We are in Sibiu. Geographically, it is located in the southern part of Transylvania, close to the Carpathian mountains. Built in the 1100s by the Saxon settlers invited by the Hungarian King in Transylvania, Sibiu, also named Hermannstadt, managed to preserve untouched most of its architectural heritage.
While walking around the Romanian city, you’ll start to notice something a bit odd, and you may even get the sense that someone, or something, is watching you.
And, wnhile you gaze at the city’s architecture, you’ll start to realize are the houses that are watching you.
It’s often said that the walls have ears.
And, literally, in Sibiu the roofs have eyes.
The effect is so striking that a paranoid person could panic while strolling the medieval city streets.
Many of the houses on the south and east sides of the city look as though they have eyes peering from their roofs. These curious features give the impression that the buildings never sleep.
Some of the roofs are sleepy, with eyelids are heavy. Maybe too much bad weather, or centuries of heavy rain, beating sun, freezing and thawing, a lot for a roof to handle. And that’s not counting the weight of hundreds of years of history.
Or maybe it’s the opposite: maybe these roofs have been trying to open their eyes for centuries and are unable to do so for some reason.
Though the eyes may look like some sort of sinister Big Brother surveillance program, and authors like Stephen King would definitely see the sinister expression of evil spirits moving about in the attics of these historic homes, observing the comings and goings of Romanians and tourists, they’re actually just oddly shaped windows.
After all, we’re in Transylvania, the home of Count Dracula and vampires and, moreover, National Geographic describes the region as wild and mysterious.
However, nothing strange: houses just used them as a ventilation system for their attics, which were used to store products needing a dry environment.
Most of the “eyes” were built between the 15th and 19th centuries, and they’re called the “city’s eyes”, in Romanian, “ochiuri ale orasului.”
They spy on humanity from the edge of a large public square, where for many centuries carnivals and public executions took place. In the Middle Ages, this public square was a grain market, but also the site of beheadings, hangings, and even cages for “crazy people”.
Everything here is straight out of the Middle Ages: rustic architecture, enormous roofs, massive porches, doors opening onto passages and interior courtyards, and intertwining alleys with many buildings classified as historic monuments.
Despite their practical purposes, some like to claim these peepers were built to instill fear in people, letting them know they were always being watched.
In fact, Sibiu was once the administrative centre and capital of the Siebenbürger Sachsen, the German-speaking population of Transylvania. People have claimed that the eyes were purposely built by German occupiers in the region to instill fear into the people – for it to be known that they were always being watched and thus must behave appropriately.
And then came the deranged Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, and this architectural detail felt extra disturbing to the citizens. It wasn’t enough that phones were being tapped, people were being questioned, and families were blacklisted.
It was as if the houses were watching their every move, too.
They saw you, but you had no idea what or who was hiding behind those haunting windows. If your face registered all the pessimism, sadness and pain you felt, nobody thought anything of it, but if you squinted in defiance or or laughed in merriment, someone would notice you and wonder why.
And now, though Ceauşescu is long gone, the eyes are still there, as they have been for centuries. Unblinking, unmoving, and always observing.
To rephrase one of Nietzsche’s quotes, “if you gaze for long into a house, the house gazes also into you”.
But let’s not make it sound too real!
Author’s notes: The medieval magic of Sibiu will quickly magnetize you with its historic centre, the two main squares (Piața Mare and Piața Mică), Gothic buildings, narrow streets, and various coffee shops. And, If you feel romantic, there’s a special place to prove your love: The Bridge of Lies. Careful though! If you will declare something that is not truthful, the bridge will collapse…
Now you may guess where the name comes from, but this is another story.