Modern Romania is located in Eastern Europe, to the north of the Balkan Peninsula and west of the Black Sea. With an even distribution of mountains, hills and plains and a rich network of watercourses, the geography of Romania is largely structured around the south-eastern end of the Carpathian Mountains (a branch of the Alpine-Himalayan Mountains). The curving line of the mountains imposes a concentric layout to the general geography of the country and outside the mountains the sub-Carpathian hills and the plains spread out in steps. Inside, however, the mountains enclose a large area of hills, tableland and alluvial plains, called Transylvania. The name itself first occurs in early medieval Hungarian chronicles of the eleventh century written in Latin (Anonymus, Simon de Keza) as the land ‘beyond the forests’ (trans silvae) (Pop 1997, 5-7) that once covered much of the Carpathians. Transylvania can be understood as a space enclosed by the mountains. This topographic characteristic has determined various interpretations of the advantages that the area has offered to human settlement throughout history. Opinions vary from ‘citadel’ to ‘meeting point’, apparently in contradiction, but it is exactly the particularity of its topographic and geographical setting that makes both interpretations equally true. The Carpathians surrounding Transylvania were formed in the post-

Mezo-Cretaceous and are characterised by medium and low altitudes, which average 1,000metres, with valleys of around500metres in depth.Thesemountains are very fragmented, both longitudinally and transversally, by numerous depressions and river valleys, making them easier to cross from one side to another. Some of the mountains are of younger, volcanic origin, but most of them were created by the folding movements that happened at the end of Pliocene and the beginning of the Quaternary period (Gherasimov 1960, I, 197). Affected by these movements, Transylvania first slowly sank and was in-filled by marine and continental deposits of up to 4,000 metres in thickness and was transformed into a large plain. Later on, rising movements at the beginning of the Quaternary transformed most of it into a hilly region defined by the piedmonts and internal sub-Carpathian Hills located at the

contact area with the mountains and the Transylvanian Tableland in the middle (Gherasimov 1960, I, 197). The water from the interior drained away through the main river valleys, though some of the ‘gulfs’ located at the contact area with the mountains remained under water until much later (Morariu et al. 1966, 27), when they became depressions such as Tara Hategului. The western side of Transylvania (Figure 2.1) includes the mid-Mures

valley between Ocna Mures – Razboieni to the north and Zam-Savarsin to the west, and the whole Strei River valley and the Hateg depression to the south. The area is surrounded by higher grounds rising gradually on both sides of the valleys as terraced sides of the internal sub-Carpathian Hills and the Western and Meridional Carpathians to the west and south, and the Transylvanian Tableland to the east. This gives an amphitheatrelike appearance to the whole area, centred along the valleys of Mures and Strei.