The “Astra” Traditional Village Museum in Sibiu

What better way of spending a hot July day than walking down a cool forest, visiting old buildings and having picnic by a lake.  The Astra Traditional Village Museum is the biggest open air museum in Romania and it is also considered the most impressive. The immense exposition lies in an opening in the forests surrounding the town of Sibiu, just under the Cindrel Mountains. If it wasn’t for the signposts you could literally get lost in here.

We passed through the main entrance (there are two  more), paid the fee and walked down the stairs to the lake. On the other side we recognized the famous wind mills. There are so many ways to start the circuit and we decided to go round the lake first. Each of the mills was opened for visitors so we explore every bit of them, climbed all the stairs and looked through all the windows to see the museum from a different perspective. All the mills are surrounded by marshes as they originate from the wet lands in Romania around the Danube.

Further down the alleys we got the chance to visit many water mills set over small streams.  The mechanisms are quite complex, all pure physics using water, wood and iron. There are also big households with two story houses, gardens, stables, workshops and tool sheds.

The fruit growers households were larger. It seems this was a profitable occupation. Some were viticulturists, some made plum brandy but either way, they all had big cellars filled with huge wooden barrels.

Next, we went up some paths through the forest to enter traditional homesteads, brought from the hills around Brasov and Sibiu, where shepherding and cattle growing is a tradition past on from our ancestors and which is still blooming today. There were sheepfolds in the glades and all kinds of shelters used by shepherds. The forest was used as a hunting ground and we walked by various hunting traps.

Women used to weave and most bedrooms had looms (weaving mechanisms) and they would work on rugs, quilts, kerchiefs and other home decorations and they would one day gather all these in the dowry chest and give it to their daughters when they get married. The wax workshops were quite interesting. On one side of the house there was the bedroom and on the other the room where they prepared the wax and hung the candles to dry. So they worked at home.

We had a nice picnic and a cold juice in the amphitheater while gazing at the wind mills over the lake. Afterwards, we continued our journey on the other alleys. We discovered a series of water mills from all over the country. Some were bigger, some were smaller, some were used for processing grains, some for fabrics. And the best surprise was yet to come. Houses that once belonged to blacksmiths, miners and potters were all close together along the narrow roads.

Everything was organized as if we were in a real life village. Fountains, roadside crosses, a church, modest buildings mixed with mansions. Most of the craftsman’s households had at least one large room used as a workshop and another one to store their tools. Most bedrooms also had a cooking stove, only few had a separate kitchen. The chambers were small, as to heat up quicker. They had a garden and stables and tool sheds. Potters had drying furnaces in their yard.

We spent most of the day walking through these houses and mills, sometimes taking refuge in the shade of a large tree. We learned how traditions were born and carried on and how people used nature in their own benefit when constructing very simple yet powerful machines. We enjoyed every minute of our discovery and still can’t help but thinking that maybe one day is not enough…

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