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HATEG CASTLES

Hateg LandHateg Land, situated at the heart of Transylvania, stands out through the beauty of the places and through the richness of the historical vestiges. Warded by three rocky massifs and bathed by a few sweeping mountain rivers, Hateg is the place where the decisive battle of the first Dacian-Roman war took place. After the conquest in 102, the Romans established Dacia’s capital here - Ulpia Traiana Sarmisegetuza. The ascension and decline periods of the Roman Empire, the Christian opposition to the Turkish invasion and the feudal organization of principalities, all left behind extremely valuable archeological evidence, set in stone. Also, in this area, one of the oldest pieces of evidence concerning human presence on the Romanian territory was attested. In the Ohaba-Ponor village, a few bone fragments and tools were found, dating back to the Middle Paleolithic.

A fascinating fact is that the Land of Hateg once belonged to dinosaurs. Seventy million years ago, the area was a tropical island in the Thetys Ocean. Forced to survive with fewer resources than the dinosaurs on the continent, the specimens here bred on a smaller scale, becoming known as dwarf dinosaurs. The research done at the end of the 19th century revealed fossil deposits of carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs in the Hateg Basin, as well as fossils of other reptiles and vertebrates (fish, amphibians, mammals). These and some rare species of plants and animals can be observed in the Dinosaurs' Geo-park, which will also take you for an incursion in the geological history of the area.

Hunyadi CastleThroughout time, the people of Hateg have managed to maintain the pure and rustic sceneries of this region. The peaceful quietness, the surroundings, the spirituality and the picturesque irresistibly draw you to this area, which was once a territory covered by waters, then found by dinosaurs and conquered by wild animals somewhere, on the crests of the Retezat Mountains. The inhabitants of these places are left with a history written in stone, preserved by the numerous fortresses, medieval castles, defense towers and churches. Wherever you turn in Hateg, you find a building to catch your eye, a breathtaking scenery, a story that will stay with you for a long time.

 

Kendeffy Castle

A historically interesting architectural monument is Kendeffy Castle, standing tall on the road that connects Rau de Mori and Santamaria Orlea villages. Reminiscent of medieval fortresses and of the aristocracy’s aspirations regarding nobiliary residences, the building remains an interesting example of the 18th century baroque style. The castle belonged to the Kendeffy family, the richest in Transylvania at that time, whose political and economic ascension was possible thanks to the arranged marriages with members of noble families. Thus, they held three imposing domains in southern Hunedoara: the ancient mansion in Rau de Mori and the castles in Carnesti and Santamaria Orlea.

Kendeffy CastleAfter receiving the title of count, Elek Kendeffy erected the castle on the foundation of a former mansion, describing it as a calm, comfortable and quiet residence, unimpressive as far as decorations were concerned. The asymmetrical composition, the monumental tower or the English park surrounding the building stands out. The romantic style of the park decorated in the fashion of the 19th century is a perfect fit for the background of the majestic Retezat. The Gothic terrace and the oversized pots decorating it, together with the small rose bower and the statuary group depicting women and surrounding the lake represented a modern décor, valorizing the grandness of the castle. In time however, the building was evacuated, as it was nationalized in 1946 and turned into a hunting castle for the foreign guests of The Communist Party. Reconstructed and reconditioned in the '80s, it was turned into a hotel. You will find a bit of the medieval atmosphere if you cross its threshold.

The Nopcsa Sacel Castle

In Santamaria Orlea, Sacel village, you will find the last residence of the Nopcsa family, known as one of the strangest in Transylvania. Although the castle was raised nearly 200 years ago, the Nopcsa clan was first attested by documents in 1367, when it bore the name of Nopchia ('night'). Built in a sober architectural style, the building is still reminiscent of the old times when barons and countesses used to arrive in elegant carriages to pompous balls.

Nopcsa CastleThe men in the Nopcsa family, Magyarized after 1701, were men of the world, high-spirited and adventurous. Among them, there were governmental counselors and chancellors of the Transylvanian Court, members of the Royal Minister and of the Royal House, knights of imperial orders.  The one who stood out through his biography however was Laszlo Nopcsa, suspected of being the famous bandit call Black Face, an outlaw who used to attack rich noblemen in order to help the poor. This legend became famous due to the Magyar proser Jokai Mor, who, while in Hunedoara, learned of the baron’s story and later used it in a novel. After several years, Laszlo’s nephew, Franz Nopcsa, discovered traces of the last dinosaurs in the Land of Hateg, providing a new direction in the study of fossils.

The castle in Sacel functioned as a boarding school for a while and later was abandoned. At the time being, the castle is in a state of severe ruin, although it carries on the stormy history of the Nopcsa clan. Investments could help it come to its old charm again and bring its glamour back to light. Who wouldn’t want to feel like a nobleman in such a castle ?

The Colt Fortress

Colt FortressOn the inferior course of the Rausor, dominating the surroundings from its rock peak full of history, you can find the Colt Fortress. Built at the beginning of the 14th century by prince Candea, Colt was the strongest nobiliary fortress in Transylvania. Its size is rather small, as the building was used as a place of refuge which, in case if need, could only shelter a limited number of people. It is said that after visiting these places, Jules Verne found the inspiration to write his well-known novel 'The Carpathian Castle'. The geographical data and the names used in the novel point to the fact that the castle is in fact none other than Colt fortress, a place where the novelist lived a beautiful love story with a young lady.

In order to get to the fortress you need climbing skills and proper footwear. The walls you have to climb are a meter and a half tall, the paths to the peak are narrow and the tall grass will hinder your journey even more. If you walk with care however, you will have an amazing view over the surrounding valleys and over Retezat peak. If you meet locals on your way, they will tell you about the brave guards of the fortress, or the story of the beautiful Ileana Candea, the one who spun in golden threads.

Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa

Ulpia Traiana SarmizegetusaUlpia Traiana Augusta Dacica Sarmizegetusa Colony, the first city of Dacia, the Roman province, is 8 km away from the Tapae pass (Transylvania’s Iron Gates) and the place where the decisive battle in the first Dacian-Roman war took place. After the conquest campaign in 105-106, Dacia became a Roman province and its new capital, established by governor Decimus Terentius Scaurianus, was transformed into a symbol of Roman power, being surrounded by tall, carved rock walls and defended by the Tibiscum, Voislova, Micia or Bumbesti castrum. Becoming the economic, administrative, cultural and political centre of the Romanized province, Ulpia Traiana reached its peak in the 2nd and 3rd century, dominating all the other cities through its numerous places of worship, public edifices and works of art. The crises of the last years of the Roman rule have made a large part of the population retreat. Finally, the history of this city ended, most probably as a consequence of barbarian invasions.  

Thanks to the archeologists’ efforts, today one can visit the amphitheatre, the sacred area, a part of the governors' public buildings and the forum.  The amphitheatre, destined for performances and religious manifestations, was blocked with funeral monuments after the Aurelian retreat in 271 and became an easy to defend fortress. Next to it, you will see the ruins of the temple dedicated to goddess Nemesis, those of a glassware shop or of the sanctuary dedicated to the gods of medicine.  In the farthest corner, there is the forum, the center of the city, a place where the political and judiciary activities took place. The households, cemeteries and other constructions are outside the fortress. Ulpia Traiana was also guarded by the Germisara military castrum, which defended the roads tying Micia and the capital to Apulum. Here, the Romans set up a network of sewers to direct the thermal water into the basins dug in the ground. Hence, the lake became a place of worship, where beautiful motifs dedicated to healing deities were found.

GermisaraA page of the history of the Roman people was written at Ulpia Traiana Sarmisegetuza. Among the ruins and the priceless vestiges at the Archeology Museum, you will discover priceless testimonies of our ancestors.  A trip to Hateg Land can therefore become a valuable historic incursion.

Near the fortification, on the Rachitova volcanic hill, you can visit the ruins of another medieval fortress. A rock tower house was erected here, enclosed by a ditch and a palisade vallum. The Musinesti nobiliary family here, financially weakened, could not afford raising such stonewalls, and hence the fortress gradually deteriorated. The place is nevertheless a panoramic location that you should not miss if you are in the area. Furthermore, don’t hesitate to visit the Slivut forest bison reservation, 3 km away from the town of Hateg, the most famous in Romania.

Archeology MuseumDon’t miss the Archeology Museum at Sarmisegetuza, hosting sculptural and epigraphic monuments, fragments of mural paintings, weaponry, silverware and numismatics. You will find the replicas of military and civil Roman equipment exposed on the mannequins quite interesting. The waxy plates used for writing have been reconditioned, as well as the public fountains, the water supply systems or the centralized heating ones. The rooms of the museum render aspects of the Romans' everyday life, thus helping us know them better.

 

Salasu de Sus – Malaiesti

Next to Ohaba de sub Piatra village, right as you enter the commune, you can see the ruins of the Mara Saracin nobiliary court. Already having the fortress at Malaiesti, they built here a more comfortable residence in the late Middle Ages, one with bigger and brighter rooms. It is said that on this spot there had already been a fortified tower, guarding the entrance to the village, which was later integrated into the new construction. You can distinguish the thick walls meant to protect the house and the entrance to the first floor, reached by a wooden ladder.

Corvin CastleMalaiesti fortress had a defensive role in the conflicts between local noblemen, being a stronghold with a particular charm to it, characteristic to the small citadels erected by feudal lords in Europe. From here, the view opens towards the wooded slopes climbing up the Retezat Mountain, scenery that makes the hike to the fortress worthwhile.

Corvin (Hunyadi) Castle

Without a doubt, the Corvin Castle in Hunedoara is an astounding building that has maintained its sumptuousness throughout history. One of the most appreciated in Europe, the castle harmoniously combines elements of gothic and neo-gothic, Renaissance and baroque styles, representing an architectural jewel. Raised in the 14th-15th centuries by Iancu de Hunedoara, a defender of Christianity during the Ottoman invasions, on a domain offered by the king of Hungary, the fortification was consolidated by his son, Matei Corvin. The castle served both as a royal residence, and as an important strategic point in the area. The access is done on a suspended wooden bridge leading to the new rectangular-shaped stony tower, where the prison is as well. Inside you will find a series of thematic rooms: the Princesses’ room, the Diet’s room, decorated with various portraits, the chapel, the Knights' Room, and an exhibit room with hunting trophies.

Hunyadi CastleIn the yard of the castle, there is a deep-dug fountain, whose story is told by a legend. It is said that Iancu de Hunedoara promised freedom to some Turkish prisoners, provided that they dug in the ground until water was reached. Fifteen years later, the fountain was ready, but instead of being released, the Turkish were decapitated. On the wall of the fountain, one of the prisoners apparently carved an inscription, which, according to some interpretations said: 'You might have water, but you have no soul'. Together with the legends woven around it, Corvin Castle stands out in the background with its architecture, maintaining its greatness and displaying its defensive towers and embrasures. Impressive and famous, the most beautiful fortress in Transylvania is reminiscent of the Budapest royal court (Vajdahunyad Castle), which mirrors the same architectural styles. Be sure not to miss Corvin Castle, an important testimony to the history of Hateg Land.

Horea’s Durmast

Horea DurmastIn Hateg Land, each place reveals another historic episode. For instance, in Tebea village, Baia de Cris commune, there is a 400 years old durmast. Its name also tells its story: in 1784, in that very place, Horea planned a revolt against the feudal regime, known as The Revolt of Horea, Closca and Crisan. A historical symbol of Transylvania, the durmast is situated in a place called the Pantheon of the Romanians from the Apuseni Mountains, where the graves of those who died in the First World War can be found. Near the durmast, one of the leaders of the 1848 Revolution in Transylvania and the Transylvanians' national hero – Avram Iancu – is buried.

On your way to Tebea, do not hesitate to stop in Deva, where the old fortress on the hill looks over the four corners, waiting for tourists to discover its centuries of history.

Hateg Land is a small corner of peaceful heaven, a fountain of Romanian history, a fascinating land that has preserved the rustic sceneries and the people’s spirituality. Although it impresses with its history going back to the dinosaurs' period, throughout the Roman rule or the time of the voivodes and noble families, this land needs a little more attention from the authorities. The region has a great development potential, and investments could bring its medieval fortresses and castles back to the tourists' ‘must see’ list. Reconditioned and properly marked, the fortresses in Hateg Land represent a valuable historical and architectural complex that carries on the testimonies of the past.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]