After our day and night in Sibiu we made our way back in the direction of Ploiesti via Rasnov and then Bran. Rasnov is a small town in Brasov county and is best known for its hill-top fortress which was built some time between 1211 and 1225, and is now a recognised historic monument and national landmark. The citadel’s history is as rich as it is long, with conquerings, retreats, fires, and earthquake before abandonment in 1850 when the fortress was left to ruin.
We arrived at a car park adjacent to Rasnov’s modest football stadium. From here there are two options to reach the fortress; walk up the hill, or get dragged up in a train carriage pulled by a tractor. We let the tractor do our hard work. Upon entering through the defensive walls’ Bathorhy Tower it’s immediately apparent that the communists’ post war renovations hadn’t achieved much at all. The Lower Fortress Chapel is little more than a stone outline on the ground surrounded by more piles of rubble. Some recent reconstruction work has taken place on the exterior walls and looking up towards the next set of walls and towers for us to pass through there were more signs of some structural integrity.
We moved through the Great Barbican, also in a rough condition, into the heart of the citadel. The run down and un maintained nature of the place is surprisingly comforting. We’ve become so used the National Trust and English Heritage style of attraction with their carefully choreographed visitor experiences, countless rules, and just as many people watching and waiting to tell you off if you get close to breaking one. While there’s a lot to be said for dedicated restoration and preservation of historic monuments, there are few places like this in the UK where visitors can experience and enjoy with such freedom.
We climbed to stairs to a flattened area on a mound. This is the highest accessible point of the citadel and offers panoramic views from the mountains above with their skiers to the plateau and town below, and back around to the mountains again. We dropped down from the perch into some ruins of houses which are now inhabited by grass, cats and some plastic litter.
We continued our walk down and along an uneven stone path towards the social and economic centre of the citadel. A square on a slope surrounded by buildings which all entice you in.
From the Little Barbican with it’s wooden stairs leading up to a watch balcony, to shops selling traditional fabrics with their shopkeepers demonstrating the historic techniques and machinery used in their making. While these shops are putting on a bit of a show for visitors, there is something incredibly genuine about how the spaces were being used
A small group of men gathered by a bench and talked about whatever it is that men in this part of the world talked about. A cat joined them, clearly familiar with the scene. Unlike so many other tourist sites we’ve visited, we got a feeling that despite the ruins and electric heaters, in some ways this place still operates how it has throughout history. We took in the atmosphere for a few moments longer before making a move towards our next destination; Bran.
Bran is a town most famous for its castle, or Dracula’s castle. The fairytale structure grows from the jagged rocks of a hilltop. There are many storeys – both fact and fiction – that are rooted in this fantastical piece of architecture. The castle is a similar age to Rasnov’s citadel. Many believe the caste to be the home of Dracula, Bram Stoker’s fictional character, but this is somewhat questionable.
As fascinating as the Castles factual history is, we were more captivated by the architectural and experiential elements of the building. The network of rooms, staircases, corridors and balconies which wind their way around the awkwardly carved out courtyard create a poetic experience with the most basic of architectural components; simplicity, complexity, practicality and impracticality.
These components combine with one another to make one beautiful moment after another. Window seats and nooks bring light into and break away from the larger open spaces. It’s hard not to question why architecture has felt the need to move so far away from buildings like this when there is so much to be learned from their existential and experiential qualities.
As we got the end of our walk around the castle the rain started to pour down with impressive determination. As trees on the hill became blurred and the castle felt even more cozy and homely. We simply rested our arms on a timber balustrade and looked into the courtyard, watching as the shattering raindrops made a mist on every surface they crashed into. We discussed how so much of what we’d just experienced could influence our designs before reluctantly leaving through the courtyard as the rain halted.
The castle was a beautiful and inspiring way to end a busy couple of days in Transylvania. We hopped back in the car and drove the windy road back to Ploiesti.