The Villages · Uncategorized

Richiș

I will dedicate my first post to the village of Richis, the very first Saxon village that I ever got to visit, thanks to an organised tour by the Transylvanian brunch initiative.

FB_IMG_1511371581979_2Photo credit: My Transylvanian Village

The village of Richis, Rechesdref/Reχestref in Saxon dialect, Reichesdorf/Reichersdorf in German and Riomfalva in Hungarian, signifies wealth and richness and is located in the heart of Transylvania, close to the medieval towns of Sighișoara and Mediaș. One must bear in mind that when traveling to these villages, interaction with people speaking at least one of these 3 languages is guaranteed, as the place was and still is inhabited by one of these groups. No worries, my foreign boyfriend still gets confused by this “unusual happening”.

A special mention here goes to Mr. Schaas, one of the few Saxons left in the village,  the key keeper of the church, who introduced us to the history of the place, and the most eloquent guide I have ever met, a master of storytelling that would make even J. K. Rowling jealous. He will surprise you with a detailed presentation of the village’s history and an intriguing display of the church’s architectural elements. Speaking of that, I will now introduce you to the jewel of the village – the fortified church from Richis, the main tourist attraction.

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The Gothic basilica is 500 years old, was built as a Cistercian abbey and then turned into a catholic church in 1400. Between 1540 and 1550 the evangelical religion was imposed on the people of Richiş and the church was eventually exposed to the necessary architectural transformations. The local Saxons were proud people and they wanted a church with the whitest and cleanest walls possible, typical to the evangelical churches. Thus, they limewashed the church each year and after a while, the lime layer on the walls grew as thick as a finger. The fortification wall and the belfry were added around the same period (around 1500). Initially the Cistercian order was not allowed to build a belfry on the church, thus the visitors will notice the belfry separated from the building itself. In 1957, the newly arrived priest mobilised all the locals to clean up the old lime from the walls, which revealed the beautiful early Gothic motives.

FB_IMG_1511371596305_2Photo credit: My Transylvanian Village

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One thing I noticed when visiting the church, is that it distinguishes itself  via many sculpted elements. The whole interior of this monument is abundant with unique  motives of animals, vegetation and grotesque human faces which seem to bear the burden of keeping up the ceiling of the church and give the place a mysterious atmosphere. The most captivating is, by far, the figure of the “Green Man” seen in various stances, the “little devils” as Mr Schaas calls them. Originally, the Green Man was a pagan God. Its figure is illustrated in very many churches as a symbol of vitality, land fertility and the return to nature. It is likely that the locals from Richiş used the image of the Green Man to illustrate soil fertility. No other village church in Transylvania boasts a richer repertoire of keystones such as this one.

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Another interesting element is the 1775 baroque altar illustrating the Crucifixion that was built by a  local artist from Sighisoara, Johann Folbarth. On the left you will find the beautiful door of the sacristy carved in wood and the ogiva in which it is embedded. It seems related to the one in Biertan, from 1516, and has a similar complex closing mechanism, which even won several prices. The organ dates back to 1788 and is made by a famous organ builder of that time, Johann Prause. One may adopt one of the pieces of the organ in order to sponsor its preservation. In front of the church portal lies the tombstone of the music composer Peter Georg Meyndt (1852-1903) known for his songs in Saxon dialect.

Before going through the selected criteria, I would like to introduce you to the Timmerman family, Tony and Gerrit, a Dutch couple, that fell in love irreparably with the place, moved to Richis 9 years ago and decided to make Transylvania more than a holiday destination. They are the mainspring for the local community development and economic stimulation, together with the Mihai Eminescu Trust Fundation. They are the main bed and breakfast operators and the ones that made it possible for the village of Richiș to fulfill the aforementioned criteria. After renting the old parish house and transforming it in a 6 room pension, in 2010 they made it available to the public along with a camping. They bought the local supermarket and restored it and contributed to the restoration of other houses in the village by respecting all the details of the picturesque tradition of the place.

1. Sustainable management of the villages:

  • Local communities development and economic stimulation;

Local communities development means to  empower local communities to govern land uses and natural resources in a sustainable manner, to stimulate local investments, job growth, empower people to become more confident and more involved in their community and traditions.

Following this definition, the transformation of the Richis parish house into an operative bed and breakfast, the creation of the Pro Richis Transilvania Association in 2012 and that of an information center, all thanks to the Timmerman family and the Mihai Eminescu Trust Foundation, had a great impact on the community development.

The restoration of the parish house as a bed and breakfast brought job growth and local investment: 6 Romanian local employees benefit of work contracts, with some of them working for more than a decade. 

The creation of the Pro Richiș Association, which aims to preserve and value what the past has best to offer to the present: the cultural footprint of the village of Richis, had a great impact as well. The Pro Richiș Transylvania Association completed the construction of a Tourist Information Point that operates 4 hours per day in 3 languages, where you can find the necessary information and guidance, as well as souvenirs made by the locals: fabrics, decorations, and canned/ preserved goods, contributing to the community local development. The money are donated so that kids in the village can follow school classes. The information center is not an ordinary one: it also serves a social scope. People come if they have a problem or want to help someone make a request to the authorities, for example. The building in which the center operates was build in cooperation with the City Hall, under a commodity contract. 

And as local communities development go hand in hand with economic development, the property prices grew exponentially in the last years, estimated at a 4 times the price as it was a couple of years ago. Twenty families from abroad moved here in the last 10 years. Equally important, Richis is one of the 7 villages in which the Mihai Eminescu Trust carries out its “whole village” project, meaning that there is an integrated project to use the natural and cultural heritage of the village for its economic development. Thus the village is restored, people are trained to open their own businesses and sustainable tourism is promoted.

  • Natural environment protection and traditional farming;

What we know so far is the the local school is involved in the Let’s do it, Romania! movement, an annual project that takes place at national level and targets ecological activities such as cleaning and planting trees.

2. Capitalize and preserve cultural and architectural heritage:

  • Traditions and habits conservation;

Another very interesting person who settled in the village is the German carpenter Christian Rummel. He has worked on the restoration of many fortified churches in Transylvania, including Biertan. He restored his 300 years old house in Richis in a traditional way, and lives there with his wife and kids. His house used to be the place where the carts’s wheels were produced as well as a cooper atelier. He has therefore taken over the atelier and he can now restore and build wooden wheels and plans to organize tours for tourists to Biertan by chariot, during which travelers can experience life as it was 100 years ago, through the Transylvanian Express initiative.

FB_IMG_1511371585890_2.jpgFB_IMG_1511371567435_2Photo credit: My Transylvanian Village

If you want to know more about customs and traditions, you have to search for Wilhelm Untch, the ‘Village’s Son’, who will submerge you into the Saxon customs, but also in the village and peasant’s life. He is passionate about growing bees since childhood, and the honey produced here is of very good quality. For those interested in beekeeping, you can contact him for an experience exchange or to visit bee hives.

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Photo credit: My Transylvanian Village

  • Local foods and craft preservation;

The village’s chefs, Mrs. Fănica and her daughter, Anişoara, are widely recognized in Richiş for the traditional baked bread, but also for the Saxon recipes of rhubarb cakes and other seasonal fruits. Anişoara prepares some of the most iconic dishes with local products – tarhon beans soup, goulash, cabbage rice and meat rolls with polenta, meatball soup, apple tarts, pudding and local cakes.

adelaparvu.com-despre-Casa-Noah-casa-de-oaspeti-Richis-Romania-guesthouse-bedandbreakfast-Richis-Romania-6Photo credit: Designist.ro

Regarding the crafts preservation, the local communities are involved in creating hand-made objects, crafts, and preserved goods that one can find for sale at the information center: fabrics, decorations, and canned/ preserved goods, contributing to the community local development.

FB_IMG_1511371575195_2Photo credit: My Transylvanian Village

  • Architecture safeguard;

The Mihai Eminescu Trust is dedicated to the conservation and regeneration of villages and communes in Transylvania and Maramures, two of the most pristine regions in Europe. By using local resources, human know-how and techniques, through the Whole Village Project, the foundation aims to adopt an entire village community, assessing its various problems and needs, and tries to identify integrated solutions. This integrated project aims at revitalizing rural communities and improving local livelihoods through the sensitive use of their remarkable natural and cultural heritage.

The “whole village project” is implemented in total in 7 villages. According to Mihai Eminescu Trust’s philosophy, a village becomes “whole” after 3 types of activities are implemented:

  • The restoration of the cultural heritage: buildings, landscape, crafts and traditional farming.
  • The development of the local entrepreneurial skills by supporting small rural businesses, the professional qualification of the locals and creation of job opportunities.
  • The development of sustainable cultural tourism by promoting the rural heritage, natural landscape exploration, traditional accommodation, ecological production and the overall unique experience of country side life.

The Foundation is carrying out a very ambitious project in the village of Richis right now. They are restoring one of the largest houses in the village (House 103), which is actually a small manor, meant to become a guest-house. If you decide to support the project financially, you will have the opportunity to stay at the house once it is completed. You can support the project here

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3. Quality services for tourists:

  • Operative bed & breakfasts, hotels, hostels, local houses;

Casa Noah

Not just foreigners have moved here. Paul was born in the nearby town of Medias, and at age 14 he moved to Germany with his parents. He returned to Romania in 1997, failed to recover his former home from the center of Mediaş, but bought some houses in Richis, which he restored using traditional materials: the Yellow and Green House which bear a generic name: The Noah House, after Noah’s old story of Richis. Follow the interview in English with Paul here. For more information about the house, visit the slowly planet website.

b53bb04e_originalPhoto credit: Designist.ro

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La Curtea Richvini

La Curtea Richvini is the main bed and breakfast operator in the village: a 6 room pension, and a camping, in the centre of the village, respecting all the details of the picturesque tradition of the place, owned by the Dutch Timmermans family. For more information and on-line booking click here.

Richis 119

Richis 119 is also known as Tinnen Marz Hof house and the name comes from the local butcher who used to work here, in the left part of the house. There is a nice story about how the people of the village still had this agreement in those times: if something happened to one of the domestic animals belonging to the members of the local community and had to be sacrificed, it was brought here; all the community would then buy a meat loaf to help diminish the financial loss of the owner of this animal. If there was still some meat left sharing, Tinnen Marz would send it to his friend, the butcher of Biertan, the nearby village.

Richis-by-danagont.ro-4Richis-4Photo credit: Experience Transylvania

  • Functional tourist friendly information centers and familiarity with foreign languages;

The best place in the village to get all the information is the Tourist Information Centre, which is just next to the fortified church. The information centre was set up by the local NGO, Pro Richis. There you can get you in touch with the Timmermans family, the carpenter, Mr Jogann Schaas, the curator of the church, and other craftsmen in the village. They can also propose many activities in the village and rent you a bike.

As mentioned above, one must bear in mind that when traveling to the village interaction with people speaking at least one of these 3 languages: German/Saxon dialect, English and Romanian is guaranteed. The Pro Richis Transilvania Association completed the construction of a Tourist Information Point that operates 4 hours per day in 3 the languages, where you can find the necessary information and guidance, as well as souvenirs made by the locals.

  • Listing and promotion of tourist attractions, Promotion of cultural and recreational activities in the area;

The Pro Richis Association, the Richis information center and the Transylvanian express initative offer a variety of touristic options around the area of Richis: from horse carriage trips to Biertan, Richis and Alma Vii, to bike tours on the Transylvanian hills and visits to Sighisoara and Medias, two beautiful medieval towns.

Richis today is a multinational village with inhabitants of Dutch, American, Austrian, German, English and Swiss origins. As Mr Saach said it: you can say that this is the the united nations?! The whole of Europe is in Richis!

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