Georgeta Stoica and Olivia Moraru
Editura Sport-Turism, București, 1981
Around the Bran castle, on the road mentioned in 600—year old documents, on the versants of the mountains and in the valleys 12 villages are scattered—Bran, Șirnea, Șimon, Moieciu de Sus, Moieciu de Jos, Cheia, Fundata, Peștera, Măgura, Predeluț, Sohodol, Fundățica—constituting the Bran ethnographic region, one of the most original and most interesting in this country.
A representative region for pre-montane and montane economy in Romania, the Bran Platform boasts a prevailing natural element—the presence of the platform levels—which has enabled the lawns to develop in their turn, the lawns have favoured the development of pastoral economy.
Thanks to the specific characteristics of the landforms and to the location of the region, Bran has permanently been a channel of communication and a pastoral region. These are two traditional functions to which, at present, a continually developing tourist function should be added.
As a whole, this geographic unit looks like a natural stronghold, surrounded by mountain massifs and terraces. You reach this region through a mountain pass guarded by the Bran castle or from Rucăr via the village of Fundata.
The material evidence brought to light through archaeological excavations attests the existence of the population in these parts already in the Paleolithic, continuing uninterruptedly until our days.
The character of the archaeological discoveries, the abundance of material vestiges as well as the toponymies and the names of rivers also prove that this region has had a permanent local population, organized in administrative forms adequate to the historical periods they were passing through.
The penetration of the Magyar element in the 12th century into the south-east of Transylvania and that of the Saxon one in the early 13th century did not alter the structure of the earlier settlements of the authochthonous population in the Bran region.
The economic development of Wallachia and of the town of Brașov, beginning with the mid-14th century, the end of the Tartar domination, the increasing number of commodities conveyed in transit between the West and the East through Brașov and the Bran mountain pass, bestowed upon the region uncommon importance in the establishing and maintaining of economic relations between Transylvania and Wallachia.
At the beginning of the 15th century, Mircea the Old ruled over the region on the strength of customs privileges granted to the inhabitants of Brașov. The frequent changes of the reigning princes that followed the death of Mircea the Old, as well as the repeated attacks of the Ottomans in the Birsa Land, made the Magyar kings set the Bran stronghold again under the authority of the Voivode of Transylvania.
Free people until the end of the 17th century, the inhabitants of the region, also named colibași in documents were changed into serfs in the course of fifty years only. When the colibași became serfs, they were subjected to abuses and brutalities. They opposed serfdom through numerous complaints and movements. Their struggle was to continue even after 1849, when serfdom was abolished, until the day when the century-old dream of the Union of all the Romanians came true in 1918.
After this date, the history of the region blended with the history of the whole country, continuously contributing to the flourishing of Romania.
In the area taken up by the Bran settlements, a regular network of permanent or seasonal domestic establishments are scattered on both versants of the Carpathians, from Bran as far as Rucăr.
Most of the Bran villages were constituted through the settling of the population from the submontane villages and from the valleys near by. Morphologically they belong to the "straggling" type of villages, either as hodăi or sălase (shepherds' refuges in the mountains) or under the form of groups of domestic establishments forming the so-called sate-crînguri—isolated villages. In these settlements, the domestic establishments were located far from any road, as the inhabitants were trying to meet the requirements of the household through their own production.
The attempt at concentrating the settlements in the Bran region made in the 18th century did not yield the anticipated results. It is only at present that structural changes have occurred through the concentration of the households in the vicinity of highroads, of administrative centres, in order to make them fully benefit by all the new developments.
The climatic and geographic conditions have determined a certain orientation of the inhabitants towards the practising of some productive occupations, the turning to account, with utmost efficiency, of the specific natural resources. Consequently, besides being shepherds, the people were mainly cattle breeders and tillers of the soil to which other less important occupations were added, as well as a number of trades.
Among the basic occupations, sheep grazing is the most important, and it is due to it that the Bran region has been considered one of Romania's main pastoral reserves. The grazing of sheep has been pendulous or local, characteristic of populations of cattle breeders in mountain regions and of populations of tillers of the soil in pre-montane regions and transhumant, peculiar to owners of large flocks. The end of the 18th century represents the climax in the practising of transhumance, a period that was to last up to the early half of the 19th century. After this date, the basic grazing was the pendulous type.
Agriculture ranked only second because of the specific geographic and climatic conditions: it was more developed in the villages of Branul de Jos (Lower Bran): Sohodol, Predelut, Moieciu de Jos, where the nature of the soil favoured potato growing and fruit-tree growing and, to a small degree, that of cereal crops. Archaeological evidence attests the practising of agriculture ever since the Iron Age. Ever since, the Bran population have been practising agriculture on the sides of the mountains by laying out terraces even above altitudes of 1,000 m.
Forestry has been another traditional occupation connected with the wish to meet household requirements.
Besides all these, the gathering of wild fruit, hunting, fishing and beekeeping also helped to provide the necessaries of life.
The practising of trades, at first as auxiliaries to the occupations within peasant households, developing then as specialized peasant trades constitutes a characteristic of the Bran region. Through their significance and their artistic and social value, the trades made a fundamental contribution to the establishing of the specific character of popular culture in the region.
The most important trades were wood processing—for the making of implements, dishes and furniture—, iron processing and the making of sheepskin coats.
Some of the pieces of remarkable artistic value made by handicraftsmen are those of wood (moulds for whey cheese, dishes to be used in sheepfolds, furniture) as well as the sheepskin coats.
The people in the Bran region excel in the art of dyeing and decorating eggs. They are masters in drawing and possess a rich stock of ornamental motifs.
As they preferably develop the genres of folk art connected with the requirements of life, the people in Bran have used with great ingenuity the technical installations worked by water, in order to solve certain problems regarding the processing of wood, cereal and textile fibre: sawmills, flour mills, felting mills.
Such technical installations are mentioned in documents dating from the 15th century, and the fact they have been used to this day proves how useful they are in a peasant household as well as the strength of tradition in this field.
The household protected by a building surrounding the yard, peculiar to Bran, is the economic expression of the region. It looks like a small stronghold around which the house and the outhouses are placed, their back towards the exterior and the facades towards the interior. A tall gate closes the inner courtyard, which provides a shelter for the sheep during the winter. The walls of the construction were built of tree trunks, shaped with straight edges, connected with straight joints or, more recently, with dovetail joints; the outhouses were built of roughly-hewn round beams, joined at the corners, with round grooves. The roofs are of shingle.
The type of dwelling developed horizontally, with a ground-floor, is peculiar to the Bran region. The oldest type of house comprises in its plan one room and an entrance hall; it belongs to the group of asymmetric plans with a single entrance through the hall. The houses with three rooms and a pantry, very widespread at the beginning of the 20th century, represent another stage in the evolution of constructions. The house could be a part of the domestic establishment with fortified courtyard or be built as an independent unit. The building material was wood.
The interior of the dwelling appears as a clearly defined entity spatially, economically, socially and artistically determined. It concentrates all the genres of folk art, in combinations that prefigure the local specific character. In all the interiors in this region the aesthetic criterion in the fitting up is always accompanied by the functional one, both as regards furniture and more especially the grouping of the objects according to ornament and colours. All kinds of raw materials—wood, metal, clay or textile fibres—changed into objects are to be seen inside the house and contribute to the creation of a simple, pleasant and comfortable ambiance.
As a general characteristic of the ensemble of interior architecture in the Bran region we notice the horizontal alternating and symmetrical arrangement of the ornamental objects—ceramics, painting on glass, woven material for the interior—which makes it perfectly belong to the larger group of Romanian interiors.
The corner where the bed lies is the one of maximum decorative importance, due to the woven materials grouped here and to the furniture which, generally, has a simple shape and less pretentious ornaments compared to other regions.
Through the materials they are made of, through their form, decorations and their bright colours, through the way they are hung on the walls or on the culme (a horizontal beam) or on the pieces of furniture, the woven materials define the decorative style of the interior of houses in the region. These woven materials are made of wool, hemp, flax and cotton. The decorative character of the pieces is emphasized by the technique of the weaving and the ornamental motifs and their bright colours.
From a functional viewpoint, the woven materials are of two kinds: pieces to be utilised and pieces of decorative character—table clothes, napkins, bed sheets, pillow cases, towels, bed clothes, procovițe (a kind of blankets), blankets, clothes, etc.
Numerous women continue the tradition of weaving even today, either in cooperation or individually. Maria Reit, Pica Potlogea and Maria Voinescu of Bran, Eugenia Arișanu and Maria Olteanu from Șimon, Maria Bădescu and Elisabeta Marinescu from Fundata are only a few well-known names.
The paintings on glass which used to decorate the inteiors were not made in the region, but generally came from near-by centres: Șcheii Brașovului and Tara Oltului.
The ceramics, the dishes, the jugs, small mugs with a handle known in this region, come from various centres Făgăraș, Drăgușeni and more seldom from Saschiz.
The monuments of architecture represent the constructive traditions of the region, proving together with other artistic works, the unity of conception and of style of Romanian folk culture. Besides this unity, the monuments in this part of the country have characteristic features as regards the construction technique.
The representative monuments in the last three centuries may be seen in the open-air Museum at Bran. Every monument, every installation constitutes a proof of the way of life, of the manner in which the inhabitants of Bran have fashioned the social milieu and humanized it.
The churches and monasteries of historical and documentary value in Cheia, Fundata, and Bran illustrate the lasting cultural relations between Wallachia and the Bran region, the strong influences brought by the artisans from beyond the Carpathians, generously sent by the Romanian reigning princes.
In the ensemble of artistic folk creation in the Bran region, the folk costume is particularly conspicuous. Unitary as a whole, the costume has developed in forms that make it different from the costumes worn in neighbouring regions, representing a living document, reflecting the life of the people. The presence of a few basic types (the blouse gathered at the neck and the fota-skirt) make it part of the costumes worn on a more extensive territory in Romania, which includes Moldavia, Wallachia and Oltenia, but it is different from the latter through the decorative composition exclusively peculiar to Bran.
The latter half of the 18th century and the whole of the 19th century was the flourishing epoch of the Bran folk costume.
The earliest women's costume consisted of a very thin head-kerchief, a blouse with twisted sleeves, a gathered skirt (fota), a sheepskin coat (cojoc), a short sleeveless sheepskin coat (pieptar), a coat of thick cloth (bundă de zeghe), a short sleeveless coat (mintean or scurteică). Gradually, the blouse with twisted sleeves was replaced by the blouse gathered at the neck; the skirt gathered at the waist was abandoned for a straight skirt whereas the cotton headkerchief was replaced by a raw silk one. The particular artistic value of all these components of the folk costume is bestowed by the wealth and refinement of the ornamental motifs.
While attempting to account for the changes that occurred in the women's costume in Bran, which eventually led to the adopting of the costume worn in Muscel county, we reach the conclusion that tradition, the keeper of a whole history which illustrates the life of a community in its uninterrupted dynamics included, as was natural, this costume too, not widespread at first. Tradition is not a static reality, cast in immutable forms; it changes, it becomes richer in the course of history and this explains the including of the Muscel costume in the art of the Bran region.
Men's costume is simple, reflecting the specific conditions of life. It consists of a fur cap for winter and a hat with a narrow brim for summer, a shirt with full sleeves, closefitting woollen trousers (cioareci or ițari), vests out of thick cloth (lăibărică de zeichi, ilic), the knee-long wadded coat (zăbun), the sleeveless short sheepskin coat (pieptar), the ankle-long woollen cloak (sărică), the hood. The shirt is the most richly adorned piece. The changes occurring in the course of time are unimportant and the costume has remained the same until this day.
The whole life of the village includes a number of customs connected with important moments in life—birth, wedding, death—or certain calendar dates.
Among the customs connected with the cycle of life, the most important in the Bran region is the wedding which often lasts several days and is celebrated with unusual pomp.
Among the customs connected with the calendar dates, the most important are the carols, plugușorul (the plough), copra (the goat), all celebrating the winter holidays.
Nowadays, in this region there are vast manifestations, among which we mention the Nedeia munților (The Mountain Festivity) in which people from towns and other tourists also participate. Besides traditional customs with complex social functions, there are customs organized like shows. The spectacular and picturesque character of the new manifestations contribute to the preserving and turning to account of folklore traditions, and bring forth new creations in keeping with the new life conditions.
The present book purposes to underline on the one hand the originality of Romanian folk culture, and on the other, the specificity of the Bran region, in this way putting forward a plea for the existence of a folk culture which developed very early, under the form of wood buildings, technical installations, artistic trades, folk costumes, music, poetry and dances. All these belong to the Romanian cultural outlook, including very ancient authochthonous elements on which Roman, Byzantine and Central-European elements were grafted as a consequence of natural cultural contacts.
Folk art in the Bran region—a unitary manifestation which can be traced back to the neolithic age and down to the present—deserves to be known and considered as a contribution to the enrichment of Romanian folk culture.