Down at the foothills of Tâmpa you could once hear a lot of hammering and noise, people always on the run and merchandisers trying to negotiate their price. Water flowed down the dirty narrow alleys towards the canal that enclosed the strong fortified walls. Each of the four major streets had its own gate, guarded by a guild. 8 strongholds, 4 gates and another 28 smaller towers of rectangular shape protected the insides. The walls were double, sometimes triple, with ditches and trenches in between. Behind them we would have found several so called “folds” belonging to the guilds. The most powerful ones had strongholds, gates or towers under their watch. They used them to store their merchandise in time of peace and for protection in time of war. Everything revolved around “Piața Sfatului” (The Town Square), a place where merchants from the Romanian Countries and Hungary would meet and trade their goods. This is how the city became an important crafts center with over 40 guilds. This is what a visitor would have found some centuries ago, when entering the gates of the Brașov Citadel.
The old parallel streets of the once fortified Brașov Citadel have survived over the years, only with different names. Republicii Street is probably the most famous. It is a pedestrian area with nicely renovated old buildings, all of which have been transformed into shops, restaurants, pubs and cafés. In summertime they all bring their tables out in the middle of the street. The place is always animated with people, both visitors and locals. Republicii Street begins from the boulevard in front of the Central Park in Brașov and leads us to Piața Sfatului.
Piața Sfatului (The Town Square)
The once crowded market place is now a wide square where people can hang out on a bench by the fountain, feed the doves and enjoy an ice-cream or a hot tea, according to the season. In the middle of the square, Casa Sfatului (The Town Counsel) stands as a representative building for the town of Brașov. Dating back from 1420, it served as the Town Hall until the 19th century. Another symbolic building in Piața Sfatului, Casa Negustorilor (The Merchants’ House), is an old house from the 16th century where guilds used to sell their goods. Nowadays this is a shopping mart with numerous antiques galleries. Here, the new blends in with the old and the past with the present.
The Black Church
It rises like a gray shadow above the red tiles of the old houses. The famous Black Church is the emblem of the city. It took almost a century to raise this edifice, entirely out of stone, beginning around the year 1380. Its initial name was St. Mary. After the great fire in the 16th century, when most of the buildings in the citadel have been gravely affected, it began to be known among the people as the Black Church. Even a simple stroll around the most representative monument of gothic architecture in Romania will enchant you with its grandeur, details and numerous statues of hobgoblins that are staring at you from up above.
Nicolae Bălcescu Street is another one of those old streets which crosses the citadel from one side to the other. Close to the Black Church, on the left side as you go up, there’s a barely noticeable street sign pointing, as it seems, to nothing, because the houses are just too close to one another. Well, not quite… The String Street is only 1,32 m wide and is probably the narrowest street in eastern Europe. It rather resembles a corridor that connects two parallel streets. The walls of the houses are closing in above this slightly winding street and down here the sun hardly ever gets in.
The Brașov Citadel managed to defend itself from many attacks, but the great fire in 1689 did more damage than all of these together. It destroyed buildings and decimated the population. Many documents were lost and the exact number of the people who died in this disaster is not known. Some of the papers stored in Casa Sfatului (The Town Counsel) were saved and records were found about a wave of disruptive earthquakes that lasted between 1600 and 1700. It was a century in which enemies, nature and other forces tried to bring the citadel to its knees.
There are many narrow streets throughout the old Brașov Citadel, each of them bearing its story and playing its part in the city’s history. Most are remote, almost hidden, quiet and always in a dim light. The only way to find them is by setting off on some random strolls through the citadel and, at times, by actually avoiding the famous attractions. You will be surprised to discover the simplest of relics.
We continued our walk and passed through the Șchei Gate in order to visit what was hidden Behind the Walls of the Brașov Citadel.