Forests straight out of fairytales, the legend of Dracula, and home to one of the narrowest streets in Europe, we traveled into Transylvania by train to the center of one of Romania’s lively towns. Brasov is a popular destination for both Romanians and visitors. Settled and defended by German Saxons in the 1100s remnants of their influence can still be seen in the architecture and parts of the massive walls that still surround the city.
Alive with cafes, shopping, and music, this picturesque street might as well be a postcard. The Strada is closed to traffic and fully walkable leading you through a number of colorful buildings to the Piata Sfatului. With a number of courtyards and winding streets connecting to the Strada Republic, the old town makes up half the city where it’s a joy to get lost for a few hours.
Cafes with traditional Romanian dishes surround the square. On one particular evening we heard music and enjoyed a free show. This square is perfect for people watching, a quick bite to eat, or an evening stroll.
Old Town Hall
In the middle of the Piata Sfatului is the Old Town Hall. Built in the 13th century, the house served as meeting place for the town councilors, known as centurions. On top of the building sits the Trumpeter’s Tower, used during the Middle Ages as a watchtower for warning the citadel inhabitants of approaching danger. Today, the building houses the Brasov History Museum.
Walk About Free Tour
Hooked on free walking tours that seem to be the norm in Eastern Europe. We found the same company (Walkabout Free Tour) operating tours in Brasov, and joined them one evening. We met at the fountain in the Piata Sfatului and explored town for a couple of hours with a great guide who offered us fun local knowledge in exchange for an affordable donation.
The largest gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul, the Black Church or Biserica Neagra got its name from the damage caused by the Great Fire of 1689, when flames and smoke blackened its walls.
Restoration took almost 100 years. Home to one of the largest organs in Eastern Europe the stone interior is tall and vast. Antique Turkish carpets serve well as decor. The 4,000 pipe organ dates from 1839 and is worth a listen. Check for concert times at the entrance.
To the Southeastern side of the fortress walls exists a very romantic treelined walkway shaded with tall trees and adorned with benches. From here you can hike or ride the funicular 900 meters (3,000 feet) to the top of Tampa Mountain where the original defensive fortress was built. Enjoy an incredible view of town and the surrounding Transylvanian countryside.
Signs warn walkers that the forest is a known habitat for brown bear, link, boar, butterflies, and a large variety of birds. (Aaaah! Butterflies! Run for your life!) We rode the funicular up and hiked the one hour trail back down the forest. The forest is a truly magical place and worth exploring in at least one direction. There are several trails throughout the forest ranging in level of difficulty and all are clearly marked. You can also stroll a level concrete path along the base.
Brasov’s Hollywood Sign
At the top of Tampa Mountain there is a short five minute path that will take you behind Brasov’s very own Hollywood-esque white giant letters. If you can’t get enough of hollywood in Brasov you can enjoy a second sign in Rasnov.
Why the sign? In 1950 the towns name was changed from Brasov to Orasul Stalin or Stalin City. CFR railroad workers petitioned to have the city’s name changed as Brasov’s factories had exceeded production quotas during the first have of the year. As a result the workers believed their city deserved the honor of the name Stalin.
Today many speculate if that story is true or if it was made up Communist propaganda to explain the name change. Nonetheless, the name change did happen. To commemorate this event trees on Tampa mountain were knocked down and replaced with darker-leaf trees to spell out STALIN on the side of the mountain.
Once the town regained its identity again near the end of the 1950’s all of the dark leaf trees were knocked down. Evidence of this occurrence can be found by locating the stumps while hiking on that side of the mountain. Brasov wanted a new sign. A group of students at the university came up with idea for the giant white letters mirroring the sign to Hollywood’s.
Brasov was certainly a favorite in Romania. We highly recommend this city as a jumping off point to further explore the sites of Transylvania!