The area just west of Cluj is known to Hungarians as Kalotaszeg, and, since the great Hungarian Millennium Exhibition of 1896, they have revered it as the region where authentic Magyar culture has survived uncorrupted. It’s common to see local people selling handicrafts by the roadside – particularly to Hungarian tourists on pilgrimages to the wellsprings of their culture.

The local embroidery is particularly famous, usually consisting of stylized leaves and flowers, in one bold colour (usually bright red) on a white background; the style is known as írásos, meaning “drawn” or “written”, because the designs are marked on the cloth (traditionally with mixed milk and soot) before being stitched. The Calvinist churches are noted for their coffered ceilings, with square panels (known as “cassettes”) beautifully painted in the eighteenth century, along with the pews and galleries, in a naïf style similar to the embroidery.

The composers Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály collected Transylvanian crafts, and Bartók’s assortment of carved furniture from Izvoru Crişului (Körösfó) can be seen in his home in Budapest. Their main project, however, was to collect folk music. Starting in 1907, they managed to record and catalogue thousands of melodies, despite local suspicion of the “monster” (the apparatus for recording onto phonograph cylinders). They also discovered a rich vein of inspiration for their own compositions; Bartók declared that a genuine peasant melody was “quite as much a masterpiece in miniature as a Bach fugue or a Mozart sonata”.

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