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Romanians an their monastic fife

Romanians have a long tradition for monastic life. Some of the most beautiful Romanian monasteries were built in the fifteen century, by one of the most revered Romanian kings, Stephan the Great of Moldavia. He was a man of profound faith and as a general rule, built a church or a monastery after every major war campaign against the Turks. Romanian kings supported monasteries not only in Romania but also at Mount Athos, in Greece. The monastic life declined after the middle of the nineteen century, when a number of Romanian leaders, educated in the West, attempted to "modernize" the country. Many were closed and the monks or nuns were forced to leave. Some of them desperately tried to continue their life in humble jobs, sometimes around existing Orthodox churches. This process was intensified with the advent of the Communist regime after 1945. Many monks, among them Roman Braga, who is now the starets of a Romanian monastery in Michigan, were thrown in prison. After the fall of Communism, monastic life started to thrive again. Old monasteries are reopened and new ones are started all over the country at an amazing rate. Dracula or Vlad the Impaler was the son of Vlad Dracul (1436-1442; 1443-1447) and grandson of Mircea the Old (1386-1418). Vlad Dracul was dubbed a knight of the Dragon Order by the Hungarian king. All the members of the order had a dragon on their coat of arms, and that is what brought him the nickname of Dracul (the Devil). Vlad the Impaler used to sign himself Draculea or Draculya - the Devil's son -, a name which was distorted into Dracula. Dracula's renown reached the West through the Saxons from the Transylvanian towns of Brasov (Kronstadt) and Sibiu (Hermannstadt), who often gave shelter to those who claimed the Wallachian throne. In order to escape the peril of losing his throne, Vlad would punish the Saxons. Sibiu and the neighbouring area were pillaged and burnt down by Vlad, and many Saxons were impaled. The same happened to the Saxon merchants who came on business to Târgoviste.
In fact, Vlad was called Tepes (the Impaler) only after his death (1476). He ruled in Wallachia between 1456-1462 and in 1476. In 1462, having been defeated by the Turks, Vlad took refuge in Hungary. In 1476, with the help of the Hungarian king Matia Corvin and the Moldavian prince Stephen the Great, Vlad took over the Wallachian throne again for a month. A battle followed, during which Vlad was killed.

His body was buried in the church of the Snagov Monastery, on an island near Bucharest. His body lies in front of the altar. In 1935, a richly dressed but beheaded corpse was exhumed at Snagov, a fate known to have overtaken Dracula, whose head was supposedly wrapped, perfumed and dispatched as a gift to the Turkish sultan.
They say that impalling was one of Dracula's favourite punishments, but he was not the only one who made use of it at the time. Other German and Spanish princes would do the same. He used the method for boyars, thieves and criminals, Turks, Saxons and those who conspired against him; more than once it happened that a whole forest of sharp stakes with enemies' heads would rise around Târgoviste, the capital of Wallachia at the time.
Horrified by these atrocities, the Saxons printed books and pamphlets in which they told about Vlad's cruelty. These booklets also reached Germany and Western Europe, where Dracula became known as a bloody tyrant.
In 1897, the Irish writer Bram Stoker published Dracula, which made Vlad the Impaler famous world-wide. Stoker read the stories about Dracula printed in the 15th and 16th centuries and was struck by his acts of cruelty. He decided to make him his character; he also read several books about Transylvania (a name of Latin origin, meaning "the country beyond the forests"), and thought that this "exotic" land would make a proper setting for Dracula's deeds.In fact, Stoker used Vlad only as a source of inspiration, since in his novel, Dracula is not prince Vlad the Impaler, but a Transylvanian count living in a mysterious castle where he lured his victims. His story takes place in the Bistritza area, and the castle lies near the Bârgau Pass (in the Carpathian Mountains). As Stoker had never visited Transylvania, most places and happenings were pure fiction.
Legend and true history about Dracula intermingle and are being kept alive by tourist destinations like the Monastery of Snagov near Bucharest, or Bran Castle near Brasov. The castles and cathedrals which make up the typical image, even if simplified, of the Western Middle Ages in point of arhitecture, are matched, in the Romanian world, mainly by times mansions. Most of the lay edificies have disappeared, worn out by times or destroyed by wars, earthquakes, fires. In medieval arhitecture, influences of western trends can be traced, at grater or lasser extent, in the three lands inhabitted by Romanians.

They are stong in Transylvania, weaker in Moldavia, in forms absordeb by local Byzantine tradition, and even less discernible in Wallachia where since the 14th century arhitecture was based on the local interpretation of the Byzantine model. Significant for the Transylvanian Gothic style, among the monuments preserved to this day, in spite of all alterations, would be the Black Church in Brasov (14th-15th c.) in religious architecture, the Bran Castle in Brasov County (14th c.) and the Hunyades Castle in Hunedoara (15th c.) in lay architecture. Specific for Transylvania during those centuries, would be also the expansion and fortification of towns, their urban growth based on the principles of functionality (a central market place with a church, narrow streets with sides linked here and there by archways), the cities of Sighisoara, Sibiu and Brasov being eloquent proofs thereof. Most original and endowed with stylistic unity are the churches erected in Moldavia under the rule of Stephen the Great (1457-1504), among which the monumental church of the Neamt Monastery turned, for almost a century, into a paragon of Moldavian religious abodes, characterized by slender silhouettes, harmonious facades, the picturesque roofs of folk inspiration. This synthesis was carried on durind the next century, during the rule of Stephen the Great's son, Petru Rares (1527-1538; 1541-1546), the main innovation being the porch and the outwall painting (the churches of Voronet, Sucevita, Moldovita monasteries). The 17th century, the zenith the pre-modern Romanian civilization, brought about the development of lay constructions (elegant boyard mansions or sumptuous princely palaces in the principalities oustside the Carpathin arc, Renaissance-style lordly castles in Transylvania), as well as the expansion of great monasteries, which, endowed with schools, art workshops, printing presses, became genuine cultural centres. To this period belongs the church of the Trei Ierarhi Monastery in Iasi, raised in 1635-1639, a monument unique on account of its lavish decoration with carved geometric motifs, coloured in lapis lazuli and golden foil, all over the facades. The architectural style developed in Wallachia, especially under the reigns of Matei Basarab and Constantin Brâncoveanu, is of a remarkable stylistic unity. The Brancovan style is characterized by integration of Baroque and Oriental features into the local tradition-splendid examples are the Hurezi Monastery in Oltenia (Wallachia Minor) or the princely palace of Mogosoaia -, by a luxuriant decorativeness (stone carvings, stucco work and paintings).

The 18th century (the Phanariot rule) brings about in Wallachia and Moldavia elements of Oriental influence in urban civil architecture, the number of religious constructions falling down, while in Transylvania, the Baroque dominated both religious (the Roman-Catholic churches in Timisoara and Oradea) and lay architecture (Banffy and Brukenthal palaces in Cluj and Sibiu, respectively). The first half of the 19th century, along with the stepped-up growth of urban life (with a population twice as big now) and Western-type modernization policy, would offer the architecture of the Romanian lands a combination of Romantic and Neo-Classical elements. In the second half of the century there appeared a national reaction that used to a great extent elements and forms of the old folk architecture. Ion Mincu (1852-1912) was the promotor of this trend and the founder of the Romanian school of architecture. Hisworks, the Lahovary House or the Central Girls' School in Bucharest, are among the achievements of this movement. Opposition to this trend brought about houses and administrative buidings erected in the spirit of French ecclecticism (the Justice Palace, the Central Post Office) or of the Rococo (the present House of the Men of Science, or the Cantacuzino Palace in Bucharest). That was a reason to nickname Bucharest "Little Paris". Other great architects, like Peter Antonescu (1873-1960), Horia Creanga (1893-1963) and Duiliu Marcu (1885-1966) stood out by their rejection of adornments and option for simple and functional forms. In the first decades of the 20th century, Romanian towns and cities still had a contrasting aspect, exhibiting a sharp difference between the downtown sumptuous buildings and the almost rural outskirts, while the villages remained, architecturally speaking, mainly mediaeval. Neverthelees, the first signs of town planning appeared in some urban districts (the first two - or three-storied blocks of flats or one-family house on two levels). Industrialization and fast urban growth, forced in the last two decades of the communist epoch, introduced in architecture longseries typified projects and pre-fab technology in the construction of blocks of flats, which would result into huge living quarters, levelling up the Romanian townscape. Unfortunately, nationalism, characterizing the last Ceausescu stage of Romanian communism, did not reflect in Romanian architecture; simultaneously with the demolishment of the traditional urban centres and the turning of the rural settlements into conglomerates of block of flats, Ceausescu imposed the erection of monument public buildings of a dull neo-classical solemnity. Proof of this intrusion of politics in the life of the city stands the huge palace built on Ceausescu's order in Bucharest, now the Parliament House.

As in so many other domains, the post-revolutionary Romanian world will be bound to find again in architecture its former naturalness and functionality.

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