The plateau of the Hortobágy (in Romania Hârtibaciu, in German Harbach) in located in the southern part of Transylvania, more precisely, between the Nagy-Küküllő (Târnava Mare) and Olt rivers. The more than 200,000 hectares land is unique in Europe in terms of natural and cultural values. The sight was strongly influenced by the architecture and land use of the Saxons living here for centuries. The Saxons clustered in small villages, quite far from one another. The “core” of the Saxon village was always the fortified church. They kept their provisions and fortune in the church, which, in case of danger like the Tartar invasion, was their refuge. In the wide and robust church tower every family had its own girder, where they kept dried meat, sausages, bacon in order to have food during times of war. The tall and thick walls of the church adequately protected everything inside the church. The Saxon villages had a relatively simple “anatomy”: on both side of the road a narrow lawn lane and the massive houses with a high façade, gate and fence. The interesting house-gate-house structure served also as protection in case of siege. Very often the walls were built around a creek; these villages had a road on both sides of the water connected by small bridges, then the houses in a standing tall by the road. The Saxons cultivated the fields closest to the village (the arable land directly next to the settlement), the meadows and hayfields being further, outside the arable land.
On the Hortobágy (Hârtibaciu) Plateau there are the largest European meadows on downs and the most impressive meadows with old oak trees. These are probably the most beautiful places on the Plateau. The mystery, how trees grow on paddocks constantly grazed by sheep, cows and buffaloes, was solved only recently. Theoretically, the animals would eat the young saplings. The Saxons left spiked shrubs, like wild roses, around the oak seedlings, which provided sufficient protection from the animals, until the tree was large enough to overshadow its “protector”-shrub and destroyed it. Thanks to the Saxons and their reasonable and smart usage of land, the low density of population (large land with small population) we now have many old and healthy forests, characterized by biodiversity. There forests give “home” to some protected bird species like the white-backed woodpecker, red-breasted flycatcher and collared flycatcher. The silence of the wet grassland is only disturbed by protected corn crake or the bear and wolf “nightwatch”.
This landscape with its countless beauties, with its biodiversity and with its Saxons will disappear, even if we do not want that to happen. Making this area a nature reserve can slow this process, but it is not enough to reverse it. The Hortobágy Plateau is proof of the harmonious coexistence between men and nature. There is no doubt that the – almost extinct – Saxons living here have responsibly exploited the treasures nature gave them, always making sure to leave for the following generations as much as possible. This is one of the most beautiful examples of how the traditional, small-scale farming and agriculture can create new habitats and can enrich a territory, thanks to human intervention.