The oldest traces of human activity and settlements in Brasov date back to the Neolithic age (about 9500 BCE). Archaeologists working from the last half of the 19th century discovered continuous traces of human settlements in areas situated in Brașov: Valea Cetății, Pietrele lui Solomon, Șprenghi, Tâmpa, Dealul Melcilor, and Noua. The first three locations show traces of Dacian citadels; Șprenghi Hill housed a Roman-style construction. The last two locations had their names applied to Bronze Age cultures — Schneckenberg (“Hill of the Snails”; Early Bronze Age) and Noua (“The New”; Late Bronze Age).
Transylvanian Saxons played a decisive role in Brasov’s development and were invited by Hungarian kings to develop towns, build mines, and cultivate the land of Transylvania at different stages between 1141 and 1300. The settlers came primarily from the Rhineland, Flanders, and the Moselle region, with others from Thuringia, Bavaria, Wallonia, and even France.
In 1211, by order of King Andrew II of Hungary, the Teutonic Knights fortified the Burzenland to defend the border of the Kingdom of Hungary. On the site of the village of Brașov, the Teutonic Knights built Kronstadt – ‘the City of the Crown’. Although the crusaders were evicted by 1225, the colonists they brought in long ago remained, along with local population in three distinct settlements they founded on the site of Brașov:
- Corona, around the Black Church (Biserica Neagră);
- Martinsberg, west of Cetățuia Hill;
- Bartholomä, on the eastern side of Sprenghi Hill.
Germans living in Brasov were mainly involved in trade and crafts. The location of the city at the intersection of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe, together with certain tax exemptions, allowed Saxon merchants to obtain considerable wealth and exert a strong political influence. They contributed a great deal to the architectural flavor of the city. Fortifications around the city were erected and continually expanded, with several towers maintained by different craftsmen’s guilds, according to the medieval custom. Part of the fortification ensemble was recently restored using UNESCO funds, and other projects are ongoing. At least two entrances to the city, Poarta Ecaterinei (or Katharinentor) and Poarta Șchei (or Waisenhausgässertor), are still in existence. The city center is marked by the mayor’s former office building (Casa Sfatului) and the surrounding square (piața), which includes one of the oldest buildings in Brașov, the Hirscher Haus. Nearby is the “Black Church” (Biserica Neagră), which some claim to be the largest Gothic style church in Southeastern Europe.
In 1689, a great fire destroyed the walled city almost entirely, and its rebuilding lasted several decades.
Besides the German (Saxon) population living in the walled city and in the northern suburbs, Brașov had also a significant Romanian and Bulgarian population (living in the Șchei district), and also some Hungarian population (living in the Blumăna district). The cultural and religious importance of the Romanian church and school in Șchei is underlined by the generous donations received from more than thirty hospodars of Moldavia and Wallachia, as well as that from Elizabeth of Russia. In the 17th and 19th centuries, the Romanians in Șchei campaigned for national, political, and cultural rights, and were supported in their efforts by Romanians from all other provinces, as well as by the local Greek merchant community. In 1838, they established the first Romanian language newspaper Gazeta Transilvaniei and the first Romanian institutions of higher education: Școlile Centrale Greco-Ortodoxe (“The Greek-Orthodox Central Schools”, today named after Andrei Șaguna). The Holy Roman Emperor and sovereign of Transylvania Joseph II awarded Romanians citizenship rights for a brief period during the latter decades of the 18th century.
In 1850, the town had 21,782 inhabitants: 8,874 (40.7%) Germans, 8,727 (40%) Romanians, 2,939 (13.4%) Hungarians. In 1910 there were 41,056 inhabitants: 10,841 (26.4%) Germans, 11,786 (28.7%) Romanians, 17,831 (43.4%) Hungarians.
Read about Sibiu Medieval City, another town built by saxons
Pictures: Csongor Photography