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Bálványosvár and Torja, Transylvania

1st row: Bálintitt couple;Lilliana near the sad remains of a once great castle.
2nd row: Our little group; On the climb
3rd row: Baron Apor Csaba at home; Art work at Manor House
4th row: Bust of unknown ancestor; Lily inside the manor house at Torja

Bálványosvár and Torja, Transylvania

Charles Bálintitt Jr.

King Stephen I could be quite brutal - which was rather normal for that period of history - in his consolidation of power as well as his imposition of Christianity.  There were still many pagans in the area at that time, worshiping various other gods.  Among these pagans was the Apor family (maybe still known as “Opour” back then).  They spent a good deal of time battling against Christianity, thus against Stephen I.  But it seems that they eventually realized that this was hopeless, so they decided to build a fortress on top of a hill.  At a height of about 1,040 meters (about 3,400 feet) they could be left alone to worship their own god, the war god, “Hadúr”.

The Apor’s named their new castle “Bálványosvár” (“Bálványos” can be translated as “Idolatrous”).  They continued to worship as they pleased in their fortress high above the mostly Christian world below.  They continued to hold on to their beliefs for another century until converting to Christianity in the early 12th century due to an impending marriage of Apor Szilamér to a Christian girl, Mikes Imola.

This castle was also where, sometime later, an Apor held the crown of Saint Stephen because he was not happy with the line of succession.  A new king was not considered legitimate until he was crowned with the crown of St. Stephen.  This was the way the Apor’s negotiated for a more agreeable outcome.

Apor Ilona, the widow of Apor Miklós, left Bálványosvár in 1603.  She then moved to a manor house in the nearby town of Torja.  After that the castle slowly crumbled away over the coming years, decades and centuries.

In 1942 and 1943, a major excavation was done at Bálványos, but due to World War II, this was cut short and the results of the artifacts found there were not analyzed until many years later.  Most of the items that were dug up seem to be pottery and cooking pots dating from mostly the 13th and 14th centuries.

I climbed to the top of Bálványos in May 2007 with my wife, Lily, my cousin Máthé Márta and my cousin, Kati and her husband, Dr. Erdei Péter.  I called my mother from the summit to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day from the former home of her ancestors.  As a memento, I took a small piece of the wall home to my mother, which she subsequently put in a small frame.

Our climb to the top of the fortress was made more interesting because we initially veered off course and took the wrong path, which was very steep and getting a bit dangerous as we each had to find a tree to hold on to, to avoid sliding down the hillside.  It wasn’t until Mártika noticed a couple in the distance and asked them in Romanian about the way to the top.  Once we got our bearings straight and adjusted our route, we didn’t have too much difficulty making it the rest of the way to the top.

It is quite sad to see how little, of this once great castle, remains today.  A few of the photos I took will give an idea about this.  It would be interesting to imagine what must have stood there at one time.  To look back and see what life was like in the castle back in its heyday in the 11th or 12th century.  What I saw there reminded me of one my favorite, although quite sad, poems from Percy Bysshe Shelley:

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

After visiting Bálványos, our small group continued to drop in on Apor Csaba in Torja.  At the time, already in his mid-80’s, he was undertaking the restoration of the 500-year-old Apor Manor House in Torja.  The house had tremendously thick walls.  He was in the process of installing double doors in the archways.  These consisted of wooden structures that were curved at the top and about 2 to 3 feet deep between doors on either side.

One interesting discovery was made when he decided to begin painting the interior walls.  As they began cleaning off some of the layers of old paint before applying a new coat, they discovered that the old paint covered underlying frescos.  In fact, most of the walls were covered in frescos.  This made the restoration a lot more difficult, but so much more fascinating.

Csaba was able to get back part of the land that was confiscated from his family by the communists.  In addition to the work on the old manor house, he also farmed the land.  He raised cows and sold the milk locally.  He also raised horse and pigs.  He decided to try to go back to a better time and live off the land and enjoy all that nature had to give.   And what a magical place indeed for this endeavor.

There are so many beautiful sites to see in Transylvania.  Bálványos and Torja are only 2 of them.  But even this small part of Transylvania would make a trip there so worth the effort.     


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