The Prince Charles Effect: Transylvanian Saxon Zone Becomes a Protected Area
In 2016, Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel named Transylvania as it’s number one destination. In fact, Transylvania is becoming increasingly more popular in all kinds of foreign tourist destination guides. Why is the world suddenly recognizing the beauty of Romania?
One explanation is the number of projects launched by NGOs interested in the Saxon cultural area. And the main catalyst behind this phenomenon is none other than Prince Charles of Great Britain.
Since the Prince started periodical visits to Romania, significant funding has been directed to the Mures, Sibiu, Brasov and Covasna counties for protecting and capitalizing Saxon heritage.
One of the main Saxon attractions is the fortified church of Biertan (photo by Lucian Muntean):
Proof of the special interest in the Saxon area is a Ministerial Order that will come into force at the end of the year protecting the Hârtibaciului Plateau – defined as an area to the south of Târnava Mare and north of the Olt River. The new status protects the natural and historic heritage of the area.
A second major effort still in the implementation phase is formerly classifying Hârtibaciului Plateau, dubbed ‘Hills of Transylvania’, as an eco-tourism destination by the Ministry of Tourism.
At present, only two areas in Romania hold this special status given by the National Authority for Tourism: Zarnesti (in Brasov county) and Mara- Cosau-Creasta Cocosului (Maramures county).
Both projects - protected area and eco-tourism destination - are driven through WWF Romania. WWF is the world’s largest conservation organization.
A 12.6 million Lei (2.8 million Euro) project co-financed through the European Regional Development Fund in the larger Environment Operational Program is under development for the Hârtibaciului Plateau. In addition to WWF Romania, two other NGOs close to Prince Charles are involved: Adept and Mihai Eminescu Trust.
The area for the project is spread across 267,438 hectares, involving 90,000 inhabitants amongst 44 villages.
“The integrated management plan for the protected areas on the Hârtibaciului-Târnava Mare-Olt Plateau was finalized this year, went through public consultation and debate throughout the entire area with various public audiences, and then was sent to the Environment, Waters and Forests Ministry for approval. Currently, it is still awaiting approval. In a few months a Ministerial Order will bring it into action,” says Mara Cazacu, WWF Communication officer for the project.
The area in question contains priceless cultural and ecological sites such as Sighisoara, oak and hornbeam forests from Dosul Fânatului and Dealu Purcaretul, the Secular Oaks Natural Reservation from Breite, Mihaileni Canyon and the Downy Oak Reservation from Cris village.
According to WWF Romania, Hârtibaciului Plateau could very well be “the most attractive rural, traditional and multicultural landscape in Central Europe. Here, local communities proudly protect the mosaic-like views with well-kept villages while continuing to make a living through local produce and services created through the sustainable use of natural resources and cultural values.”
You stumble over fortified churches nearly everywhere in Transylvania, with Biertan and Viscri considered to be the most beautiful. When the wind blows through the wooden blinds, painted in pastel colors, and the Roma villagers, dressed in scarlet clothing can be seen on the fields, this area throws a powerful spell at its visitors.
For an area to receive an eco-tourism destination status it must fulfill four conditions:
- Attractive appeal - that is, to include at least one protected natural area;
- Accessibility – can be reached via public and private transport;
- Provide at least minimal tourist services - room and board, tourist paths and activities based on nature and environmental conservation;
- Provide adequate public services - health, education, waste disposal, and financial.
“Aside from these mandatory requirements, the area considers additional criteria such as sustainable management, maximizing benefits for communities, nature and cultural heritage,” says Mara Cazacu.
For the second project, WWF is working with the Mioritics Association along with the Adept and Mihai Eminescu Trust Foundations and is financed through the Romanian-American Foundation.
Concurrently, WWF is developing two other projects inside the protected area financed through the Swiss-Romanian Cooperation Program. These are “Nature 2000 and rural development in Romania”, which supports green business startups, and “Agricultural Lands with High Natural Value and Rural Development in Romania.”
The latter is focused on finding solutions to promote market access for regional agricultural production.
Ever since 2002, the heir to the British Crown has visited the Saxon area at least once a year and purchased several properties.
Aside from his house in Viscri (Brasov County), which has been intensely presented in the media, Prince Charles also owns the Apafi Manor of Malancrav (Sibiu County), and four residences in Valea Zalanului (Covasna County).
His link to Transylvania is one of the reasons why Lonely Planet, a British publication, has recently recommended the region to its readers.
“Prince Charles’ support of various conservation efforts in Transylvania is notable, but we also had other reasons for placing Transylvania first place in our Top 10 of places to visit in 2016. As our guide clearly states, Transylvania is witnessing a revival,” said Rebecca Law, PR & Communications Manager for EMEA with Lonely Planet to PressOne.
The link between Buckingham Castle and Brasov is not immediately evident, but Prince Charles supports numerous conservation projects in Transylvania. The Prince even planted wild flowers at Highgrove Gardens to remind him, and England, of the simple life in Transylvania. - Lonely Planet
There are several other initiatives aimed at conserving or reviving traditions in Romania’s Saxon area. For example: The Monumentum Association set up a traditional roof tile workshop in Apos, the Adept Foundation and the local administration from Saschiz opened a pottery workshop to produce traditional ceramics once again, and the Mihai Eminescu Trust coordinates a cultural tourism project in Malancrav, where tourists can take part in actual craftsmen activities during its frequent ‘open days’.
In 2014, Prince Charles participated in the opening of the Center for processing fruits and vegetables in Saschiz, Mureș County.
The other foundation involved in major projects in the area, Mihai Eminescu Trust, has been receiving support from Prince Charles since 2003.
This year, in Viscri, the heir to the British crown launched his own charitable foundation supporting conserving traditions, agriculture and sustainable development in Romania.