Brasov, Romania, is a Transylvanian city with an outstanding historic center. Founded by German settlers in the 13th century, the city is known in German as Kronstadt, meaning “crown city.” The crown in question is made up of the lovely central square, Piata Sfatului, and the streets that lead off its northern side.
The square is a great place to promenade or people-watch while also taking in the historical significance of the surrounding buildings. In the middle of the square stands the Council House. It was originally a watch tower but was converted into a city hall starting in 1420. The bottom floor of the building retains an original Gothic design, but the upper floor and tower have Baroque or Renaissance elements, due to various reconstruction efforts up to the 18th century. On the facade is a big, painted relief that shows Brasov’s city crest: a crown with tree roots sprouting out of the bottom. Today, the building contains a history museum that has good displays about the city’s crafts between the 15th and 19th centuries. There are also wooden chests, copper pans, weapons, medicine bottles, and folk art.
A lot of the houses around the four sides of the square are typical of the historic center of Brasov – narrow houses topped with steep, tall, red-tiled roofs. They used to be inhabited by craftsmen and merchants, who would sell their goods on the square, and those spacious lofts were designed for storage. The city was always an important trading place because it was at the crossroads between Transylvania and two other principalities that are now parts of modern Romania – Moldavia and Wallachia. As time went by, certain crafts became strong traditions in the city: pottery, woodwork, furs, leather, linens, and metal goods such as locks.
The main square has a few buildings that deviate from the norm – none more so than the one on the north side with a tall, Byzantine-looking facade and a tower topped by a cross. Step through the door and you enter Brasov’s Orthodox cathedral, a complex dating from 1895-96 and based on a Greek church found in Vienna.
Turn to the eastern side of the square, and the big, southernmost building is the Hirscher House. It contains eating and drinking establishments and a shopping center. That is not all that different from the purpose it originally served after its construction in 1539-1545, when it housed wares created by the city’s craftsmen, ready to be brought out onto the square on market day. It was named after a city judge, Lukas Hirscher, whose widow, Apollonia, had the building constructed in his honor. What you see today is not the original building as it was reconstructed in 1840-42. But, the inscription over its entrance gate is an original feature. It shows the Hirscher family blazon, Apollonia Hirscher’s name, and Brasov’s city stamp.
The street that leads off the northeast corner of the square is the pedestrianized Bulevardul Republicii, a good street for strolling and shopping. The street leading off the left corner, Strada Muresenilor, boasts Brasov’s main Catholic church, a Baroque construction with 18th century stained windows, as well as an imposing green building in Art Nouveau style, dating from 1912. It now houses a bank. Between these two streets, a more subtle route leading off the north side of the square starts as a small walkway, before emerging onto a beautiful and peaceful square, Piata Enescu.
Brasov’s historic center has some great places to eat, including several that are directly on the square or overlooking the square. Some have out-door tables in summer. Gustari is the classic restaurant, comfortable and homey and serving Romanian specialties including some very filling desserts. Altstadt serves German food, such as traditional sausages and sauerkraut. Cerbul Carpatin, inside the Hirscher house, is a long, tube-shaped cellar with thick wooden tables and chandeliers made from wagon wheels. It serves hearty things like sausages, pork chops, and chicken wings with garlic sauce. Entering the same building from its south side brings you to Casa Hirscher, a nice modern establishment offering good Italian food.
On Strada Muresenilor you’ll find Sergiana, a restaurant whose interior imitates a traditional inn, with folk ceramics and sheep skulls, while its wait-staff wear breeches and tunics. It has a very extensive menu of classic Transylvanian recipes, all very well prepared in generous portions. There’s a good selection of wines from the region, as well. And on the quiet little square, Piata Enescu, there is Bistro de l’Arte, a pleasant café-bar with comfortable couches and a nice choice of coffees, cocktails and wines, located in a building from the 14th century that was once a granary.
If you decide to stay the night in this area of Brasov, a good place is the apartment hotel Casa Rozelor, built in a salt warehouse from the 15th century. Its décor is an interesting mix of ancient and modern, including contemporary art, fun vintage advertisements, and cowbells and butter churns. It is right in the middle of the “crown,” on Strada Michael Weiss, which runs between Bulevardul Republicii and Strada Muresenilor.Some other popular choices areBrasov Casa Cranta Hotel and the Hotel Casa Wagner Brasov.
Written by David Hill for EuropeUpClose.com