Why Bistrita ?



Bistrita is Romania’s northernmost medieval borough, founded in the 12t h century by the German colonists coming from Mosel and Luxembourg Valleys, in a period when the Catholic Church consolidated itself as a state institution in Central and Eastern Europe. The place was initially called  Nosa,  presumably in  the  memory  of the area to which its founders belonged. On April 2nd 1241 Nosa was devastated by the Tartar attack, in which more than 6,000 Christians were killed. In 1264 a document issued by Pope Urban IV Chancellery first mentions the name of the town – some plots of land known  as BISTRICHE. This  name imposed itself after  the  13th  century though the county is still called Nosnerland in German.

Under the protection of the Queen of Hungary, the local citizens became the most important merchants in the area, mediating  trade between Transylvania and Moldavia. Thus, in 1352, King  Louis of Anjou grants Bistrita a Royal Charter for the right to hold the great market on St. Bartholomew’s  Day, a 15 days’ annual event which takes place each August near the church in the main  square. The borough was declared a free royal town and was recognized the right to economical, judicial and political autonomy, including that of having its own armorial bearings. In 1465 king Matei Corvin grants Bistrita a Royal Charter for the right to demolish the ancient defense castle on Burich hill and fortify the whole place. The 22 guilds succeed in fortifying about 428,000 square meters, by erecting 10 m tall and 1.5 m wide stone walls running along a surface of about 6 km. At the exterior these walls were fitted with a water ditch, also meant to supply water to the mills in town.

From 1480 onwards, under the shelter of the castle walls, the local people built one of Eastern Europe’s largest medieval architectural ensembles of arched ground-floor passageways – the so called Sugalete Ensemble. The 13 houses formed the economic nucleus of the town, where merchants and craftsmen would sell their goods. Between the large streets starting from the main square and the castle walls, shortcuts were made – narrow, pedestrian passageways running along the town in a north-south direction. They were named after the towers or the guilds that protected the town; at present, they are simply called Passageways. The historical centre of the town still preserves 22 such passageways, like no other borough in Transylvania. The pedestrian activity, as dynamic as it used to be 500 years ago, is carried out throughout these winding, narrow, arched or vaulted old streets, with astonishing and picturesque routes.

The Evangelical Church in the main square is the most representative architectural symbol of the town. Built in stages from the 13t h century onwards, its tower is the tallest stone church tower in Transylvania – 75 m. The Gothic forms of the church are arrayed with elements of Renaissance style by an Italian craftsman who worked in Bistrita in a time when Michelangelo and Titian were gaining fame in Florence, Rome or Venice. Visiting Transylvania in 1564, Giovan Andrea Grano described Sibiu as the most powerful town, Cluj as the most populated and Bistrita as the most beautiful.

In the 18th century the borough falls under Habsburg military domination and will play an important role in monitoring the eastern border of the Empire. It is the epoch of mail coaches setting off from the small square towards Sibiu, Cernauti, Krakow or Vienna, and reaching destination after wearisome travels. According to the legend, it is by coach too, that Bram Stoker’s hero, Jonathan Harker, traveled from Bistrita, through Bargau passage, to meet Count Dracula.

From the 19th  century onwards the old fortification was demolished except for the Coopers’ Tower The spirit  of tolerance, understanding  and co-operation  has been dominant, con- tinuing a tradition which creates an idyllic atmosphere in a town where people know each other,  an atmosphere that gives peace  of  mind and invites to long sojourns and nostalgic returns.

The  former  City  hall  is  situated at the southwest  corner  of  the Main Square. Built in the 16t h century the construction was restored in  the neo-classical style in the early 19th  century. The  stoneware  details  in  the  inner yard and the stone benches along the gateway remind of a bygone age when the  local judges and the county  lords would decide upon all the matters of the community.

The City Hall is housed by a 19t h century building facing the Evangelical Church – the symbol  of  a  town  where  Romanians,  Germans,  Jews  and  Hungarians  live  in  peace and harmony. The statue of poet Andrei Muresanu cast by  Cornel  Medrea  1937.  Muresanu’s  poem Rasunet (“An  Echo”) became Romania’s National Anthem – “Awaken thee, Romanians”, and Bistrita was officially proclaimed City of the National Anthem.

Bistrita is known as a town of passageways because the street network in the old town still retains 22 narrow streets overlooked by medieval arcades and vaults.

The Arts Passageway links the workshops of the Artists’ Union to the Corneliu Baba Fine Arts College, but 500 years ago the place was called the Butchers’ street, because would link the commercial area of the town and the Butchers’ Tower.

The  Sugalete  Ensemble  (traditionally known as Sub galete) is the largest  medieval  ensemble  of  arched ground-floor  passageways in Romania.  Their  aspect  has  remained  almost unchanged since 1480-1550. It  is  from  the  shops  under  these arcades that the  Moldavian princes would  buy  golden  and  silver  jewels, fine  cloth  brought  from  Flanders and Cologne,  golden thread silk from Venice as well as rare goods, such as pepper, ginger or different medicines.

The  stone  benches  on  which  the merchants would sit or display  their goods  remain  on  the  map  of  today, encased in the pillars that support the Gothic,  Renaissance  and  Baroque vaults.

Each autumn, during the Festive Days of the Arts College, the thread of the arts is unfurled beneath the arcades of the historical buildings to Corneliu Baba Art Gallery,actually a roll of paper on which passers-by can write down their impressions, make drawings, mark the symbols of the town or record the most important events  of  the year. If you happen to be in Bistrita around 18t h November, who knows, you will add a touch of color to the historical centre, together with other artists of the town.

In  1495,  the  house  on  the  eastern  side  of  the  Main Square was a splendid multi-storey building which the notary Andreas Beuchel started to renovate after the style of the establishments in Krakow, where he had studied. Appointed as magistrate judge (1525-1526), Andreas Beuchel got involved in the political conflicts of the epoch and, being at variance with the citizens of the town, was sentenced to death and executed in July 1532. The story goes that his face was sculpted on the walls of the church choir in the Main Square to serve as an example for all those who would betray the citizens of the town. The house was bought in 1533 by humanist Christian Pomarius, then, in 1538, taken over by Jonannes Murator who came from Moldavia to settle in the area. The building is also  known as Ioan Zidaru House (the Romanian for Johannes Murator).

Every July, when the medieval ceremonies are held, it is here that the magistrate judge of the town establishes his residence.

Called  the  Silversmith’s House in German and  the  Goldsmith’s House  in  Romanian, the  building  is  widely considered  to  be  one  of the  finest  medieval  constructions in Bistrita.

The  Silversmith’s House  built  1560-1563  by Petrus Italus de Lugano’s stone masons. The building faithfully preserves the finest  Renaissance  architecture specific for a Transylvanian  aristocrat’s residence.  The  windows, fitted  with  stone  profiles, visible on  the  main

facade,  are  completed  by a series of genuine interior doors and details. The  gateway  is  surrounded  by  pillars placed on  high  pedestals,  after the style of the 15th  century Florentine architecture.

Precious metalworking highly developed  in  Bistrita mostly  because  precious metals were processed directly  via  Rodna  mines, in  close  vicinity.  Investments  in  this  domain also  attracted  important medieval  investors  such as the Fuger family from Augsburg,  interested  in taking over Europe’s precious  metal  resources. The Silversmith’s House, with its workshops on the ground floor and dwelling rooms  on  the  first  floor, remains  typical  for  the architecture of the epoch.

Spitalgasse  (Hospital  Street)  is one of the oldest in town. During the Middle Ages a hospital functioned on the site, mentioned in historical documents as far back as the 14th  century. The chapel and the medieval hospital were destroyed by fire in 1758 and the site was occupied by the present Holy Trinity  Roman-Catholic  Church and a  college.  Gheorghe Șincai,  an  outstanding  representative  of  the Transylvanian School, graduated from this catholic college.

In 1487 the construction of a defensive and watchtower was begun on the northern side of the church in the Main Square. From the very beginning the tower was in care of the magistrate judge and the tower guard had to warn against military attack or danger of fire breaking out. However, Bistrita was fire-ravaged in 1680, 1768, and in 1857, when 148 houses were completely burned to the ground; the roof of the tower, the medieval clock and the tower bells were also destroyed.

Unfortunately, on June 11th 2008 another fire broke out, destroying the scaffolding set up for the restoration of the edifice; the fire spread so quickly that the roof of the tower, the bells, the clock and much of the framework were completely burned down. The whole community now makes efforts to restore this symbol of the past, the present and the future. Around the Evangelical Church were held the famous markets on St. Bartholomew’s Day. Such annual events took place every August and would last 15 days. The southern side of the church has many points of interest, such as the sun dial, the relief portrait of  Andreas Beuchtel or a 14t h century knight’s tombstone.

It’s perhaps from beneath these arcades that the voievode of Moldavia, Ieremia Movila, bought  200 quintals of copper pots, spoons, scythes, gun powder, hoes, sickles, hatchets, rope and fishing net; prince Alexandru Lapusneanul is said to have purchased 100 sheets of parchment paper from the same location.

The street network in the centre of the town remains wholly in the style of the early 14th century when  it was  designed.  The  old 14t h-16th   century  houses  were incorporated in the 19th  century architecture and love for nature brought  about  flowing  flowers in  the  windows,  which  adds  a splash of color to the town.

Education  developed  around  the religious institutions in the 14t h  century;  in  the  course  of  the  15t h -16t h  centuries  many  local  students  are mentioned as having  graduated from the universities of Krakow, Vienna, Augsburg   etc.  The  present  educational system includes university specialties as well. The county library  offers specialty books but also ancient book collections. For instance, the Orthodox Bishopric has  in  its  custody  Romanian  books dating  back  to  the  17t h -19t h  centuries. Among the most important are Varlaam’s  Collection  of  Homilies  (1643), Simion  Stefan’s  New  Testament (1648),  Cantacuzino’s  Bible,  Inocentiu  Micu  Klein’s  Bible,  The  Dogmatic Theolog y (1795) etc. This  collection  also  includes  283 hand painted icons on wood from the 17t h -19t h centuries and 45 glass painted icons in a style  that  is  specific  to  the area.

The first postal service in Bistrita arose in 1667 when Johann Rosenauer and Georg Parlaghi be-came the first post office managers mentioned in documents. It was the epoch of the  mail coaches traveling from Bistrita to Sighisoara, Sibiu, Krakow, Cernauti, Vienna etc. The routes recorded in documents 1796 – 1836 offer information about the approximate travel time; for instance it took about 7 hours 45 minutes to travel from Bistrita to Cluj (120 km). Built in the late 19th  century, the edifice of the former Post Office now welcomes us at the entrance to the historic centre.

Bistrita is  one of Transylvania’s seven citadels, their symbol being the principality’s coat of arms, to be found also in Romania’s coat of arms from 1918 onwards. In his description of the Saxon boroughs in 1564 the Italian Giovan  Andrea Gramo  remarked that Bistrita was the most beautiful town of Transylvania.

The Coopers’ Tower  is the  only  tower  to be preserved from the fortification, whose demolition was begun at the end of the 19th  century. The tower was reinforced on the western side by a bastion specially meant for artillery.

The 1.5m thick walls are fitted with different types of embrasures typical of the 15th -16th  centuries. In the interior the tower is four-leveled. On levels 1 and 2 is an art gallery organized by Nosner Land Cultural Asociation.

Bistrita was surrounded by stone walls, ditches and  defensive  towers  after  1465 when the local  aristocrats were given  this right by King Matei Corvin. The guilds of butchers,  tailors, ropers,  carpenters,  coopers, wheelwrights  etc. built 10 towers  and three main access gates: the Hospital Gate, the  Hungarian  Gate  and  the  Wooden Gate. The wall  of  the  fortified  perimeter ran  along  Bistricioarei,  Ecaterina  Teodoroiu, Dogarilor, Bulevardul Republicii and Mihai Eminescu streets.

The Municipal Park – Some 7 hectares of fine  parkland containing tree-lined walks, laid-out on  the eastern side  between  the castle  wall and the river  Bistrita. The promenade  had  been  completed  by  1862  when  Rudolf Weigartaer  planted  200  chestnut trees.  Gradually, other ornamental  species  were  added,  such  as  lilac  trees  and ginko-biloba  trees,  diversifying  the  vegetation  structure and  adding  a  touch  of  exoticism to  walking  through  the century-old park. In  1926 a pavilion  was  built  the middle of the  park, where people could listen to the brass band concerts as they were taking their Sunday walks. In close vicinity stands the statue of the famous poet George Cosbuc, born in the area.

George  Cosbuc  Municipal  Centre  is the most important  cultural  institution  in town. It was built  in the 19th  century  and was  known under the name  of Gewebeverein – the Reunion of the Craftsmen. Johann Strauss’ “Lilac” musical comedy  was performed here in 1912, with soloists from the Vienna Opera House. The edifice remains  an impressive  architecture monument. Concerts and theatre performances  are organized  here with the participation of famous artistes.

Bistrita municipal town is the administrative centre of Bistrita-Nasaud department; the 81,000 inhabitants represent 25% of the county  population. The administrative territory covers 14.547 hectares and, besides the town, also includes  the  following  districts:  Ghinda,  Sarata,  Sigmir, Slatinita, Unirea and Viisoara. The structure of  the population: 90.57%  Romanians, 6.42% Hungarians, 2.42 Romany people and 0.45% Germans. 82% of the inhabitants declare themselves to be Orthodox, 1.8% Roman-Catholics, 4.5% Pentecostals, the rest of the population belonging to other denominations. At present, 36% of the active population works in the field of industry, 9% in construction and transport, 6% in education and culture domains, 5% in the public health and social assistance systems. The economic  centre  of the  modern town extends from Petru Rares Square; the building of the Prefecture on the  eastern  side and the  Golden Crown  Hotel  on  the  western  side, highlight the new development of the town, begun in the early 1970s.

The craftsmen and the  traders  not only built  a  town in Bistrita but also improved  the  self-awareness and the sense of duty of a whole society. The German community is no longer a dominant ethnic group but, in time, the attention to the perfect detail, specific for this community, was taken over by the other ethnic groups. If the architecture and the splendors of this area blend so harmoniously, it is because of the character of the local people who, with modesty,  but perseveringly, preserve the everlasting  values  of  ancient  culture  and traditions in a town glowing with history.