The Most Powerful Regret – A Life’s Work: The Teleki-Bolyai Library In Targu Mures (Part One)

Regrets are the great missed opportunities of life. Opportunities to have done something different, something better or conversely, to not have done something you lived to regret. Regrets are the silent recriminations that constantly whispering what might have
been in our ear. Regrets can also be a great motivator, a call to action the next time an opportunity arises. The hope is always that things will turn out differently this time. Regrets are also a part of travel. They inform the things we should have done and the places we may never go. They are the once in a lifetime chance not taken. I should know, since one of my biggest travel regrets came recently on a late summer trip to Transylvania. It occurred during a short stay in the city of Targu Mures (Marosvasarhely in Hungarian).

The Most Powerful Regret - Sign at entrance to the Bolyai-Teleki Library

The Most Powerful Regret – Sign at entrance to the Bolyai-Teleki Library (Credit: Sie)

Scintillating Style – A Euphoric Confection
The stay in Targu Mures was just for one night. The city made a good stopping point in breaking up a multi-day drive from Debrecen in Hungary to eastern Transylvania for me and my wife. We arrived in the late afternoon just as the autumn sun was slowly sinking towards the western horizon. The city was along our route to Szekelyland, the heart of which was still several hours drive further to the east. As such we only had a limited amount of time to spend in Targu Mures. Our short stay did allow us to walk through the city center where we looked at a clutch of beautiful churches. The houses of worship included a synagogue of scintillating stylistic impulses. The architecture of the Middle East, Moors and Mures River valley had been amalgamated into a euphoric confection of the otherworldly.

There was also the fabulous fin de siècle Prefecture and House of Culture buildings. Both were coming to light just as the sunset. The buildings glowed from the inside with a mysterious internal fire worthy of Transylvania. Targu Mures at dusk was a place of rustic enchantment. As twilight turned to evening it began to dawn on me that this city was worth more than a quick overnight stop. It seemed to be one of those “it’s what you make of it” kind of places. Far from overwhelming, but highly satisfying. In retrospect, I did not make enough of our stay. I failed to realize at the time that Targu Mures would become more than just a city for me, it would morph within my memory into a symbol of all the things I should have done. One place we walked past that evening, also became the one place I regret not visiting.

Scintillating Style - Synagogue in Targu Mures

Scintillating Style – Synagogue in Targu Mures

Checking Out – That Which Was Left Undone
Prior to our arrival in Targu Mures, I had read with great interest about the Teleki-Bolyai Library (Teleki-Teka in Hungarian/Bibliotheca Telekiani in Romanian). For bibliophiles it was a must see. The library contains 200,000 books, the core part of which are 40,000 volumes collected by the library’s founder and namesake, Count Samuel Teleki de Szek, long time chancellor of Transylvania and dedicated bibliophile. The Count’s passion for books mirrored my own. The library should have been the first thing we visited in the city. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the afternoon. Thus, it got put off until the next morning. The next morning we could have visited the library, but impatience got the best of me. I decided that we should continue driving eastward into Szekelyland rather than wait until 10:00 a.m. for the library and accompanying museum to open.

Skipping the Teleki-Bolyai Library is something I have come to regret but one time and that has been continuously. I was the chief culprit behind the decision to skip Transylvania’s greatest library and one of the world’s best. All because I wanted to get an early start driving to Szekelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc). What was I thinking? The only possible answer is that I wasn’t. The upshot of this hasty decision was that not visiting the library has become my greatest regret when it comes to missed travel opportunities. This is compounded by the fact that the more I learn about it, the more I realize just how much I missed. For this was no ordinary library. That is because it started out like so many gifts to posterity, with a great man and his dream.

Bibliophile Extraordinaire - Count Samuel Teleki de Szek

Bibliophile Extraordinaire – Count Samuel Teleki de Szek (Credit: Samuel Czetter)

Indelible Impressions – A Tour That Would Last A Lifetime
A mere twenty kilometers north of Targu Mures lies the village of Gornesti. Relatively few of its inhabitants call it by that name. Instead the village is known to locals by its Hungarian name of Gernyeszeg. That is because seven out of every ten of its inhabitants are Hungarian speaking. It is a sleepy place, not very far removed from a distant and deep past. That past gave Transylvania one of its most enlightened sons. For it was in Gernyeszeg in 1739 that Count Samuel Teleki de Szek was born into the aristocracy. His privileged family name afforded him educational opportunities that others could only dream about. He took full of advantage of this situation by availing himself of a first-class education. At the age of twenty he embarked on a program to study abroad. This took him to several of the great learning centers in Europe. The tour would last four years, making an indelible impression on the young Teleki. It was during this time that he began to develop a plan to create a library that would house great books focused on scientific reason. Ones that would convey the enlightenment to Transylvania one volume at a time.

Teleki was one of the few Transylvanians who had the ability and means to pull together such a library at that time. His study tour had gained him invaluable connections in the book trade of central and western Europe. It was from those regions that he would have to procure the books for his planned collection of enlightened scientific works. Acquiring the books was probably easier than having them delivered to his estate in Saromberke (Dumbravioara in Romanian).  It was a daunting task, as Transylvania was way out on the eastern frontiers of Europe, a place not commonly associated with world class libraries, book fairs or most importantly regarding the delivery of books, good roads. Teleki’s Library was not created in a day or a decade. It would involve a lifetime of effort, one that would take a monumental amount of fortitude. Count Samuel Teleki had the patience and dedication to see his project through to fruition. That would become readily apparent in the years to come.

Click here for: A Passion For Books – Count Samuel Teleki De Szek: Creating Transylvania’s Greatest Library (Part Two)