A cultural journey through Romania’s mystical Transylvania region
Written by Faz Ali
On 21 May 2024

In the far southeastern corner of Europe, nestled within the territory of Romania, I found the idyllic region of Transylvania, often synonymous with mysticism and vampires’ stories.

After an initial introduction to Romania’s rich catalogue of escapism, I returned to this country five years later determined to get a soul-stirring adventure, whilst aiming to uncover its deep-rooted history, rolling hills and picturesque villages I had omitted during my previous visits.

After using Clui-Napeça as a transportation hub for its enhanced international links, I started my adventure towards Sibiu, a strategic location of the region given its historic establishment as the capital city of the Saxon settlement in Transylvania during the 12th century.

The evolving lines of strong fortification found around the city remained almost intact, pointing towards its medieval character. Its architectural elements bear witness to the important economic, political, and religious role the city has retained for the past 6 centuries.

Strada General Sibiu

Wandering around Sibiu’s upper and lower town quickly became the way in which I spent most of my time here. The winding lanes made it so pleasant to walk aimlessly and even get lost from time to time.

As I entered the Old Town, I found myself taken back to its days of grandeur and immediately it became apparent why Sibiu was elected the European Capital of Culture in 2007.

Strolling through the narrow lanes was entrancing, the cobblestone pathways lined with pastel-hued houses and bounded by imposing spires attached to the city walls and defence towers above the Gibin river.

Sibiu, Transylvania

Chancing upon the famous Bridge of Lies where myth holds that it crumbles under the weight of those who speak untruths while crossing, I delved deeply into a lingering atmosphere of ancient stories and folklore, instilling an additional layer of mystery to the already enchanting ambience.

The urban legends of the famous rooftop “eyes”, small ventilation slits for windows look eerily like shifty eyes and add to an overwhelming feeling of being watched.

Continuing my journey, I ventured on a day trip towards the Bran Castle, the source of inspiration for Stoker’s Count Dracula epistolary novel.

A well on the outskirts of Sibiu

The grounds of the fortress where overflowing with tourists keen to cross the location off their to do list but outside the bustling atmosphere I found a legendary realm of grandiosity ascending from the spiralling stairs of the castle, revealing its sombre past.

From the shadowy corridors to the concealed passages, the walls appeared to come to life whilst every nook of the stronghold emitted an atmosphere of both dread and fascination.

Moving outside the urbanised Transylvanian attractions, I stumbled upon the splendid Carpathian Mountains, one of Europe’s few remaining wild areas with forests and alpine grasslands of critical importance to biodiversity.

Their ridges covered with tall fir-trees which seem to defy gravity nest a terrifying wilderness whilst the rugged summits and verdant woods craft a serene backdrop of natural marvels and meadows of green effortlessly blended with lively yellow and opulent blue.

In my beckoning to uncover this cacophony of beauty, I took the path along the Transfagarasad Highway, where I was greeted by sweeping vistas that left in in awe.

This serpentine path weaving through the ranges unveiled the crucial role the Carpathians have played in Romania’s defence system.

A view of a scenic road in Transylvania

From fortresses, castles and churches strategically positioned above the imposing cliffs to hills alongside the main trade routes, the untouched forests and caves provided unquestionable protection, perfect paths and hideouts to those seeking protection.

My next destination, the hamlet of Viscri, was found submerged in darkness and seclusion whilst the location gave me the impression that the time has come to a halt.

The quaint allure of the old-age Saxon dwelling I found here alongside the strategically positioned ancient, fortified church instilled an unrecognisable sense of tranquillity within my being.

Without much of an effort, I found myself seated beside the cracking fire in a traditional but welcoming inn. Here the barriers of language and culture were immediately erased as I eagerly listened to the tales shared by the natives, stories of intertwining history and lore which harked back to the bygone era.

As the darkness of the night intensified, I prepared myself for the challenging moment of bidding adieu to this land of enigma and enchantment.

Whilst my heart refused to depart with my body, I allowed myself to remain spellbound by this corner of earth and remain eager to unravel more of Transylvania’s mysteries in the near future.

To this day, my heart longs to return and carries memories that will forever be etched in my existence. It is testament to the eternal beauty and untold narratives that await those who are brave enough to wander through the realm of this land.

General Strada, Bran

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