BRAN CASTLE (1377-1920)
The Bran fortress was built on a cliff between Magura and The Hill of the Fortress, its position conferring an outstanding view towards both the hills of Moeciu and the ones from the Land of Bârsa. The building of the fortress was imposed by strategic and economic reasons. The strategic reasons underlined by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire which, by the end of the XIV century, began threatening the south-eastern borders of Transylvania; the economic reasons, given by the fact that the commercial road, one of the most important access ways connecting Transylvania to Wallachia, crossed this area. All these reasons determined the Hungarian king Louis I of Anjou to develop strengthening works of the Bran pass.
Jointly interested in raising the fortress were also the people of Brasov, aiming to secure their geographical position on one hand, and the economic one, on the other hand, by supervising the commercial road passing through the valley. These mutual actions materialize on November 19 th 1377, when Louis I of Anjou grants the people of Brasov the privilege of building the fortress “unforced and unbound, but willingly they have generously and unanimously promised to build a new fort in Bran, on their own efforts and expenses, and to cut the forest thereabouts”. It was remarkable the fact that, by the death of the Hungarian king in 1382, the fortress was already built. After finalizing the construction, the fortress becomes property of the Hungarian royalty, who settles here a garrison of mercenaries, made up by archers and ballista men. The Szekler committee was sometimes entrusted with this prerogative, this position being mostly taken by the Voivodes of Transylvania. Yet, by the act of 1380, it is specified that, generally, a Saxon can be appointed in this position.
The lord of the castle fulfilled several military tasks (command of the garrison, organization and supervising of borders) and also administrative – jurisdictional tasks (as lord of the mansion, he checked the incomes resulted from the fees owed by the inhabitants of the domain, as well as from other economic activities related to the city of Brasov).
At the beginning of the XV century, as product of the collaboration between the Hungarian king Sigismund of Luxemburg and the Wallachian ruler Mircea cel Batrân with respect to the anti-Ottoman politics, the Bran fortress is transferred to the possession of the Wallachian ruler and to his descendants, with the purpose to strengthen the Transylvanian – Wallachian border. With this occasion, the customs point from the feet of the fortress was moved to Brasov.
Mircea cel Batrân replaced the lord of the castle with one of his chief magistrates, appointing him with the supervising of the commercial road. On August 6 th 1413, he grants the people of Brasov the well known commercial privilege, emphasizing “the establishments left by their forefathers for customs purposes through the boroughs from Wallachia and on the road from Brasov through the Bran pass up to Braila”. The descendants of Mircea cel Batrân disrespect the commercial privileges conferred to the people of Brasov, driving them to the Hungarian king with a complaint. This state of facts, corroborated with the persistent Turkish attacks (culminating with the one in 1421, when the Turks rob The Land of Bârsa) determine Sigismund of Luxemburg to entrust the Bran Fortress, on February 3 rd 1426, to the Prince of Transylvania, entrusting him to appoint the lord of the castle. In exchange for granting new privileges to the people of Brasov, these had the obligation of supplying the fortress with food and informing the Transylvanian prince in case of imminent Turkish danger. The summer of 1427, Sigismund seems to have personally come to Bran in order to check the defense works and yet, in spite of all safety measures taken, the Turks penetrate The Land of Bârsa through the Bran pass and rob it again.
The summer of 1441 the Turks initiate a new incursion in Transylvania, but are defeated in the district of Bran by Iancu de Hunedoara, prince of this province, who paid an extreme attention to the Bran Fortress and to the commercial road passing through this area, confirming the old commercial privilege granted to the people of Brasov by Mircea cel Batrân and confirmed by Sigismund. Within the first months of the year 1459 the armies of Vlad Tepes, a Wallachian ruler, attack the city of Brasov through Bran, burning the suburbs and the old church of Bartholomew; this action came as a consequence of a commercial litigation between the Wallachian ruler and the merchants from Brasov. Bran was also the pass used by the armies of prince Stefan Bathory, when supporting Vlad Tepes in his second reign (1456-1462).
The acts of abuse committed by the lords of the castle from the fortress Bran caused inconvenience to the commercial activity of the city Brasov – which had become one of the most important commercial centers of Transylvania – making the people of Brasov try to get into its possession. In order to achieve this purpose the people of Brasov needed, besides the approval of the king, the actual owner, also the consent of the Transylvanian prince who, being appointed with the defense of the borders as representative of the Szekler committee, had military authority over the fortress of Bran.
The arrangement seems to have been made only between the people of Brasov and the King of Hungary V ladislav II Jagello, and on the 1 st of January 1498, the latter pledging by himself the Bran fortress to the people of Brasov “along wi t h all possessions and rights of usage” for ten years, in exchange for 1000 florins. In 1508, after expiration of this term, the Hungari an king renews for another twenty five years the pledge contract for the domain and the fortress of Bran, in favor of the city of Brasov. At the end of this period the royalty had to pay to the people of Brasov the amount of 6300 florins, as ransom, or else the fortr ess remained property of the city of Brasov. In 1513, King Vladislav Jagello issues an act by means of which he removes the Bran fortress from the jurisdiction of the prince of Transylvania, and grants it to the people of Brasov “to keep and administrate” for twenty five years, should they always be truthful to the king, ensure keeping the fortress and support the spies in Turkey. By means of this document the city of Brasov gains possession over the fortress and domain of Bran, having absolute rights as possessor.
Once the Bran fortress became property of the city of Brasov, the duties of the serfs grew ruthless and more numerous, making the serfs often complain and rise up against them. In addition to all that, by a decision ruled by the king, dating from the beginning of the XVI century, they were bound to perform the military duty for the city of Brasov and, in need, to take up arms at its request. This provision made the serfs from the villages in the Bran domain run away. This state of facts concurs with the riot of the Transylvanian villagers from 1514. The serfs from the Bran domain refused to rise up against the rebels – as presented in a letter from the voivode of Transylvania addressed to the king of Hungary – and above all that, “they refuse to pay their regular duty to our citizens from Brasov. This major disobedience came close to causing a riot of the common people even in our city of Brasov and in the Land of Bârsa”. The position of the villagers from Bran vexed the leaders of Brasov who, at first, did not dare take any actions, waiting for the denouement of the riot. Only after the riot was repressed the people of Brasov had the courage to ask the king for his support. By rule of the king, Ioan Zapolya, the prince of Transylvania, set off to Brasov, in order to punish the rebels. As a consequence of this action, Brasov was reinstated by use of weapons.
As expected, the Bran fortress had also been involved in this political action. Thus, at first, after the denouement form Mohacs, the people from Brasov, supporting Ferdinand of Austria, adopted a hostile attitude towards Ioan Zapolya, who had succeeded to take over Transylvania. This explains why, in 1529 when L a udat, the commander of the Wallachian armies, tried to cross to Transylvania to help Ioan Zapolya, he came up against the resistance of the garrison from the Bran fortress, lead by the lord of the castle Ioan Hock. Although the siege lasted several days, the fortress could not be conquered. The year to come, the Bran fortress stands up against Mehmed Beg, stopping the Turks attempt to break into Transylvania, aiming to support the same Ioan Zapolya. In 1531, seeing that their resistance against Zapolya caused only prejudices, they cross to his side, being sworn in faithful to him. In exchan ge, the pri nce reinforces their privileges and grants them possession of the forests from the Transylvanian part of Buzau.
Even after 1541, when Transylvania becomes an autonomous principality under Turkish suzerainty, the Bran fortress remains property of the city of Brasov. Yet, the serfs belonging to this domain are bound to pay the Turkish yearly toll until 1602, when the prince suspends it in favor of the people of Brasov. In December 1596 Mihai Viteazul, on his trip to Alba Iulia used the road passing through Bran and his wife is likely to have stayed in the fortress for three days.
In the year 1600, the son of Mihai Viteazul, Nicolae Patrascu, tries to penetrate The Land of Bârsa through the Bran pass, aiming to punish the people of Brasov, who had revolted against the domination of the Wallachian ruler. Unable to conquer the fortress, they had to withdraw.
In the decades to come, the prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Bathory, temporarily occupying the Bran fortress, contested the property rights of the city of Brasov over the fortress. This action caused major economic damage to the people of Brasov, by cutting the commerce with Wallachia, as well as political and military prejudices. In 1613 the people of Brasov regain the property rights over the Bran fortress, consequential to a treaty signed with Gabriel Bathory. The same year, during the campaign of the Turkish army lead by Ali Pasha Maghiaroglu, aiming to install Gabriel Bethlen as prince of Transylvania, the Pasha requests the lord of the Bran castle to use their cannons, in order to prevent the “Tartar sultan” from passing through Bran. The permanent tendency of the city of Brasov to interfere with the Transylvanian politics determines Gabriel Bethlen (in the meantime prince) to raise the question of verifying the endorsed possession rights over the Bran fortress and the inherent domain. In 1625 the Transylvanian prince agrees to let the Bran fortress and the domain remain property of the people of Brasov.
The spring of 1651, on 25 th of April, Brasov signs with the prince of Transylvania Gheorghe Rackoczi a sale-purchase contract according to which the city “irrevocably and for ever” bought the Bran fortress and the inherent domain, including the villages belonging to the castle, as well as the communes: Purcareni, Zizin, Tarlungeni, Satulung, Cernatu, Turches, Bacifalu, Crizbav and Apata, becomming owner with full legal rights over these estates . In exchange for yielding the rights over the fortress and the domain, the people of Brasov had to give up, besides the amount owed by Vladislav II, also the amount of 11.000 florins (paid to the exchequer), along with several villages being up to that point in their possession. The sale-purchase contract for the Bran domain was confirmed by the Transylvanian states through the law Approbatae constitutiones regni Transsilvaniae III , title 84, paragraph 1. After a constant and tenaciously fought fight of over one hundred fifty years, the city of Brasov succeeded to consolidate its lawful rights over Bran.
At the end of the XVII century, as a consequence of the defeats suffered by the Turks, first at the siege of Vienna in 1683, then at Zenta in 1687, The Habsburg Empire gets dominion over Transylvania. Since the “Leopold Diploma” from 1691 confirmed all privileges and donations made by the princes of Transylvania, acknowledging the old laws of the country, the old administrative and judicial stabilities, the old privileges granted to the Saxons and the Szeklers, the city of Brasov also remains rightfully owner of the Bran fortress and domain, in conformity with the contract from 1651. The Habsburg economic politics and military strategy in the XVIII century lead to a diminution of the fortresses purpose, hindering the commerce of the people of Brasov with Wallachia, and even the lords of the castle in fulfilling their responsibilities on the Bran territory.
This way, on May 1st 1706, a customs officer is appointed to administrate the Bran customs point, a clerk of the Austrian Treasury who, besides the task of collecting the customs duties, took over from the lord of the castle also the table lands and the paths in the mountains Bucegi and Piatra Craiului, in order to prevent the illicit commercial activity and the illegal crossing of the border. To the same purpose, the Austrian state set up a sanitary cordon along the mountains Carpati, establishing, middle of the XVIII century, a quarantine office at Bran. Planning to strengthen the Bran pass, the castle was restored in 1723, as results from an inscription on the inner wall. The basic purposes of the fortress were practically reduced to those of head office of the domain administration and residence of the lord of the castle. Yet, it still constituted a defense residence which could possibly face a potential attack.
In spite of all these impediments, the Bran fortress continued to be mentioned in chronicles and also to partially fulfill its military and customs point role. Carol XII, king of Sweden, after being defeated in Russia, passes through Bran on the way to his country, accompanied by his armies that took refuge at the Turks. In 1737 an Austrian army company passes through Bran, attacking the Turks in Câmpulung.
During the Russian-Austrian-Turkish war from 1787, the Bran pass was invaded by the Moslem armies, who attacked the fortress, but failed to conquer it.
The amplification of the economic crisis from the second half of the XVIII century made the Austrian state stiffen the taxation policy, introducing the so-called “cadastral registers” in Bran too.
The major decline in the living conditions of the tenants from Bran generated several riots. The most important one, in the context of the events that took place in the years of the uprising led by Horea, Closca and Crisan, was in July 1785, when the tenants from Bran refused to pay their taxes to the city of Brasov.
The XIX century brought the decay of the last military tasks of the Bran fortress. The fortress failed to remain an efficient keeper of the border, due to the change in the military strategy and to the spreading of the performing fire guns.
In 1836, along with the transfer of the Transylvanian borders with Wallachia upper in the mountain, at Pajura, the Bran fortress loses its task as customs point at the border of the Austrian state and, along with that, the control over the commercial transit from the area.
The activity of the fortress becomes exclusively focused on the administration of the domain, which will generate numerous abuses coming from the land agents and lords of the castle. In the context of the rebellious movements from 1848, these abuses lead to a local riot, when the inhabitants of Bran organized themselves in “national guards”, acting against the lord of the castle and the garrison, banishing them from the fortress.
The imminence of the Russian-Romanian-Turkish war from 1877 determined the Austrian army to execute defense works along the eastern border of Transylvania. In this context, the Austrians occupied the Bran fortress, replacing its roof (easily exposed to any shelling) with faggots, thing which caused its severe decline.
Taking into account all that the city of Brasov asked the Austrian authorities to restore the fortress. Eventually, they accepted to support the expenses made within the period 1883-1886, and on July 22 nd 1888, they handed it over to the city of Brasov.
Not long after the city donated the fortress to the Forestry Administration from Brasov. From that point, the fortress was inhabited by forest keepers, foresters from Bran and, at times, in the expressly fit official chambers, by the forest inspectors came from Brasov. The Forestry Administration had the fortress in possession until 1918.