While traveling through Transylvania I have often wondered why a road was routed through a certain area, especially when the terrain looked inhospitable. It would be a rather difficult and costly task to build a road through trackless areas covered in thick forest. Traversing such extremely rugged terrain is a daunting prospect. I assume that modern highways in Transylvania follow the wagon tracks from centuries past. Many of these travel corridors were blazed long before man settled the area. The first inhabitants most likely followed in the hoof prints of animal migratory paths. Such deep history is unknown to all but a few archaeologists. Nonetheless, the topic of travel routes offers a fascinating connection of past with present. Current generations continue to travel in the footsteps of their most distant ancestors. In a much more constricted time span this also holds true for tourists and the itineraries they follow while visiting Transylvania. The first ones for German and English language travelers were set forth by Baedeker in the late 19th century. Since that time, travelers have been unwittingly following along those same routes set forth over a century ago.
Entering The Land Beyond The Forest – Riding In On Rails
The first time Transylvania appeared in a Baedeker title was in 1880 with publication of the Southern Germany and Austria, including Hungary and Transylvania: Handbook for Travellers. It also contained the first itineraries for the region published in what was the most popular travel guidebook of its day. This bestseller would bring in its wake thousands of tourists. The little known “land beyond the forest” was opening to a wider world. It is important to remember that the 1880 edition of the Travellers Handbook was published seventeen years before Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. Stoker’s opening chapters forever framed the popular image of Transylvania as a haunting landscape of stormy castles, howling wolves and blood thirsty counts lurking in a primeval countryside. This was not an image Baedeker cared to cultivate. Instead, their guide was written with the growing middle and upper classes in mind. People who had the wealth and wherewithal to travel far out onto the eastern fringes of Europe.
To go where so few from western Europe and Great Britain had gone before, potential travelers needed a guidebook that was thorough and to the point. Fiction and myth were the stuff of novels. Baedeker was for the adventurous and cultured, travelers looking to take the path of least resistance through a landscape that most of the world scarcely knew existed. This meant creating itineraries that could be followed with relative ease. What made this most possible in the late 19th century was that great engine of technological progress and transport prowess, the steam locomotive. The railroad had been recently developed by following existing travel corridors through river valleys and over notable mountain passes. The railroad still traveled many of the age-old routes, but with one major difference, namely that it moved much faster and smoother than previous modes of transport. The age of leisure was slowly creeping its way by rail across Transylvania, bringing travelers clutching their Baedekers.
Following First Transylvanian Railways – Pre-existing Pathways
Baedeker itineraries for Transylvania were based upon city to city railway connections. The railways had been constructed after creation of the Austria-Hungary Dual Monarchy (Austro-Hungarian Empire) in 1867. For instance, the first itinerary in the Transylvania section was #70 Arad To Hermannstadt (present day Sibiu). This line was one of two rail corridors that provided points of entry into the western part of Transylvania (the other was via Grosswardein to Klausenberg). In addition, this route travelled into an area highly recommended in Baedeker’s Plan Of Tour for the region. The guide stated that “the most interesting parts of Transylvania are in the west and south.” Among the sites of interest on itinerary #70 included Deva, Karlsburg (present day Alba Iulia) and Hermannstadt. This route, now available for tourists as well as regular passenger traffic, had only become possible in 1870 when the First Transylvanian Railways Company completed the line. The railway entered Transylvania via the valley of the region’s greatest river, the Mures.
Just as the rail line followed existing travel corridors so to did Baedeker’s itineraries continue to follow the railway as it surged westward. Hermannstadt was the most popular destination. It was the start of another itinerary, #71, which went to Kronstadt (Brasso) and one of the two main stops on itinerary #72 which started in Klausenberg (present day Cluj), also ending in Kronstadt. A fourth itinerary was tucked beneath the umbrella of itinerary #72 and likely the least traveled by tourists, as it went through northern Transylvania from Klausenberg to Bistritz. While all these cities were major destinations, the coverage by Baedeker was much more extensive for those adventurous souls who might decide to chance an excursion off the beaten track. This would mean either taking branch lines by rail, wagon road or in the more extreme cases heading off into the mountains on horseback. Each of these routes followed preexisting pathways, many of which dated back to the Middle Ages.
Credibility & Confidence – Advice Thoroughly Followed
Baedeker also offered what might be termed – at least in a visual sense – mini-itineraries. These were to be found within the regular itineraries, composed in a smaller than normal font size with extremely specific directions. The idea was to guide the reader from point to point with a litany of detail. This style was not for the literary inclined, instead playing to the data driven. Those who ventured well beyond the major cities must have come to appreciate this level of detail as they attempted to make their way through the rural landscapes of Transylvania. The best thing about Baedekers for travelers of that time was how they offered information that had been thoroughly vetted by experts. This added a degree of credibility and confidence. Travelers knew that if the directions and advice of their Baedeker was thoroughly followed a successful journey would result. In this way, Baedeker helped build up the tourist trade in Transylvania helping travelers to follow routes thousands of years in the making.
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