The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | Articles | Europe | Images of Transylvania, Part I

Email to a friend
Printer friendly

Images of Transylvania, Part I


by Andras Szeitz


Principality of

These images and texts focus on cities, towns, buildings and natural scenery of Transylvania. Transylvania had been an integral part of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1000 until 1921, and is the citadel of the Hungarian culture in the Carpathian Basin. At the end of World War I, as part of the Treaty of Trianon, 1920, the Allies transferred Transylvania from Hungary to Rumania (to whom Transylvania had never belonged before). However, the region remains a treasury of the one-thousand-year old Hungarian culture and people in the Carpathian Basin.



Geographically, Transylvania lies in the Carpathian Basin. Its original and native inhabitants are the Hungarians. [Webmaster note: This, of course, is not true.The Magyars did not invade this part of Europe until the 9th century. See "Magyar Conquest of Hungary"]. During the centuries and after many wars, the Hungarian kings invited other ethnicities, such as the Saxons from Germany, to settle and fill the place of the decreased Hungarian population, and to replenish the land of Transylvania again. Other groups, such as the Rumanians, came in Transylvania later. Their first groups are mentioned in chronicles dated the 13th century, quoting them as poor shepherds wandering with their flocks from Wallachia across the Carpathian Mountains to seek asylum and refuge in Hungarian territory.

But there is another ethnic group within the territory of Transylvania proper, about which, very few words are usually spoken; these are the Székelys. The Székely people live in their very nice Székely-land (Hung. Székelyföld) for more than a thousand years, longer than the Hungarians, Germans, Rumanians or anybody else in Transylvania.

church in

Ethnographically and culturally, the Székelys belong to the Hungarian group, speaking Hungarian language, having the same culture, and they are regarded as the oldest core of Hungarians in Transylvania. A bit different from the Hungarians in nature, the Székelys are believed to be the descendants of Attila the Hun, The Scourge of God, who arrived with his troops in Transylvania around the 5th century. With the retreat of Attila, the Székelys stayed behind, later joining the seven Hungarian tribes conquering Transylvania in 896. The Székelys are known to be strong-willed, hard-working, resourceful people who are, at the same time, temperamental, full of virtue, and have a funny sense of humor; something that an outsider cannot always figure out (Hung. székely góbé). They are honest, trustworthy and passionate, sometimes hard-necked people who are very proud of their heritage.

[Székely gate]

The Székelys live in Székely-land which they organized into 5 administrative jurisdictions, referred to as széks; these are: Maros-szék, Csík-szék, Udvarhely-szék, Három-szék and Aranyos-szék. They wear their characteristic national costumes, eat from their own cuisine and live in towns and villages which are very clean. The Székely villages can be recognized easily, because of the characteristic carved-wood gates opening to the courtyards, referred to as Székely gates (Hung. Székely kapu; see image on the left).

The ethnographic and cultural entity of the Székelys and the SZÉKELY-LAND are so important within the Hungarian culture that its images with texts are discussed in a separate section under the title Images of Székely Land.


PRINCIPALITY OF TRANSYLVANIA Coat of arms of the Principality of Transylvania. In the 18th century, Transylvania became an independent state, recognized by Austria and Hungary.

Coat of arms of TRANSYLVANIA

Index to Places The Great Hungarian Plain Land:


The region of KALOTASZEG :

The region of SZILÁGYSÁG :

The region of MEZÕSÉG :


The region of BARCASÁG :



Geographically, NAGYVÁRAD (Oradea, Rumania today) does not belong to Transylvania. It is still part of the Great Hungarian Plain Land (Hung. Nagyalföld). The reason why we mention Nagyvárad under the Transylvania section, though, is that the city, with its population of entirely Hungarian, was annexed from Hungary to Rumania at the same time, with the same act, the infamous Treaty of Trianon, 1920, when Transylvania was. Nagyvárad, as Transylvania, too, had never belonged to Rumania before in history.
The Archdiocese of Nagyvárad was founded by Hungarian king Saint Ladislaus I (1077-1095), the famed King of Knight, in 1093. Also, he became the first Hungarian king who was buried in the Bishopric cathedral. Nagyvárad was first destroyed by the Tartar invasion of 1241, but during the reign of the kings of the House of the Anjou (Charles Robert and his son Louis I, The Great), during the 14th century, the town bloomed again. The Kolozsvári brothers, Hungarian sculptors of the gothic era, made a life-size equestrian statue of the Saint Ladislaus I, which was destroyed, along with entire town, after Turkish troops occupied Nagyvárad, called in this period as Várad. Only 300 people were left from the town, which had been once a great place, having been the Archdiocese of the region.
The Habsburg army pushed out the Ottoman (Turkish) occupiers from the town, in 1692, but the fightings were so fierce that Nagyvárad again was destroyed, with only 21 house left. But this was not everything. The next year, Tartar raiders cracked down on the city again, and, according to a census in 1720, Nagyvárad had only 216 inhabitants.
During the Hungarian Liberation Fight of 1848, the largest Hungarian military factory and depot was in Nagyvárad. After the Compromise, 1867, the city was going through a quick industrialization procedure, and by the turn of the century, Nagyvárad became a busy commercial and cultural center; in this period it was referred to as Little Paris at Körös (referring to the river crossing the town).
The City Hall was built in 1900, in eclectic style, and shows strong resemblance to the city hall of Arad. The Szigligeti theater was stands on the main square of Nagyvárad and was opened in1900.
After the Tartar, Turkish and Habsburg devastation, Nagyvárad was completely rebuilt. The two-tower cathedral was built between 1752-1780, in baroque style. The walls of the 70-meter-long and 30-meter-wide church are covered with marbles from Carrara. The painting of the main alter, by Fischer Vincenz, depicts the Ascension of Virgin Mary; the organ is a gift from Habsburg queen reigning on the Hungarian throne, Maria Theresa (1740-1780).
Nagyvárad is often referred to as the City of Saint Ladislaus. The great Hungarian warrior-king was canonized in 1192, for the expansion of Christianity in Hungary, making it a general, nation-wide religion. During the canonization procedure his tomb was opened,the body removed and covered in precious textile. Then, it was placed in a silver coffin with golden ornaments. A gold crown was placed in his head and a sceptre put in his hand. The two arms were also removed to use them as a relic.
A golden bust of Saint Ladislaus, with a replica of the Hungarian Holy Crown, contains his head relic, and is one of the great treasures of the cathedral of Nagyvárad. This bust was made by Hungarian goldsmith Fülöp Link, in 1892, in preparation for the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian Conquest, 896 of Transylvania (another bust, with his head-relic, is in the cathedral of Gyõr, Hungary). This golden bust is on display, once every year, in one of the chapels of the Nagyvárad cathedral. Also, on display can be seen a splinter of his skull, and warrior axe, which was recovered from his tomb.



(Hung. Királyhágó) is a pass at an altitude of approximately 580 meters. Crossing the Kings' pass, we enter Transylvania, and in this sense, it is the geographic border of Transylvania.
It is a common practice that Hungarians speak about lands before and beyond the Kings' pass, since it is a natural division line.
The vegetation, which is characteristic to the Great Hungarian Plain land (Hung. Nagyalföld), ends here and changes to pine forests and more mountainous flora.
Hungarian king Saint Ladislaus I (1077-1095), the King of Knight lead his troops across the Királyhágó against the Cumanins breaking in Transylvania.
It has been an important military road for hundreds of years. The pass witnessed many battles, one of the latest, and probably the most important for the Hungarians, was when, between December 1918 and spring 1919, a Székely regimen commanded by colonel Pál Szotyori Nagy, defended the front here against the Rumanian troops, who already had occupied Transylvania earlier in 1918, and eventually, backed by the Allies, annexed the land, first time in history.
[Kings' pass]
Kings' pass


[Bánffyhunyad] Bánffyhunyad

Embroidered pillow of Kalotaszeg

BÁNFFYHUNNYAD is the capital of Kalotaszeg, a region beyond the Kings' pass (Hung. Királyhágó), which is very rich in Hungarian cultural heritage (i.e, national costumes, embroidery, etc). The village belonged to the Hungarian Bánffy dynasty, from 1330 till 1848. The original church of Bánffyhunyad (Huedin, Rumania today) was built by the Hungarian kings of the House of Árpád. It was consecrated in honour of the canonized Hungarian queen Elisabeth, daughter of king András II (1205-1235), in 1307. The nave of the church is in romanesque style and the apse is gothic. After the starting Ottoman (Turkish) attacks, the Bánffy family built a fortified tower to the church during the 15-16th centuries. The main pinnacle tower symbolizes Jesus Christ, and the four smaller by-pinnacles the four Evangelist disciples, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.
The church was destroyed many times due to Tartar and Turkish raids. The arcade type ceiling collapsed, and, after it became a Reformed (i.e., Presbyterian) church after the Protestant movement, the building received a painted panel-type wooden ceiling, in 1705.



[Magyarvalkó] [Inside church] inside church

Magyarvalkó (Valceu, Rumania today) is at the foothills of the Mountains of Gyalu (Hung. Gyalui havasok), hosting one of the most beautiful churches of Kalotaszeg. The church was built by the Hungarian Valkai dynasty in the 13th century, in romanesque style. In 1452, a gothic apse was attached and the complex was fortified with walls.
In Magyarvalkó was born and lived András Valkai, a judge, and hig-ranking officer at the Chancellery of the Hungarian governors of Transylvania. He wrote his poetic historical notes in Magyarvalkó about, among others, Bánk bán (a Hungarian noble who staged a plot to kill the German wife, Gertrudis, of the András II, in the 13th century), and the Hungarian kings.

[Magyarvalkó ]




The church of Magyargyerõmonostor was built in the 13th century by the Hungarian kings of the House of Árpád (1000-1301), and is regarded as the most idyllic little fortified church in Transylvania. Located in Kalotaszeg (a region of Transylvania populated by Hungarians with very characteristic cultural customs, such as costumes and embroidery), the church has several carvings dating back to the 13th century, a carved pulpit (1742) and a panelled ceiling.




The fortified church of Körösfõ (Izvorul Crisului, Rumania today), standing on a small hilltop outside of the village, was built in the 1700's. It is the largest and best-known church in Kalotaszeg an region beyond the Kings' pass (Királyhágó) populated by Hungarians, and rich in ethnic customs, i.e., national costumes, embroidery, knitting.
The tower of church, with the four by-pinnacles, were built in 1764.


(Ardud, Rumania today) is visited by many people every year, because the village has a spa. In the Middle Ages, Erdõd was a stronghold owned by the Hungarian Drágffy dynasty, but the fortress they held was destroyed during history. On the spot of the old fortress, a palace was ereceted by Hungarian aristocrat Sándor Károlyi, in 1730.
The chapel of this palace was the site of the wedding between the greatest Hungarian patriotic poet, Petõfi Sándor and his bride, Júlia Szendrey, on September 8, 1847.
Petõfi Sándor is remembered by Erdõd by a monument, which stands on the shore of the village's little lake, which had sadly dried-out since.
The Károlyi palace was destroyed during World War II, and only a bastion can be still seen of it, reinforced by concrete pillars, with some remaining parts of the walls attached to it.
The prominent son of Erdõd was Tamás Bakócz, the Archbishop of Esztergom (1442-1521), who was elevated to this height of authority from serfdom by the Hungarian renaissance king, Matthias (1458-1490).




(Dej, Rumania today) is an old salt mining town. Its mines were established by Hungarian king Andás II (1205-1235), and soon he raised Dés to the privileged status of a free royal town. The mines were exhausted by 1717 and the production was stopped. The population of Dés used to be the Saxons, who were settled here from Germany, but during the centuries they assimilated into the Hungarians.
Dés, like many other towns in Transylvania, suffered many times during history. Basta, the merciless Habsburg military commander, killed most of the population of the town in 1602.
In 1638, in Dés was staged the huge show trial against the members of the Sabbath (Hung. Szombatosok), a sect formed during the Protestant movement, during which they were sentenced to death with full confiscation of property. The sentencing was in Beszterce. In 1717, an attack by the Tartars of Crimea struck Dés.
The originally Catholic, now Reformed (i.e., Presbyterian), church was built in the second half of the 15th century. The church has nice gothic elements carved in stone. The tower is 72-meter-high and the fortifying walls were erected in the 16th century, which were sadly torn down during a renovation in the 1880's. In Dés the Franciscan order had a monastery and they style can be recognized in the long and narrow apse of the church.



When the State of Hungary was formed by Saint Stephen I. (1000-1038) in 1000, he also started to Chritianize the pagan Hungarians. He invited the Benedictine and Cistercian orders from France to bring in the Christian religion and culture. They build the first small stone churches in Hungary. The kings of the House of Árpád (1000-1301) also started to build churches of the same kind which today stand as the oldest and most precious relics of Christianity in Hungary. Such is the church of Sajóudvarhely (Sieu-Odorheiu, Rumania today) in northern Transylvania. Above the entrance the 800-year-old church a relief shows Saint Michael archangel killing the dragon. During the Protestant movement in the 16th century, the church was converted to a refomred one (similar to Presbyterian) which remains today.



(Sintereag, Rumania today) is an old Hungarian village in county Szolnok-Doboka, whose history dates back to the Hungarian Conquest 896. The originally Catholic church of Virgin Mary was built between 1327-1333, by Domonkos Gombás, a local Hungarian noble. Among the numerous devastations, the deadliest were by Basta, the cruel Habsburg mercenary commander, in 1602, the Tursks in 1660, the Habsburgs in 1704. These wars decimated the Hungarian population and other ethnicities started to infiltrate in the region.
The damaged church was rebuilt by Mária Bánffy and Zsuzsanna Szepesi, in 1761.


KOLOZSVÁR (also Kolozsmonostor)

has been inhabited since the early Stone Age. Using the remains of an older Dacian fort, the Romans built a town in 124 A.D., called Napoca. The Rumanian authorities, in a pursuit of their dream of being the descendants of the Romans, they renamed Kolozsvár to Napoca, after the ancient town from the are of the Roman Empire.
Kolozsvár (Cluj Napoca, Rumania today) was actually built by the Saxon settlers from Germany, who were brought in Transylvania by Hungarian king Géza II (1141-1162) of the House of Árpád, in the 13th century. The town started to develop under the reign of the Hungarian kings, and in the 15th century, it was surrounded by walls. On 23 February, 1440, Matthias Hunyadi, son of János Hunyadi, was born in Kolozsvár. (János Hunyadi was the Hungarian legendary defender of the country against the Ottoman (Turkish) invasion, the military commander, whom the pope called the Savior of Christianity; and his son, Matthias Hunyadi later became the finest Hungarian king (1458-1490), who brought in Hungary the renaissance culture from Italy, and finished what his father started : the build-up of a powerful defense system around the southern borders of Hungary which could successfully hold up the increasing Turkish attacks.)
Kolozsvár quickly became a central commercial city, the capital of Transylvania, where the Hungarian princes and governors held 70 diets (sessions of the parliaments). The town had gone through numerous devastating periods, i.e., Turkish and the Tartars raids, but is always could recover from the hits.
In 1551, Hungarian queen Isabel gave here possession of the Holy Hungarian crown to the envoy of Habsburg Ferdinand I; in1660, István Bocskai here took his oath and became governor of Transylvania; in 1613, Gábor Bethlen was elected here as the governor of Transylvania. When the Habsburg troops occupied Kolozsvár, they made the Nagyszeben (Sibiu) the capital of Transylvania, but it was later returned to Kolozsvár.
In 1848, the unification of the independent Transylvania with the Kingdom of Hungary was also declared here, and after the Compromise of 1867 , the political importance of Kolozsvár declined but, at the same time, it grew into a major cultural and scientific town. In 1872, Hungarian count Imre Mikó (1805-1876) offered his own chateau and property to establish the University of Kolozsvár, which was later named after the scientists Farkas and János Bólyai.

[Saint Michael church] Saint Michael church

[Entrance of the St. Michael church]west entrance

The Saint Michael church on the main square of Kolozsvár. The construction of this beautiful gothic church started in the 14th century and finished in the 15th century. The church has served not only as a religious center but fulfilled an important cultural and political role as well. Funerals of major Hungarian political figures, such as István Bocskai, Prince of Transylvania, leader of the Bocskai Liberation Fight were held here, but forthcoming Princes of Transylvania, such as Gábor Bethlen were also elected here.
Above the porch of the west entrance of the Saint Michael church, the Coat of Arms of Hungarian king, German-Roman emperor Sigismund (1387-1437) can be seen, also the figure of Saint Michael Archangel killing the dragon.
This magnificent 50-meter-long, 3-aisle church stands on the square overlooking the equestrian statue of Hungarian king Matthias in the front, and, with its 80-meter high tower, the church and the Matthias statue form a complex which has grown itself into an ethnic and cultural stronghold for the Hungarians in Transylvania, which, in a way, symbolizes the presence and the inherent right of the Hungarians for Transylvania, as the first nation in that land.

[King Matthias, 1458-1490]King Matthias

The equestrian statue of King Matthias, the Hungarian renaissance king (1458-1490) stands in front of the Saint Michael churc. The sculpture, by János Fadrusz, was erected in 1902 and stands in the front of the Saint Michael church on the main square of Kolozsvár. Since this statue poses as a national and ethnic symbol for the Hungarians in Transylvania, the chauvinistic Rumanian administration made several attempts to destroy it using all sorts of reasons. The lates being "... archeological excavations are necessary underneath the statue in search for proofs of Vlach (i.e., Rumanian) origins in Transylvania ...", in 1994.

[King Matthias, 1458-1490]King Matthias

[Reformed church] Reformed church

[St. George]

St. George, The Reformed (i.e., Presbyterian) church, which stands on Farkas street near downtown Kolozsvár, once belonged to the Minoriter Order and was founded by king Matthias. After the Protestant movement, it became a Calvinist (i.e., Reformed) church. The construction of the church started in 1486, in gothic style, and lasted till the first half of the 15th century. The church used to have a tower and a monastery building, but both were torn down in the 1640's.
The single-nave, 34-meter-long church received a very nice carved wood renaissance pulpit, and pews in the 17th century. The sepulchre of the Apafi dynasty, Hungarian governors of Transylvania, is in the apse. The stone carving is the work of Károly Kósa.
The statue of Saint George killing the dragon stands in front of the Reformed (i.e., Presbyterian) church on Farkas street, . The statue is by the Hungarian Kolozsvári brothers, Márton and György Kolozsvári, who were outstanding sculptors of the gothic sculpture of Europe. This is a replica of the original one, made in 1373, which is now in the castle of Prague in the Czech Republic.

KOLOZSMONOSTOR is in the outskirts of Kolozsvár. The Benedictine monastery and abbey of Kolozsmonostor is of great importance. Founded by Hungarian king Béla I, (1059-1063), the monastery served several times as a signing place for peace during the peasant-uprising led by Antal Budai-Nagy, in 1437. The original church was completely destroyed during the centuries, only the apse, built in the 14th century, remained. The church was rebuilt in neo-gothic style.



[Marosvásárhely] Marosvásárhely

[City Hall]
OldCity Hall

[Palace of Culture]
Palace of Culture

[Greetings from

shows signs of human habitat dating back to the early Stone Age. Finds from the era of the Dacians and the Roman Empire are not rare in the area.
The ancient Székely town of Marosvásárhely (Tirgu Mures, Rumania today) was first mentioned in the old documents as Novum forum Siculorum, i.e., Hung. Székelyvásárhely (Engl. Székely Market). In 1316, Marosvásárhely was a well-known place for its animal and wheat fairs. The town became a local economic and political center for the Hungarians and the Székelys in Transylvania by the 14th century, and, in 1439, the first diet (session of parliaments) was held here (later two other diets followed, in 1552, and in 1558). In 1448, Hungarian János Hunyadi, the mighty defender of Hungary against the Ottoman (Turkish) invasion, the military commander the pope called the Savior of Christianity, visited Székelyvásárhely. In 1482, Hungarian king Matthias Hunyadi (1458-1490), the renaissance king, son of János Hunyadi, gave Székelyvásárhely the title town and, at the same time, relieved it to pay duty to the king.
By the middle of the 16th century, Székelyvásárhely was not only an economic center but also one of the cultural capitals in Transylvania. Hungarian historian Sebestyén Borsós (1520-1584) wrote here his chronicle about the 15th century; theoretician János Baranyai Décsi (1560-1601) became a teacher and educator here, and at the end of the 16th century, school principal Péter Laskai Csókás completed here the Hungarian section of the Calepinus, a ten-language dictionary.
Gábor Bethlen (1613-1629), the finest Hungarian governor of Transylvania, gave Székelyvásárhely the title of free royal town and, in 1616, he gave the town its present name, i.e., Marosvásárhely. Numerous Hungarian governors of Transylvania were elected in Marosvásárhely.
In 1658, Turkish troops occupied the town and took away 3,000 inhabitants to Turkey as slaves. Two years later, Tartar herds took their turn to devastate Marosvásárhely. During the Rákóczi Liberation Fight of 1704-1711, the town suffered a lot, only to be followed by black pox epidemics which made the devastation complete.
During the Hungarian Liberation Fight of 1848, serious fightings took place around Marosvásárhely, too. Marosvásárhely has always been and still is one of the cultural and ethnic centers of the Székelys in Transylvania.

The old City Hall was built by Hungarian architects Marcell Komor and Dezsõ Jakab, between 1907-1908, in a mixed secessionist and eclectic style. The roof tiles are made of painted and glazed ceramics.
The Palace of Culture was built in the same time with the old City Hall. In the staircase, stained glass windows depict figures of Lajos Kossuth, Sándor Petõfi and Mór Jókai. In the 800-seat theater hall is on the ground floor, and it was the home of the Székely State Theater until 1972. On the first floor is the Tükörterem (Engl. Mirror hall) with its walls decorated with frescos and large mirrors. The hall has 12 stained glass windows depicting scenes and figures from Székely ballads; these majestic windows are masterpieces made by Hungarian artists Sándor Nagy and Aladár Kõrõsfõi-Kirsch. On the second floor is the Concert hall, and on the third floor, we can walk through paintings by Miklós Barabás, Károly Lotz, Károly Ferenczy.
Here are six examples of the stained glass windows with Székley legends:

[The two Bólyai's]
The two Bolyai's

The two Bolyais, father Farkas Bolyai (1775-1856) and son János Bolyai (1802-1860) were both students at the Reformed (i.e., Presbyterian) College of Marosvásárhely. The father studied mathematics at the University of Göttingen, Germany and became a friend of K. F. Gauss. The mathematician Farkas Bólyai compiled a study which revolutionized the principles of the Euclidean geometry. Later his son, János, completed this thesis. János Bolyai continued his studies at the military engineering in Vienna and became one of the most prominent Hungarian mathematicians of his time. The two Bolyais, great Hungarian sons of Marosvásárhely, were not only scientists but they also had talents in philology, literature, music, paintings, and forestry.

[Székely martyrs] Székely martyrs
The Square of the Székely Martyrs. This monument stands on the Square of the Székely Martyrs in Marosvásárhely commemorating the death of Székely János Török and his company, who were executed on this spot, on March 10, 1854, for their participation in a plot (known as the Makk-plot) to overthrow the Habsburg rule in Transylvania.


Part I
Part II