Every year, once the summer holidays kick in, we return to Transylvania to visit my parents. This time, to jazz things up a bit, we decided to take a road trip to Sighisoara, a medieval town in the same region known for its vampire stories (all fake, of course) and castles. So it happened, their annual 3-day medieval festival was running for the 22nd time, so it couldn’t get any better.
The thought of driving anywhere long distance freaks me out completely, but even more so when there are hardly any motorway links, the temperatures are peaking and there is no reliable satnav to guide you anywhere. The only solution, as a result, was to jump on the train. The 11 hours on something I can only call the ‘toy train of horrors’ is probably the nearest you can get to an ordeal. I am not going to elaborate on the smell, the fellow commuters or even the toilets. Safe to say, it was a high price to pay (both literally and metaphorically) but got us to our destination in the end.
My initial evil plan (I suppose sketching is like football – sometimes it just gets in the way) was to devise a sketching route around the citadel, the location of the medieval festival. I’m lucky to have a real sketch-cheerleader by my side, luckily so there was no pressure.
The fascinating aspect of this place is its uniqueness: established in 1191, Sighisoara’s citadel is the only inhabited fortified town in Europe and one of the very few in the world, with most buildings dating back to the medieval times. The value is in the way they’ve been preserved and the quality of the renovation work that’s kept it so true to itself.
After a generous overnight recovery, the first stop was the highest point of Sighisoara, the Church on the Hill. This impressive gothic church is a 14thcentury build with a neighbouring cemetery and a school. The walk up to the hill could bring sweat even to the most seasoned treadmill amateur. Also, it is only the cherry on top of what the walks around the fortress feel like: up-down-up-down and then up again. I suppose sketching was a chance to rest for a bit, get some pasties down our necks and enjoy the silence of the graveyard overlooking the surrounding hills of the sub-Carpathians, the town and the river Tarnava.
Most of the graves read German names due to Sighisoara's strong Saxon background. Nowadays, the German population is down to only 1.5%.
Apart from that, the school has some interesting finds in its public mini-gallery: a map of Transylvania from the medieval times, some eerie biology lab paraphernalia and my personal favourite, this book:
The book was all in German so the cover could be completely unrelated to the contents. What a sketch, though!
On to the next challenge – thank god, this time going down – and we moved on to the main square. This is where the clock tower, an impressive toy town-looking construction stands. It’s said that the roof was built completely bonkers due to its disproportionate size in relation to that of the tower itself but I suspect that’s just an excuse for my poor construction lines on this sketch:
I was sat on a pizza-stained(I hope!) cardboard sheet while sketching this one and the sun was straight in my eye. Also, my little sketching corner soon turned into a smoking corner.
The real thing – the figurines nesting in the window next to the clock face are Justice and Impartiality, Day and Night, the Goddess of Peace and the Drummer. Detail credit: www.dreamstime.com
From the tower, much can be seen: the churches of the citadel, the tiny courtyards and most importantly, the walls of the fortress lined by the different houses of various guilds. The medieval times were dominated by guilds and Sighisoara was no different. Here’s a map of what there still is – lifted from the travel guide, of course:
I did a quick bird’s eye of one of the views from the tower – it does not do justice to the place but great fun nevertheless:
Next to the clock tower, we’ve got Vlad the Impailor’s father’s birthplace – a very cool restaurant with a knight’s suit of armour at the top of the steps – and some quirky little cafés, all quite fascinating. Also, to clarify: Vlad the Impailor aka Dracula loved, loved, loved capital punishment. Fancy stealing a bar of chocolate? In the noose you go. Or, for the more mischievous ones, a lethal stab with a sharp wooden stick. History also tells how the victims were left on display for the mortals to learn their lessons from. The bats, the teeth and all the other daft stories are all of popcorn and soda land-origin I’m afraid.
Swiftly moving on. The fortress is a mixture of residential buildings and guest houses. We stayed at a place called Casa Baroca/Baroque House, a renovated mansion from the xxxth century. The only problem with being in the loft room is the layout of the beams and the impossibility of bending down and lifting your head back again without fearing for the worst. *bangs head*
During one of the flute recitals outside the place, I did a quick sketch of the façade. The roof tiles, seen on nearly all the building around here, are to die for.
[oh,let’s not forget the performers. The bloke in the hat pranced about so vivaciously, I got worried I may get involved in the medieval dancing whether I liked it or not]
In the 3 days spent there, there was so much visual information to absorb, a blog post could simply not describe it without going on too much and making one’s glass eye fall asleep. We took tons of pictures, walked till our legs fell off and just enjoyed the atmosphere. In hindsight, I reckon we would’ve saved ourselves some valuable nerves by flying to a nearby airport and renting a car, but if I decide to stop moaning and take the philosophical approach, I soon discover that 11 hours on a train can be good time for reflection, observation and also, make one grateful for the existence of Northern Rail.
I love you, Northern Rail and I shallt never complain about your belatedness ever. Yours faithfully.