My first morning in Sibiu I flung my door to the courtyard open to see a pigeon drinking grey water from an oil drum. Ah, Romania.
My ‘traditional Transylvanian’ boudoir was just that: a creaky dark wood bed, covered with a single duvet and a colourful handmade rug. Other rugs hung on the wall, one draped over a traditional pot with a floral pattern so that the pot appeared to have wings.
The ceilings, low as they were, were vaulted like a monk’s cell. I suppose I was a little taken aback at the courtyard’s industrial feel which while maintaining some semblance of tradition seemed to be undergoing some essential maintenance. Signs of underdevelopment in Sibiu are there but they are also rare.
If you asked a British person their first thoughts when they hear the word Romania they might think of immigration, Romania joining the EU or those of a certain age – like me – would recall the dramatic scenes during the revolution and the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.
I don’t expect many would imagine the elegant Saxon architecture of many of Transylvania’s old towns: Cluj, Sibiu, Sighişoara, Braşov and so on.
The essential organs of Sibiu are 3 conjoined squares, the biggest being Piata Mare, a vast, pedestrianised space lined on one side with the different coloured merchant houses of the Saxon settlers and the other the orthodox cathedral. The Western side houses the Brukenthal museum, containing the art collection of Samuel Von Bruckenthal, Transylvania’s governor from 1774 to 1787.
Some of the highlights are 2 huge portraits by Rubens, a version of the Massacre of the Innocents by Pieter Brueghel the Elder – still shockingly powerful unlike the censored version in the Royal Collection at Windsor – but best of all the diminutive but breathtaking Man in a Blue Turban by Van Eyck.
The greatest pleasure was not only seeing such masterpieces but stumbling over them in a place away from the big artistic institutions of the world.
Wandering off the main square you can soon get lost in the network of well preserved original steets. I could have spent hours wandering from one to the next through little covered passageways and up steps while getting a sore neck from having so much to take in.
A must see is also the small park at the west end of the Centre where you can stroll through the trees heading South until you’re greeted by the fortified walls and the incredible backdrop of the snow-capped Fagaras mountains covering the entire horizon as you face South.
Sibiu is beautiful, refined and wonderfully devoid of those elements of tourism that we tend to expect now when we go to somewhere of interest.