Britain’s Prince Charles visited Romania in early June this year. Captivated by the beauty of the landscape and charm of the rural communities, each with their own traits and customs, the Prince has been travelling to the country since 1998.
Romania is one of the few European countries with well preserved grasslands, which looks almost untouched, like nature intended. Land of myth and legend, Transylvania, a historical region in the central part of Romania, may host the world’s last surviving medieval landscape. The foothills of the Carpathian mountains host ancient villages unchanged by time and civilisation. There may be many ancient villages in Romania, such as the Saxon villages built by German settlers in Transylvania. These medieval villages are dominated by fortified churches and characterised by a specific settlement pattern preserved since the Middle Ages. Seven of these villages, namely Biertan, Calnic, Darjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Viilor and Viscri, are part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
Prince Charles aims to lead the efforts to breathe new life into ancient Romanian traditions, restore houses with historical value and redefine the importance of rural communities. The Prince of Wales Romania Foundation was launched in 2015 to protect Romania’s rural heritage and promote traditional skills and training. Prince Charles himself owns two properties in the hills of Transylvania, in the villages of Viscri and Zalanpatak, and has purchased a meadow for his nephew, Prince George.
Motivated by the change Prince Charles aims to bring to the region, local families are transforming their homes into eco-friendly guesthouses catering to tourists coming to the region aiming to enjoy the rural life. Young Romanians may be starting to rethink life in the city in favour of a life in the countryside where they may set up micro-farms and local businesses with support from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. Prince Charles’ visits to the region may be attracting an increasing number of tourists and local products may be gaining more exposure. The biodiversity of the surrounding grassland is unique and the food produced by organic local farms is of the best quality. Visitors may enjoy local homemade delicacies, savor Transylvanian traditional meals paired with local wines, and take home souvenirs such as local honey, homemade jams, local wines, and palinca, which is a traditional fruit brandy.
Tourists to the village of Viscri may visit the newly renovated fortified church and quaint houses lined up on each side of the main road. These tranquil villages may seem to have remained untouched by progress. On the unpaved village roads, one may see cattle taking themselves to pasture early in the morning and finding their way home in the evening. Tourists who venture into the wilderness may enjoy seeing picturesque meadows, deer grazing grass, many species of birds, butterflies, crickets, and even brown bears, wolves and foxes. Tourists may also go horseback riding or enjoy romantic carriage rides, even in the wintertime.
In some villages, locals wear items of traditional clothing, mainly on special occasions. June 24th marks the Universal Day of the Romanian Blouse. People celebrate it by organising festivals and fairs to promote local traditions and their cultural identity. Aside from what seems to be their traditional beauty, the Romanian blouses are venerable anthropological artifacts, reflecting through hand-embroidered symbols the identity of their wearer. Transylvanian villages may have the potential to emerge as sustainable tourist destinations with relatively untouched scenery and carefully preserved customs and traditions. While the world may be heading towards modernisation, locating unspoiled natural oases such as the ancient Romanian villages may prove more unique and rewarding as the time goes by.
How may ancient traditions be best preserved in the modern world?