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News 30 Oct 15

Transylvania's Rise Holds Risks for its Heritage

As Lonely Planet includes Transylvania among its best destinations for next year, local experts say the rushed restoration of its churches is doing more harm than good.

Marian Chiriac
Fortified church in Romania. Foto: Medieval Church

”Transylvania is experiencing a renaissance,” travel guide Lonely Planet says in its latest survey of the top travel destinations in 2016.

'This region of Romania has all the moody castles and fog-draped mountains you can wave a crucifix at. But visit Transylvania today and you’re just as likely to sashay through a wickedly inventive art gallery, spy on bears, or ski the Carpathian Mountains,” the guide continues.

The article tries to go beyond the stereotypes that have made this region known worldwide as the homeland of Dracula and focuses more on what the tourists can actually find: rich wildlife and traditional architecture, as well as accessible ski resorts.

Cluj-Napoca, the largest city in Transylvania, is named "an art city of the future”, while Brasov is "attracting as many nightlife lovers as vampire hunters”.

Transylvania is among the few destinations from Central and Eastern Europe presented in the Lonely Planet list, which also includes destinations such as Friuli’s wine regions in Italy, France’s Auvergne region, Bavaria and Hawaii.

One of Transylvania’s best-known champions is the Prince of Wales, who has bought property in an old village in southern Transylvania. The heir to the British throne has visited the area for years for holidays and now owns homes there.

While many welcome the fact that Transylvania is becoming a renowned tourist destination, some experts say the rush to restore centuries-old monuments has resulted in damage and vandalism.

”I don’t know for sure if it is ineptitude or just deliberate destruction of historical monu-ments,” Eugen Vaida, an architect and conservationist, says.

"The problem is that in the end multi-million restoration projects have ended up wrecking many of Romania’s most treasured churches.”

Over the last five years, some 20 million euro have been poured into Romania for the restoration of some of the 150 Transylvanian "fortified" churches, with the money coming from the European Regional Development Fund.

So far, 18 churches have been revamped, and another 12 have been targeted for work, according to architects.

But experts complain that traditional plaster has often been replaced with cement, wooden beams have been sawed through with chainsaws and ancient engraved tiles have been smashed to make way for new, bright red factory-made tiles.

Seven of the Transylvanian villages that are home to fortified churches are included in the UNESCO world heritage list.

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