Transylvania - what does this name evoke? Ghoulish castles, gloomy landscapes and a certain bloodthirsty Count, no doubt.
Not so. The real Transylvania is a place of fabulous natural beauty and an immensely rich cultural heritage arising from an ancient community of Romanians, Hungarians, Saxons, Jews, Roma and Armenians - a people who over the centuries have lived harmoniously together.
The Mihai Eminescu Trust exhibition “Transylvania – Heritage and Future” focuses on the Saxon villages of South-Eastern Transylvania, known in German as the Siebenburgen, and their recent rebirth as self-sustaining rural communities.
Illustrating the diversity of Transylvania’s heritage, the exhibition also draws on the restoration of the rich Jewish heritage in Southern Transylvania, and the revival of traditional crafts and trades.
Transylvania was home to a large German-speaking Saxon population from the 12th century until the 1980s which, during the bleakest years of the communist regime, was allowed to leave the country in exchange for “economic aid” provided by West Germany. The exodus continued after 1989 when, offered German citizenship, most of those remaining decided to make a new life in the West. As a result, the villages remained deserted; fields, historic farm houses and ancient fortified churches lay derelict.
After years of neglect, the houses have welcomed a new generation of inhabitants, Romanians and Roma ethnics. But the resources for reconstruction are scarce and the abandoned villages and their places of worship are in urgent need of attention.
The decay of the heritage and the loss of community spirit led, in the years following the 1989 revolution, to a crisis that threatened to accomplish what Nicolae Ceausescu was prevented from doing only by his death: raze the villages to the ground and obliterate their history.
The exhibition focuses on several chapters of village renaissance after the Saxon exodus: an overview of the projects and how they engage and empower entire communities; the vernacular architecture; the revival of living traditions; the training of villagers; the renewal of their sense of purpose; and their eventual emergence as vibrant self-sustaining, rural societies.
Nowadays, the rescued villages are again teeming with activity. Old houses are being rebuilt using traditional techniques. Ancient crafts are being revived – among them brick and tile making, crucial for the upkeep and restoration of buildings throughout the region. The fields and orchards are once again well managed, and the local produce marketed. Attracted by the beauty and purity of the environment, by the majesty of the fortified churches, and by a way of living which disappeared long ago from the West, visitors arrive from every corner of the world. By respecting their legacy and marrying it to modern, environmentally sensitive infrastructure, the villagers of Southern Transylvania are en route to forging a life fit for the 21st century - vivid testimony to the enduring value of the Saxon accomplishment, certainly: but also a model for rural revival that has won widespread international recognition.
The exhibition tells in words and photographs the story of the projects accomplished by the Trust, with images and texts of the villages’ historic architecture (peerless fortified churches and streetscapes), their crafts and their landscapes. A part of the exhibition illustrates the rich Jewish heritage in Transylvania. There are examples of restoration projects such as the princely Apafi Manor, of barns and historic farmhouses and of traditional village trades: painted tiles, hand-made bricks, iron work, embroidery and weaving.
For the past ten years, The Mihai Eminescu Trust has led the revitalization of the built and natural heritage of South-Eastern Transylvania. Under the Patronage of HRH the Prince of Wales, it has completed over 600 projects, restoring the integrity of buildings, resurrecting crafts and professional skills, and developing the region as a unique destination for art lovers and eco-tourists.
EXHIBITION & PUBLIC PROGRAMS
The exhibition is open from 14 to 31 October 2010, Monday to Friday, 10.30am to 5.30pm, at The Embassy of Romania to the United States (1607 23rd Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008).
Guided tours at 1pm and 4pm.
The official opening (by invitation only) takes place on Thursday 14 October 2010, at 6.30pm. Details from firstname.lastname@example.org .
The exhibition is part of a larger program promoting the cultural values of Romania in Washington DC, and celebrating 130 years of diplomatic relations between Romania and the USA. It will be officially opened by the Romanian Ambassador, HE Adrian Vierita, and by the President of the Mihai Eminescu Trust, Mrs Jessica Douglas-Home.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of public programs, including guided tours, talks by guest speakers from Romania, Great Britain and the USA, and a video message from HRH the Prince of Wales.
- The Last Jew of Sighisoara, a talk by Jessica Douglas-Home, President of the MET, Friday 15 October 2010, at 6.30pm
Entrance is free, but RSVP is mandatory at email@example.com by Tuesday 12 October 2010.
- Transylvania – Lost and Found, a talk by Caroline Fernolend, Vice-President of the MET, Thursday 21 October 2010, at 6.30pm.
Entrance is free, but RSVP is mandatory at firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday 19 October 2010.
Both talks take place at The Embassy of Romania to the United States (1607 23rd Street NW, Washington, DC 20008).
FREE ADMISSION to exhibition, guided tours and all events.
RSVPs and further information:
Contact person: Ramona Mitrica, email@example.com .
For full program and updates, please check www.mihaieminescutrust.org