Saxon villages of Transylvania to be preserved in partnership with Global Heritage Fund

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ROMANIA - A cluster of medieval villages located in Southern Transylvania, Romania, many UNESCO Heritage Sites, have been given much-needed support to ensure that their unique historic characteristics are not lost. Their preservation will ensure that the rich architectural landscape characterising this region can be preserved for future generations.
This ambitious project is promoted in partnership with Global Heritage Fund (GHF) and Anglo-Romanian Trust for Traditional Architecture (ARTTA) with further assistance from Association Monumentum which is run by the conservation architect Eugen Vaida, HRH the Prince of Wales and his Carpathian Secretaria based in the Prime Minister’s office in Bucharest. ARTTA has also received funds from the Tedworth Charitable Trust, and the Patrick Paul Charitable Trust, both U.K. based charities.
The villages represent the last outpost of a central European medieval landscape and face several threats, including slow but incessant destruction from excessive development. Built, until recently, using traditional construction methods and materials including hand-made bricks and tiles and wood sourced from surrounding forests, the buildings are increasingly being built and repaired using cheap, poor quality, modern materials. Talking to NiC Brian Curran, Global Heritage Fund (GHF) Project Manager for Europe said:
“The traditional architecture and environment of rural Romania is among the nation’s greatest and under-appreciated treasures. Along the mountain ranges of the Carpathians, the rolling hills of Transylvania and the sweeping plains of southern Romania, traditional agricultural and building practices survive and ancient cultural traditions are celebrated providing a rare display of living history. A vast and interconnected system of houses, villages, fields and forests, these cultural landscapes have preserved a way of life that has all but disappeared elsewhere in Europe. However, this extensive and fragile historic resource is increasingly under threat. Since the fall of the Ceausecu regime in 1989, modernisation, migration and poverty have contributed to the neglect and the rapid destruction of scores of traditional houses barns and churches.
The threats are particularly acute in the region of Transylvania referred to as the Saxon Triangle, which holds perhaps the most significant system of historic villages in Romania, several of which have UNESCO World Heritage Status.
With the migration of the area’s German ethnic or Saxon population in the 1990s, over one hundred villages, which had been sustained by the Saxon community for centuries, rapidly declined.
Now largely re-populated by economically disadvantaged Roma communities, with little or no historic or cultural connection to their new homes, the villages are struggling to preserve their historic character and strong sense of place, while facing growing threats. Neglect and lack of maintenance are perhaps the greatest challenges, however traditional houses and agricultural buildings such as barns and outbuildings are themselves seen as resources to be exploited resulting in the demolition and harvesting of building materials for the sale in Germany and Austria. The exporting of historic materials is a symptom of the rapid modernisation throughout Romania in the last decade, which casts traditional architecture and materials as “old-fashioned” and reflecting poverty. Those with more income have begun to “improve” their homes through the use of non-traditional synthetic and unsympathetic materials, which drastically alter the appearance of the houses and the historic streetscapes. Today a network of environmental and cultural NGOs are working valiantly to educate the public as well as the government about the importance and significance of Romanian countryside, while attempting to bring economic opportunities to the villages themselves. The Carpathian Villages Preservation Project is one such endeavor promoting an effort to document the existing villages, encourage the preservation of traditional buildings through public outreach and working with the local and national government to implement preservation policy as well as encouraging the revival of the traditional building materials industry. It is hoped that our project will be one more step toward a future comprehensive solution, perhaps a national park, which will preserve the cultural landscape of the Saxon Villages and its way of life for generations to come.”
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