The Mălâncrav village came into being in the year 1305; to this day, it has a larger Saxon population than any other Transylvanian village. In 1340, the settlement and land around it become the property of the Apafi family, which ruled Transylvania up until the 17th century. During the 18th century, the village was transferred to the Hungarian royalty, having been granted to them by decree of the king. The last owner of the village was the countess Susanne Haller.
During this time, there was only one brick house outside the noble residency, the rest of the houses being wood or clay. This led to the destruction of more than two-thirds of the village in a terrible fire, forcing the people to rebuild their houses out of bricks. In 1865, the English writer Charles Boner would note that all the house “look solid and radiate a comfortable prosperity.”
The Mălâncrav Romanesque church, conceived as a three-naved basilica, was built by the villagers at the beginning of the 14th century and dedicated to Saint Mary. The twenty-meter fresco in the central nave is the largest and most thematically complete Gothic fresco in Transylvania. Fifty-three images are grouped in four rows and in the spaces between the arched passageways.
In the 19th century, the central naval frescos were painted over. They have been brought back to light during a renovation in 1914, but remained partially damaged by this process. The frescos that covered the choir area were kept mostly intact. They are believed to represent the international Gothic style from the Royal Courts.
Presently, the evangelistic community in Mălâncrav has 150 members who preserve some of the old Saxon traditions. Despite their small number, there are weekly gatherings of all ages, and the community remains an active one.
In Mălâncrav there is a centuries-old tradition of fruit-growing. The Hungarian name of the village, Almakerek, literally translates as “round apple.”
This orchard was taken over by the state during the Communist era – and then was abandoned. In 2002, the MET took over – turning the orchard into an ecologically certified plantation. Today, the 100 hectare orchard grows heirloom apple varieties, unique to this area – including the Parmen Auriu (“Golden Parmen”), Gustav Durabil (“Durable Gustav”), and Frumos de Boscop (“The Boscop Beauty”) – which give a distinct flavor to the apple juice and local delicacies that are produced in Mălâncrav. All of these are, as you might expect, sugar, additive and preservative free.
The village craft tradition also includes weaving. Misses Maria Nistor is specialized in working with natural sheep wool and makes all kinds of magic carpets. On the other hand, Misses Elena Neagu is works on cotton textiles, really showcasing the traditional local craft.
In Mălâncrav, the MET built its second brick and tile-making oven, right next to the apple juice factory.
The local culinary specialty, as you might guess, is an apple-based soup.
The Apafi mansion, situated above the village, beside the church and orchard, belonged to the Apafi family, as did the entire settlement. In the 18th century, when the Apafi family line came to an end, the mansion was taken over by the Bethlen family, rulers of Transylvania during that era. In time, the mansion changed shape and was renovated several times by Graf Haller, its owner in 1830.
In 1920, the mansion became the property of the community; it was transformed into a cultural center, and then was confiscated by the Communist regime in 1949. The Mihai Eminescu Trust took over the mansion in 2000; after five years of restoration it was returned to its former beauty. The rehabilitation work received “Our Europe” prize.
The Apafi mansion is now a unique guest house with five spacious rooms, a balcony, a library, a magnificent central drawing room, and a restored garden with a fountain – whose tumbling waters echo sounds of a distant era, memories from long ago.
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