Europe’s remote, lost-in-time villages


I heard them before I saw them, the soft jangle of metal bells carrying on the warm evening air. Weary hooves scuffed up clouds of dust as the herd trudged up Viscri’s dirt-road high street, stopping to gulp water from a trough beneath a gnarled walnut tree. Routine kicked in, and they peeled away through arched gateways and into their own cobbled courtyards, where they’d be milked and fed for the night.

This was the evening procession of cows, when residents gather outside their pastel-coloured Saxon homes to watch the herds return from pasture – a daily ritual that’s been signalling the end of the working day in Viscri, Criț, Biertan and the other medieval villages of south-eastern Transylvania’s Târnava Mare region for hundreds of years.

Occupying a rural triangle in central Romania between the historical cities of Sighişoara, Braşov and Sibiu, Târnava Mare is one of Europe’s most intriguing cultural landscapes. The region was settled in the 12th Century by Saxons from what are now parts of Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, invited here by King Géza II of Hungary under the auspices of establishing their own economy – but with the real objective of defending the far reaches of his kingdom from raiding Turks. They colonised a ribbon of fertile land just north of the Carpathian Mountains, built fortified churches for sanctuary in times of siege, and formed robust small-scale farming communities.

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Olivia Wilson
By Olivia Wilson


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