The Mysterious and Magical South-West Transylvania

Seeking for the Sarmizegetusa, the ancient Dacian citadel hidden in the core of Orastie Mountains in South-West Transylvania

 

When you hear Transylvania, many of you will probably think Dracula, Bran, Brasov, Sibiu, Sighisoara, rolling green hills…Well..YES! Transylvania is all that, but also much more. In the South-West, in the core of the mountains lies the ruins of Sarmizegetusa, the ancient capital and sacred place of Dacians. A magical place and its mysteries were not fully uncovered yet…Probably, by now I already stirred up your imagination. Good! The thing is, that you have to be patient…

Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

It is Spring and again my feet were itching. Till now, nothing new under the sun. This time, I was thinking to go to Transylvania but not the very classical touristic places but to a place that is quite far from Bucharest and not too many will choose it as a weekend destination. From Bucharest to Sarmizegetusa are 485 km, meaning close to 6 hours driving and this can be quite a hassle. The good thing though is that the road is taking you through such beautiful places that you will easily make you forget about tiredness.

Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

If you decide to see Sarmizegetusa keep in mind that there are two with the same name. You have Sarmizegetusa Regia the ancient capital placed in Orastie Mountains in Hunedoara County and Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa the city which was built by the Romans after they conquered Dacia and put to the ground the Dacians capital. This is placed at 40 km from Sarmizegetusa Regia.

Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

To get there I choose the most spectacular route. From Bucharest, I took E81 till Valcea and from there DN67 a  route which took me to Ranca, a mountain resort in Parang Mountains placed on a road crossing the Mountains named Transalpina. Sadly this road is open only on Summer months so I had to take a detour.

Ranca, Parnag Mountains, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Ranca, Parang Mountains, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Ranca, Parnag Mountains, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Ranca, Parang Mountains, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

The views were amazing and despite the cold, I took my time and admired the mountains peaks still covered by snow. I felt sorry for not being able to cross the mountains on Transalpina but I was thinking that this si a good chance to cross the mountains through Jiu River valley.

Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

It was the right choice because it took me through such beautiful places. This road took me to Hateg in Transylvania. To many of you, Hateg does not say much and none of you knows that Hateg county is the place of the last remaining Zimbri, a type of wild bison which use to wonder through the forest of Romania.  Also, around Hateg were found many fossils of prehistoric mammals, a species of dwarf dinosaurs and flying reptiles. The cause for this abundance of fossils is  because Hateg uses to be a volcanic island during the Cretaceous Period.

Hateg, Transylvania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Hateg, Transylvania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

When in Hateg I decided to leave the main road and just wander on the countryside roads. I was making sure that I was still in the right direction but I was taking my time, I loved it too much to just rush straight to Sarmizegetusa.

Castle in Hateg, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Castle in Hateg, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

Although cloudy the weather was pretty warm. I did not mind at all. Although from time to time I was having few quick showers. I was smitten by the view. I loved the bright green in so many shades present everywhere.

Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

I was surrounded by a green heaven and looking around me it felt like being back in the times of my childhood when I was spending my summers to my grandparent’s house. The same silence and the same sense of freedom.

Costesti, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Costesti, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

It started to rain with small drops and I still wanted to be out there. I could easily return to the car but no….All I wanted was to be there, to enjoy the silence and the green.

Costesti, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Costesti, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Costesti, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Costesti, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

To get to Sarmizegetusa the road passed through Costesti a village placed at 18 km from the citadel. In the vicinity, there are the ruins of two fortresses from a number of six which were part of the defensive system of  Sarmizegetusa. I have to admit that I would not have seen these two fortresses if the access to Sarmizegetusa would not have been closed since I arrived too late.

The ruins of an ancient Dacian Fortress, Costesti, Transylvania, Romania
The ruins of an ancient Dacian Fortress, Costesti, Transylvania, Romania

Would have been a big loss because if you do not see these two you do not really understand the importance of Samizegetusa and the extent of its defensive system. I thought I see just a couple of stones. Actually, it was much more. Up on the hill in an idyllic setting, these remains of the defensive walls indicate that we are not talking about some small towers but some big fortresses which were placed there to assure a good defensive against anyone would dare to cross the valley on the way to Sarmizegetusa.

Costesti, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Costesti, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

I was impressed and surprised. The beauty of nature bewildered me and for the first time I could see the bigger picture and I was surprised why I haven’t noticed this when I came here the first time. The first time I came here three years ago with a very good friend of mine Noam Avnon. I liked this place so much and now when I had to opportunity to come again I haven’t thought twice despite the fact that he died last year in an accident on the mountain and these places were reminding me so much of him.

Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

I always thought that the place where the Dacians choose to built Sarmizegetusa was a bit odd and I was wondering how on earth the Romans were able to conquer it. It is placed at 1200 m altitude on top of the mountains guarded by mountains and being in a not so accessible position. It had a network of six fortresses meant to guard every road which might lead to it. It had a sacral area built on an artificial terrace also not so far from the defensive walls were dwellings from Fetele Albe a place were nobility and commoners were living. To get to it one must go on a path wich goes through the forests for two hours and it is not very easy. Locals are saying that is is a haunted place and surrounded by mystery

Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

Sarmizegetusa was capital only for 150 years since king Burebista changed its capital from Argedava to Samrmizegetusa. A very dramatic change I would say since the former capital was close to the Danube on a plain field. I knew about the Dacians beliefs in immortality and that Zalmoxis is their god but till I was there I did not really understand what was really all about.

Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

There aren`t too many writings which can give a certain theory regarding their religion and Zalmoxis. All the theories are based on the writings of Greek historians and their writings are based on hearsay, not from direct sources. Some scholars are saying that he was an apprentice of Pythagoras and when he came to Dacia he taught the Dacians his beliefs. Some are saying that their beliefs have influence from the gods of ancient Iran. Either way, there are lots of speculation due to the lack of any Dacian writtings.

Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

They believe in immortality thinking that death is just a passage to go to Zamolxis. Apparently they had only one god and every four years they were sending to him a messenger with their requests by throwing him in the spears. If he will die quickly this means the message will be sent if he will die very hard this means the messenger is a bad man and they have to send someone else. Their banner was a wolf and the process of initiation for warriors was consisting by letting them for two years becoming wolf in the wilderness adopting their behaviour and only after they were considered good warriors

Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

They were fearless that’s why it took Traian some time to defeat them. Even after being defeated by the Romans could not keep the entire Dacia under their rule, a big part of it kept its freedom. At that time, Dacia was famous for its gold mines and  there are lots of legends concerning the hidden Dacian gold. That’s why in the region there are lots of treasure hunters. Even recently was discovered some gold coins not too far from Sarmizegetusa.

Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

Ther are so many questions without any answer c0ncearing the Dacians and that mountain still keeps so many secrets unrevealed.  I am surprised by the attitude of the authorities which are not doing anything to unveil more of Sarmizegetusa. Wandering around the fortress it is impossible not to notice pieces of stone from the walls of Sarmizegetusa scattered around so, of course, the normal question will be “Why they do not continue with the digging?“, because that mountain still contains lots of artefacts which might shed a light. Normally the authorities will say they do not have money but they have money to build an oversized cathedral in Bucharest which costs 400 millions euros. Talking about priorities

Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Sarmizegetusa Regia, Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

I left Sarmizegetusa being so stirred up. Lots of questions were shouting in my mind but soon I shut them up. My eyes returned towards nature. The fog was walking slowly remaining here and there tangled in the tree`s branches. The outside silence I transferred inside me.  I was the wandering fog. I was the drenched tree. I was part of everything around me.

Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Transylvania, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

I would have stayed more but I had a long way back home ahead. Made again a bouquet and put it close to remind me where I have been. Since I did not want to return on the same road went to Petrosani and from there I took to the road DN7A which took me through to mountains to Voineasa . From Voineasa to Bucharest I took E81. The DN7A road  is going along the Lotru River passing through the mountains and the views are breathtaking 

Parnag Mountains, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Parang Mountains, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

Again I was returning to the core of the mountains. The steep rocky walls and the quick river passing by. That passage felt like I was leaving a miraculous world of green filled with magic and mysteries and now I was finding my path to home

Parnag Mountains, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Parang Mountains, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

Till I reached Voineasa it felt like I had the longest 70 km and I was even thinking “Why do I rush home? Can`t I spend more time here?“. Only the cold I was feeling reminded me that I was not properly dressed and maybe it will be wiser to continue my trip.

Parnag Mountains, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Parang Mountains, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

I kept looking back. The fog was embracing gently the mountains peaks. I was thinking that I had such an intense weekend. So many miles and so many places I have seen. So much green and picturesque scenery. I have seen, felt, smelled the Spring everywhere. I have wandered through mountain roads. I have seen ruins of  ancient fortresses and disturbed their sleep. I have been kissed by the rain and embraced by fog. I have been bewildered and enchanted by nature. I had the perfect weekend!!!

On my way home while passing through Olt Valley I was thinking to say  goodbye to the mountains and to Sarmizegetusa, To say goodbye to Transylvania and to my departed friend Noam Avnon. He loved these parts and he died in this part of the world. It was hard to see these places thinking that he was dead but probably it was my way of letting him go. I did not realise till now that he taught me so much.

Olt Valley, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu
Olt Valley, Romania, by Mirela Felicia Catalinoiu

As I said, Transylvania is not only Dracula or Bran, Brasov and Sibiu. Transylvania is the green of the rolling hills, the picturesque villages forgotten by time, the ruins of an ancient civilisation which haven’t shared all its secrets yet. Transylvania is magical and mysterious. Transylvania is drop dead beautiful!!!

Dedicated to the memory of my departed friend Noam Avnon, who took me here for the first time and taught me how to appreciate the beauties of my own country.