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The Cistercian Abbey of Cârța: Transylvanian Gothic and horror

Need to know

How to get there by car: 48 km on DN1 from Sibiu (under one hour)
County/Area: Sibiu County/central Romania, Transylvania
Entrance fee: 5 lei/1 euro; students and pensioners: 2,5 lei/0.5 euro.
Visiting programme: daily 9-18, on Sundays 11-18. If the abbey is closed, check round the corner at number 110 for the key.

Bird’s eye view over Carta abbey; Photo credit: Sorin Onisor

We’ve just finished a rewarding trip on Transfagarasan and are still filled with the mystery and surprise of the mountain. However, we’d love a change, and somehow, a small detour to Cârța (pronounced ‘kirtsa) comes at hand. Yes, I did my homework and know a few things about Cârța, but still … the ruins, the early Gothic from Transylvania and the splendid blue August sky are the key ingredients to a pleasant visit.

Cârța is a unique monastery created by the order of the Cistercians as far as 1202 that shows the supremacy of this religious order originary from France. It combines for the first time romanesque style with early gothic and represents a source of inspiration for later gothic in the area, such as the fortified churches of Prejmer, Harman or Cristian.

Some gothic rosettes and ancient remains

Who are the Cistercians?

The Cistercians are Catholic monks that originated from France, Burgundy, in 1098.

They built abbeys on isolated areas on marshland. They were rather influential and imposed their point of view on the election of 3 major popes in history. The Cistercians spread from west, Portugal, to Cârța, Transylvania, their most eastern outpost. They lived according to the motto ora et labora, which could be freely translated in terms of feeding exclusively with the produce of their labour and wearing only clothing manufactured by them.

The Cistercians penetrated Transylvania due to the marriage of the Hungarian Arpad kings to French royal ladies. This religious order was granted many privileges and the Cistercians were building engineers with unique and exclusive rights in Transylvania. They had exclusivity granted by Hungarian royalty to dig canals and build mills. If you wanted to grind the grains, you had to pay a tax. All in all, soon, Cistercians got very rich.

The colourful garden that you cross before entering the church

Of course, this supremacy became upsetting, especially for the Transylvanian guilds the Cistercians got in conflict with. So, in 1474, King Matthias Corvin decided to put an end, and took away all their possessions and dominions. He chased away the monks, leading to the end of Cistercians in the area.

However, the official version stated that the monks were expelled because they replaced the austerity of their lifestyle by a depraved attitude that was inappropriate.

The Cârța abbey

At a bird’s eye view, we can see the monastery remains and try to reconstitute the original building. The abbey was fully destroyed and rebuilt a few times.

The beautiful church altar

The parish house, on the right as you enter the wooden gate, is the oldest inhabited house in Transylvania (of course, it underwent some improvement). The watermill with 3 hammers stays as symbol of passing time and reminds the Cistercians’ exclusive right of using the mill.

The Evangelical church is small, neat, and beautiful. The old flooring is squeaking under our steps, taking us back in time. The altar is beautifully adorned in Baroque style, and the church is filled with Cistercian symbols. You should notice the keystone with Holy Virgin Mary on the ceiling and raise your eyes for the organ in the back.

Beautiful altar

Keystone with Holy Virgin Mary

In front of the church, you will see the cemetery of the German soldiers who died during World War I.

The ruins represent the remains of the Cistercian abbey. There are the ruins of the library and shared dormitory. The former abbey showcases a unique combination between romanesque and gothic architectural styles (at the twin windows).

Me and the early gothic (the twin window)

Cârța monastery, set for a horror movie

Although I am no fan of the horror genre, I am well aware the Nun (2018), a spin off for Conjuring 2, was shot in Romania and one of the locations was Cârța abbey. Why Cârța? I think the legends that surround the monastery have contributed to its aura of creepiness.

The place is said to be haunted. Some say that strange things take place over there, like, moving chairs or trembling walls. Others say it is filled with the remains of the monks who died young. They led an austere life, they all slept in a shared dorm on straws without covering themselves. Also, they underwent a diet based mainly on beech concoction. Consequently, they died at a very early age, hence the numerous graves in the perimeter. Many consider the former monastery filled with the ghosts of the wandering souls.

I can only say that upon our visiting, everything was peaceful and quiet, and we could sense nothing from the haunted version of Carta.

Gothic, romanesque and very old stones
Remains from the impressive abbey

Recommended by TTF:

  • The only remaining Cistercian monastery in Romania;
  • The first gothic elements on the Romanian territory;
  • The first inhabited house in Transylvania;
  • Cistercians share a fascinating history;
  • Set for the horror movie, the Nun.

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