The stories of rebirth, recovery and going on are the most beautiful stories. There is hope in every ruin, forgotten thing, in every road that has lost its meaning for a while. Today you can be a grandiose palace, but tomorrow a warehouse of old objects. Today a beautiful well-kept garden and tomorrow a wild corner of the world. Things, places, people can be, in different times and stories, both splendid and desolate. But ruin has its beauty, preserving the past and more than that, becoming, at any time, something even more beautiful.
This is how we felt walking inside the Apafi Manor in Mălâncrav. A cold, rainy October day; an old mansion, seen before only from the outside; now being the first time we are really going to know each other. Inside the manor we entered another world. An elegant, different one, somehow far away from what we knew. Everywhere traces of the past: books, old objects, splendid furniture, an aristocratic and at the same time warm, welcoming air, a beautiful library and a home style kitchen.
Story of rebirth
Apafi Manor has a life story and a death story. But more than that, it is a story of rebirth.
The beautiful mansion belonged to the Apafi noble family since the 18th century. With no heirs, the mansion was taken over by the noble Bethlen-Haller families. However, the villagers from Mălâncrav are still talking about the fact that the property was lost as a result of a game of cards. Over time, the mansion changed its shape, being renovated several times. In 1920 it was transferred to the Saxon community, then transformed into a cultural home, later confiscated by the communists in 1949, eventually becoming shelter for animals and in the end a ruin.
German architects brought back the mansion to its original appearance from the 18th century, and a British designer took care of the interior design, the fabrics, the pieces of furniture being of local origin.
Apafi Manor belongs since 2000 to Mihai Eminescu Trust, a non-profit organization with 20 years of experience in heritage conservation and in the restoration of villages in Transylvania and Maramureș. Experience Transylvania is also a project-initiative of the Foundation for the development of cultural tourism, having a network of over 20 traditional guesthouses in administration, in villages such as: Mălâncrav, Florești, Richiș, Biertan, Alma Vii, Viscri, Criț or Breb.
A short tour of the mansion is essential to enter the atmosphere of the place: the elegant library, with hundreds of books, some very old paintings and furniture of those times. Then the five bedrooms, organized simply but elegantly. We chose one of the bedrooms on the ground floor, with tall, old windows, through which the rain and the nature outside are beautifully discovered, every morning.
Behind the mansion, just a few steps from the beautiful building, is the Fortified Church of Mălâncrav, a story-building, just like the beautiful people of the place that guide us inside. “We are few and we try, as much as we can to carry the story and tell it further”, the Saxon lady tells us, while guiding. Then confessing all the stories of the place, a church with Gothic paintings, built in the 14th century, with passion, simple joy and a lot of enthusiasm. In the end she shows herself as very disappointed because she can’t convince her son to arrange his room in a traditional way and style, with traditional objects and colors, against his modern preferences. We are amused by the conflicts between generations and tastes, but at the same time we think bitterly about how something, inside and outside of us, is slowly being lost. We wake up from this when a nice old man who deals with the administration of the church starts playing wonderfully on the organ. Real but unexpected. We are happy from the bottom of our hearts and it already seems like a sign of friendship. Later we talk to him having a coffee at Apafi Manor. He does not speak perfect Romanian and even if at the beginning of our meeting he seemed skeptical, now he does not stop looking at us, in a beautiful, respectful, hopeful way. We became friends, talked a lot and promised we would return to find him there.
So the moments spent in the mansion, then stepping along the small green park, the stories told by people as you rarely find, the Saxon church as a proof of the passing centuries, maybe not in vain, over us all.
The meal was a real feast in the kitchen that combines so beautifully the old and rustic style with modern elements: a long table, with hungry and enchanted guests, a perfect chef who took care of each of us and especially of every taste: delicious sarmale, cabbage prepared just like home, local products, joy, stories, well-being and at the same time peace.
Mălâncrav is a beautiful Saxon village that deserves a visit. Starting with the Evangelical Church with a special mural, representing the best preserved ensemble of linear-narrative Gothic painting from the 16th century; then the old Saxon houses, the beautiful surrounding hills and of course, to see, in silence, all the Saxon villages in the area: among them Cincu, Criș, Florești, Biertan, Richiș, of great beauty and cultural and multicultural significance.
The happy endings, especially when they are about places, culture and history, people and their lives, are the most beautiful stories. We left Apafi Manor with melancholy and with the sweet taste of hope that at least some places of the old Transylvania might survive and move on, in time; but also with the bitterness of realizing that it is done too little, too slowly and sometimes probably too late.
Apafi Manor, passing through many lives, hands and rebirths, today found peace because of the power of people who restore and save parts of this country. But it is possible, from so many other directions, much more to be done. For every place in ruin, for every untold story for our ears, for every happy ending that could be.
In the end we enjoyed what we experienced in the present moment at Apafi, trying at least for a moment to forget all these thoughts. A rainy October at the window of the mansion, the fresh air on the terrace, the walk in the surroundings, the feeling that you are home, at a manor. Apafi planted hope and somehow melancholy in our souls, at the same time.
Apafi Manor, Mălâncrav Village, Sibiu County
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