High, sharp, wild, unspoiled. The Făgăraș Mountains are a hell of peaks, ridges, deep valleys and gorges of silver grey rocks, constantly brushed by clouds as the sky was trying to grasp the Earth. But a work of men overcomes Nature and rules this landscape, a work of asphalt and stones, made with bombs, bombs and blood, because fear for a war that could come from the East and the needs of a dictator: the Transfăgărășan Road otherwise called Ceaușescu Folly, and folly is what you breathe here, what you feel here.
Transfăgărășan road was built between 1970-1974 at the initiative of Nicolae Ceaușescu in response to the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union in 1968. North and South of Romania are divided by the Carphatian Alps (Făgăraș Mountains are part of it). The fear of a Soviet invasion made plan the construction of a road that could quickly connect the two sides of the Mountains. There were other roads at that time linking Transylvania (North) and Wallachia (South) but they run along river valleys and the ease with which they could be blocked or attacked determines the initiation of the project called “Transfăgărășanului”. Besides that the Transfăgărășan road would provide easy access to the forest resources of Făgăraș Mountains and give the possibility to create a tourist centre in Lake Bâlea. Some say that delusions of grandeur of Ceaușescu played an important role in the decision to undertake the project.
The works begun on the 10 March 1970 after a decree of the Council of Ministers dated to 10th of December 1969 and were carried on mainly by the Romanian Army. The Northern sector was entrusted to the Combat Engineer Regiment 52 Alba Julia, the southern sector to the Combat Engineer Regiment 1 Râmnicu-Vâlcea. Part of the Goat tunnel-Chalet was carried on by specialists of the Trust Construction Hydropower. Works on Vidraru Lake Contour sector were entrusted to the Transport Ministry, the project was designed by IPTANA (Design Institute of transportation, Naval, and Aviation) and executed by Construction Roads and Bridges Works in Bucharest. Works in the Lake Bâlea sector were entrusted to the Ministry of Forestry Economy, the project was designed by ICPIL (Institute for Research and Design in wood industry) and the executed by IC (Forest engineering enterprise).
The works went on without interruption for over four years. It has been a challenge. 2000 meters of altitude had to be overcame in a wild abrupt environment. More than one million of tons of rocks has been removed using 6520 tons of dynamite of which only 20 tonnes at the Goat tunnel-Chalet. 830 between bridges and viaducts were built as well as an uncountable number of retaining walls that give to the road the impression of an immense fortress.
The extreme Alpine climate, strong winds, and heavy snowstorms, with the temperature often dropping dramatically down the 0 degree made the works extremely risky and challenging. Normal working condition were possible only 4-5 months per year. The cost and effort to build this road were extremely high and 40 lives were lost, mostly military not trained in blasting techniques and people that could not survive to the inclemency of the weather. It is the official estimation of Ceaușescu regime: civil workers who took part in the construction of Transfăgărășan road affirm that the dead were several hundreds “Only at the dam died about 400 boys” a witness stated. Transfăgărășan road was inaugurated in the presence of Nicolae Ceaușescu on 20 September 1974 but work has been fully completed only in 1980.
Transfăgărășan road has a total length of 151 km. It crosses the Făgăraș Mountains on the Axis North-South, reaching near the Goat tunnel-Chalet next to Bâlea Lake an altitude of 2042 m. It begins at a roundabout of the DN1 road, 4km before the village of Cârțișoara, and ends in another roundabout in the city of Brașov. The section between the hydro power plant of Vidraru Cetățuia massif and the crossroad with the DN1 has a length of 91km and was the section built between 1970-1974 by Nicolae Ceaușescu: it is considered one of the most beautiful and challenging roads in the world.
We approach the road from the Northern side, at the crossroads with the DN1. There is nothing special, no more than a couple of hotels. The ground is flat, around there are fields, scattered houses and trees. Transfăgărășan road looks a normal countryside road, but we know it is not.
The road point straight to south, towards the mountain that looks sleeping in the mist. We pass by Cârțișoara a common Romanian village devoted to farming. It is a quite smooth driving but a sense of expectation and a hidden tension seems to flow from the asphalt to the driver. Something special is about to come. Trees slowly replaces the fields, small hills begins to enclose de road, the bends are less gentle and the road start to gradually ascend but all is still quite, still in the frame of normality. We get altitude. A beautiful scenery of woods and mountains give us a sense of peace and quietness, but the road is telling us to be aware.
We soon get Cabana Bâlea Waterfall, a small hotel surrounded by tourist shops. We reached 1234 meters of altitude within 19 km so far. We are at the bottom of a valley where a small creek struggles to find its way through the rocks. A 60 meters high wall of rocks closes the valley on the southern side and a big waterfall crashes and flows away between the tress. The scenery has a perfect beauty.
We pass by and then a sudden change: the road awakes, it grasps the ground and speeds up on the mountains slopes which has been opened bomb after bomb, dead after dead, sacrifice after sacrifice, it grasps the ground as to do not fall, it grasps the ground as attacking the mountain with the only purpose to hurt, to defeat, to win over Nature.
Tension grows, driving is harder, we feel we are running on the body of an alive creature. A dramatic wide wild mountain landscape assault the view from every side, down the road the bottom of the valley get far and far. We reach the top of the wall rock and over there the road show all is madness. In few kilometres the road surpasses almost 800 meters of altitude in an extremely abrupt environment, through immense tight bends, overpassing cracks on the ground by sustaining walls that give it the impression of an unnatural stronghold. We drive on till we reach the highest point of the road, near Lake Bâlea. We are surrounded by the ridges of the mountain, a hostile world of rocks. We pull off to look down and admire the Transfăgărășan road.
Extreme bends intertwines a complex black drawing overcoming the altitude as in a fight for life. It is as an immense black snake of asphalt that crawls merciless on the valley, it looks it flows, it looks itself is moving, raging of haste and fury, a folly of asphalt, a madness work to let the engine win over the force of the Nature. It is an alive screaming creature of asphalt, a challenge against the mountain, it is the son of the mad desire of greatness of a dictator, it is the son of the fear, fear for the war that could come from Asia, from the Soviet Union.
We feel as a demon has been chained in the Transfăgărășan Road, a demon raging for freedom, a demon raised from the soul of all the ones who lost their lives to create this road. The bends are so long and disappear between the irregularity of the ground forbidding a complete view so the impression is that they spread from the road itself that become the origin and the centre of its own spires, spires that looks to try to get one into the other as the road was about to become a never ending labyrinth. Yet its shape is beautiful as a paint brush made it by dancing with soft, gentle but extreme movements.
We are back riding excited as for a drug that awakes the senses and gives the will to test the limit of our mind. From the Bâlea lake, raging, roaring, the road pierces the flesh of the mountain, biting digging. The tunnel passes right in between the two highest peaks of Romania: Moldoveanu (2,544 m.) and Negoiu (2,535 m.). With 887 of length this tunnel is the longest road tunnel in Romania.
Suddenly the road comes out of the darkness, high on a steep valley and it looks is about to fly as to cut the sky, but no, the demon rolls down, bend after bend, it reaches the woods, it gets lost into the green, it licks the shores of the Lake Vidraru, it passes by the enormous dam that closes the lake, and then slowly it gets the plain, the demon vanishes and the Transfăgărășan Road is back to be a common roads in between small villages scenery of a quite peaceful countryside life and die, with no voice, no glory, in a roundabout of the town of Bascov.
Short video of Transfăgărășan Road courtesy of www.nelstill.com