The oldest site in the city of Făgăraș is not the most famous castle in Romania but can offer some of the best exterior images, thanks to the way it is maintained by the local authorities. It does not rest on a high hill with romantic towers emerging from a rock like the Hunyadi Castle, nor it is shrouded in Dracula legends like the notorious Bran Castle, but the surrounding water moat and willow trees enhance the looks of this medieval monument.

The oldest facts we know about this fortress take us back almost eight centuries, when it was just a stronghold made of mud and wood beams. The man who turned it into a real medieval castle for the first time was the Hungarian nobleman, Ladislau Apo, in the 14 century.

Like Transylvania itself throughout history, the fortress of Făgăraș changed hands between Hungarians and Romanians, with many rulers contributing to its development. After Apo, the Romanian feudal ruler and than prince of Transylvania, Ștefan Mailat, extends the castle, builds the gate tower and adds several defense elements.

In its medieval history, Transylvania had a mixed ethnicity due to the colonization policy of the Hungarian crown, that brought in Saxon and Szekely (Hungarian speaking) communities. Though the general language throughout the region was Romanian, the Hungarian nobility was better organized. The centuries of Ottoman invasions were ironically somewhat favorable to the Romanian majority, since it broke the connection of Transylvania with Hungarian kingdom and the influence of Roman Catholic and Reformed church, very important in organizing society during Middle Ages, and an obstacle for Romanian (traditionally East Orthodox) access to high positions.

The conflicts with the Turks as well as revolts caused by the harsh feudal conditions brought independence tendencies in Transylvania, who had its own princes, sometimes tied to Hungary or the Ottoman Empire, other times acting as bold independent state. The most famous character connected to the history of Făgăraș Castle was Michael the Brave. A visionary statesman and an audacious general, Michael the Brave made incursions into the Ottoman territory (some hundred of miles to Istanbul) and managed to briefly unite the three Romanian provinces of Moldova, Transylvania and Wallachia. Michael the Brave gave the castle of Făgăraș to his wife, Lady Stanca, who’s bust statue can be seen in front of the castle today. Făgăraș county was a distinct administrative unit in feudal times and Michael the Brave added the title of duke of Făgăraș to his titles. When the local nobility rebelled against Michael’s reforms and taxes, it was this castle that offered safety to the prince.

After Michael the Brave several Hungarian princes of Transylvania had an impact on the aspect and structure of the fortress that became strong enough to withstand long sieges by armies as large as 50.000 soldiers. The most influential was Gabriel Bethlen, who added Italian style bastions to the four corners and rows of arches on the inside walls. Also in the 17 century, the interior and exterior walls are filled with mud, resulting walls as thick as 8 meters, under George Rackozi I, prince of Transylvania, followed by his son, Rakozi II.

The importance of this stronghold is underlined by its hosting the Dieta (Hungarian Medieval Parliament like structure), in the largest hall of the castle. During the 17 century the moat was extended and a mobile bridge added to the facade.

Today the citadel of Făgăraș is occupied mainly by the Museum of Făgăraș Region, but also has a restaurant with wine cellar. The splendid surrounding moat is populated with domesticated swans, that give it an even more poetic aspect. Right next to the castle the largest Orthodox cathedral in the city is just being finished. The town of Făgăraș has a little under 30.000 inhabitants and is 66 km NW of Brașov, 80 km S of Sighișoara and also 80 km N of Bran Castle.

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