along many of the natural and cultural highlights in this region.

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Geography

The hilly depression of Transylvania (Transylvanian Basin, Transylvanian Plateau) is the largest depression inside the Carpathian arc. It has a hilly relief, hence the name hilly, which can be attributed to the intercarpathian depression of Transylvania. It is bordered by the three Carpathian branches, which take their name from the position of this depression: the Eastern Carpathians (east), the Southern Carpathians (south), and the Western Carpathians (west). To the northwest, there is a wider connection with the Western Hills and the Western Plain through the Intracarpathian Yoke.

The Transylvanian Depression is made up of the Mureș-Turda Depression, the Sibiu Depression, the Făgăraș Depression,
The Transylvanian Plateau consists of the Târnavelor Plateau, the Hârtibaciului Plateau (the largest subunit of the Târnavelor Plateau), the Secașelor Plateau, the Transylvanian Plain and the Someșan Plateau.

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History

Transylvania has all the history and multi-ethnic culture you could want. The history of Transylvania is much disputed: once it was an integral part of the Kingdom of Hungary (950-1526), then an independent Principality (1526-1690) before being reabsorbed by the Habsburg Empire. It was united with Wallachia and Moldovia to form Romania after the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved in the Treaty of Trianon, which saw the conclusion of World War I. This complex history explains the many cultural differences between Transylvania and the rest of Romania. For much of this history the Romanian majority had few rights and were ruled by minorities such as the Hungarians and Saxons. Other minorities included Roma, Jews and Armenians. After World War I, Transylvania became part of Greater Romania, and many local Hungarians fled across the new border to Hungary. Following the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II, many of the local Germans fled to Germany. The Communist era was a harsh time for ethnic minorities, especially for those of whom many had been small business owners (Hungarians and those Jews who had survived the war) before the new totalitarian regime came to power. After the revolution in 1989, most of the remaining Saxons moved to Germany (having settled in Transylvania, at that time part of the Kingdom of Hungary, in large numbers during the 13th century), and many of the remaining ethnic Hungarians also left. The relations between the ethnic minorities and majority have known tense times, but there has never been a serious conflict. Although attitudes of individuals can still be closed towards other groups, Transylvania is an example of different ethnic groups living together in relative peace. However, as with Europe in general, the Roma ethnicity is still seriously discriminated against and their culture is little understood.

Today Transylvania is the most developed region in Romania, partly because of tourism and partly because of a stronger capitalist tradition prior to World War II. The presence of the German and Hungarian minorities has been a catalyst for Western influences in Transylvania since 1989. It is interesting to observe the differences within this small region: the South and South East are dominated by Saxon culture, the East and North East are more influenced by Hungarian culture, the North is more Slavic, and the South West different again. Try to visit a few older villages, where the people are generally very friendly.

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Regions

Southeast (Sibiu County, Brașov County) - This region, with Sibiu and Brașov, has a more pronounced Saxon (German) background. It is one of the most popular places for travelers due to its richness in fortresses (Rasnov, Bran, Rupea), old towns, fortified churches in picturesque villages (Biertan, Valea Vilor, Prejmer) and mountain forests (Piatra Craiului). It is also home to some of the most important ski resorts (Poiana Braşov).
East (Covasna County, Mureș County, Harghita County) - The region around Sfântu Gheorghe, Miercurea Ciuc and Târgu-Mureş has strong Hungarian cultural influences. The counties Harghita (Miercurea Ciuc) and Covasna (Sfântu Gheorghe) are also known as the Szeklerland. Here you can buy fresh bread and Kürtőskalács from locals or see the Sfânta Ana lake.
Southwest (Alba County, Hunedoara County) - Hunedoara (Deva) and Alba (Alba Iulia) are important historical sites for Romanian culture. Alba Iulia was the place where the unification of the Romanian regions was decided. In this region you can see the great Corvinești Castle, lakes, caves and other beautiful natural sites. The main access points to Retezat National Park are to be found here.
Northwest (Bistrița-Năsăud County, Cluj County) - Cluj and Bistrița-Năsăud are harder to define in terms of a predominant culture. Cluj Napoca is a very important university and research city. It also has important historical and cultural landmarks. Around it there are picturesque villages (Romanian, Hungarian and German). Near Turda you can visit the imposing Turda Canyon. Bistrița-Năsăud is famous for its lakes, caves, health resorts, but also historical sites.

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Cities

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Sights and Activities

Due to the salt and gold found under the ground, Transylvania was a rich country in the medieval age. Therefore can be found a lot of castles, fortresses (ruins) and beautiful towns. For those who love nature, Transylvania is a good choice. There are beautiful mountains, forests and even animals. 60% of all bears and 50% of wolves in Europe (except Russia) are found in Romania and the majority of them in Transylvania. Despite this it is still unlikely that you will see any.

Transsylvania has several UNESCO World Heritage sites; the Historic Centre of Sighişoara, the "Dacian Fortresses of the Orastie Mountains" consisting of eight fortresses in the southwest of Transsylvania, and the "Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania" consisting of over 150 sites.

In Transylvania you should see some cities or towns. Probably that most of the tourists are going to see Sighişoara the beautiful Saxon town (the people say that Dracula was born here). For those who like mountains the best choice is Braşov. There you can find a citadel, a beautiful church with history, large squares and mountains. Citadells can be found in other cities like Cluj-Napoca. At Cluj-Napoca you can find old churches, historical buildings, a citadel (with beautiful panorama), bastions, monuments (like the statue of Matthias Corvinus) and even Roman ruins.

Bran Castle is in Bran, not far from Râşnov. It dates back to the 14th century and is often associated with Vlad Țepeș and Dracula. In spite of the fact that the castle's architecture can evoke associations with blood-sucking monsters, there is hardly any proof that Vlad Țepeș ever visited it. Today the castle is a museum. Due to its reputation as "Dracula's castle", its exhibits deal with various aspects of folk beliefs, including vampires, and Vlad Țepeș. The texts that accompany the exhibits are written in Romanian and English. The entrance fee is overpriced at 25 lei for adults. Those with student ID card: can get in for 10 lei.

Râşnov Castle was built in the 13th century. The impressive complex with living houses (unusual for such fortresses) and small streets is located on a mountain in the outskirts of Râşnov. Transfer from the car park at the foot of the mountain to the castle and back is about 8 lei. But one can easily walk the way in 15 minutes. The entrance fee for adults is 10 lei.

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Weather

The weather in Romania is dry and hot during the summer and cold during the winter. Transylvania is protected from severe weather by the Carpathian mountains that surround the entire region. This is one of the main reasons why in Transylvania the winds are not so intense and that the winters do not bring so much snowfall. The entire Carpathian chain acts as a shield for the Transylvania region.

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Getting There

By Plane

By Train

There are several daily international trains:

Dacia Express - links Vienna with Bucharest (via Budapest); it passes through various cities in the southern part of Transylvania (Deva, Alba Iulia, Mediaş, Sighisoara, Brasov);
Ister Express - a faster night train that links Budapest with Bucharest and has the same route as above;
Pannonia Express - links Prague with Bucharest (passing through Bratislava and Budapest) and reaches the same cities in southern Transylvania as the above trains;
Corona Express - a night train that links Budapest with Brasov going through Cluj and the eastern parts of Transylvania;
Hargita Express - links Budapest with Brasov going through Cluj-Napoca and the eastern parts of Transylvania (from Cluj-Napoca two coaches are going to Târgu-Mureş);
Ady Endre Express - links Budapest with Cluj-Napoca (leaves from Cluj-Napoca early in the morning, gets to Budapest around noon and then gets back to Cluj-Napoca, arriving in the evening);
Maros/Mureş Express - links Budapest with Târgu-Mureş;
Máramaros/Maramureş Express - links Budapest with Sighetu Marmaţiei going through Cluj-Napoca (leaves from Budapest in the morning, gets to Sighetu Marmaţiei at evening, the schedule back to Budapest is the same.).

Very frequent trains link cities in Transylvania with Bucharest and major cities in all other regions of Romania.

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Getting Around

Trains are usually the best way to travel between major Transylvanian cities and touristic destinations. However, many of the region's landmarks lie hidden from major transportation routes, so it is recommended you either rent a car or take buses to those places.

You can find great and detailed road maps in any gas station throughout the country, in train stations and in most newsstands. These detailed road maps can lead you anywhere, without much guidance needed. Be careful though for secondary and tertiary roads are not clearly marked, so sometimes you have to ask for directions. People are usually very friendly and will help you get to the destination of your choice.

Buses are becoming a popular means of transportation in Transylvania. Usually, they leave from train stations in major cities, and stop in the central area of smaller ones.

As in all eastern Europe, hitchhiking is common and even a preferred way of transport for some locals. It is polite to leave the one who drives you some money, about 10-15 lei/100 km. However, people won't get mad if you don't leave anything and they might turn your money down anyway. Choosing the right spot for hitching increases your chances drastically- try to ask people on the street where to stand.

Bicycles are a very convenient and eco-friendly way of getting around in Transylvania and this way you can observe the natural beauty and even visit the smallest and remotest of villages. Beware though that most circuits include large elevations, so you should be used to climbing hills. In remote villages you can always find locals who will sell you very cheaply some fresh produce: fruits, vegetable, dairy products, or even invite you for lunch. Racing bikes with narrow tires are not recommended though, even major roads have many defects and in the more remote areas you will travel on dirt roads, so a robust mountain bike is preferred.

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This is version 25. Last edited at 10:21 on Jun 23, 20 by Utrecht. 10 articles link to this page.

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