“Over the village there is the Szarmany, a brightly shining white marble mountain. At the foot of the mountain there is the old castle of the Lazars with its eccentric bastions and fence structured walls.
There is also by the mountain the cheerful looking monastery and church of the Franciscan brothers., on the peak of the mountain we can see the proud chapel, then on a hill we can find the shiny towered flirty church of Szarhegy… and under these unique and picturesque elements there we find the pretty little village with its groups of houses winking at us here and there among the green shroud of the trees.” – Orban Balazs describes in these words Szarhegy, and he succeeded to sum up in one single sentence the essence of the amazing atmosphere of Szarhegy.
The pearl of the Eastern Carpathians, the pool surrounded by the Gyergyo mountains is not only unique due to its natural beauty. The visitors of the place can be overwhelmed by the historical past of the region as well. The antiquity of the region can be examplified by Gyergyoszarhegy. The first written documents about this village can be found in the Papal registers from 1332-1334, the name Szarhegy was first used in the documents of the 15th century. The past of the village is closely connected to the history of the Lazar dynasty and with the old family residence of the dynasty, the Lazar castle.
But before we go into details about this fantastic building, let us take a walk in Gyergyoszarhegy and in its surroundings. The settlement is situated 6 km-s from Gyergyoszentmiklos, in North- western direction. The pool was often attacked by the Turkish and the Tatar armies. The locals had to deal with the destructive consequences of these attacks.
The Tatardomb, which can be found at the border of the village, reminds us of the battles between the Tatars and the Gyergyo people.
The defeated Tatars were buried under this hill, according to the legends there were 500 attackers buried here while from the defenders only 15 people lost their lives in the battle. The settlement is 770 meters above sea level and it can be reached either by the Transylvanian circular railway system or by the road number 12 from Marosheviz or Gyergyoszentmiklos. According to the census from 1992 the inhabitance of the village is over 3700 people, the large majority of which is of Hungarian nationality. Guduc also belongs to Gyergyoszarhegy, it is a small mountain settlement, a beloved weekend spot for the locals, the buildings also show this character.
The village situated almost 800 meters high above sea level, just like many others which were not close to the center of the villages, this one was also established especially because of the meadows and of animal breeding.
Guduc is not only beautiful in the summer but also in the winter. The guided sleigh tours take the visitors through wonderful places. Enormous hillsides, dark green pines mark the road. This fabulous region has witnessed a rapid development in the past few years and it seems to have aimed to become a tourist paradise soon. Only in 2007 20 new houses were built in this place, it offers great sporting opportunities and there is also possibility to organize training camps here.
Even in the winter life does not slow down around here, the snow covered hillsides are full of tobogganers, skiers and snowboarders, while at the ice rink of Szarhegy not only the skaters but also the hockey players add to the excitement of the everyday life
Even if the cold season offers a lot of opportunities to the visitors, at Farsang (Carnival time) everybody is happy to say goodbye to the winter at Szarhegy too.
The Farsang tradition is very varied and colorful. In Sekler Land many different forms of these traditional games have been preserved. To keep and maintain this tradition Hargita county has been organizing a general common Farsang burial for 15 years. In each year a different community gets the right to organize it. In 2007 it was the turn of Gyergyoszarhegy. On this occasion masked people from 13 villages gathered together, and right from the beginning no sad faces could have been seen.
The climax of the event is the noisy, cheerful march, during which each group follows its own traditional puppet on its last journey. The puppet, which sometimes is called Ilyes or Dobondi, other times it is a symbolic bull, represents the wicked winter and is always followed by a crowd dressed in costumes of different animals, devils and other funny characters. At the end the festive crowd buries the puppet and in this way they say goodbye to the winter too. The entertaining show is thanked by the locals with the traditional Farsang food.
Gyergyoszarhegy is an important center of the transit tourism, and in the whole county it has an important touristic role.
As one of the oldest settlement of the Gyergyo pool, Gyergyoszarhegy has become one of the most visited cultural and touristic center of Sekler’s Land. In the monuments of the village there is a fortunate combination between the classic Gothic style, the Renaissance style and Baroque style and the traditional popular style that tends towards simplicity. The exhibitions which present the result works of art of artistic camps organized in order to preserve the traditional popular heritage, as well as painting exhibitions, and the presentations of small crafts are of a national fame.
The system for hosting visitors is very functional and it mobilizes the community. The most beautiful treasure of the region is a castle, which hosts different cultural events, camps, festivals and exhibitions nowadays. There are only rare memories of the past before the Middle Ages like some from the Bornz Age, some Dac ones and some from the 14th century.
The fortress castle was probably built between 1450 and 1532, in different stages, the house that was found under the lady’s building had definitely been used by Lazar Andras. Under the gate bastion the buildings connected to the entrance were built in three stages. The gate was supported on both sides by protective walls. Judging from the size of the yard, this residence had high importance, according to the tile findings it can be supposed that inside the walls there were houses for local inhabitants as well. In 1532 Lazar Andras’s sons built a new gate building, which is the basis of the one that we can see nowadays, on the driveway we can still read the decorated building inscription. The residence building was demolished by Lazar Istvan, who was the chancellor of Csik, Gyergyo and Kaszonszek and he preserved some of the old basis when he built the enormous building. Probably it was after this that they built the southern wall, which is part of the gate bastion. On its both corners there were built two bastion-like halls in old Italian style around 1629 and 1631.
The owner was the cousin of the prince, he had a high royal rank, so it is no wonder that he wanted a residence that suited his rank, so the designer of the building applied the same kind of representative elements as the ones used by the builders of the prince’s buildings, such are the inscripted corner bastions with coats of arms on it, the festive staircase or the painted steps. Among the walls which surrounds the yard the southern one got double lined, blind arcaded front decoration, which was painted with floral patterns. Lazar IV Istvan succeeded in transforming the asymmetrical Middle Age building into an impressive sized, rectangular house complex with corner bastions, interior yard, which made it unique in Transylvania. After finishing the southern castle front, they demolished the rest of the 15th century buildings and they built the eastern protective wall, in the inner corner of which they made a bakery and a kitchen. Then they built different rooms under the arcade between the wall and the house.
In the north-western corner of the yard there was built the Long palace which hosted the Szek meetings and in the center of which there was a prison. The huge inner hall of the building was called Chivalry Room, on the southern front of the building there are five stone framed prefilled windows. According to the traditions, in 1658, according to archive documents in 1696 the seven cornered Veres bastion was finished in the north-eastern corner but the one in the north-western corner was never finished. The castle reached its most astonishing beauty by the end of the 17th century during the time of Duke Lazar Ferenc, not long after, during the Rakoczi revolution, because of the attacks of the imperial army, in 1706 and 1707 the building was burnt down, the walls were pulled down and only the building next to the Eastern wall were preserved. They transformed these building later and built the so called Lady’s House, which acquired a Baroque styled look and reached its final form in 1742. After a fire in 1748 the building started to gradually loose its residential role, the secondary building necessary for keeping a large household were gradually demolished, the homes of locals were abandoned and by the middle of the 19th century only a few building were used.
Due to lack of financial support in the field of monument preservation there was no chance to rebuild the castle for a whole century. Local initiative and intensive lobby succeeded in changing this unbearable situation and in 1960 the conservation requests were finally accepted.
After the archeological research the reconstruction process started in the 1980s. After the 20 years of reconstruction work the south-western and south –eastern bastions, the Voros bastion, the Long palace, the unfinished north-western bastion, the prison, the gate building and the southern front were rebuilt. In 1991 they finished the last building, the Lady’s house, its roof structure, which was not redone in its original way but by modern methods using reinforced concrete.
In the reconstructed halls there are temporarily or continuously exhibited the works of arts of those artists who participated in the Creative Art camps as well as in the popular art workshops organized at Szarhegy since 1974.
Since 1996 the Lazar Castle has been run by the Gyergyoszarhegy Art center supported by the Hargita County Local Government.
Before we get to know the other touristic sites of Gyergyoszarhegy that are worth visiting, let us focus our attention on the Lazar family of Szarhegy for a little while, as this family is one of the most remarkable and oldest known catholic gentry family is Sekler’s Land. Documents from 1345 already mention the name of Lazar Egyed, captain of Csik, their early estate might have been at Csikszenttamas, they had probably settled down at Gyergyoszarhegy in the middle of the 15th century, when the family acquired a coats of arms from king Laszlo the 5th in 1456. Lazar Balint was the lieutenant and royal judge of Kaszonszek, the extra rights of the Szek were given by king Zsigmond and were reinforced by Matthias Rex. The first member of the Lazar family who settled down at Gyergyoszarhegy was Lazar Andras, who managed to get a 100 day pardon for the village. His brother, Balazs was the deputy of Csikszek, according to tradition he ordered the building of the eastern wing of the Franciscan monastery at Csiksomlyo. Andras’s sons: Istvan and Ferenc both got the same royal rank as their father. Janos was the follower and deputy of Szaplyai, whose granddaughter, Druzsianna became the wife of Bethlen Farkas. From this marriage two sons were born: Bethlen Gabor, the price and Bethlen Istvan, the governor of Tranylvania.
When they were young boys they spent some of their childhood in the Lazar castle in the “strict Sekler lifestyle”. In the series of the Lazar brothers Ferenc had also taken on an active political role as the chief royal judge of Csikszek, first as a follower of the Habsburg dynasty, he succeeded to acquire the duke rank for the family in 1702. Later he became a supporter of the revolution, so he had to flee to Moldova, but after the exile he came back home to Szarhegy. The history of the family can be tracked down until this point, up to the 18th century, nowadays there is no member of the Lazar family left in Transylvania, and the ones who live abroad are only far relatives from the daughter’s sides.
An other interesting architectural monument of Gyergyoszarhegy is the Roman Catholic perish church and its fortress, which were built in the Roman and late gothic styles. It is a registered document of Hagita county. The church is situated at the height of 786 meters on a place called Mine, according to tradition it was built around 1235, the baptizing pool is from the same age, its baptizing fountain made of a single block of sand rock was exhibited in Bucharest in the History Museum.
In 1400 the building was renovated in Gothic style, the memory of which is preserved by the pointed arch of the door and a date inscribed in a stone. In 1488 there was built a tower, and a year later they were given a pardon. In 1658 and 1661 the beautiful building became the victim of the Tatar attacks. In 1729 the building was pulled down except for the sanctuary and the tower and it was rebuilt. Many members of the Lazar family were buried in the crypt of the church. In 1492 due to the help of Lazar Andras the Gyergyoszarhegy church acquired its complete right for pardon according to the papal documents. Since then the Szarhegy people have always participated on the pilgrimages with great respect., they are usually the first to arrive to Csikasomlyo every year, where they pray to Virgin Mary and express their gratitude towards her.
On the Szarmany mountain there is a chapel from the 15th century built in Gothic style, which adds to the beauty of Szarhegy. The chapel was built by the Balo family from Nagybacon in respect to God’s Miracles. The late shrine of Gyergyo has the features of the last period of the Gothic era. But this one is still not the last from the list of architectures of monumental character, as there is the Franciscan monastery too. It is the most important Franciscan monastery of the Gyergyo pool, which was built between 1669 and 1752. The land was donated to the Franciscans by Lazar Istvan. The set of buildings have the characteristics of the Baroque style, its present look was established in 1875. The building of the monastery is square shaped, and to its south-eastern corner there is attached a church in baroque style, about which we have already talked. The building was ordered by Pater Tapolcai Gorog Istvan.
The Franciscan monastery functioned as a convent until 1729, so it hosted the most important governing and executing power of the Hungarian Catholic Church. Between 1669 and 1674 the principle of the monastery was Kajoni Janos, who is also known as the Pazmany Peter of Transylvania. He was a Franciscan monk, an organ builder, organ player, musician, who studied at Csiksomlyo and later at Nagyszombat. He was the principle of the Franciscan monasteries of Szarhegy and Csiksomlyo, the guard of the Transylvanian Franciscan custody and the deputy of the bishop. Along with these activities he collected music, made notes of the collected music, composed music himself and he also worked as a translator. He was buried in the Szarhegy monastery in the April of 1687. His small statue can be seen in the wall of the monastery. Since the beginning of its functioning the monastery has given home to 800 Franciscan brothers and 51 of them were also buried here. In 1951 the monks had to leave the building, which functioned for almost 150 years as a school institution: since 1771 the monastery housed the school called Norma up until 1906. Nowadays the monastery gives home to artistic creative camps.
It is not only the building that makes it worth visiting, but also because of the hardworking and hospitable people who can always offer cheerful programs to the visitors, for example at the Szarhegy village festival. But not only the organized programs offer exciting experiences. Szarhegy has become famous also because of its cross field race track, which hosts national competitions as well as international ones. The first international cross race was organized in 2006, which was supported by the Romanian Motor Club. The number of racers was close to 30, there were people from more then 10 towns and they competed with each other on the Enduro Cross race. According to the plans such races will be organized once or twice a year in the future. As the track and the stalls are continuously modernized the track is capable of hosting more then one or two races a year, it could fulfill the requirements of international standards as well.
In the life of Gyergyoszarhegy sports have always played an important role, the organized sport activity has a history of over 100 years. In the sixties sports became very important in the educational point of view, but adults formed also a well organized sport club. As a result of the efforts of the local sports people and the amateur sport lovers in 2000 the Bastya (Bastion) PORT Club was founded.
Children are very enthusiastic about the local sport events, it would not be surprising if some of them chose sporting careers later on. So the new generation is not a problem, mainly because of the school center which is in Szarhegy, and it was named after prince Bethlen Gabor. In the village’s kindergarten there are about 100 children, while in the school there are 500 pupils. The elementary graders are in separate building, the number of elementary students is about the same as the number of secondary school students.
The Bethlen Gabor School of Gyergyoszarhegy established a Foundation too with the same name. in March 2005. The objectives of the foundation are quite serious ones, the most important of which is the support of the young, especially to help them by continuously improving the living and learning circumstances. The young people of the village can be tracked down not only in the school desks but also at the Cika dance club which was founded 10 years ago and has about 40 members now.
The aim of the dance club is to preserve and learn the local folk dances and other folk traditions, they also teach these to the younger generation. The dance club is run by a foundation, which supports the local values as well as other national cultural events. The main aim is to continue the teaching and educating activities and to integrate them into the European standard projects of the region.
In the local traditional customs we can see members of all the generations of the village, such an event is the Szarhegy Cabbage Festival. In old times the local people went up to the Carina Hill on the day of gal to harvest the cabbage together. This old tradition has been revived in Szarhegy. That is why the Szarhegy people organize cabbage festival every year. In the cabbage field about 800 families share land of 2-10 acres each.
On the day of the festival they cut the cabbage together, and later in the evening they celebrate the harvest with cabbage-based food and long lasting cheerful feast.
Not only the teachers of Szarhegy are famous, but also the doctors of the village. The local government offers the building to private dentist and family practices, which are well equipped according to the modern standard, as well-named experts come to Szarhegy to see patients and treat them.
The everyday earnings of the locals mainly come from agriculture and animal breeding, this region is famous even in far off places because of its potato and cabbage. Many of those who work in town have no time to work their lands properly, so these lands are given to be worked by the Bastya Agricultural Association. Though the Association has often met obstacles in its functioning, it survived these difficulties, being thus a rare example in the whole county. They continuously watch the application opportunities and they succeeded in establishing a suitable se of machines. The lands borrowed by the families are of more than 1100 hectares, they mainly grow potato and wheat on them, the selling of the crops is the duty of the management of the Association.
The other source of living in the village is the forest. Along the private wood properties there are woods belonging to the village administration too as well as pastures, made up by the properties of those who remained in the Association. They belong to the community and the rights over these lands are shared by the members of the community, but they also have a certain theoretical proportion .
There are two common administrations in the village: the Szarhegy and the Borszek, the latter having been give back only 286 hectares of the lands taken once by the state. The Szarhegy common administration has more than 4000 hectares of land, out of which they actually own 2569 hectares. The Association has more than 1400 members.
In these huge woods there are many different wild animals: deer, hares, bears, boars, foxes and wolves live in the depth of the forests which assures the perfect conditions for the hunting tourism. Wild animal watching is almost as popular as hunting here.
It is no wonder that in the neighborhood of such enormous woodland there are two wood mills. These companies are of middle size and they can employ about 100 local people. Wood work begins from exploitation of the forests and the last of the series is the packaging of the ready-made materials. In the most well equipped factory they make furniture too, but the most important result of their work is the ready-made wooden house.
In the village we can still find many traditional crafts. Kozma Maria is one of the most recognized wood carver of the village. The talented woman carves wonderful objects for decorating houses: frames for mirrors, chandeliers, vases. She had made many statues too, but her most precious works are probably the pieces of furniture: carved tables, chairs, chest, wardrobes. This gifted artist also runs her own pension, where she herself is the landlady. In her pension marked by two daisies there are four rooms and it offers breakfast and dinner for its guest.
The other talented craftsman of the village is the forger called Czimbalmos Karoly. His customers come from far off places, as the hard iron becomes wonderful floral patterned work of art in his hands, with which he shapes and turns the hot iron. This forger has been taking part in the creativity camps since 1974, he knows and he is friends with all the other craftsmen to whom we must be grateful for renovating the castle. In the renovated building all the metal work has been through the hands of the Szarhegy forger.
Those who would like to see these beauties by themselves are offered accommodation and board by the village tourism network, by the OVR lazar Association, which has been functioning as a foundation since 1991. The organization consists of more than 15 families, who have the authorization of the Tourism Ministry to run their own guest houses marked usually by two daisies and they offer either full board or half board, with the traditional delicious local food. The Bencze Guest house in marked by three daises, so those who request more comfort can choose this option too. The foundation organizes programs for the guest too: cart rides, hiking tours, horse riding, quad riding, picnics, and in winter time sleigh rides, walk, skating, or skiing followed by dinner together and folkdance program. Guests are invited to visit at least six times a year: at Farsang (Carnival), at Easter, at the Csiksomlyo pilgrimage, on the village days, on the cabbage festival and for New Years Eve. But travelers can always have a rest here, as the Szarhegy people welcome their guests with pleasure and love whenever they arrive.