The magnificent mountain setting of Rasnov Castle makes it a must-see site for visitors to Transylvania,
writes Bernard O’Shea, even though it is partially in ruins.
To get some idea of how atmospheric and spectacular the Transylvanian alpine scenery can be, you should watch the film Cold Mountain, starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger (who won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 2003 for her part in it) and many other fine actors. Although it is an epic drama set in the time of the American civil war, it was filmed mostly around Rasnov in Romania and the nearby Piatra Craiului National Park.
As magnificent as the winter scenery is, I prefer a hot mountain to a cold one, so visited in Rasnov in the summer, to explore its hilltop citadel. Rasnov is only 12 kilometres from Bran and its famous castle, and to see one without seeing the other would be foolish.
The castles are very different. While Bran is reasonably well preserved, having been adopted as a summer home by the Romanian royal family, the fortress at Rasnov is a a partially restored ruin. It was built in the early 1200s by the Teutonic Knights as part of a number of defenses along the Bran Pass, an important trade route between Transylvania and the principality of Wallachia to the south.
But rather than a military stronghold, Rasnov was a “peasant fortress” set on the hill about 200 metres above the village where residents could escape to and live in relative safety during a siege. Consequently it had a communal feel, with more than two dozen houses, a school and chapel, and other facilities.
Over time, of course, it had to bear witness to all the regional power struggles, including invasions by Tatars/Tartars and Turks, and the villagers had to scamper to it often, but it was last used as a refuge during the 1848 revolution, after which it was abandoned.
So what can the visitors of today expect to see at Rasnov Castle? There is a little museum with weapons and torture instruments, souvenir shops, a tavern, cafe, a tourist information office, the chapel and a jail and well said to have been constructed by two Turkish prisoners over the course of 17 years, starting in 1623. The outer grounds might also be used for exhibitions and the odd gimmicky pageant (don’t be surprised to see employees wander past in chain mails).
But the real reason to visit the castle is for its 360-degree views, taking in the fir-clad Bucegi mountains (part of the Southern Carpathians), the Piata Craiului and the rooftops of the Rasnov township. The splendour of this part of the world, no matter what time of the year, is extraordinary. And you get better views here than you do at Bran.
To get to the castle from the town of Rasnov, you can either be brave and walk up the winding roads to the top of the hill (it takes about 15 to 20 minutes but it’s shady and pleasant among the trees, and there are refreshment stalls along the way), or you can opt for a seat on the mini train.
There is a big square at the base of the hill where there is ample parking for cars, and where you can get tickets for the mini train, plus of course there are more souvenir shops and cafes. There is a small entrance fee for the castle grounds, which are open daily. Check this website for the latest opening times and prices: http://www.rasnov-turism.ro/tourism/rasnov-fortress
Probably it will take you no more than two hours to explore the castle grounds, although if you love mountain hikes you will want to stay longer in the region. Looking over my notes from the trip, I said “Rasnov is not particularly well maintained (it has suffered damage in an earthquake and from fire) but I am glad I saw it and the walk was pleasant”. But it was more pleasant downhill than up! TTW
Bernard O’Shea travelled to Romania at his own expense. Photos © Bernard O’Shea.