Known today as Saxons, the German colonists were invited by the Hungarian kings to settle in what was at that time the Hungarian Kingdom, of which Transylvania was a part, aiming to protect the southern border of the kingdom from foreign invaders. Most of the colonists came between the 12th and 14th centuries and started building citadels all over southern Transylvania. Yet, the very first ones that erected a settlement in area around Brașov were the Teutonic Knights, at King Andrew II of Hungary’s order. When the crusaders were evicted, in 1225, only the colonists they brought remained. 1225 is also the year when Brașov was first mentioned as Kronstadt, the city of the crown.
Up until the 13th century, no documents attest to the existence of the city. Nevertheless, traces of human habitation have been found in the actual Schei and Bartolomeu neighbourhoods. Before the Saxon citadel was founded, on the city’s territory, a Romanian settlement named Cutun existed. The medieval citadel started to be erected by the Saxon colonists in the 15th century, and the Romanian settlement was left outside its walls. However, another stronghold, built in the 13th century, already existed: the Brassovia Citadel situated on Tâmpa Mountain. Never subdued, the citadel was a key point in protecting the city.
The citadel built in the 15th century can still be seen, boasting strongly fortified walls, massive towers and defence gates.
In 1364, the city receives the right to organize an annual market. The fact that the Saxon colonists were very good craftsmen and merchants, together with the citadel’s location at the crossroad of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire with Central and Western Europe, allowed the city to develop into a flourishing commercial centre. In 1424, the furrier’s guild, the first of the city, is formed, followed by shoemakers, butchers, goldsmiths and other merchant associations.
At the end of the 14th century, the construction of Saint Mary’s Church, today known as the Black Church, commences. At that time a Catholic church and later a Lutheran one, Saint Mary’s Church is an astounding Gothic building that survived several attacks and sieges over the ages. Damaged in 1689 by a fire, its walls turned black, giving it today’s name of the Black Church, the biggest Gothic church between Istanbul and Vienna.
In the 15th century, the Ottomans invade the city and manage to acquire, through an unfair treaty, the citadel on Tâmpa Mountain. Later on, the citadel is destroyed at John Huniady’s request, and the stones procured are used to fortify the citadel built in the 15th century. But as Brașov is lacking a protective stronghold, one that can serve military purposes, in the 16th century the current fortification on Citadel Hill is erected.
One of the most important personalities in Brașov’s history is the humanist Johannes Honterus. He was the one who spread Lutheran reform in Transylvania, establishing the Evangelical Church in the region. Born in Brașov, he studied in Vienna and Krakow but returned to his homeland in 1533, where he managed to convert a big part of the population to Lutheranism. He also funded the humanist gymnasium, today the Johannes Honterus School, and set up a printing press. There, a large number of books were printed, including some that he wrote himself. In his time, the Catholic service in the Black Church was replaced with the Lutheran one.
Even if the Romanians were compelled to live outside the walls of the citadel, mainly in the Șchei neighbourhood, there are several moments in Romanian history that are related to Brașov. In 1399, Pope Boniface IX mentions the Saint Nicholas Church built in Șchei, as well as a school functioning within it, where the first Romanian classes took place in 1583. Today, the school is a museum open to visitors.
In 1521, Brașov’s mayor received a letter from Neacșu de Câmpulung, to warn him about the plans of the Ottoman troops, which is considered the first letter written in the Romanian language. At the end of the 16th century, the first books in the Romanian language are printed in Șchei.
At the end of the 17th century comes the Austrian conquest of Transylvania, along with the most devastating fire in the city’s history. In 1689, a catastrophic fire destroys most of the town’s buildings and kills thousands of people. Following the disaster, the local authorities forbid the construction of wooden buildings. The city is slowly rebuilt with picturesque stone buildings that today grace Brasov’s streets.
In the 19th century, Romanians from Transylvania proudly affirm their culture and language, trying to find their place among the Hungarian and Saxon populations. Connected with the Romanians from Wallachia and Moldova and speaking the same language, the Romanians from Transylvania start a fight for equal rights with the other Transylvanian populations.
In 1838, George Bariț edits the first Romanian newspaper in the Transylvanian principality, Gazeta de Transylvania and the Paper for Mind, Heart and Literature, trying to promote Romanian culture, writers and poets throughout the region.
During the 1848 revolution, a battle between Romanian, Hungarians and Austrians, a document is written in Brașov, asking for the unification of all Romanians into a single state. Even if the request didn’t have the expected results, this was another key moment in the construction of the Romanian nation and today’s Romania.
In 1918, the union of Transylvania with the Romanian Kingdom is declared, and a year later a Romanian administration is installed in Brașov. Representatives of the Saxon communities support the decision, and the inter-war period proves to be a prosperous one for the city. However, the end of the Second World War comes with the German deportations to the Soviet Union. Those who manage to escape flee the country and go to West Germany. The two events dramatically reduces the Saxon population of the city.
Even before the start of Communist rule in 1947, the life of the notorious Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu is related to Brașov’s story. In 1936, Ceausescu is arrested and detained in the prison of the city, condemned to two years in prison for distribution of Communist propaganda materials.
At the very beginning of the Communist rule, for a period of ten years, Brașov is renamed Oraşul Stalin (Stalin City), after the Russian dictator.
Even before the Communist revolution in 1989 that ends with the fall of Communist rule, in 1987 Ceaușescu faces the opposition of thousands of unsatisfied workers that march in the streets, protesting against the ruler’s economic policies.
Today, Brașov is one of the most visited cities of Romania, due to the magnificent medieval citadel and the country’s largest Gothic church. Its Saxon past lures German travellers to visit the city, falling under its particular charm. A walk through the streets of the Old Town will reveal not only monumental towers and gates that makes one travel back in time, but also fascinating architectural marvels and a lively ambience.