The Transfăgărășan [trans: over, across + Făgăraș (Făgăraș Mountains)] is a paved mountain road crossing the southern section of the Carpathian Mountains of Romania.
It starts near the locality of Bascov (Argeş county) and stretches 90 kilometres to the crossroad between the DN1 and the city of Sibiu, between the highest peaks in the country, Moldoveanu and Negoiu.
The Transfăgărășan was constructed between 1970 and 1974, during the rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu, as a response to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Ceaușescu wanted to ensure quick military access across the mountains in case of a Soviet invasion. At the time, Romania already had several strategic mountain passes through the Southern Carpathians, whether inherited from the pre-communist era (the DN1 and the high-pass DN67C), or built during the initial years of the Communist regime (the DN66). These passes, however, were mainly through river valleys, and would have been easy for the Soviets to block and attack. Ceauşescu therefore ordered the construction of a road across the Făgăraş Mountains, which divide northwestern and southern Romania.
Built mainly by military forces, the road had a high financial and human cost. Work was carried out in an alpine climate, at an elevation of 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), using roughly six million kilograms (5,900 long tons; 6,600 short tons) of dynamite, and employing junior military personnel who were untrained in blasting techniques. Many workers died; official records state that only 40 soldiers lost their lives, but unofficial estimates by workers put the number in the hundreds.
The road was officially opened on September 20th 1974, although work, particularly paving of the roadbed, continued until 1980.
The road climbs to an altitude of 2,042 metres (6,699 ft), making it the second highest mountain pass in Romania after the Transalpina. It is a winding road, dotted with steep hairpin turns, long S-curves, and sharp descents. It is both an attraction and a challenge for hikers, cyclists, drivers and motorcycle enthusiasts. Due to the topography, the average speed is around 40 km/h (25 mph). The road also provides access to Bâlea Lake and Bâlea Waterfall.
The road is usually closed from late October until late June because of snow. Depending on the weather, it may remain open until as late as November, or may close even in the summer;
The Transfăgărășan has more tunnels (a total of 5) and viaducts than any other road in Romania. Near the highest point, at Bâlea Lake, the road passes through Bâlea Tunnel, the longest road tunnel in Romania, at 884 m (2,900 ft).
Along the southern section of the road, near the village of Arefu, is Poenari Castle. The castle was the residence of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.
The Transfăgărășan was featured in a segment of the British TV show Top Gear, in the first episode of Series 14 (November 2009). Host Jeremy Clarkson proclaimed that the Transfăgărășan was “the best road in the world,” a title the presenters had previously given to the Stelvio Pass in Italy.
The speech by Premier Zhou Enlai was focused primarily on the situation in Czechoslovakia. He said that the Soviet Union committed ‘a violent crime against the Czechoslovak people,’ that this type of behavior is 'the most shameless, typical example of behavior by a fascist power,’ and that the Chinese government and Chinese people 'condemn this crime of aggression’ and are behind the Czechoslovak people. Comparing what was happening in Czechoslovakia with what Hitler did in that country, and what the US did in Vietnam, Premier Zhou Enlai stressed that 'Soviet revisionism degenerated into Social[ist]- Imperialism and Social[ist]-Fascism,’ and that the US and the Soviet Union are trying to divide the world [among themselves].
Excerpt from A series of three telegrams reporting on a reception held at the Romanian Embassy in Beijing on August 23, 1968. Premier Zhou Enlai attended the event and gave a speech condemning the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Text available via the Wilson Center Archives.
I got a request to cover some of the “Cold War” era as it happened in Asia (outside the U.S.) Americans are often taught the Cold War through a rather binary lens, in a strictly East-West/Soviet-U.S./Communist-Capitalist divide.
Of course, things are more nuanced than that. This is a snippet of a telegram report from 1968 which sheds light on the ups and downs of international diplomacy.
Here, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai criticizes the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia which had happened three days earlier on August 20, 1968. The Soviet Union had led Warsaw Pact troops into Prague, with the intent to crack down on reformist trends. These troops had been gathered from the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, and Bulgaria under the guise of Warsaw Pact military exercises. Instead of exercises, however, the Warsaw Pact troops overtook Prague.
Soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia was quick, and Soviet leaders justified the action under the “Brezhnev Doctrine” - claiming the Moscow could invoke the right to intervene wherever a country’s Communist government had been threatened. These actions furthered what is known at the Sino-Soviet split, a conflict developed over diverging USSR and PRC (China) interests and interpretations of communism.
The introduction of the Brezhnev doctrine in this way sparked concerns in Beijing that with time, the USSR would use it as a way to justify either interfering in Chinese communist affairs or invading China.
My first recollection of Prague Spring started in late fall of 1967. I was 13 years old. On November 2. 1967, a brief news report appeared in the Czechoslovakian government controlled newspaper about the demonstration on October 31st by residents of the Czechoslovak Technical College. The demonstration began spontaneously with nonpolitical motivation. There had been no electrical power to the student dorms for four days and counting which made it almost impossible to study. About 1,500 students went to Prague Castle where the Czechoslovakian president resided. The students shouted, “We want light.” Unfortunately, no one informed the government of this problem with electrical power. They thought the students were using an analogy that they wanted to overturn the government. The police called for reinforcements and arrested some of the demonstrating students. Then the police followed the students back to their to their dorms and beat them up. However, the police were not supposed to enter the college grounds.
This was the first time real news like this was covered by the newspaper and news programs without censorship. It was also covered in news reels shown before movies in theaters. It was so unheard of to see anything like this without censorship for 20 years. I remember my parents taking my brother and me to the movies around the beginning of December just to watch this story in the news reels and leave as the featured film started. Most of the people in Czechoslovakia were doing the same thing.
After the New Year, Prague Spring started with big hopes and open borders for the people in Czechoslovakia to travel freely to the west. A faction of the Communist party started a movement called, “Socialism with a human face.” They loosened restrictions on media and travel started in the Stalin era and tried to create a more humane government. They also decentralized administrative authority.
Soviet Russian leaders did not like these changes. The new Czechoslovakian government refused the Soviet leaders’ demand to secretly put nuclear missiles in Czechoslovakia on the West German borders. After failed negotiations regarding the Prague Spring changes, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia on August 21st with tanks and put a stop to the Communism with a human face movement.
A little over a year after the invasion, the Czechoslovakian borders were closed, and life went back to old routines and worse with the restrictions of normalization.
On August 21, 1968, I was with my parents and brother at our summer house about 25 miles east of Prague. That morning my brother’s friend woke us up at 5am to tell us that Russians had come to occupy Czechoslovakia. We thought he had to much to drink last night and was making this up - we couldn’t believe him. Our parents lived through the German occupation in 1939 and also the Communist uprising in 1948. They worried about my brother and me and did not want us to go out. We sneaked out anyway. My best friend and I painted messages on the asphalt roads like, “Russians go home.” My friend did the painting, and I directed traffic around our signs. The whole country was so united by current events that the drivers followed the directions two 14 year old boys and drove around their new art. At the end of the summer my family went back to Prague, and we saw the devastation caused by Soviet tanks in our neighborhood. We lived only one block from Radio Praha where the biggest fight took place.
Ryszard Siwiec (Polish pronunciation: [ˈrɨʂart ˈɕivjɛt͡s]; 7 March 1909 — 12 September 1968) was a Polish accountant and former Home Army resistance member who was the first person to commit suicide by self-immolation in protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Although his act was captured by a motion picture camera, Polish press omitted any mention of the incident, which was successfully suppressed by the communist authorities. Siwiec prepared his plan alone, and few people realized what he tried to achieve with his sacrifice. His story remained mostly forgotten until the fall of communism, when it was first recounted in a documentary film by Polish director Maciej Drygas.