Entries tagged with “travel”.


Erica Hoffer mi-a permis preluarea pe blog a notelor ei de calatorie din vizita facuta recent la New York. De aceasta data va fi vorba despre cateva expozitii si muzee mai mici, din acelea pe care placerea de a le descoperi si vizita ti-o poti permite numai dupa ce ai epuizat obiectivele ‘importante’.

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Am descoperit ca americanii au maestria de a face din orice subiect o expozitie cel putin, daca nu un muzeu.  Ma gandesc de unde vine aptitudinea asta pe care nu am vazut-o si in alte aspecte ale vietii americane. Poate  din necesitatea de a explica oamenilor cu capacitati reduse sau cu un attention span limitat anumite fapte. Este aptitudinea de a face orice explicatie pe intelesul tuturor, de a inventa metode audio vizuale inedited.

Pe scurt, in vizita  din saptamana trecuta m-am ferit de muzeele mari cu sali infinite cu sute de picturi atarnate. Pentru a ilustra compunerea de jos am pus fotografii care ilustreaza expozitiile respective.

1. In Lower East Side “The Tenement Museum” care poveste (printre altele, nu numai) etosul emigrarii evreilor din Europa de est de la inceputul secolului trecut. Muzeul se afla intr-o casa in care stateau un numar de familii in conditii teribile de inghesuiala si saracie. Spre deosebire de muzeele clasice in care se viziteaza camera cu mobilele si ustensilele din acea perioada, in acest muzeu s-au ales un numar de subiecte si fiecare este prezentat de o ghida. Eu am ales subiectul castigarii existentei (in idish parnuse). Expozitia se numeste Sweatshop Workers. Cu ajutorul ghidei am urmarit viata a doua familii, una, familia Levine,  care avea o manufactura chiar in incinta locuintei, cu muncitori angajati care lucrau in living room si bucatarie. Am cunoscut aceasta familie din momentul in care ajunge la NY,  am urmarit educatia copiilor si am luat parte la succesul commercial al parintilor care dupa multi ani in care atelierul se afla in apartamentul lor , reusesc sa se elibereze finalmente de aceasta viata incomoda si ajung sa mute atelierul in alt loc inafara casei.  O alta familie mai instarita, familia  Rogarshevsky, reprezentata prin masa ei festiva de Vineri seara, reuseste de la inceput sa se puna pe picioare fara sa aibe atelier in casa. Copiii lor sunt trimisi la scoli mai bune iar stranepoatele in rochii elegante dupa gustul American sunt fotografiate la nunta in familie. Fotografia reda toata satisfactia acestei familii care a reusit sa “ajunga”. Nu numai emigratia evreilor din Europa de Est este reprezentata la acest muzeu. Si emigratia irlandeza, la fel de saraca, a fost povestita intr-o alta vizita ghidata in aceasta cladire.

 


2. Expozitia Beatrix Potter, la biblioteca Morgan. B. Potter, autoare a unor carti de copii deosebit de reusite care il au ca protagonist pe iepurasul Peter Rabbit. Aceste carti s-au nascut din scrisorile illustrate ale autoarei catre copiii prietenilor ei. Este vorba de scrisorile adresate lui Noel Moore, un copil des bolnav, fiul guvernantei lui Beatrix Potter. Autoarea isi ilustreaza scrisorile cu mici desene in creion. Cu timpul, aceste scrisori au devenit povestiri, publicate pentru prima data in 1983, iar eroul, Peter Rabbit, iepurasul imbracat in hainita albastra a devenit iubitul copiilor din toata lumea.  Expozitia e la biblioteca bogatasului Pierpoint Morgan. o cladire superba, largita in 2006 de arhitectul Renzo Piano pentru care a primit premiul Pritzker si renovata in 1910 de firma McKim, Mead & White.

 

 

Beatrix Potter - letter to Noel Moore

 

3. Expozitia “Eruv” la Yeshiva University, 15 W 16th Str. Pentru cine nu stie, si nici eu nu am stiut asta mult timp, eruv este fizic o sfoara sau sarma intinsa intre stalpi de telefon sau iluminatia orasului. Conceptual eruvul are o mare importanta in viata evreilor religiosi. In lipsa acestui fir care delimiteaza spatiul in jurul casei sau al asezarii, evreii religiosi nu au voie sa care lucruri, sa impinga carucioare in timpul Shabatului.  Existenta acestui fir subtire le mareste spatiul in jurul casei incat in chii lor, ceea ce fac in spatiul delimitat de eruv e ca si ar face in interiorul casei. In Statele Unite, eruvul este pe de o parte o delimitare a spatiului in care stau destui evrei , dar si o integrare in viata urbana americana.

 

 

4. “Parfumuri (Scents)” la Museum of Arts and Design la Columbus Circle. Aceasta este prima expozitie a unui muzeu in care crearea unui parfum este considerat un act de creatie artistica. Expozitia se concentreaza asupra a 12 parfumuri create intre 1889 si 2012 care reprezinta metode sau curente diferite in aceasta arta, de exemplu  Chanel 5 creat in 1921.

 

 

Cel mai neobisnuit aspect al acestei expozitii este aspectul spatiului ei: o incapere minimalista toata in alb pe al carei pereti sunt montate urne care emit valuri ale parfumului respectiv. Textul alaturat fiecarei urne descrie creatorii, anul creatiei si genul de parfum (modern, abstract sau brutalist).  O incapere alaturata permite vizitatorilor o noua examinare a acestor parfumuri, interactiva de data asta,  vizitatorii avand posibilitatea de a caracteriza parfumuri alese.

5. Imbracamintea studentilor de la Ivy League in decursul anilor (la Fashion Institute) 7th Av cu 27th str.

Expozitia se numeste Ivy Style, adica stilul vestimentar care caracterizeaza studentii de la universitatile renumite in care deobicei studentii nu numai ei mai brilianti dar a caror parinti aveau posibilitatile materiale de a trimite copii la aceste institutii prestigioase. Stilul Ivy league origineaza de la inceputul anilor 1900, in ultimul secol s-a raspandit mult inafara de universitatile de elita. Expozitia este aranjata in mod tematic si nu chronologic, in sectii care acopera difersele activitati studentesti, clase, camine studentesti, sporturi, evenimente festive.

 

Expozitia este interesanta fiindca e evident ca look-ul Ivy care a dat dovada de capacitatea de a supravietui  testul timpului este de fapt look-ul pur american.

 

 

6. Garage sale al artistei Martha Rossler la MOMA. Cati dintre noi nu avem pasiunea sa cotrobaim prin bibelouri, bijuterii, vase de servit si alte obiecte care se aduna prin case. Artista Martha Rossler  a umplut un spatiu enorm la muzeul de arta moderna MOMA cu obiecte de zi de zi din casa ei, din casele salariatilor MOMA si donate de public. Artista, prezenta in tot timpul expozitiei si luand parte activ la targuitul in sine,  examineaza de fapt reactia publicului la acest happening popular si arata fotografii si filme video facute in timpul expozitiei.  Prin aceasta expozitie, muzeul isi demonstreaza apropierea de strada, de viata de toate zilele, de posesiunile care ne inconjoara si ne caracterizeaza.

 


Below are a few pictures taken this morning during a short tour in Tel Aviv and Yaffo.

 

 

Beit Tamar is the name of the building that stands at the intersection of the streets Chelouche and Shabazi in the Neve Tzedek area of Tel Aviv – restored by somebody who liked a good laugh.

 

 

My profession almost never leaves me, so I learned a new meaning of the acronym WWW ….

 

 

… as well as a new place where open source is being largely used.

 

 

Good news! The rock of Andromeda is in our hands!

 

 

Yes, there is a lighthouse in Yaffo.

 

 

There is also a church at the end of the tunnel …

 

 

… and there is a new and beautiful fountain also (or at least I do not remember having seen it before).

 

I am spending a short vacation traveling all over Israel with old friends from Bucharest. It’s their first visit in Israel, but for me it’s maybe the 20th time I have the joy to be guide to family and friends coming to Israel, to share with them some of the beauties, history, real life here.

I do not have too much time today (I am busy as I am on vacation!) but I would like to share a few snapshots taken in Tzfat (Safed), one of our stops today.

 

 

Safed has a long and troubled history. While a Jewish presence was almost permanent for the last two thousands years, the political and military control over the city changed hands many time in this interval. The last change was in 1948 when the Jewish forces won after fierce fights the battle over the city. In the years that followed the former Mosque Market became the artists district of the city, with many remarkable artists settling here, opening ateliers and galleries.

 

 

This is how the closed Galleries Alley looks today.

 

 

 

From the galleries alley one can access the Yosef Caro synagogue. The original synagogue was built in the 16th century by the famous rabbi who authored Sulkhan Arukh - the book of interpretations of the Halacha written for the Jewish communities in the aftermath of the expulsion from Spain. Destroyed twice by the earthquakes in 1759 and 1837, it is now a beautiful example of the Sephardic style synagogues.

This episode of my vacation journal in Romania covers several monasteries and churches that we visited during the trip. Monasteries in Romania have in many cases an importance and signification beyond the religious dimension. The Romanians are historically deep religious people, and the location of Romania as a Latin nation surrounded by non-Latin peoples, and their adherence to the Eastern European faith (unique among Latin people) in a place in Europe which was for many centuries  on the lines of meeting (and many times conflicts) between the Christian Orthodoxy and Catholicism, between Christianity and Islam only increased the meaning and importance of church in the Romanian history. Add to this the fact that in a nation of farmers and shepherds dominated for many centuries by foreign rulers the monasteries, priests and monks were the cream of the educated people and the preservers of faith and language and you will start to understand the role of the church and the fact that many of the monasteries in Romania are monuments of history, art, and religion at the same time.

 

 

The first monastery I will tell about is located at Polovragi. Its impressive wood gate reminded us that we were in the district of Gorj, not far from the birthplace of Constantin Brancusi.

 

 

source http://calatorii.myfreeforum.ro/t100-manastirea-polovragi-gj

 

1505 is the year the monastery was built, but most of the current structures and especially the church dedicated to the Laying of the Virgin Mary date from 1703, the time of the reign of the last Romanian king of Valachia, deposed and executed by the Ottoman sultan. The Interior paintings on the walls and on the ceiling date from that period and are of great beauty, unfortunately photography is forbidden inside the church.

 

 

As we were approaching our second objective, we crossed the village of Horezu, which is the place of manufacturing of traditional enameled pottery characterized by merry forms and vivid colors. Unfortunately a museum that was documenting the tradition closed and we were left with the commercial area on the road, with many shops, quite difficult and confusing for visitors to distinguish between the authentic works and cheap kitsch imitations.

 

 

 

The next objective that day was the monastery of Hurezi (or Horezu as it is somehow named, associating it with the current name of the neighboring village). The building for this complex was started also by Constantin Brancoveanu and was conducted between 1688 and 1714. The original structure was preserved as it was built three centuries ago, and the complex is protected by UNESCO. The church in the middle is dedicated to the saints Constantin and Elena (Constantine and Helen).

 

 

The arches at the entry in the church are a combination of painting, colored ceramics and curbed pillars, specific to churches and monasteries of Valachia.

 

 

The murals were painted in the years 1702-1703 by Andrei, Istrate and Hranite, three church painters well known during that time. The theme of the Last Judgment is quite frequent for the external walls of the monasteries in Romania, one will find it also at Voronet, and other monasteries in Bucovina. The main difference in the conception here is that the external walls are painted only in the pridvor - the terrace at the entry of the monastery and not all around as on the famous walls of the monasteries in Bucovina, which means less paintings, but better preservation, as the pridvor is in the Valachian monasteries completely covered by a roof.

 

source http://www.crestinortodox.ro/locasuri-cult/manastirea-hurezi/manastirea-hurezi-5982.html

 

source http://www.crestinortodox.ro/locasuri-cult/manastirea-hurezi/manastirea-hurezi-5993.html

 

I have to rely again on external sources for the images of the exquisite painting and of the altar inside the church, part of it recently renovated.

 

 

There is an active monastery life going on in Hurezi (as well as in the other monasteries that we visited) so that the dormitories, eating and studying places, as well as the economic facilities which rely on traditional agricultural and crafts are well maintained and interesting to visit for people who can allow spending more time in the surroundings.

 

 

 

Back in time by a few days here we are in Orsova where we visited one church and one monastery – this time both modern, built during the 20th century. The Orsova Catholic Church is one of the very few such religious buildings built during the Communist regime, which has in its sad record much more demolitions of churches, synagogues and mosques than building of such places. I have heard many people including friends of mine who belong to the noble profession of architecture expressing critical views related to this building. I actually liked it, the only critics I could bring is related to the fact that the state of preservation is not too good, the church looks much older than its 40 years (it replaced an old church covered by waters when the Iron Gates dam was built). Otherwise especially its interior looks like an aerial and well lit compound with interesting ideas inserted on the theme of the Cross.

 

 

The history of the Sfanta Ana (Saint Anne) monastery was much more agitated. Built between 1936 and 1939 it was not consecrated at the end of its building because of a bureaucratic conflict with the religious authorities. Then the war broke, the communists took the power and opening new monasteries was not part of their charter. Part of the time during the communist rule the complex was a restaurant, the troitze (praying places with crosses and statues) on the road to the hill were destroyed. Only in 1990, one year after the fall of the Communism the monastery was consecrated.

 

 

The setting is fabulous, on a hill dominating the city of Orsova, with a view to the Danube that reminds me the view to the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes (where another beautiful Catholic church is located).  The wood work on the terraces is of special beauty and refinement and they resonate with the fully wood-carved churches in the North of Romania.

 

 

 

 

Most of the original painting of the building was destroyed by covering it with white paint during the Communist rule. The current interior painting belongs to Grigore and Maria Popescu.

 

 

A small museum preserves and honors the activity of the benefactor of the church, the man who financed the whole project. I have mixed feelings about this personality, who was a Romanian patriot and a fine journalist, but also a fierce nationalist and a collaborator with the antisemitic regime of dictator Ion Antonescu, who ruled Romania during the war and was the principal responsible of the crimes of the Romanian Holocaust. His newspaper Curentul (The Trend) was allowed to appear during the war because of the right and extreme-right positions it was expressing while most of the other newspapers were shut down. Secaru had the good luck of being abroad at the fall of Antonescu, so the process in which he was judged and condemned to the death sentence for collaboration and other crimes of war was judged in absentia and the sentence was never carried out. He lived in exile for the rest of his life (most of the time in Germany) and died in 1980. In 1990 his remains were brought back to Romania, and a few years later buried again in this monastery.

 

 

The city of Lugoj is located between Caransebes and Timisoara, but the two segments of the road we made the same day were quite different. Both are in very good condition by any standards, some of the best we have traveled in Romania, but while the first part between Caransebes and Lugoj bends in between the hills in a very picturesque area, the second one that connects Lugoj and Timisoara is one of the dullest and most boring areas I have ever driven on.

It’s only the second time I was visiting Lugoj in my life, despite the strong family relations with this city. My grandparents and my mother were born there, and actually the first time I visited the city was exactly 40 years ago, together with my mother, on some kind of roots finding visit. Of course, I had now again a list of places I was supposed to visit, make photos of and bring the pictures to my mother who cannot travel that far any longer.

Lugoj is a place with an interesting history in an interesting area. Mentioned by historical documents for the first time in the 14th century, it was by the time my grand-grandparents lived in a town at the Southern extremity of the Austro-Ungarian Empire, in the area of Banat inhabited by Romanian, Hungarian, German, Serbian, Jews, Gypsies and probably more nations. My grandmother used to say that before the first world war the population in Lugoj was one third Romanian, one third Hungarian, one third German and one third Jewish. She was right despite the arithmetic paradox.

The Two Towers Orthodox church was the first on the list that we visited. It was built in the 18th century, but the interior painting was completely redone between 1941 and 1944 by the painter Anastasie Damian, the same painter who created much of the interior paintings of the Cathedral in Timisoara. My mother’s years of war were related to this church, as a Jew she could not go to public schools because of the racial laws, and as my grandfather was a friend of the painter she took a job of apprentice to church painter Damian! She claims that one of the angels painted on the ceiling is her portrait, I could not really identify it :-) The interior painting was renovated a few years ago, the exterior is now under renovation.

Just behind the church can be found the Saint Nicholas Tower, the oldest Orthodox Christian structure in the city, built in 1402 with baroque additions dating from 1726.

We then wondered on the streets of the area of the city called the Romanian area, located on the right side of the river. Many of the buildings are more than 100 years old, some of them are renovated, but a more serious renovation project would help to bring back the beauty of this very picturesque city. See for example the photos of the Bejan Palace, built in 1901 by a royal notary clerk who also was a fine intellectual, who translated first to Romanian the Chronic of Bella, fundamental document in the history of Hungary.

The water of the river Timis cross the city and divide it between the Romanian side and the German side on the other side of the river. Of course, the names are just history, today more than 85% of the population is Romanian. The Iron Bridge is connecting the two parts of the center of the city, and the reaction of my mother seeing the pictures was that it did not change at all from the image she had in her memories as a child.

The same cannot be said about the Dacia Hotel, which was a landmark of the city. We stayed here overnight in 1972 when I first visited the city, which would not have been possible now. The hotel is closed, the building is waiting for some well-deserved renovation to be brought back to its functions and splendor.

Not far from the hotel and the heart of the city the beautiful building of the synagogue can be found. It was built in 1843, and was the heart of the Jewish life – religious and cultural as well, as many of the Jews of Lugoj were educated and music was part of their life in a city that gave to Romania several fine composers and musicians. A school existed in the backyard for more than one hundred year, and was closed forever by the Communist regime. According to Romanian Jewish Community web page dedicated to Lugoj there are only 56 Jews living today in the city, the synagogue is still active, but unfortunately was closed by the time we visited there so we could not enter it.

On our way back we took a picture to what was once the corso - the place of leisure and wandering of the middle class and of course beautiful ladies of the city. Today it’s a commercial area, nice but not too different of the one that can be found in many other places in Europe or the world.

Last stop was on the Popovici Street, to see the house that was once owned by my grand-grandparents and my grandparents, and where my mother and uncle spent their childhood. It’s a quite area, somehow remote from the center of the city. A moment a remembering, a few pictures of the house and the places around, and we got back to the car on our way to Timisoara – another city with good vibrations in the history of my family.

We spent four days during our vacation in the Iron Gates area. Two of the days were spent on driving tours on the Romanian and Serbian shores of the river. Here are a few impressions and photographs taken in these areas.

 

 

Our lodging place was the Steaua Dunarii (Danube Star) pension after Eselnita, on the shore of the Danube, about ten kilometers up the river from Orsova. The place is open since 2001, and is one of maybe ten or twenty such places in an area that could accomodate much more. The sitting is beautiful and we enjoyed unforgettable evenings on the balcony to the Danube, we admired the sunset and the sunrise over the river, and silence of the place. The restaurant is decent but not more, and boat trips on the Danube are offered at extra-cost.

 

 

 

 

The road on the Romanian shore spreads on more than 100 kilometers between Eselnita and Bazias, crossing the Moldova Noua area. The river bends and creates a chain of very picturesque gulfs. The water is calm and deep in an area of gorges which was once fast and dangerous, this is the result of the Iron Gates dam project built in the 60s and 70s by the Romania and former Yugoslavia. It’s an area of huge touristic potential which could rival with the lakes in Germany or North Italy or with the Balaton lake in Hungary. Unfortunately it is very little known, too little investment in hotels and tourist attraction was made, and the roads … oh, the roads … on the Romanian side the first 20-30 kilometers of shore road West of Eselnita are in the worst possible condition.

 

 

As in other places in Romania we could see on the side of the road abandoned industrial structures, the ruins of what the Communist propaganda called ‘the golden age’, remains of the process of forced industrialization of Romania during the Communist rule. Many of these industries had no real economic reason and could not resist the open market conditions after the fall of the Communism.

 

 

We also had that day our first experience of ‘eating Serbian’ on the beautiful terrace of a restaurant located in a villa in the hills near Moldova Noua. More about our culinary experiences during the trip in a future episode.

 

 

The landscape on the Serbian side where we crossed in another day is even more spectacular. The road on that side of the border is in excellent condition, it gets higher in some places which allows for spectacular views and photo opportunities. Places to sit, eat, rest, enjoy the landscape by road are much more frequent. I am sorry to say but the Serbian shore drive felt much more ‘European’ than the one of the Romanian side.

 

 

 

 

On the other hand there is very little development on this side as well. Actually the road between the crossing border point at the Iron Gates dam to Belgrade is scarcely populated, there are no more than three villages on the 50-60 kilometers we traveled near the river. Two points of interest are however very much worth a stop. One is the archeology museum that gathers the findings at Lepenski Vir site, a settlement that was covered by waters when the dam was built. The Yugoslavs created this museum in a spectacular structure near the Danube, and the remains of the civilization that was active between 5300 and 4800 BC where such preserved.

 

 

 

The other objective are the ruins of the Golubac fortress located in a strategic place on a bend of the Danube. First documented mention dates from the Middle Ages, mid 14th century, and successively the Romanian Transylvanians, Serbs, Hungarians, Turks and Austrians conquered and controlled the place. Today the highway passes under two of the porches of the fortress, the place is easily accessible and the visit is free of charge.

 

 

 

I am bringing in this episode of my travel notes a few pictures taken on the spectacular alpine highway Transalpina which we crossed in the last day of our motor trip. The road crosses the  Parang mountains and allowing for a scenic drive from the city of Sebes in the North to the resort of Ranca south of the mountains. The map is available at

http://www.transalpina.biz/harta.html

The road competes with the Transfagarasan alpine road which is located about 100 km East for the title of the most beautiful alpine road in Romania. Its origins are said be traced back to the 4th century BC, this being one of the roads used by the Roman legions to reach the defense posts in the Northern area of the Empire.  Used for the many centuries to come only by shepherds crossing the mountains with their sheep. It was only during the First World War that the German army built a stone road, then when both sides of the Carpathians became part of Romania it was modernized during the 1930s (the reign of king Carol the 2nd). During the last few years it was asphalted and is in very good shape, yet it is not yet officially open as the sides of the road are not all in place. It is safe to look on the Internet Web site for the state of the road and for the weather forecast before planing a trip

 

 

 

 

We crossed it from North (the lake at Obarsia Lotrului) to South (the resort of Ranca). After climbing on the alpine plateau the landscape becomes spectacular, endless rows of mountains, and the road that at some points seems to climb to the sky. We have visited alpine roads in Austria and Switzerland and we can witness that the Transalpina proudly competes with them. The Internet side quotes 2145 as the highest point on the road, although the GPS on our car claimed that we reached 2170m at some point.

 

 

 

Here is an odd and sad story – the story of a place of worship, the story of a place that witnessed the history of a Jewish community and was the symbol, the place of gathering and the center of life of this community. A place which was sold as a piece of real estate and its purpose changed. Instead of becoming a place of remembering it will soon forget all.

 

 

This was the second day of our trip in Western Romania. After having spent the night in Baile Herculane and then traveled for a few hours in the wild and picturesque valley of the river Cerna we descended to Turnu Severin.We stopped first at the walls of the medieval city which are also the head of the bridge built by Apolodor of Damascus in the years 103-105 when the Roman army entered Dacia to win the second and final war and conquer this territory. Then we went to the center of the city which looks quite nice and was quite and empty in that summer Sunday afternoon. There we noticed the building, a red bricks structure with a silhouette that looked familiar.

 

 

Without any doubt the building was a synagogue. Or better said it was once a synagogue, because now the firm outside indicated the present destination of the building – a notary office. What we were seeing was the former synagogue built in the center of the city in the second half of the 19th century by the Jewish community of Turnu Severin. The community was not too big in numbers, a mix of about 140 Ashkenazi and Sephardic families, but probably a wealthy and flourishing community as they could afford buying in this location and building the Jewish place of prayer in the heart of the city. I could find no information about the building on the Internet, not the exact year of its building, not about the architect and builder, not about the benefactors who contributed. I do not know if there are any archives of the community, there are certainly Jews who were born here, or descendants of the Jews born here living all over the world, they could have contributed with information, photographs, memorabilia, they could have helped to make this place a museum if there is no longer a viable community for praying, but the fate of the place was to be different.

 

 

I could actually find more information on the Internet about the transaction that settled the fate of the synagogue building. The case made some waves a few years ago. If the information I found is accurate, the building was sold by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania (FCER) in 2006 for the amount of 57,000 Euros (the price of an average apartment in Bucharest) to a family of notaries who opened here their office. Here are two articles (in Romanian) describing the story and the history.

 

http://www.mehedinti.djc.ro/ObiectiveDetalii.aspx?ID=993

http://www.divers.ro/actualitate_ro?wid=37455&func=viewSubmission&sid=1665

 

We could not enter the building, the offices were closed on Sunday. Near the synagogue a big Christian Orthodox cathedral is being built, actually it looks close to completion, and it dwarfs the much modest (in size) synagogue. The building looks like it’s being maintained in good conditions, but soon the external architectonic details still existing that keep trace of the original purpose of the building may disappear, and with them the last memories of another Jewish community in Eastern Europe which is gone forever.

 

 

 

One of the discoveries in the recent vacation spent in Romania was an architectonic and historical jewel in the hills below the Carpathians, near Hunedoara. The road that descends South to the village of Densus (read Den-soosh) is picturesque and in very good condition, allowing the travelers to enjoy the landscape.

 

 

 

I knew nothing about this place and I am to blame. Some of the sources describe it as the oldest church which is still active in Romania. As you are getting closer the silhouette of the church arrows to the sky in a way which is quite familiar for anybody who has seen the Romanesque churches in hills and mountains of Spain or Southern France. The history of this place is truly fascinating, its walls and stones catch some of the most interesting events of this area at the crossroads of nations and religions. It seems that there was a church in this place since the 6th century, and some of the stones in the structure have been identified as originating from the nearby Roman city of Ulpia Traiana Sarmisegetusa (not to be confounded with the Dacian capital located a few tens of kilometers from Densus). Inside the church eight Roman altars built in the 2nd or 3rd century were identified – brought here from the Roman city, or maybe remains of a previous pre-Christian religious structure.

 

 

The present rectangular structure dates from the 13th century, with a semi-circular apse to the East and a large diaconicon to the South. The denomination of the church changed several times during its history – it became Calvinist in the 16th century, and then Greek-Catholic – a branch of Christianity specific to Transylvania which unified the local Greek-Orthodox tradition with the Western Catholicism. In 1948, during the Communist rule, the Greek-Catholic faith was declared illegal, and the church of Densus (as many other) became Orthodox. It is today dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

 

 

Elements of the Roman city stones which were brought here to build the church are visible in the structure (the columns incorporated in the external wall which remind the Cathedral in Syracuse, Sicily), or decoration (the two lions on the roof on the backside). There are also Latin inscriptions on the stones around, which may have been once part of the central structure.

 

source http://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fi%C8%99ier:Sf_Treime_Densus.jpg

 

source http://www.evz.ro/detalii/stiri/castelul-corvinilor-vandut-la-suprapret-892383.html

 

Photography is not allowed inside the church, so I could not take pictures in the interior. You can see above two photographs I found on the Internet, they show some of the saints images painted on the interior walls that survived. The older are dated 1443, contemporary to works of Fra Angelico and they belong to a church painter famous in the his time named Stefan.

More photographs, as well as  more information and discussions about this fascinating place for these of you who can read Romanian can be found at:

http://www.crestinortodox.ro/biserici-manastiri/biserica-sfantul-nicolae-densus-67830.html

As I am a passionate of lighthouses, one of my questions to the local folks during my vacation on the Danube was obviously ‘Are there any lighthouses on the Danube’. The answer was ‘no, not any longer, as today navigation is GPS-guided, but there were until not long time ago’. Their story is fascinating.

 

 

 

A few kilometers from the nice hotel we were lodged in on the river of Danube you can find the area of the Small Cauldrons (Cazanele Mici). This is the place where the distance between the two shores of the Danube is the smallest in the area, and in the past, before the Iron Gates dam was built the white waters looked liked boiling, hence the name. Despite the dangerous waters the small distance between the shores made the place one of the preferred escape border areas for the daring people who tried to cross from Romania to Yugoslavia, and then to continue their road to freedom away of the Communist Romania. Hundreds perished during the crossing shot by the border police, even more were caught and imprisoned. This was another kind of wall then the wall of Berlin, less famous, but not less dangerous and not less the symbol of the futile tentative of the Communists to keep the people confined within the prison that became the whole country.

 

 

 

 

Until no more than 20 years ago two lighthouses regulated the traffic on the Danube in this area. One was located on the Romanian shore, the other at the other side of the gorges on the Serbian shore. Two big commercial ships could not traverse the gorges simultaneously, and two big balls signaled the permission to cross the Cauldrons. One of them was always down, the other up, allowing ships to traverse only one way at once.

 

 

While the disaffected building of the lighthouse on the Serbian shore seems to have remained unused and unchanged since the modern traffic methods were put in effect, the location on the Romanian shore received a new and interesting destination. It became the place where the new monastery of Mraconia (or Mracunea) was built. A monastery that has a long history and tradition, which was destroyed at least five times during its history and built back from ashes. A monastery that refuses to die.

The first mention dates from 1453, the year of the fall of Constantinople, and the monastery was at that time dedicate to Saint Ilie (Eliah). Destroyed by the Turkish invasions, it was rebuilt and consecrated again in 1523, three years before the kingdom of Hungary fell after the defeat at Mohacs. Destroyed a couple of times in the 18th and 19th centuries during the wars between the Russians and the Turks, it flourished in between the two world wars, to be again demolished and covered by waters in 1967, when the Iron Gates dam was built. And yet the history of the Mraconia refused to come to an end, and in 1993 the spectacular location of the former lighthouse on the Romanian shore was selected to be the place of the building of the new monks monastery. In 2008 it was transformed into a nuns monastery, which is now dedicated to the Saints Michael and Gabriel.

 

 

 

There are still works undergoing inside the crossed-shaped church, and we had the chance to see the painters at work. It’s a beautiful place in a fabulous location, a beautiful place of prayers that could not be silenced by history. Do not miss it during your future trips in the area.