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  • Oana Barbu

The Hunyad Castle: Where reality fades away

I was still at the age of dreaming about princesses and castles when I visited one for the first time. Back then, it seemed to be taken out of fairy tale books, exactly as I pictured it in my mind whenever my mother was reading to me stories before going to bed: it had fortresses, bastions and endless bridges and a marvellous view. Looking around, only the characters were missing, but their traces could be found at every turn, their presence could be felt in every corner and the scent of medieval ages was dazing you. For a moment, present and past were merging before my eyes.

This is how I remember it, the Hunyad (Corvin) Castle. A castle that you rarely have the chance to visit, a castle turned today into a museum that attracts tens of thousands of tourists.

The history of the castle goes back to time immemorial. Built on rocky ground and situated on the bank of the Zlaşti stream, the Hunyad Castle was first mentioned in historical records at the beginning of the 14th century. Located on the site of a royal fortress, the castle was offered to the noble Romanian Voicu by Sigismund of Luxembourg as a token of appreciation for his accomplishments. Later on, Iancu de Hunedoara, Voicu’s son, made considerable changes to the castle’s architecture, while further improvements were made subsequently by the noble families who inherited it, including Matei Corvin. The castle was used both as a fortress and a noble residence, and the transformations it went through depended on the different uses given to it in each period. Iancu de Hunedoara was the one who regarded the castle as a military fortress, designed to withstand sieges. Therefore, he built a massive tower, a mobile bridge and a defence wall. Later, at the end of the 17th century, the castle underwent a new series of transformations, and the White Tower was built. After that in the north-eastern wing of the castle a high terrace called the Ammunition Bastion was built, too.

The castle was not spared from disaster, as in the 19th century a fire destroyed the roof and the furniture. Given the deplorable situation, the castle became a ruin and was abandoned. In 1868, architect Francisc Schulcz started its reconstruction, which lasted until 1914. A new stage of restoration took place between 1965 and 1970.

When you are in front of the castle, you’re left breathless. You have before you the silent witness of the march of time, of so many centuries... Only the walls and the bequeathed objects tell us a little about the events that happened centuries ago. But the greatest secrets will be forever silenced, immured by the walls of this great castle.

To get in, you must first cross the mobile bridge built over the steep bed of the Zlaşti river! At first you're afraid to step on it, as it looms large like a time travel to a historic, solemn moment, and you think of the rulers who used to ride down the bridge such a long time before you.

You pluck up courage, you dare to go forward, and you finally arrive at the ground floor. There you find the Prison, the Guard Room and the Knights Hall. Knights... and suddenly you enter another world, a world with knights in shining armour ready to save you… you become a fairy tale character yourself.

In the Hall of Diet, you can see, dreamily, princesses and rulers, medieval dances and guests drinking wine from the silver goblets. In the Capistrano Tower, the Morning Star Tower and the White Bastion, at nightfall you can still make out the silhouette of the sentinel.

Suddenly you stumble against the candlepins that mark the forbidden area. Then reality hits, and you realise you are in a museum, but not a common one. This is a museum that allows you to dream, while you’re passing through its corridors. In 1880 the castle was declared a historic monument, and on 1 December 1918 it was taken over by the Commission for Historical Monuments. In 1974, the Hunyad Castle became the museum which nowadays hosts collections of archaeology, ethnography and decorative art, of coins and military technology.

As is the case with many tourist destinations with such a long history, legends were born. One of them refers to the fountain built in the courtyard of the castle. It is said that the 30-metre deep well was dug by three Turkish prisoners, to whom freedom had been promised after finishing the fountain. After 15 years of digging, the prisoners finally reached water, but their masters did not keep their promise. During the works, one of the prisoners wrote something on the wall of the fountain that was initially translated as, "You have water, but you have no heart". Subsequently, experts deciphered the meaning of the inscription, which actually read, "The one who wrote this inscription is Hassan, who lives as a slave in the city next to the church."

The Hunyad Castle... a place where you can freely imagine that in the Knights’ Hall you are a lady who is looking forward to being invited to dance by a knight in shining armour. A place of fairy tale, a place that opens a book of true... stories.

The Hunyad Castle

image source: shutterstock

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