Well….in real time I’m sitting in Switzerland listening to the noon church bells ringing- about 2 weeks on the other side of this day. It’s the only Romanian journal that hasn’t been written already and sitting in queue. But now that Day 4 has been posted, I have no choice. I have to write Day 5. And it’s a bittersweet endeavor. Because it was such a wonderful day…but also a day filled with regret for me personally. Because I did something so out of my character, and something I’m ashamed of. Something that I have literally thought about every day since and wished I could have done it differently. I guess this journal is in some way my amends. I already know it’s not enough.
As I’ve stated, my airbnb in Sighișoara was an awesome one!! Private, large, modern, comfortable, great wifi. So it was really easy spending my morning working. This was one of only two places where I was staying for more than one night, trying to give myself a little down time. But I did want to see the city. So the night before I did what I always do- google and see if there’s a free walking tour. There wasn’t, but there was one paid tour company that came up- Your Guide in Transylvania. On such ridiculously short notice, I didn’t hold out much hope. But I emailed Emanuel and told him I was free the entire next day, and if there was any availability to just give me the time and I’d be there. I was thrilled when he quickly replied that we could do a 10am tour!
That morning was rainy, so I got decked out in my rain pants and stuffed my rainjacket in my day pack. Emanuel was picking me up, and he was right on time. It was just going to be he and I for the day. PERFECT. I hate other people on tours with me. #elitist I got in, realized his English was spot on perfect, and bombarded him with everything I wanted out of this tour- lots of history, any info on Vlad (this is the city where he was born). I think he was a bit overwhelmed, as I probably said about 10 paragraphs before I took a breath and he pulled out of the driveway! That’s what not speaking English to anyone for 5 days will do to ya! We pulled into a parking lot outside of the historic old city walls, and Emanuel began giving me the history. And his delivery was PRECISELY the type of historical information I like to get on these tours. I was captivated and swept into the story of Sighișoara from the first moment, because Emanuel was passionate about the subject!
The entire old city is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. Let’s do one of my history lessons, shall we?? 🤓 So a lot of different empires have had their fingers in the Romanian pie. Just based on the name, you might have guessed Rome, and you’d be right (more on that in a couple of days). But back in the 1100s, the Hungarian Empire was in control. The King of Hungary wanted to make the area we know as Transylvania (literally “on the other side of the forest”) a “buffer zone” of sorts, to help prevent the pesky (polite term) Mongols from invading, settling, and eventually making their way into Hungary proper. But he had people problem. No one really lived there! Certainly not enough people to create any kind of real city for defense. So what do you do when you’re a king who needs people? Ship ’em in! And that’s exactly what he did. He chatted up some of the German Saxons- who were some of the most skilled merchants and craftsmen in Europe at the time. He made them a deal…move to Transylvania. I’ll give you land, and you won’t have to pay any taxes. Such opportunities didn’t pop up every day in the late 1100s, so many of these Saxons jumped at the chance! The King made good on his promises (that’s a refreshing twist!), and the Saxons settled this remote land in about 1191. Within 100 years, they had built Sighișoara- a fortified medieval city. It became not only a strategic location, but a booming location for trade as well. With trade, comes money and growth, and Sighișoara became one of the most important cities in the region. Now, it is a UNESCO site because of how amazingly well preserved the medieval architecture is. In addition, it’s one of the few “living” medieval cities in Eastern Europe- where businesses still thrive within the old city walls, and residents go about their day to day lives, as they have been for the past 800 years. Wow.
Ok, so now that we have some background, let’s walk through the city! We walked up the ancient road toward the fortified citadel. Here you can see the gate to the city, with the clock tower looming in the background. Emanuel went into this whole description about how invading armies would try to lay siege to Sighișoara- complete with having me pretend to be an invading solider (and not even in a cheesy way, but a really fun and engaging way!). He showed me the city gate, discussed how it would have been set up to keep people out, and even showed me the holes and pieces that were left from where the original gate was! Something I never would have noticed on my own (and THAT is why I do these tours!!). He showed me the areas around the gate and walls where the citizens would be defending their city from the invaders- murder holes and all. It was FASCINATING, and really brought the entire structure- and city- to life!
Let’s focus on the clock tower for a moment. This current tower was built in 1677, after a fire destroyed the original one from the late 1200s. Below you can see a closeup of the clock and an interesting rotating structure with figures in it. This is the side that people entering the city would see. This little wooden mechanism turns, with the Roman/Greek god for each day of the week on top. There’s a drummer on the left and an executioner on the right- warning people coming into the city to not cause trouble! I’m kicking myself for somehow not getting a picture of the side that faces into the city, but there’s a similar mechanism there as well. Except on this one, the top figure rotates between day and night figures. And below that is another drummer, but also a figure holding an olive branch to represent peace. There’s also a figure of lady justice. This was to symbolize that if you had been allowed to come into the city, you were expected to behave peacefully, or you would find yourself in court! And if you were found guilty of disrupting the peace of this town, well, let’s just say you had been warned of the consequences when you entered (executioner). Again- SO FASCINATING and something I would never have known had I not had a guide!
Once inside the city walls, I could see why this place is listed on UNESCO. It is just gorgeous!! The old buildings, so carefully restored and maintained. Interesting details everywhere you looked. And what I thought was the main purpose of my trip- to see Vlad’s birthplace- kind of faded into the background as I became so engrossed in the history of this wonderful city, as told by Emanuel.
We began walking through the streets of Sighișoara, and I was completely captivated by Emanuel’s presentation of the history. He took me through a little gate into a yard where no tourists were, and told me this was his favorite place. It was the tower of the Tinmaker’s Guild. Remember, this city was founded by merchants and craftsmen- not soldiers. And each of the major crafts, such as tinmakers, butchers, tailors, ropemakers, etc… were in charge of building a defensive tower for the city wall. There are about 8 of these towers in total around the city in strategic defensive locations. If an attack was imminent, women and children would be locked in the church, and the men of each guild would go to their tower to defend the city. Most of the time they were extremely successful (which is why this city is so well preserved). The tower of the tinmakers has some very interesting architecture, that again, you would NEVER notice if someone didn’t point it out! The first floor, which ends right above the covered walkway area, is a perfect square. This was the earliest part of the tower that was built. As the city grew, so did the towers. The subsequent generation of tinmakers wanted to show that they were more successful than those who came before. When it was time for them to add on to the tower, they didn’t want to do the obvious- another square. No, they added a PENTAGON on top. This was tricky architecture for the 1300s- no easy feat! And the next generation? Well, that top story is an OCTAGON!! WOW!! You can’t go inside. It hasn’t been restored and is dangerous. But man oh man, how I wanted to!
Additional towers of other guilds
We came to a covered staircase. Emanuel explained how it had been built in the mid 1600s by the church. The church and the school are at the top of the staircase, so it was built to make it easier for worshipers and students to get to where they were going. Emanuel pointed out that each section had 6 stairs and then a platform, and asked me if I knew what that represented. I immediately guessed that it was a step for each day of the week, and then a flat platform for Sunday, the day of rest. He said that I was right, except it was the day to go to church, not rest!! 🙂 And not to toot my own horn here, but most of the things he asked (many quite obscure), I got, and he was quite surprised! #historyteacher and #logicalthinker
At the top, we saw the school (which is still in use- told you this was a living medieval city!) and the church. Behind the church is the cemetery. And not just any cemetery…a MASSIVE cemetery!! I’ve always thought that cemeteries hold not just bodies, but history. Except you have to be able to read it. Emanuel knew how to read the history of Sighișoara here, and translated it for me! So let me tell you the story of this place and what it has to say…
What you have to understand that these pictures do not show is just how HUGE this place is. What’s the first thing you do when you go into a cemetery? Start reading the headstones. And here, you would see German name after German name after German name, and occasionally a Romanian name. That’s because this is the German cemetery (remember, it was Germans who first settled here). The church keeps immaculate records about who is buried where, and there’s even a map on the entrance gate with numbers to show where the different plots are. But there is a finite amount of room… Here’s how the plot system works. Families buy a plot, and as of now, have to pay 25 euro a year to keep that plot. Of course, over the course of centuries upon centuries, family lines completely die out, and there’s no one left to maintain the payments on the plots. At that point (after 7 years of non-payment), the church deems it as expired, and now other people can be buried there. But Mary, aren’t there ALREADY people buried there? Yep. When it’s time to dig a grave for the new “owner”, any coffin remains are removed and the bones are put into a bag. That bag is then put into the bottom of the grave, and the new owner is buried over them. Sometimes, the graves are really deep with multiple new owners buried in one plot. Ok, next question. Not just the bones are left from the old gravesite- what else?? The headstones! Obviously those have to go. And the cemetery kind of lines them up like little walls along the paths. These stones are so old that the dates are mostly completely worn away. I did see one that was about 1700. Wow.
So that isn’t the only story told here! Look at this tombstone. We have 3 people buried in this plot. A father, Friedrich, a son, August, and the mother, Elise. Obviously German names. Now look at the word in italics underneath the father and son’s names. These were the professions of these men. Your profession (and you had ONE per lifetime!) was practically as important as your last name. Friedrich was a soap maker. August, a merchant. Honestly, I could have spent hours wandering around, trying to extract the history from this place. It was beautiful, peaceful, and so full of life- which seems ironic but really not.
The 2 hours (plus a little more!) FLEW by. I seriously can not say enough about Emanuel and his tour of this fascinating city. He’s passionate about the history. We discussed meeting up later and talking more after he finished another tour, but I ended up having to work that evening. I asked him for a restaurant recommendation and we bid each other farewell. I headed into the lower part of town, outside of the walls, to the restaurant he recommended. This was my first sit down restaurant meal in Romania, and I was so pleased with the prices! Basically, divide by 4 for US dollar price. I ordered the 1st thing on the menu- the pork and smoked sausages with baked potatoes for $5. Yes, $5. It was DELICIOUS!!!
After lunch, I headed back into the city walls. I had to video EVERYTHING Emanuel had taught me for my students. The city gate, the staircase, Vlad’s birthplace, the Tinmaker’s tower, the cemetery- all of it! As I was wandering, what crossed this recently engaged girl’s path?? Another wedding dress!!!! That’s 2 days in a row, universe. Seriously??
The views from the top of the wall were great. I walked back down, along the river, and to my airbnb, where I spent the evening working. And being ashamed of myself…Sigh. Here we go….
I seriously can not say enough good things about Emanuel’s tour. I recommend it HIGHLY. And what I am about to say is not a reflection on him, but a reflection on me. There was one point during the tour that Emanuel stopped and said, “I hate gay people.” and pointed them out. There was a gay couple at one of the souvenir stands behind us. I was seriously caught completely off guard. I mean COMPLETELY. It was like la-la-la-history-history-history-la-la-la-i-hate-gay-people-history-history-history. This is where I would normally go into momma bear mode, because I am EXTREMELY protective of and vocal about people’s personal choices as long as they are not impeding on my rights (not my “beliefs” but my RIGHTS). And LGBTQ people fall squarely in that category. If you’ve been reading my blog, you can see that I am no shrinking violet when it comes to expressing my opinions- even when I know those opinions are going to be offensive to other people. Being offended never killed anyone. Refreeze your snowflake self and move on with life. However, instead of doing what I would normally do (and have done), I did the worst thing possible. Nothing. NOTHING. I didn’t blink, I didn’t say a word. Why? This is a question I have literally asked myself every day since that moment. I don’t have a good answer. Well, probably because there is no good answer. Look, Romanian culture, especially in these smaller towns, is VERY conservative. I get that. I mean, they are only thirty- THREE ZERO- years out from overthrowing their communist government. And I know that in that moment there was nothing I was going to be able to say or do to change this person’s mind. However, what I should have done, what I wish I had done, was speak up and voice my opinion. Let him know that this speech is NOT ok. It’s so far from ok, it would take light years to get to ok from here. I will say this, how in the world did he know that I wasn’t gay (well, except for the fact I told him my boyfriend had asked me to marry him!). How did he know my son wasn’t gay? Someone else in my family? My friends (they are)? I mean, from a human point of view, feeling like that toward a group of people is just disgusting. From a tour guide point of view, it’s disgusting AND stupid. But enough about Emanuel and more about my role in this situation. The only reason for my complacent silence that I can figure out (and believe me, I’ve done a TON of thinking about this) is that I didn’t want to ruin the vibe of the tour, because I was enjoying the hell out of it and learning so much. THAT IS SUCH A PISS-POOR CHICKEN SHIT OF AN EXCUSE THAT I MAKE MYSELF SICK JUST TYPING IT. But it’s honest.
Emanuel may read this. He may be angry because I mentioned it. He shouldn’t be. HE decided to make this a part of my tour, and if those are his beliefs, he should own them. Maybe it will cause him to question his views and really think hard about why he “hates” people who have zero impact on his life. I really hope so. If nothing else, maybe it will cause him at least to not spew such hatred in front of clients who are paying for his services. I mean, he did a lot of talking about his belief in God, and I didn’t feel the need to pop out with, “I hate Christians (I don’t, but there’s a point here) because I’m an atheist.” There’s a time and place for things. There’s NO time or place for hate, but I assume you understand what I mean.
There really was no way to write this that someone somewhere couldn’t read their own biases into it and wind up offended. Sorry, not sorry. This is my honest account of what happened and that’s the bottom line of it. Believe me, the person offended the most here (other than the gay couple who are clueless to the situation) is myself. Offended that I was such a chicken shit and didn’t speak up for that couple who had no idea what was being said about them. Offended that I wasn’t true to myself. Like I said, this has eaten at me for about 2 weeks now. Daily. And here is what I have promised myself. I will never EVER stay silent again. I don’t care what the situation is. And if that is the lesson I learned and paid for with my silence on this day, then I can live with that. I have to.