Snapshots: Gyimesbükk

Erika Papp Faber

Snapshots: Gyimesbükk

Left: Steps leading to ruins of Rákóczi fortress; front of quarantine quarters; Right: photo from the 1940s, and the "watchman's shanty" before restoration; ruins of the quarantine quarters; restored "watchman's shanty"; Kontumáci Chapel

Gyimesbükk, located 32 km northeast of Csíkszereda, is the easternmost of three settlements in the Tatros Valley, approximately 3,000 feet above sea level. For a thousand years, the border of Hungary ran through here.  Round stones, placed about one kilometer apart, marked the border itself until 1920, when the so-called “Treaty” of Trianon gave Transylvania to Romania.  Most of these have been destroyed, but several still exist.  One is shown in the lead.   

Gyimes Fortress (later renamed Rákóczi Fortress), testifies to the importance of the locality.  It was built by Bethlen Gábor, Prince of Transylvania, in 1626.  There was no road leading up to the fortress, only a triple flight of stairs, numbering a total of 134 steps.  Today, these steps are all that remain.

This was also one of those places where lármafák were erected on the heights – poles, approximately 25 feet in length, to the top of which bundles of straw saturated with tar were affixed.  The assigned watchman would light the straw rope that hung down to the ground when he noticed the approach of an enemy.  These poles were placed within sight of each other, so the alarm could be spread quickly to the local population.

As mentioned elsewhere in this issue, the Csángók were originally border guards.  This meant not only that they were the first line of defense against an enemy, but that they would also have to act as customs officers to screen the merchants and the animals they brought into the country, to make sure they did not bring in any infectious diseases.  For this purpose, there was a complex of quarantine buildings and quarantine stables. In addition, there was a doctor’s apartment and even a school.  The ruined buildings have now been covered with tiles for preservation.

One part, next to the chapel,  has been converted into a memorial for the Hungarian soldiers who fell in defense of Gyimes Pass during World War II.

The Latin term for quarantine is contumacia, which explains the name of the little chapel adjacent to the quarantine building:  it is called the Kontumáci kápolna.  According to documents, it was built in 1782, with a small bell tower.  However, an inscription on its northern wall, in Armenian script, seems to indicate that its core may be older, and may only have been altered to serve as a chapel: “In the month of September 1712, I was here for (health) inspection. Karanteria-Karanta brook.  Kontumacia.”  The date is MDCCXII. The “new” chapel was dedicated in 1783 for the Catholics living in the Gyimes Valley.

A “watchman’s shanty”, as it is officially called – number 30 in the Royal Hungarian Railway register – located next to the railroad tracks at the former border itself – has been restored and now serves as a small railway museum.  In 2008, the first annual Csíksomlyó Pentecost pilgrimage train, which started from Budapest, continued on to Gyimesbükk, bringing  thousands of people to this historic spot.

If you have a chance, do visit Gyimesbükk, a scenic and historic area in Transylvania!  Just bring your walking shoes!