Brasov and Schei – a walk through history

While our friends Ben and Linda took a trip to visit Sighisoara, Dracula’s birth place and an exquisite medieval town, and Peles Castle, another stunning objective, my husband and I took another relaxing walk through downtown Brasov and the old neighborhood of Schei, taking in all the beautiful views and appetizing smells coming from the bakeries along the way.

Walking down Republicii Street towards Piata Sfatului, I saw a young man with a sign around his neck, advertising free hugs. So, I got one! It was a very good hug, indeed.

Visiting downtown Brasov never gets old for me. I love strolling between old buildings, some repainted in bright colors, some brightened up by crimson geraniums. I love breathing in the fresh air, and going at a slower pace of life, basking in the soft light of the fall sun. And then, there are always pastries to enjoy – fresh out of the oven, either savory or sweet (but never too sweet).

When we reached Piata Sfatului, we settled at my favorite restaurant for traditional food in town, La Ceaun (this stop has now become a yearly tradition). It was great catching up with Daniel, one of the team members I remembered from our previous visits. He recommended the cabbage soup and we also ordered zacusca (Romanian vegetable spread) with real bread (not the flavorless American version). Daniel gave us a brief history of the Romanian wine he served us, Caloian from Oprisor Winery. The name of the wine comes from an old Romanian rain ritual preceding the Christian era and now practiced around the Orthodox Easter with the aim of bringing about plentiful crops. For dessert, we went to Heaven by polishing off every single morsel of papanasi, a traditional dough pastry with soft cheese and hints of lemon rind, topped off with sour cream and fruit jam. AMAZING!

Resisting the American instinct of eating in a hurry, we relaxed for a while, taking in the views and doing some people-watching, while sipping on our wine.

Next, we crossed the main square and saw a couple of young people dressed in period attire. I had seen them around but I didn’t know their purpose until I heard something on the radio. In celebration of Romania’s 100th birthday, the local council funded a cultural initiative placing historic figures in Piata Sfatului to interact with visitors, telling them about their role in history in first person. Curious to find out more about their story, we went to talk to them.

We heard from 15th century Johannes Honterus and 19th century Elena Muresianu. The first figure was an important renaissance man, best known for his geographic and cartographic publishing activity, as well as for implementing the Lutheran reform in Transylvania and founding the Evangelical Church in Romania. The high school bearing his name is located behind the Black Church, steps away from Piata Sfatului. Elena Muresianu was considered the first female artist in Transylvania, having attended art school in Vienna. She worked together with her husband, Aurel Muresianu (a politician, lawyer, and journalist) on managing an important publication, Gazeta de Transilvania.

Past the main square, to the left, stands the Black Church. Although we didn’t get to hear the organ performance (available on Tuesday evenings), my husband and I visited the impressive 14th century Gothic church and admired the still vivid seven-centuries-old murals. We read about the history of the church and its impressive Carl August Buchholz organ (one of the best organ builders of his time, known for high quality of sound instruments).

My husband and I continued our walk past Schei Gate to the Schei neighborhood, a village founded in 1234 and stretching at the base of Tampa mountain. Şcheii Braşovului is an old ethnically Romanian and Bulgarian neighborhood. The Bulgarians arrived in the area in the 14th century and weren’t allowed to own property past Schei Gate until the 17th century. It is said that they worked on the construction of the Black Church. Eventually, the Bulgarian population became assimilated and the former restrictions eased.

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Schei Gate

From Schei Gate, we headed up the street past Saguna high school (one of the city’s top institutions founded in 1850) and stopped to get a delicious gelato at Gelato Mania. We walked by the First Romanian School founded in 1583, functioning first as a school, then as an Orthodox parish meeting place, and eventually as a museum. It was here that the first books using the Latin alphabet and Romanian language were printed. The school housed the first Romanian printing press and about six thousand books used throughout the years. We admired the 1292 Orthodox church St. Nicholas and the lovely architectural details of the old homes lining the narrow streets.

We made our way back to Piata Sfatului as the sun was setting and the street lights came on, and then joined my parents back at the apartment for a glass of wine.