The New York Times, July 15, 1877, p.3:|
ROUMANIA AND ITS HISTORYSTORIES OF AN ANCIENT LAND.
THE TREASURE OF PETROSSA--A RECORD OF GOTHIC ART--
ROBBING A MUSEUM--CONVENTS AND MONASTARIES--
POOR "FLORA OF THE FIELDS"--THE TOMB OF MAZEPPA,
AND THE TRUE STORY OF THAT FAMOUS COSSACK.
From Our Special Correspondent.
JASSY, Sunday, June 24, 1877.
In the absence of everything strictly ikn the "war news" line, and with the hope of entertaining my readers, I have bethought me of doing a little tourist business in the interior, so as to give some idea of this country, at once so interesting and so little known...
There are no books to consult, and everything which a correspondent writes he must take from his own personal observation. There is no chance of pilfering from his predecessors, for the most complete book of travel which has ever appeared about Roumania was written by one Macarius, Patriarch of Antioch, in the year of our Lord 1648, and this is rather antiquated.
The inhabitants are very willing to give you information, provided you specify the particular subject; but therein lies the difficulty, for one never knows where to commence his questions; besides, there is a certain amount of vagueness in their answers even when you do specify.
For example, no one can tell you the precise origin of the capital; according to some, it was the place of domicile of a shepherd named Bucur, whose children--Bucuresci--increased the number of huts, and finally gave the name of their father to the little village.
There is another tradition which pretends that at a certain epoch the Wallachians were forced to pay an annual tribute to the Turks of 10,000 ducats and 500 children, but that one of their chiefs, outraged by this indignity, revolted, and, having beaten the tyrants and abolished the vassalage, founded a monastery and church at some already existing hamlet, which, in exultation over his victory, he named Bucaresci, the "cities of joy"--for this Bucaresci, improperly called by Occidentals Bucharest, is a plural, and in reality comprises five or six small towns, all of which, although now united under one common designation, preserve certain distinctive marks of autonomy.
The centre, in the neighborhood of the theatre, is essentially European, except in the irregularity of its streets, with fine shops, large and well-kept hotels, and sumptuous dwellings. A little further on is a street called the Leipsicanie [Lipscani], where, as if in memory of the time when everything foreign was brought from Liepsic and other fairs of Germany, there is a vast semi-Oriental bazaar for merchandise of all sorts.
In the suburbs, called Mahullas, from the Turkish, one would think himself transplanted to the shores of the Bosphorus; every house is surrounded with its garden, and the inhabitants appear to have inheirited from their ancient masters that love of the peaceful but monotonous Kief which is the peculiar characteristic of all peoples who have, for any long period, been in contact with the once energetic, but now apathetic race of the Osmanli.
Of the many churches included within the city limits none have any claims to architectural merit. The little shrine of Sarinda, so called because it was the fortieth religious edifice constructed during the reign of a Hospodar named Bessaraba, is in particular consideration, because it contains a much venerated picture of the Virgin, which is supposed to possess a miraculous power of curing all sorts of disease. Whenever the Prince--Prince Carol I., being a Catholic, will probably decline the intervention--or some great Boyard is ill, the aegoumenos, or prior, carries it in person, in the largest carriage to be found, surrounded by torch-bearers, to the sick man. If the invalid be of inferior rank, the sub-prior goes in a smaller carriage, with a smaller-sized picture; but if he be in indigent circumstances, then he is only considered worthy of an engraved copy of the miraculous portrait which is taken to him by an ordinary monk on foot. On the passage of this revered relic everybody falls on his knees, but, naturally, the veneration shown is in direct proportion to its size.
The Prince's palace is a plain, inelegant edifice, built in the early part of the present century by the Boyard Constantine Golisco, whose father, on his first visit, was so astonished by the size that he exclaimed: "But, my child, how ever will you be able to light up such large rooms?" At that date nothing more advanced than tallow candles was known in Bucharest. The son's reply, "Father, I have built for posterity," has been fully justified since then.
The Museum is chiefly interesting for its rather small collection of antiques. In reality, the Principality is rich in vestiges of Roman occupation, and of the days of the Middle Ages, and there are even traces of the prehistoric times of stone and bronze anterior to the annals of Herodotus. But, although the peasants during their labors in the fields continually bring to light relics of great interest, few ever get into the hands of those who would appreciate their value.
The history of what is known as the Treasure of Petrossa will well exemplify the state of antiquarian research in Roumania previous to 1840. About the end of 1837, some workmen who were quarrying near Buzco came across a number of articles of yellow metal, the largest of which, of the form of a ewer [pitcher], they sold for a mere song, to a troop of wandering Gypsies, by whom it was chopped up to see what it was made of, buyers as well as sellers being convinced that it was base metal, and that the stones with which it was studded were valueless; these last, by the way, were given to some village children to play with.
A passing traveler was informed of the affair, and notified the authorities; but although all the articles were purchased and restored as nearly as possible to their original shape, careful researches in the same locality have failed to discover any other relics. The treasure itself originally consisted of 24 pieces of massive gold, ornamented with precious gems and colored crystals, was reduced to 10 only when reclaimed by the Government, and has been a fruitful subject of discussion among German antiquarians since its exhibition at Vienna in 1873. I believe that, from an inscription on one of the rings, these savants have finally come to the conclusion that the treasure is of Gothic origin, and the only record of Gothic art which still exists in its primitive form.
But the adventures of the collection were not destined to terminate with its rescue from the hands of the vandalic Gypsies. The son of a Pope, an employe of the Bureau of Fine Arts, cast upon it eyes of covetousness, and determined to appropriate it to himself. His performance to this end would have done credit to Jack Sheppard [a notorious English robber]. Having access to the different rooms of the Museum, he accurately calculated the distance, and then, by the aid of false keys, obtained admission to the chamber above; here he first bored a hole through the floor and through the ceiling underneath large enough to admit of the passage of an umbrella, which he then opened in order to receive the fragments of plaster, not to attract the attention of the sentinels outside; gradually the orifice was widened until it admitted of the passage of his body, when he let himself down by a rope, filled his bag with the articles, clambered up again, walked deliberately out of the front door, went home and went to bed.
This was weak on his part, for the guardians the next morning discovered the burglary, suspected the perpetrator, and had him arrested as he was about to start on a foreign journey. An iron grating at present guarantees against the renewal of like attempts, and the amateur is lodged at his country's expense in one of the Government establishments, and these relics of the Ostrogoth Athalaric are safe.
Previous to the secularization of the Church property, in 1862, Moldo-Wallachia contained a vast number of convents and monasteries, differing very little materially from all edifices of a similar character found elsewhere in Europe. Built at strategic points, in the midst of ravines and precipices which defended their approach, surrounded by massive walls pierced with loopholes and flanked by lofty turrets at the angles, they seemed more like feudal castles destined to resound with the clash of arms and the clang of trumpets than peaceful asylums consecrated to meditation and prayer. Effectively they were fortresses, and often played an important part in the vicissitudes of their province, and many of them have sustained sieges against Turks and Hungarians which are memorable in the annals of Roumanian history.
But nowadays peace and silence reign in their deserted cloisters; many have been turned into penitentiary establishments, others still continue to give shelter to communities of lazy monks, proprietors of the neighboring domain, and are rarely visited except by some inquisitive tourist who penetrates into these grand sylvan solitudes of the Carpathians in search of those chronicles of the past which lie hidden away among their moldy archives.
Formerly these establishments were the only resource of the traveler, who else would have been forced to sleep out under the stars or to have partaken of the meagre hospitality of the peasant. Not more than 30 years ago there were no inns in the interior, and monks and nuns were obliged by law to offer food and lodging gratuitously for four and twenty hours to all strangers.
But a good many abuses crept into this patriarchal institution, and scenes not strictly in accordance with the rule sof cenobitical piety occasionally gave birth to grave scandals; so that finally the Minister of Public Worship was forced to publish an interdict closing the cloisters to all laymen not provided with special authority or recommendation. The monks complain bitterly that they are thus shorn of a fruitful source of revenue, and if morality has gained, the traveler who knew Roumania 30 years ago must regret the change from the clean cells and generous wine of the jolly friars to the stuffy, expensive abominations which, under the name of hotels, now fleece the unwary stranger in every town and village of the principality. Naturally all of these old buildings have their legends--tales of wonder and horror, in which scraps of tradition and history and relics of ancient pagan superstitions are mixed up in a way to delight the most enthusiastic student of Folk-lore.
On the road from Pitesci [Piteşti] to Hermanstadt [Sibiu], at the foot of the Carpathians, is the little town Curtea d'Argesu--the Court of Argis--once the capital of Rudolphe the Black [Radu Negru, Negru Vodă], who in the latter half of the twelfth century came down from the mountains, where the Daco-Roumains had sought a refuge since the invasion of Attila, at the head of his clan, and uniting the remnants of that same race which were scattered along the frontier, established the commencements of the Moldo-Wallachian principality as it now exists.
Just without the town, in the Valley of the Hill, stands the celebrated monastery built by that Prince in honor of his triumphs. It took nine years to finish, and Rudolphe spent all his treasures, and the Princess sold her last pair of earrings, to pay the workmen; but they were a pious couple and did not begrudge the sacrifice. Nothing but a portion of the monastery and the church now remain, but the latter is very grand, with its four towers, whose burnished copper roofs are chiseled like a piece of goldsmith's work, and no Indian pagoda is more delicately ornamented and exquisitely arabesqued than this splendid Byzantine shrine. But I do not propose to give you a description of its architecture, only to tell the story of its foundation, which forms the subject of one of the most pathetic ballads ever existing in any language.
For five long years did Manol, the architect, and his nine companions toil on; the foundations were laid, but every night some invisible agency would overthrow the labors of the day. At last Manol has a dream, and learns that to break the spell he and his nine comrades must swear to build into the walls alive the first woman, be she wife or sister, who approaches the enchanted spot.
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