Bears in Romania


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Baby bear in Romania – photo Andreea Tinu

Baby bear in Romania – photo Andreea Tinu

Short history

The brown bear lives in the dense forests of mountains and valleys. In Europe, the brown bear lives in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, Russia, the Balkans and Scandinavia. In Italy and Spain it lies on the verge of extinction. The brown bear is extinct in Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Hungary, UK, Ireland. Romania is the country where nearly 40% of the European bear population lives in the Carpathian mountains, making it the second most populous country after Russia.

Brown bear distribution map in Europe

The bear is a strictly protected species registered in the EU Habitats Directive (Natura 2000). The high value of bear trophies – between 4.000-15.000 Euro per bear – is reason why the government was accused of exaggerating the real numbers of remaining brown bears. In September 2016, the government renewed the new hunting quotas to 552 bears, 657 wolves and 482 Lynx and wild cats. The government was accused of using a system that counts and kills wild animals for profit (source).

Deforestation, a major threat for the brown bear and other wild animals, is lead by large corporations: “Major Austrian timber firm accused of illegal logging in Romania”

Though Scandinavia’s territory is larger, the bear population is lower due to less food availability in the cold environment. The harsher climate and the lower hunting quotas makes hunters lean towards Romania and the Balkans as favorite hunting grounds.

After Romania’s admission into the European Union in 2007, the free market lead to increased logging by foreign companies and hunting tourism, while shepherds and locals are being forced to give up their traditional way of life and their villages in the mountains in order to make room for “eco-parks”.


Brown bear trophies in Romania – source

Hunting is an expensive privilege. For a bear trophy, hunters pay 4.000-15.000 euro.

Every year, dozens of bear cubs are orphaned in the forests of Romania due to deforestation and hunting despite the bear being protected by law.

“Romania has today the biggest population of European Brown Bear and absolutely without doubts the biggest trophies.” See more here –

“Why hunting in Romania? It’s very simple… Romania is one of the few countries in Europe where the habitat and game are unaltered by human civilization. Wolves, bear and lynx inhabit primeval forests”. See more here –

“With its alpine meadows and peaks and ancient pine forests, there is plenty to keep the hunter amused! Romania is truly one of the best European destination for the serious bear shot.” See more here –


Brown bear trophies in Romania – source


Historically, hunting in the Carpathians of Moldavia and Vallachia was not restricted solely to nobility and it consisted mostly of wild birds, rabbits, deer, boar and foxes. Hunting reserves were then established in the XV century by the Hungarian and Austrian nobility, who gave themselves exclusive rights over hunting. By the XIX century, the mountains of Transylvania were a hunting hot spot for European nobility and royalty due to its diverse fauna, which was already going extinct in the West. Hungarian nobility developed their own hunting dog called the Transylvanian Hound. In other parts of Europe, bear meat was a delicacy for the aristocracy.

Following intensive hunting and logging for export in the last centuries, ten animal species became extinct in Romania, see list here


Today, more species are endangered including the European Brown Bear, the Grey Eolf and the Eurasian Lynx. In a silent concerted effort from governments and corporations, national parks are now being sold by piece to private businesses. Conservation Carpathia foundation lead by billionaire Hansjörg Wyss bought thousands of hectares from Piatra Craiului national park with funds from the European Economic Area grants, and with prince Charles as its top promoter (see here).

National Park = protected areas administered by sovereign states which cannot be alienated.

Carpathia Conservation wants to buy over 50.000 hectares in Southern Carpathians, which has the largest bear population.

The foundation lead by billionaire Hansjörg Wyss intends on buying over 50.000 hectares in the Southern Carpathians, which has the largest bear population. Over 3.000 hectares of hunting ground are already in its private property.

The foundation intends on buying 50.000 hectares in the southern Carpathians (the highest and most dense mountains in Romania) with plans to turn them into the “Yellowstone of Europe”. Over 3.000 hectares of hunting territories were bought so far where the largest bear populations can be found.

While the future national park is promoted the public as a haven for nature conservation, they also admit that a part of the park will be exploited by private companies (source): logging, extraction of resources, hunting and organic agriculture in the fertile soil. Much like the national parks of South America and Africa where western mining, logging and agribusiness take place in national parks and reservations.

While the old Romanian mountain villages and houses were scattered and man lived in harmony with nature without invading and scouting the environment, modern tourist settlements and other residential projects (example) are large, crowded and invasive to the ecosystem. The projects fragment the ecosystem, which cannot support wildlife on the long term.


Traditional Romanian mountain villages and houses were scattered, unlike modern residential projects and tourist resorts which are crowded and invasive to the ecosystem. In photo – villages in the Moldavian-Transylvanian mountains.

At the same time, more and more green groups around the world are being accused of selling out to corporations (“WWF International accused of selling its soul to corporations” The Guardian, 2014).


In Prahova valley – one of the most crowded tourist areas with intense deforestation and a real estate boom – the bear is visibly affected. “Garbage bears” are a common sight for over two decades and even mothers with cubs, who normally are very wary, are seen sitting by the road or looking through garbage bins for food.


Bears are primarily vegetarian which is why forests, with the diversity of fruits, plants and insects are vital to them.


Bears, like many wild animals, are shy creatures who usually hide from humans. Only in exceptional circumstances do they become aggressive – when they feel threat, especially mothers with cubs.

Bear filmed in the Eastern Carpathians on Salard hunting ground


In attempts to justify the rise of hunting quotas, the government and media constantly induce panic and describe the bear as a dangerous intruder. Romanian politician calls for the army to help control bear population (The Guardian, 2014).

In September 2016, the government renewed the new annual hunting quotas to 552 bears, 657 wolves and 482 Lynx and wild cats. The government was accused of using a system that counts and kills wild animals for profit (source), while their real numbers are assumed to be lower than the official statistics.

The brown bear first disappeared in Great Britain ten centuries ago due to overhunting.


Transhumance in the Southern Carpathians. Due to their ancient pastoral lifestyle, Romanian shepherds have long lived alongside bears and other predators.

With their ancient pastoral lifestyle, Romanian, Balkan and other Carpathian shepherds have long lived alongside bears, wolves and other predators. During summers, shepherds lead their herds across the mountain pastures, accompanied only by a few helpers – the sheepdogs. Surrounded by meadows and forests, livestock is constantly a target for predators, though they will attack only when very hungry. If losses are registered, shepherds will not respond by killing off predators but instead consider it part of nature.

The recent reintroduction of brown bears in France and Germany did not go so well: 2009 – French Pyrenees: bad news bears, 2006 – 170 years on, wild bear returns in Germany – to a death sentence, 2013 – Switzerland’s only wild bear is shot.

The German bear was stuffed and placed in a museum

The German bear reintroduced in the Alps was stuffed and placed in a museum in Munich after being killed.

The bear in Romanian mythology


    The Bear is deeply instilled in Romanian history and traditions. The bear is regarded as both a strong fierce animal, and a godly creature. The biggest and strongest bear is called Mos Martin, a mythical character in Romanian mythology.

The Bear dance is a pagan dance ritual practiced in Moldavia’s villages until today. Though part of the winter celebrations, it’s not related to Christianity; the dance is part of the many archaic traditions inherited “din moşi-strămoşi” (from distant ancestors) which use various animals as motifs, depending on the region (Moldavia, Transylvania, Vallachia). They’re practiced around New Year Eve as fertility rituals that celebrate the renewal of life during the winter solstice. During the dance, the animals die and come back to life. The bear dance stems from the bear being venerated as the strong animal who managed to defeat winter and announce spring.

According to Ion Ghinoiu, director of Constantin Brailoiu Institute for Ethnography and Folklore “The cult of the bear dates back to the Neolithic times when man and bear co-habituated in caves.” These archaic rituals can be found in various shapes all across Europe from the Carpathians, to the Alps (see here) and the Scandinavian mountains (see here) as they represent a common folk inheritance from pre-Christian times.

The Winter Martinii (Martinii de iarna), celebrated between 1-3 February, the Day of the Bear (Ziua Ursului) celebrated on 2 February, the Bear’s Saturday (Sambata Ursului) and Macaveiul Ursului celebrated on 1,2 and 13 August – are archaic festivities dedicated to the bear.

The winter celebrations are connected to the bear ending hibernation; by following the bear’s behavior, farmers knew when the warm season was approaching. According to tradition, if the bear cannot see its shadow on the snow, the winter is nearing its end and bears end hibernation.

The summer celebration is connected to honey/ fruit harvest and the peak of the bear mating season – when bears move around more than usual and they may accidentally face humans. Which is why on these days, people don’t work. On August 13, a special celebration is held with honey pies and wine sweetened with honey, with the belief that it will protect domestic animals from bear attacks, and protect people from attacks during honey and the fruit/ berries harvest (since honey and fruits are part of the bear’s diet).



Brown baby bears in Romania

bears romania Photos

Photos by Leonardo Berezovsky



Baby bear saved from a ditch by train workers (amateur footage below). Story here




Junii Brasovului


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         “Junii Brasovului” are a group of horsemen from Schei – an old Romanian neighborhood located near the citadel, today a district of Brasov.

Every year during spring they hold a special feast which represents a complex of Christian Orthodox traditions and pre-Christian rituals inherited from distant ancestors. The spring ritual is related to the ancient cult of the Sun which was joined with the resurrection of Christ – both signifying the renewal of life.

The spring ritual was forbidden in 1949 through a decree signed by Ana Pauker but was reintroduced by Nicolae Ceausescu in 1967.


The Juni on a visit to Bucharest in front of the Romanian Atenaeum (dated 1971). The Juni ritual was forbidden in 1949 through a decree signed by Ana Pauker but was reintroduced by Nicolae Ceausescu in 1967.


The Juni on a visit to Bucharest in front of the Romanian Government (dated 1970). The Juni ritual was forbidden in 1949 through a decree signed by Ana Pauker but was reintroduced by Nicolae Ceausescu in 1967.





Brasov’s old citadel, located at the mouth of the mountain valley near Bârsa plains

Brasov citadel, situated on a commercial route at the border of Vallachia and Transylvania, was a flourishing trading center. The citadel was built at the mouth of a mountain valley. During the Saxon rule of the 13th to 17th century following the Unio Trium Nationum military pact, Romanians lost their civil rights while Saxon merchants and Hungarian nobility gained privileges. In Brasov they were forbidden from owning property inside the fortress. Called Vallachians at the time, they were living outside the wall in the neighborhood named Schei, also called Obere Vorstadt (Upper Suburb) or Wallachische Vorstadt (Vallachian Suburb) by Germans.

Aerial panorama of Brasov - the old citadel is located at the mouth of the valley, with Blumenau and Alstadt suburbs nearby. On the opposite side - Schei is located further down the valley between mountains.

Aerial panorama of Brasov – the old citadel is located at the mouth of the valley, with Blumenau and Altstadt suburbs nearby. On the opposite side – Schei is located further down the valley between mountains.


View from Tampa mountain over Brasov’s old citadel and its Saxon and Hungarian suburbs. Behind it is the Bârsa plain (Câmpia Bârsei).


View from Tampa mountain over Schei (right), Romanian suburb near Brasov’s main citadel. From Schei onward begins the long Carpathian mountain chain, visible in the background. Left of Tampa is a newly built district in a narrow valley.


Baedeker guide (year 1896) shows the old Brasov (Kronstadt) citadel with the suburbs of Schei (Obere Vorstadt), Blumenau and Alstadt

Old photo taken from Schei, with Brasov in the background

Old photo taken above Schei district, with Brasov in the far background

Schei is located in the south of the citadel, in between mountains. On the opposite side of the citadel, the Hungarian-Saxon populations were living in two neighborhoods: Blumenau (Blumana in Romanian) inhabited by Hungarians, Altstadt (inhabited by German farmers).


The Juni and pre-Christian paganism


“Juni” is an old word that means “young unmarried men”. Juni may also be called “feciori” which has the same meaning. In Brasov in particular, Juni applies to men of all ages, divided into married (old juni) or unmarried (young juni).

Although the Juni of Brasov have their specific ways of celebration, the Juni groups are found all throughout Romania. Up until recently, most Romanian villages had Juni groups but the forced urbanization, in addition with new EU laws which limited horse riding, has had a negative effect on these traditions.


Juni from Mandra in 1928


Fagaras Juni

Juni from Gura Raului

Juni from Gura Raului

The young men of a community reunite in a group called “ceata” (ceata de feciori, ceata de juni) during the winter solstice and spring when they perform pre-Christian songs and rituals; the purpose of these rituals is to help perpetuate fertility during winter, and to celebrate the return of the sun during spring. Only in recent times did the Christian element blend with the pagan traditions in such a manner that today they coincide with the main Christian holidays – Christmas and Easter.

Fagaras Juni (called Feciori in the region)


The pre-Christian rituals are still alive all across Romania and are often practiced alongside Christian holidays. German chronicler Julius Teutsch, who observed the Brasov Juni rituals, concluded that they were remnant of an “ancient pre-Christian era” and said these traditions can be seen everywhere across the mountain hills since Dacian times.


Archive photos of Juni ceremonies


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In Brasov, an old custom practiced by the Romanian community which is related to the ancient cult of the sun: on the day of Descent of the Holly Spirit (called Rusalii in Romanian) men, women and children of Schei left in the evening for Mount Postăvarul (a few km from the village) after men knocked from door to door, using a hammer designed as a serpent to knock on each gate. On the mountain they waited until morning when the sun appeared in order to throw what they had on hand towards the sun, lest the “werewolves” stole the sun.


Dacians believed that the life-giving sun was swollen by dragons during winter; the same motif can be found in the Thracian Horseman depiction where a man on a horse fights off a dragon (in pre-Christian mythology, the horse is associated with sun and summer, and the wolf/ werewolf associated with winter).

The presence of horses is not accidental; the animal always played a vital role in popular folk since time immemorial – the horse was believed to be pulling the Sun Chariot across the sky, bringing with it the life-giving sun and assuring fertility for the new year. The Dacians celebrated this cult in the spring, when the Brasov Juni also celebrate it in order to mark the renewal of nature and the beginning of new life, whose significance was intertwined with the revival of Christ. The horse is venerated in various ways across the country, such as Boboteaza Cailor (The christening of horses).





Although the meaning of “June” is “young unmarried son“, the Brasov ceremony reunites all men. The young unmarried men are picked up from their family homes by organized groups of men of all ages, and for the following days they play out a series of rituals and traditions.


Traditional "Surla" which announces the arrival of spring. A leading man with surla stands in front of the Juni ceremonial walk

Traditional “Surla” which announces the arrival of spring. A leading man with surla stands in front of the Juni ceremonial walk

The ceremony begins Monday early morning and ends one week later on the first Sunday after the Orthodox Easter (Duminica Tomii). On day one, the young men visit the homes of young unmarried girls. On the last day, they have the ceremonial walk on horseback through the city, which ends at Solomon’s Rocks, located 2 km from Schei.




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The men are divided in 7 traditional groups, number based on the religious belief that God made the world in 7 days. Every group has its own costumes and the leader of each group carries a scepter with a traditional flag and a tricolor ribbon (colors of the Romanian flag), which signify dignity and bravery.

The leading group is wearing the traditional costume of Romanians (“Vallachians”) of Brasov. Their hat is tailored after the model of Michael the Brave’s hat (Vallachian prince who first united the 3 principalities in 1600) and is worn by 4 of the 7 groups of men.


The hat is tailored after the model of Vallachian prince Michael the Brave’s hat and is worn by 4 of the 7 groups of men.






One of the Juni rituals, which takes place on Thursday, includes “aruncatul in țol” where the young men are thrown in the air 3 times.



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On the last day, the Juni have the ceremonial walk on horseback through the city which ends at Solomon’s Rocks, located 2 km from Schei.


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Historic mentions of the “Vallachians”


In 1842, Georg Gottlieb Schnell published a series of costume litographies that included the Romanians of Schei, Brasov. Referred to as Vallachians at the time –  “Vallachian from the neighborhood of Brasov” – the neighborhood being Schei, located outside the city walls at the time.


“Vallachian from the neighborhood of Brasov” 1842 by Georg Gottlieb Schnell. The Vallachian is wearing a traditional Romanian Suman coat over the costume

Romanians were refereed to as Vallachians (Wallach) by Saxons and other foreigners (“Wallach” was a Germanic word used by foreigners to define Latin speaking populations of Eastern Europe – found in Vallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania).

Antonio Possevino described the main commercial settlements of Transylvania in his 1584 manuscript “Transilvania”: when mentioning Brasov (called Corona in latin), he mentions the main fortified citadel inhabited by Saxon merchants, surrounded by 3 suburbs with Hungarians, Romanians and Saxon farmers. He calls Brasov small but flourishing due to its strategic location, with commercial ties with just about everyone.

Ludwig Binder’s book “Johannes Hunterus. Schriften, Briefe, Zeugnisse” (chapter 16) contains a medieval century letter from Johannes Honter (Saxon humanist who lived and died in Brasov) who described Brasov and three main communities living near it: Romanians in Schei, Hungarians, Saxon farmers (the inner fortress allowed only Saxon merchants and the upper class).


St. Nicholas church of Schei

In the book “Das Alt und Neu Teutsche Dacia” published in 1666, Saxon historian Johannes Tröster described the Romanians (Rumunyi) of then-Transylvania as an oppressed people with no rights, whose settlements are located in the mountains or near Hungarian/ Saxon towns. He acknowledged the surprising latinity of these “simple uneducated peasants”. He went on to transcribe from hearing a few Vallachian phrases in order to prove the latin substratum, phrases which are perfectly intelligible with modern Romanian. He also described their religion as identical to that of “Russians and Moscovites” (Christian-Orthodox).




Schei suburb in Brasov


The old Brasov was divided into Kronstandt or Corona (the main citadel) and 3 neighboring suburbs: Altstadt (Brasovechi in Romanian) inhabited by Saxons, Bulemnau (Blumana in Romanian) inhabited by Hungarians, and Schei (the Vallachian Upper Suburb – Wallachische or Obere Vorstadt). After the Saxons and Hungarians were converted from Catholic to Lutheran church, the Evangelical Blumenau Church was built on the place of a Catholic church to serve them.


Sf. Nicolae orthodox church in Schei, first dated in 1292.





The Christian Orthodox church Sf. Nicolae (St. Nicholas) from Schei served the Romanian community for centuries. First dated as a church settlement in 1292, its one of the oldest Orthodox churches in Transylvania. The first stone church was built in 1495 by then-prince of Vallachia.

From 1556 the first Romanian books were printed here. Next to the church is the first Romanian school, started in 1583.




The Romanians from Schei could only enter Brasov citadel at certain hours and had to pay a toll at the gate for selling their produce inside the citadel; they entered on horseback through Ecaterina Gate (closed in 1820), also called Porta Vallace or Vallah’s Gate, as it was the only entrance for the “Vallachians”. Another gate was built for them in 1820, called Poarta Târgul Cailor (Horse Fair Gate).  Still too small, the larger Schei Gate (Poarta Schei) was built in 1827 to fit the growing needs of the Schei population.

Schei Gate is still being used by Juni during their ceremonial walk when they come down from Schei towards the main city.


Ecaterina gate, the first gate used by Schei people to enter the citadel. A bigger gate was built but still too small, it was replaced by a third gate simply called Schei Gate.


Poarta Târgul Cailor (Horse Fair Gate), the second gate built for Schei people. Dismantled a few years later.


Schei Gate and Ecaterina Gate, the later less visible today from this angle due to the trees.


Schei Gate today – with view towards the old Brasov citadel


View of Schei from Tampa mountain

View of Schei from Tampa mountain


St. Nicholas church of Schei, the epicenter of the Romanian community



In the XIX century, a second Orthodox church was built in Schei, called Biserica Sf. Treime

In the XIX century a second Christian Orthodox church was built in Schei, called Biserica Sf. Treime



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Schei village is located in a long deep mountain valley, crossed by multiple rivers and creeks. Because of this, the village numbered over 20 water mills in the XIX century which spread all the way to Solomon’s Rocks. The street that lead to Solomon’s Rocks was called the Valley of the Water Mills (Valea Morilor).

One of the 20 plus water mills from Schei

One of the 20 plus water mills from Schei


“Capul satului” (the end of the village), when the settlement spread along Solomon river all the way up to Solomon’s Keys.

Back to when the village spread to Somonon's Rocks

Houses near Solomon’s Rocks in the early XXth century



Up until early the XXth century tourism developed, the old Schei village used to spread along Solomon river up to Solomon’s Rocks. The old houses of Schei have traditional Romanian wooden gates, some dating back to the XVII century; they are sculpted with astronomical motifs that are believed to protect the house. Some of the deteriorated wooden gates were replaced with metal gates.


The traditional Romanian wooden gates


Solar motifs stemming from ancient pre-Christian belief in the cult of the sun, much like the pre-Christian traditions still practiced today by the Juni.



Old Schei streets with traditional Romanian wooden gates


Old Schei suburb during winter, with St. Nicholas church in the background


Orchards of Schei up on the hills

Orchards of Schei today

Orchards of Schei today

Gradina lui Timan in Schei, where families used to gather

Gradina lui Timan in Schei – where families and groups of Juni gather for generations




Unlike the men of Schei who kept the traditional Romanian costume pieces, the Schei women’s clothing had a strong urban influence which reflected the community’s proximity to a flourishing commercial center.


The white blouse and veil are made of Borangic (natural Romanian silk)


View of Schei from Tampa mountain

View of Schei from Tampa mountain