Transylvania/Erdély/Ardeal – Romania

The word combination trans-sylvania is a Latin term for “across (on the other side of) the woods”. That begs the question “other side for whom?” In this case, for the Hungarians. Their adopted homeland (after invading from the Eurasian steppes) is a vast prairie, which they call the Alföld, though most English, Slavic, and Germanic-speaking people call it Pannonia or the Carpathian Basin or the Great Hungarian Plain. Hungary’s eastern flank was covered with forests, rising to imposing mountains (the Carpathians) to the east, north, and south. Hungarians call this forested region Erdély, which translate as “forest region”. However when Hungarians converted to Catholicism, Latin-speaking clergy began keeping written records. Thus the Latin-based word Transylvania became well-established in Western literature before the Hungarian Erdély.

Hungarians ruled Transylvania from the time they arrived, about 1000, to 1920 (except for a brief occupation by the Ottomans). However they were not the only ethnic group in the area. Romanians were the vast majority, arriving- more than a thousand years before the Hungarians. Jews were there when Transylvania was called Dacia, a colony of the Roman Empire, around AD 100. There were also a significant number of Saxon Germans, invited by the Hungarians beginning around 1100. The earliest record of Roma in Transylvania dates from around 1400, when they appear among a list of slaves in Făgăraş.

The word for Transylvania in all the neighboring languages varies according to which culture influenced them. The first known written occurrence of the Romanian name Ardeal appeared in a document in 1432 as Ardeliu. The Romanian Ardeal is derived from the Hungarian Erdély, Romanians also use Transilvania. Erdel, Erdil, Erdelistan, & Transilvanya are the Turkish equivalents. Russian: Ардял, romanizedArdyal, Трансильвания Transil’vaniya. Serbian: Ердељ/Erdelj, Трансилванија/Transilvanija. Romani: Transilvaniya.

Saxon German immigrants called their adopted land Siweberjen a local dialect of German Siebenbürgen, (seven castles) after seven (ethnic German) Transylvanian Saxon cities in the region. This is also the origin of the region’s name in many other languages, such as the Croatian Sedmogradska, the Slovak: Sedmohradsko, the Bulgarian Седмиградско (Sedmigradsko), Polish Siedmiogród, Yiddish זיבנבערגן (Zibnbergn), and the Ukrainian Семигород (Semyhorod).

To further complicate things, some people consider all Romanian territory west and north of the Carpathians to be Transylvania, while others exclude the relative lowlands of the regions of Banat, Crișana and Maramureș. For the purposes of this article, I’m with the exclusionists and Wikipedia, calling the darker orange region below Transylvania proper.

Geography of Transylvania proper

The geography of Transylvania proper, as well as Romania in general, is defined by its crescent of mountains – the Carpathians – a curved backbone. While for many countries a mountain range defines its border, for Romania, mountains are its heartland. Romania has been repeatedly invaded from all directions, so the native population has survived by “heading for the hills”, where local knowledge of vast forests, caves and passes, counter the invaders’ military might.

The Transylvanian Carpathians. Western (Apuseni) Mountains, in bright colors, are location of the documentary below.
Alba County

According to Wikipedia: The most populous cities as of 2011 census (metropolitan areas, as of 2014):

People of Transylvania proper/Ardeal – the Romanians

Humans have occupied Transylvania proper for hundreds of thousands of years. However the first occupants of which we have written knowledge were the Dacians of about 3000 years ago. They were the northern cousins of the Thracians. Click: the Geto-Dacians.

Sarmizegetusa Regia was the capital and the most important military, religious and political centre of the Dacians. Erected on top of a 1,200 metre high mountain, the fortress was the core of the strategic defensive system in the Orăştie Mountains (in present-day Romania), comprising six citadels. Sarmizegetusa Regia was the capital of Dacia prior to the wars with the Roman Empire.
Location of Sarmizegetusa Regia in the Hunedoara region.

Dacia was autonomous until 106 AD, when the Roman emperor Trajan defeated the Dacians. The Romans ruled for 165 years. Roman soldiers were often paid in land, many soldiers homesteaded in their new territory, and natives adopted their language. Today’s Romanian language is as close as Europe has to the vernacular Latin tongue spoken by Roman soldiers, though about 16% of its vocabulary is Slavic in origin. Romanians call themselves after their preferred overlords. However during the Communist era the rulers, celebrating their pagan past, named the Made in Romania automobile the Dacia. Since the 106, Romanians have been conquered and subjugated by many people – not becoming fully autonomous again until 1878, and not reaching its present boundaries until the end of WWII.

Romanian blood may be predominately Dacian, but with traces of Romans, Hungarians, Germans, Celts, Goths, Gepids, Avars, Bulgarians, Serbs, Roma, Turks, Greeks, Ukrainians, Gagauz, Macedonians, Turks – anyone who has passed through their land. People considered Romanian account for about 70% of the population of Transylvania, according to the most recent census (2011).

Romanians may live in cities, but their heart is in the villages – their ancestral home – so I’m concentrating on YouTubes of village life.

Sălciua, Alba region
Don’t know where, Mark just says it’s Transylvania.
Location, Albota, near Sibiu

People of Transylvania proper/Erdély – the Hungarians (Szekleys)

Wikipedia: “The Székelys (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈseːkɛj]), sometimes also referred to as Szeklers…. are a subgroup of the Hungarian people living mostly in the Székely Land in Romania. The origin of the Székelys has been much debated. It is now generally accepted that they are descendants of Hungarians (or of Magyarized Turkic peoples) transplanted to the eastern Carpathian Mountains to guard the frontier, their name meaning simply “frontier guards”…..In the Middle Ages, the Székelys played a role in the defense of the Kingdom of Hungary against the Ottomans in their posture as guards of the eastern border.

Gyimes – a Szekler village, a 2018 documentary. Caption: A beautiful little documentary of village life in Gyimes, in the South Eastern Carpathians in 2018. Ancient, vernacular, small farm-houses line the stoned side roads on which horse-drawn vehicles carry logs, hay, stone and people this way and that all day long. Most people live by small-scale farming producing their own honey, cheese, bread, veg and fruit, milk and meat. Water is always from the well, pure, sparkling and cold. Cows and sheep wear bells and high above the village the mountain meadows hum with insect life while the extraordinarily rich flora remains untouched by sprays and chemicals.
Szekler people, Romania’s Hungarian speaking minority live in Gyimes, which now lies within Bacau county. The history of the area and its association with Transylvania, is very complicated …. I am no historian and apologise for any errors I have made.

People considered Hungarian account for about 18% of the population of Transylvania, according to the most recent census (2011).

People of Transylvania proper/Siweberjen/Siebenbürgen – the German-Saxons

A brief introduction to the Saxon presence in Transylvania.
Location of the village filmed above. Archita (Romanian), Arkeden bei Schäßburg (German), Erked (Hungarian)

People considered German account for about 1/2% of the population of Transylvania, according to the most recent census (2011).

People of Transylvania proper/Transilvaniya – the Roma

Whereas very few Saxons remain in Transylvania, the Roma are a significant and rapidly growing minority. There are speculations they entered Transylvania with Genghis Khan’s invasion of 1241, though as slaves, craftsmen or servants is not known. The earliest written evidence of Roma in Transylvania dates from around 1400, when they appear among a list of slaves in Făgăraş. As Transylvania was Hungarian territory until 1920, many Transylvanian Roma speak Hungarian as their mother tongue and are of the sedentary musician tribes.

A good article on Roma in Transylvania today can be found here

Here’s a good Romanian Roma overview.

For a look at Roma in Hungary and Romania in 1929, read

For more on the Roma in general, click and and

People considered Roma account for about 4% of the population of Transylvania, according to the most recent census (2011). The real percentage is likely much higher, as Roma are notoriously difficult to count.

People of Transylvania proper/Zibnbergn – the Jews

The famous Yiddish-American theatre song “Rumania, Rumania” by Aaaron Lebedeff extols tongue-in-cheek the delights of being a Jew in that country.

Most stories of Romanian Jews speak of Wallachia, Muntenia, Moldavia, Bucovina – regions outside of Transylvania, but closer to Russia and Poland – the other side of the “Pale” of settlement. The only YouTube I could find covering Romanian Jews that is specific to Transylvania is

According to tradition, King Decebalus (ruled Dacia 87-106 CE) permitted the Jews who aided him in his war against Rome to settle in his territory. They have been in Transylvania ever since, though they were seldom treated with honour or respect.

Ironically, Jews received better treatment during the Ottoman occupation. From Wikipedia: “While the Ottomans held sway in Hungary, the Jews of Transylvania (at that time an independent principality) also fared well. At the instance of Abraham Sassa, a Jewish physician of Constantinople, Prince Gabriel Bethlen of Transylvania granted a letter of privileges (June 18, 1623) to the Spanish Jews from Anatolia…But the community of Judaizing Szekler Sabbatarians, which had existed in Transylvania since 1588, was persecuted and driven underground in 1638.”

With the return of Hungarian and (later) Hapsburg rule in Transylvania, Judaism was suppressed or even outright forbidden, as in Bistrița until 1848. With the transfer of Transylvania to Romanian rule in 1920, however Jews were welcomed. By the 1930’s, Jews were flourishing in many parts of Transylvania, only to be nearly obliterated during the Holocaust. Those who survived and returned found life difficult under Communism, and many moved to Israel. Leaving Romania was made difficult, in part because the Communist government earned a substantial income extorting astronomical prices for exit visas – prices Israel was willing to pay.

In the 2011 census, 3,271 declared themselves to be Jewish.

What about DRACULA?

Romanians including Transylvanians are known for their beliefs in the supernatural. Though Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a work of fiction, the dead are not to be trifled with by many Romanians today. They believe the dead are watching over us, and if we don’t honor them with certain rituals, their neglect will come to haunt the living. See

See also:


John Uhlemann wrote: It was nice to see these areas, many of which my wife and I visited in 2019, and in the 1970s, again. I saw Viscri in 1978 and then again in 2019 – Prince Charles made sure that it was preserved the way it was. What the video does not make clear is that Viscri is now occupied by ethnic Romanians (the Germans all moved out in 1990). They were allowed to take over the houses provided that they not change the exteriors. This was done through the Eminescu Trust, set up by Prince Charles, who funded it, but was adamant about its remaining a Romanian function. You can’t see his name on anything, but the locals know what he did, and greatly respect him for it. We stayed one valley over in a restored German farmstead, now owned by ethnic Romanians, complete with German furniture . We also visited Archita (there is a video in this posting about that place). Just northwest of there, there is a sudden change to modern agrobusiness, and a consequent homogenization of the countryside. There is a terrible beauty to this place, and more even than you can get from this very nice compilation of videos. Thanks.

Don replied: Thanks, John for this invaluable information. Here’s a link to the Eminescu Trust you mentioned , which offers a traditional Romanian experience at reasonable prices that fund the preservation of Romanian culture.

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