Transylvania’s history is tricky to get your head around. So I thought we would start with the history of Saxon Transylvania. After all, the vast majority of our guests find themselves cycling with us here.
Transylvania formed the eastern-most reaches of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. It was then absorbed into modern Romania. It is home to some of Europe’s most beguiling and wild landscapes. The Saxon Villages of Tarnava Mare, along and surrounding the Tarnava river, were first colonized by Germans – or Saxons – from the 12th Century, when King Geza II of Hungary asked for protection from invading Ottomans and Tatars. The Saxons built fortifications. The most important towns were duly strengthened and smaller communities started by fortifying their church.
Up to a quarter of a million Saxons remained for more than 800 years, retaining their language and customs. But in one of the lesser known mass migrations of the 20th Century, the population began to decrease after World War II. Then, many returned to Austria and Germany. The migration continued under Ceausescu and today fewer than 35,000 Saxons live in Transylvania. They still speak a dialect that is distinct from modern German and follow many of the religious and cultural customs that their families did for centuries. Their ancestral villages are shared with new neighbours. Romanians, Hungarians and Gypsies are breathing new life into abandoned houses, fields and vineyards and the result is an exhilarating fusion of customs and cultures. It is a land of architectural, cultural and natural riches, where traditions, food and family are celebrated and visitors are welcomed with genuine warmth.
Lucy Abel Smith’s Travels in Transylvania is a good book to get you started on the history of Saxon Transylvania, while for something a little more broad it’s got to be Romania’s most famous historian, Neagu Djuvara.