Property 902 – Historic Centre of Sighisoara, Romania
If you were Romania in the post-Communist era, it was be tough to make a buck, or even a leu. Industry was absent or highly inefficient. No-one wants to buy your agricultural products. You have virtually nothing to trade and you’re not on the way to anywhere. What to do?
The tourist industry’s answer was this: promote vampires.
Transylvania, the region of the world from which Bram Stoker’s Dracula is meant to have originated, currently lies within the borders of Romania. It’s mountainous and forested in contrast to the flat plain around Bucharest, and has a suitably gothic feel about it. Among the various semi-dilapidated villages in the area, one stands out – Sighisoara.
Sighisoara trapped me in a vaguely disconcerting way. I tried to leave town several times, even booked train tickets on one occasion, but something always happened. The train was cancelled or I was too hungover to travel. At least once my travel buddies convinced me to change my mind. One time I managed to leave, but ended going in the opposite direction to what I’d intended, and returned to Sighisoara again a day or two later.
Had I been superstitious, I might have believed that there was some kind of magical power keeping me trapped in this crumbling medieval township. Certainly there was enough precedent. In medieval times the town was the seat of the father of Vlad the Impaler, the man who was the model for Dracula and also a fantastically brutal man. He got his name from his habit of skewering people he disliked as if they were kebabs and then planting the spikes around the place as decoration.
There are worse places to be stuck I suppose. The medieval town sits on a hill for defensive purposes, and much of the original citadel is preserved. The view from the top includes hundreds of terracotta roofs and rolling forested hills. A river runs through the main section of the town where the merchants used to live. Stone bridges span the river, and as I crossed one I was propositioned by a 16 year old who appeared to be pimping for his 12 year old sister.
I spent my days wandering around the town, going native (apart from the prostitution). In summer this was very easy to do. The weather was delightful and the people, while not exactly friendly, happily took my money for jam-filled doughnuts, haircuts and cups of coffee. One intersection has a weekly market where people sell various odds and ends. I was very impressed with the newsagent who sold magazines in Romanian and Hungarian editions, to cater for the Hungarian population left behind after border changes in World War Two. In the weeks that I spent in “Sighi” I spent most of my evenings in a bar which had been set up in an old stable. It had a heavy metal theme, and my friends and I drank beers at benches surrounded by Iron Maiden banners. Sometimes incongruity makes a kind of sense.
The Dracula business in Sighisoara is all a bit of a beat-up. Happily it seems that the town is nowadays relying on its undeniable charm rather than sketchy connections to the fictional undead. The combination of Romanian poverty (at the time I visited) and well-preserved ruins make it feel like a genuine trip back in time. Sighisoara is a place where you could disappear. I suspect that many have.