(No. 3 of the Romanian series)
Sighișoara, a small city in Mureş County (Region of Transylvania) in Romania is two-fold, two-planed, two-layered.
One is the flat city outside the Citadel, spread out on the plateau formed by the river Târnava Mare. The second is the Citadel itself that rises on a hill in the centre. One is a collection of new houses, buildings, shopping centres and the other is of the ancient, held by towers, staunch walls and covered staircases. One which gave birth to Vlad Tepeș, (in)famously known as Vlad the Impaler and fictionalised by Bram Stoker as Count Dracula. The other which – legend has it – saw the heroic death of the Hungarian poet Sándor Petőfi at the Battle of Sighișoara, during the Hungarian Revolution.
I’m dropped off at a car park in the lower town. A wet Wednesday morning opens Sighișoara theatrically to me. It’s difficult to take it all in. It seems right, that Vlad the Impaler, should have been born here. Towers and turrets rise in ominous defiance. Bright coloured houses of yellow, orange, green, blue and their faded, time worn variants seem to spiral around this sudden outgrowth of earth in the midst of flatland. A sudden outgrowth of ancient in the middle of a tar-paved road with speeding cars. Green mountains loom all around and the rain begins to fall.
Once I finish the only definite on my list – purchase of coffee beans for my host’s guest house in Viscri – I head up to the citadel. Quaint, closely packed buildings line a narrow cobbled lane which climbs up to the ancient heart of the city.
Sighișoara is known to have been inhabited by the Scytians as early as 6th century BC. Then came in the Dacians, followed by the Romans who colonised them from 106 AD and established a Roman fort. They gave Sighișoara the name Castrum-sex, representative of this roughly hexagonal, six sided fort. Then came in the Hungarians around 10th century AD. The Hungarian rulers brought in a workforce of Germans from Saxony, the Rhine, Flanders, etc., to assist in the building of towers and walls. This workforce, referred to as Saxons – who were craftsmen, artisans, farmers and traders – set up their own settlements in and around Sighișoara. This migration becomes pivotal for the current Saxon culture and heritage inherited by Sighișoara and many other Saxon villages and towns in Transylvania.
The climb up the Clock Tower, also known as the Council Tower, is daunting. ‘The tower goes up to 64 mts, but the view is something’, said a tourist coming back out as I was buying my ticket. The floors below the final one have been turned into a History Museum. On the very first floor is a miniature depiction of Sighișoara which caught my interest. The dark-cream spread begins flat and slowly rises to form the mound of a mountain. It begins with the Clock Tower and goes on up through the covered staircase to the Church on the hill. Inadvertent thoughts of Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens come up. The two-fold metaphor of the city branches out to judge everything I see.
Then I meet a Vlad. Yes, I meet a Vlad. It is impossible to not talk to him about Vlad the Impaler, the one I refer to as the infamous Vlad. The new Vlad laughs and asks me why I thought in and around Sighișoara so many souvenirs with the pictures of the “infamous” Vlad were being sold. I tell him that it’s the way the tourism industry works. He laughs again. I’m given a long history lesson of which the following is a summary: Vlad did not impale his own people; he impaled the enemies. He is a hero, to many people, in many parts of Transylvania and beyond.
This new perspective on Vlad caused an error in my two-fold understanding of Sighișoara. It could not be, that both Vlad Tepeș and Sándor Petőfi were heroes. I wanted to find an opposition. A non-hero to this two-fold typecasting of Sighișoara.
Sándor Petőfi – I’d come to hear of him only that morning – was a Hungarian poet and revolutionary war hero who fought alongside the Hungarians and their Polish troops against the Russian-Austrian alliance at the Battle of Sighișoara during the Hungarian revolution that started in 1848. The Russian-Austrian alliance won the battle and it is widely accepted that Petőfi was killed in the battle of 1849. In the Citadel in Sighișoara, you can find his honourary bust. Inspite of being a passive patriot, this meagre knowledge of Petőfi’s life, combined with one reading of his poem National Song (Nemzeti dal) made me like him.
And before I met new Vlad, I was sure I’d accuse Sighișoara of exalting infamous Vald by selling souvenirs of him, when instead, they ought to be exalting Petőfi. I tell new Vlad my literary conundrum connected to the city. He laughs, yet again and in cryptic, spaced out language, tells me that the answers I seek are at the top of the tower.
From the top, the view is stunning. The colour of these ancient houses against the bright blue of the sky and the cream of the walls, the Târnava Mare running into it, the green mountains nearby – everything – makes for one devilish sight. I go from one side to the other, checking for nothing. Just looking at my two-fold city spread out in one-fold. The view from the top, a vertical-downward view is different from the horizontal-upward angled view.
Vlad leaves, but only after telling me that this too has only supported the view of a two-fold city. That at one point it is two-fold and at another one-fold. And true to my own two-fold nature, I disagree. The view from the top, of Sighișoara has made a very strong point.
People come and go, pigeons below gather and scatter. The clock does a little dance. I spend almost two hours at the top, looking upon Sighișoara, repeating to myself the simple words of Sándor Petőfi:
“Liberty and love
These two I must have.
For my love I’ll sacrifice
For liberty I’ll sacrifice
(Read a poem I wrote called Red Dragons whilst wandering in Sighișoara. Very interestingly, this poem talks about being ‘thrice split’.)
(Read Petőfi Sándor’s National Song (Nemzeti dal) here, translated by George Szirtes)
Location: Clock Tower, Sighișoara, Mureş County, Region of Transylvania, Romania.