St. Bartholomew Church in Braşov

Should you enter Braşov from the west, you won’t help but notice the high tower standing proud above the oldest building in this historical town, St. Bartholomew Church. Thick monolithic walls guard the interior, leaving enough room for the eye to have a peek at the gray details hidden inside.

The exterior resembles a small fortification. When we reach the modest entrance we begin to wonder if this is the right place. We find ourselves in front of a large wooden gate. It seems to be meant to intimidate. But we try to enter anyway. The long squeak of the rusty hinges announces our presence. But to whom? We don’t see anyone inside. We approach the edifice, astonished by its massiveness. The door is closed. We move around a little more and by the time we get back, the keeper is already waiting for us, holding the big iron key that would open the church for us to visit.

Cold and stiff air is what we first encounter. Moving through the simple benches we take a look everywhere, carefully observing all the little details that make it unique: the altar showing Christ’s crucifixion, the organ, the vaulted crossings, the arches decorated with human faces and the floral profiles.

The construction of the St. Bartholomew Church began in 1223, under the influence of the Teutonic Knights Order. It suffered many attacks during the following centuries, all of which brought modifications to the original building. There are various influences in its architecture, from the Cistercian Monks, who designed it as a basilica, to the introduction of the cross shape much later. The bell tower we see today was rebuilt time and time again. The clock on the top was installed in 1806 and is still working. The keeper has to turn it once every seven days.

On the southern side of the church we stop and gaze at the solar clock painted on the wall. Following the simplest and oldest of principles, we found that is was showing the correct time. There’s also an inscription, “1652”, but the legend has it that it is just as old as the building itself.

The famous Long Street (“Strada Lungă”) links the old Braşov Citadel to the outskirts. It still holds a medieval appearance. At its end it’s hard not to notice the small and steep Şprenghi Hill (“Dealul Şprenghi”). A long time ago, at the beginning of the 13th century, this area was the center of Braşov, linking all the major access roads coming from across the country. This is when the construction of the Bartholomew Church began, right at the foot of the hill. That is also when a small fortification took shape right on top of it, serving as shelter for the locals. But later, all these were in the enemies’ way when getting to the Braşov Citadel. The fortress became a target and was destroyed in the 15th century.

It seems that there are many secret underground passages connecting all of these medieval sites, Bartholomew Church, the old Şprenghi fortress, Braşov Citadel. An entire ensemble. Some of these tunnels may still be accessible today. Maybe sometime they will be explored and revealed for the public and we’ll be able to experience just a little bit of the thrill…

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