Rich green fields and terraced hillsides, crowned with woods of beech and oak where bears still roam, surround the brightly coloured villages of Saxon Transylvania, in the north-west of Romania. Horse-drawn traffic clatters down quiet unmade roads through valleys filled with nightingales. The cowherds bring the cattle home each evening and the hay on the high hills is scythed by hand. It is an almost rural Eden – no chemicals, combine harvesters or tourist buses here.
This countryside was carved from the surrounding forest by 13th century Saxon settlers from the Rhine and it seems a miracle that they and their towns and hamlets and skills and language should have weathered past eight centuries of commotion with so little damage. Relatively recently it was caught between the German army and the Soviet Union and was threatened by the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s plans in the 1980s when he wanted to destroy 13,000 villages. But although many of the Saxons have left to live in Germany, the landscape they created has survived against all odds.
Saxon grave stone, Biertan fortified church. Transylvania, Romania