Rural Romania

This southeastern European country can open a large window into the past.

Biertan village, near the city of Sibiu. It is typical for houses in these villages to date back nearly 100 years. (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
Biertan village, near the city of Sibiu. It is typical for houses in these villages to date back nearly 100 years.
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
While time has marched on for most of Europe, in parts of Romania we can step back 200 years for a real glimpse of how village life used to be – simple and poor, but happy.
This southeastern European country can open a large window into the past.
Our visit starts in the big city of Bucharest. Here there is little difference from other European capitals.
There are big buildings, wide avenues, many people and heavy traffic. It is hard to imagine that a few kilometers out of the city life looks very different.
My wife and I rented a car and headed in the direction of Brasov. First we drove through a plain with scattered villages, but on the way to the mountains the landscape. The region of Transylvania is well known as mountainous and forested.
Romania suffered many conquerors throughout its history and was always occupied by some regional force. In fact, the citizens of Romania gained their freedom only after ridding themselves of Nicolae Ceausescu’s totalitarian dictatorship in 1989. Since the end of his regime, the country has known some good and not so good years, but progress influenced mostly the citizens of the urban centers. While modern life tries to reach the region’s villagers, it seems as if they refuse to “hop on the wagon.” Since Transylvania is the richest part of Romania with respect to natural resources, their lack of interest in progress is unexpected.
Around Rasnov, it is not unusual to see horsedrawn carts on the main road. Just ahead a bulky cart tied to two horses is filled with freshly cut leaves from the field. On top of the giant pile sits the driver and behind him a few workers. The cart turns into a side dirt road and travels to a nearby village.
In this area there is no traffic congestion even on the main roads. If you take a secondary road a car is a rare sight, and you will mostly see simple wooden wagons drawn by one or two horses.
After leaving the main road we actually surprised a wagoner. He stared at us and we stared at him. He was sure that we were lost and pointed in the direction of Rasnov. We assured him that we were fine by smiling and saying “OK.” His wagon was basic with car tires that no doubt spent more time behind a horse than under a car.
THE REGION of Transylvania is best known due to the famous Count Dracula. It is home to many villages with people who are much more pleasant and friendly than the dark legend. It is highly recommended to choose the secondary roads and travel through the peaceful villages. We drove through a few of them and were met with smiles from young and old. They don’t see visitors often and they were welcoming.
During the day the men are out in the fields. The children attend the regional school. The women maintain the household with work done at home and attending to the children. After she has finished her housework, the housewife typically goes out into her backyard to tend to her patch of tomatoes, beets, potatoes and lettuce. These basic food items are within reach for these otherwise poor village dwellers.
Other capable neighbors are always busy fixing something like a hinge on the door, a fence or a new coat of paint. There is always something to do as these villages are hundreds of years old. This fact contributes to the tradition of the villagers’ reputation as skilled workers in household repairs in addition to their primary jobs in the field.
You will need to drive slowly and carefully in the villages. Not only because of the children; there are chickens, goats, lambs and pigs walking free. Of course the animals (and children) are more used to horses and carts rather than cars. Each village operates as a unit that supports itself. The villagers help each other in and out of the village. When a crop is ready in one resident’s field, he can ask and get help from his neighbors, who in turn expect and receive his help when they need it. The villagers have no modern agricultural machines. Tractors are rare in this area. They use handmade plows that are pulled by a horse, ox or mule, and sickles to reap the crops.
These same methods are used throughout the growing and harvesting process.
Occasionally you can see a father teaching his young son how to use the field tools just as his father taught him years ago. He seems happy to use the same tools that his great-grandfather used in the same path behind a horse. There is little thought of change in the 21st century by buying a tractor.
Most of the villages look alike. There are a few main streets, some of them paved, and narrow side streets of dirt roads that lead to usually old houses with small gardens scattered between them. The life forces within the triangle of Brasov, Sighisoara and Sibiu are horsepower, manpower and especially the willpower of the tough villagers. There are some efforts by the government to help advance the farmers to start using modern agricultural machinery; however, the results can only really be seen in villages near the big cities.
DRIVING ALONG a side road in Transylvania you will see other ethnic groups. Also riding on wagons, up front are men in black wearing hats and behind them colorfully dressed women and children. The horses are decorated with red. The people appear to be happy and loud as they inspect their surroundings. They call themselves the Romani people and are popularly known by the derogatory term Gypsies. They are nomads in this part of Europe, and researchers have discovered that their origin is in India.
Near the village of Biertan we stumbled into a Thursday morning livestock market. The Romani rely on farm animals for transportation and food, and they are very active in buying and selling animals.
Their population in Romania numbers approximately one million. They are roughly divided into two groups. The first group is very poor and they travel all their life from place to place with their horses and wagons, which is all that they own.
The other group is settled in a few villages. They make their living from entertaining (singing, playing instruments and dancing), livestock markets and working as blacksmiths.
To meet the mountain shepherds who spend much of their lives in natural surroundings, drive on Road 106a south of Sibiu and climb to the Parcul Natural Cindrel (Cindrel Natural Park). Here you will experience the mountain environment of pure beauty and fresh air. With little social interaction throughout their week, the shepherds are happy to chat with passing tourists.
Romania is a lovely country to visit with lots to see in the cities and outdoors. Beautiful landscapes, history and inviting people. But to really get a sense of the heart of the country, you should not miss the people out in the villages.