Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Székely Gate to Heaven

According to the EU, the UN, and the Treaty of Trianon, Debrecen sits less than thirty kilometres from the Hungarian-Romanian border. According to most Hungarians, Romania doesn't start for at least another 800 kilometres. The region in question, Transylvania, has been disputed for several hundred years. I do not dare dip my toe into the pool of Hungarian revisionism, so to sum up, Transylvania has a mixed population of Hungarians, Romanians, Saxon Germans, and Roma. The proportions of each population ebb and flow as time marches on. Today, the Romanians are numerically the majority.

Believe whatever you want to believe about Transylvania: the culture of the region remains inherently unique. One facet of the region's folk architecture is the Székely Kapu, or the Székely Gate. The Székely are a group believed to have been sent to the outer eastern reaches of the Transylvanian Carpathian mountains to guard the border. According to Hungarians, they were guarding the border of Hungary. However, until the Ausgleich of 1867, Transylvania was a separate principality - a separate entity from the rest of Hungary. Hungarians also like to claim the Székely as 'true Hungarians,' it the more likely version of events is that they were a Turkic tribe 'Magyarized' in the Middle Ages. I do not profess to be a Historian, so I will end my explanation here.
No matter where they came from or what their blood line is, the Székely gates are a beautiful example of folk architecture. In 1920, after the Treaty of Trianon ceded Transylvania to Romania, many Hungarians left the region as refugees. For many, the destination of choice was Debrecen: a market town near to the new border. In addition, several faculties of the university in Kolozsvár, now Cluj-Napoca, were transferred into the university at Debrecen. As refugees, they brought only their most important possessions - often-times including their gates. Hence, Debrecen has quite a few of these old gates built into 1920s-era homes. I walk past two daily: the one pictured is a block over, and a second is right below my living room window. Unfortunately, the second gate's ancient cultural origins are somewhat occluded by modern Hungarian cultural norms: affixed to the Székely Kapu below my window is a neon sign for the "Erotika Barlang" - "Erotic Cave."

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