Journey to Sibiu, Romania, with our correspondent Mari-An C. Santos, and soak in the culture of her second hometown in Transylvania – with Count Dracula safely out of sight.
Sibiu was declared European Capital of Culture in 2007. Every year, since 1985, the European Union awards this distinction to one or more cities to highlight its cultural and historical significance. Consequently, these cities have experienced economic gains from increased tourism. A former German enclave founded in the 12th century and named Hermannstadt, Sibiu is in the middle of the region of Transylvania and at the heart of Romania. A small city at 121 sq kms, it pulsates with life throughout the year. On any given week, in fact, you can enjoy at least one cultural performance. It never gets boring, as long as you know where to look!
In such a small area, there are several museums. The best among them is the Brukenthal Museum, housed in the former Palace of Samuel von Brukenthal, former governor of Hermannstadt during the reign of the Habsburgs. The oldest museum in Romania, it houses a rich collection of Romanian and European art from the 16th to the 18th century, including Jan van Eyck’s Man in a Blue Cap.
The History Museum has an admirable Transylvanian gothic architecture as it used to be the Old City Hall. It has an extensive collection of stone pieces dating back all the way to the Neolithic age that were excavated from all over the region. The Saxon Ethnographic Museum has a collection of material culture that helps people understand better the beginnings and life of Transylvanian Saxons. There are also museums of natural history, pharmacy, steam engine, and hunting weapons.
The 250-acre ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization showcases houses and windmills, wine and fruit presses, and other such mechanisms as well as wooden churches throughout history from different parts of the country. Here, you can visualize village life. There is also a lake where boats may be rented and a stage on its banks where shows are sometimes held. It is the second biggest open-air museum in the world.
Sala Thalia is home to the State Philharmonic that performs every Thursday night. During special events and festivals, there are more performances. The Radu Stanca National Theatre hosts several plays monthly throughout the year, some in Romanian and some in German. The Sibiu Ballet Theatre Company, composed of ballerinas from America, Europe, and Asia, stages many different classic and contemporary performances throughout the ballet season. Gong Theatre stages innovative puppet and mime performances geared toward children but still very enjoyable for adults—or children at heart. They stage these in Romanian, German, and sometimes, English.
Places like the Habitus Bookshop, ASTRA Film Center, and Casa de Cultura Sindicatelor host film screenings every week. I was even surprised when I saw Poziția Copilului (Child’s Pose), Romania’s Golden Bear winner there, because after the screening, the film’s lead characters came into the venue for a Q&A!
Aside from these regular or semi-regular entertainment options, there are many annual festivals that make the city come alive! Respiră. Teatru. is an innovation as, for 25 hours in March, there are non-stop performances in different venues. This is in celebration of World Theatre Day. The Sibiu Jazz Festival gathers musicians from various European countries and is held every May.
Huet Square, the oldest settlement in Sibiu, is transported back to the old market days with the Huet.Urban festival. Different vendors and organizations display their wares or their crafts. It is also turned into a green space with beautiful landscaping. The Sibiu International Theatre Festival invades not only theatres but cafes, streets, churches, and parks of Sibiu for 10 days in June. This year, there were groups not only from Europe but also the Carribean, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, and South Korea.
The TIFF (Transylvania International Film Festival) that makes the rounds of the region, is held here in mid-June. The Romanian-American Music Days culminate on the 4th of July. The ARTmania International Rock Festival attracts music fans in August.
Knights and ladies walk the cobbled streets for the entire month of August during the Transylvanian Fortresses Medieval Festival. Here, you’ll hear the traditional music and watch accompanying dances, as well as see jousts and different laborers showcase their work.
The ASTRA Film Festival International Festival of Documentary Film and Visual Anthropology in October is a week-long feast of thoughts and ideas from all over the world. Of course, the unmistakable and iconic Main Square is transformed by the Christmas Fair and market that happens for the entire month of December. Highlights are the big Christmas tree and the mid-sized ice skating rink.
Over and above are summer and winter sports events, different market showcases, bike tours, fairs, and innumerable activities. Not to mention, its proximity to other tourist attractions like Medias, Biertan, Cisnadie, Cisnadioara, Paltinis, Transfagarasan Highway, and Transalpina Road. This is why Sibiu is a good, strategic place to have as a home base.
Read more about Mari-An’s life in Sibiu here.