ASTRA National Museum Complex, Sibiu, Romania

“ASTRA” National Museum Complex (Romanian: Complexul Naţional Muzeal “ASTRA”) is a museum complex in Sibiu, Romania, which gathers under the same authority four ethnology and civilisation museums in the city, a series of laboratories for conservation and research, and a documentation centre. It is the successor of the ASTRA Museum that has existed in the city since 1905. Its modern life started with the opening of The Museum of Folk Technology in 1964, now The “ASTRA” Museum of the Traditional Folk Civilization.

Located in the center of Romania, The `ASTRA` National Museum Complex is the most important ethno-museum institution in Romania. It was created under the auspices of the Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and – which was an institution founded in 1861. The `ASTRA` Museum –formerly known as the Association Museum – opened its first exhibition on the 19th of August, 1905. The museum was founded out of the Transylvanian people`s desire to define their own ethno-cultural identity within the Austro-Hungarian Empire multiculturalism and having as background the cultural emancipation of all peoples from the centre and south-east of Europe.

Reorganized under this structure after 1990, the `ASTRA` National Museum Complex has four museum units of ethnographic profile in its structure and a department of anthropological documentary film which are sustained by the following departments: the Conservation and Restoration Department, the Educational Department, the Cultural Marketing Department, the Tourist Information Centre, the `Astra Museum`Publishing House and the Project Management Department.

The Romanian cultural association ASTRA decided in 1897 to establish a museum of Romanian civilisation as a “shelter for keeping the past”. The museum was opened in 1905, under the supervision of Cornel Diaconovici, in what is today the ASTRA Palace in Sibiu, built through a public subscription with the specific purpose of creating a museum. In 1929, in Cluj, an open-air Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania was created, and in 1932 the Village Museum was opened in Bucharest by Dimitrie Gusti.

In 1940, after the loss of Northern Transylvania to Hungary due to the Second Vienna Award, a plan was proposed to establish a new ethnographic museum in Sibiu to replace the one in Cluj. World War II and the new communist government of Romania delayed the establishment of the new museum by 20 years, in which period the old ASTRA Museum was closed due to ideological reasons. Due to the work of Cornel Irimie in the late 1950s and early ’60s, the Romanian Academy decided to pursue the project of establishing the Sibiu open-air museum, having folk technology as its main theme. The Folk Technology Museum (the Romanian word is more literally “technique”, because in Romanian technologie has specifically modern connotations)was established in [1963] and was opened to the public in 1967. Until 1990 the museum worked as a branch of the Brukenthal Museum Complex and in this period it increased the number of houses and buildings. Beginning in 1971, it started to orient itself towards folk civilisation by also including elements of folk life such as houses and community buildings. Since 2001 the museum has functioned as a museum complex, also comprising the “Franz Binder” Museum of Universal Ethnography, the “ASTRA” Museum of Transylvanian Civilisation, both opened in 1993, and the “Emil Sigerus” Museum of Saxon Ethnography and Folk Art opened in 1998. Since 1990 it has used the ASTRA name to reflect its heritage.

Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization
The “ASTRA” Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization (Romanian: Muzeul Civilizaţiei Populare Tradiţionale “ASTRA”) is located in the Dumbrava Forest, 3 km south of Sibiu, on the road towards Răşinari, and is easily accessible by car, bus or tramway. Occupying an area of 0.96 square kilometres, it is the largest open-air museum in Romania and one of the largest in Central and Eastern Europe. It contains houses and workshops of the traditional Romanian folk culture from the pre-industrial era. Over 300 houses and other buildings are situated in the forest around two artificial lakes with over 10 km of walkways between them.

Conceived as a living museum, it hosts many traditional events such as: traditional fairs, folk festivals, workshops, performances and much more. The traditional function is kept for the wooden churches where all religious ceremonies specific to Romanian tradition are regularly performed.

The exceptional natural landscape makes the open air museum adequate during both summer and winter, for educational visits, relaxing walks, drives by carriage, sleigh or sailing, according to everyone`s taste.

The museum has its own traditional inns, spaces suitable for practical lessons, a lake, a playground, over 400 parking lots and over 10 kilometers of paved alleys.

THE `ASTRA` MUSEUM OF TRADITIONAL FOLK CIVILIZATION hosts workshops, handicraft trainings, team buildings, and other recreational activities. The traditional Romanian village reveals
the visitor its heritage richness specific to all the ethnographical areas of Romania. Cultural events are organized during the summer season

The exhibits are organised into six thematic groups:

food production and animal husbandry.
production of raw materials.
means of transportation.
manufacture of household objects.
public buildings.
an exposition of monumental sculpture.
Some of the most spectacular buildings are a group of windmills from the Dobrudja area, a playing area for popice (skittles, an early form of bowling) from the Păltiniş monastery, a small mine from the Apuseni Mountains, a few water-mills, a wooden ferry, and a fishery from the Danube Delta. Also there are houses of shepherds, pottery workshops, iron workshops and others. There is also a working inn, a small pub and a dance pavilion. In the museum there is a wooden church from northern Transylvania brought in 1990-1992 from the village of Bezded in Sălaj County.

A series of festivals and fairs take place in the museum annually, the most popular one being The Folk Craftsmen’s Fair which takes place each summer around the Saint Mary’s Dormition, an Orthodox holiday in the middle of August. Also, permanent and temporary exhibitions can be seen in a special pavilion inside the museum.

Museum of Universal Ethnography
The “Franz Binder” Museum of Universal Ethnography (Romanian: Muzeul de Etnografie Universală “Franz Binder”) is the only museum in Romania that specialises in non-European ethnology. It was opened in 1993 in a house known as the Hermes House, on the Small Square in Sibiu’s old city centre. It was based around an initial group of artifacts collected by the members of the Transylvanian Association for Natural Sciences (German: Siebenburgische Verein fur Naturwissenschaften) in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The collections were expanded after the museum’s opening, and now number over 3000 items.

The museum is named after Franz Binder, a merchant and a diplomat who spent more than 20 years in Africa at the middle of the 19th century. A particularly remarkable piece in the museum is an ancient Egyptian mummy donated by the Austro-Hungarian consul in Egypt in 1907, Hermann von Hannenheim. Dr. med. Arthur Soterius von Sachsenheim donated a collection of over 100 ethnographic objects gathered during his travels and expeditions to various parts of the world. The newer collections contain artifacts from Japan, Indonesia, Ecuador and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, over 400 pieces have been donated from the gifts fund donated to the Romanian Presidency between 1965 and 1989.

Museum of Transylvanian Civilisation
The “ASTRA” Museum of Transylvanian Civilisation (Romanian: Muzeul Civilizaţiei Transilvane “ASTRA”) was conceived as the keeper and the developer of the ASTRA Museum’s collections. At its closure, some of its collections, numbering over 50,000 items out of which over 15,000 were in the ethnographic collection, were passed over to the Brukenthal Museum. In the period before 1990, all the ethnographic collections were organised under the Folk Art Section. After the creation of the Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization, these collections were handed over to the new museum, and in 1993 the Museum of Transylvanian Civilisation was established to present the Transylvanian culture and civilisation in an inter-ethnic and interdisciplinary vision.

The museum contains a collection of over 40,000 items, out of which almost 10,000 are recorded under the classification A, for most valuable. The collection contains clothing, textiles, pottery, religious objects and other items made of wood, iron or bone. They are organised in the museum’s building, situated in the city centre in the Small Square. A new step in the museum’s evolution is planned after the move to its new establishment in the ASTRA Palace, which is now occupied by the Sibiu County Library. The museum plans to extend its collections so that it can better present the civilisation from Transylvania as a European region, in which many ethnic groups have coexisted.

Museum of Saxon Ethnography
The “Emil Sigerus” Museum of Saxon Ethnography and Folk Art (Romanian: Muzeul de Etnografie şi Artă Populară Săsească “Emil Sigerus”; German: Das Museum der sächsischen Volkskunde und Volkskunst “Emil Sigerus”) was established in an attempt to fill a gap, presenting the role of the Transylvanian Saxons ethnic group in Transylvanian and Romanian culture. The museum’s collections are based around those from the Carpathians Transylvanian Museum or MSVK opened in 1895 by the Siebenbürgischer Karpatenverein association. The first exposition was inside the Museum of Natural History building and was organised around the collection of Emil Sigerus, the most important collector of Transylvanian Saxon Folk Art at the end of the 19th century. In 1920 the museum’s collections were included in the Brukenthal Museum and they were displayed in a new space inside the Brukenthal Palace; from 1950, they were included in the Folk Art Section.

After the establishment of the new Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization in 1990, the Saxon collections were given over to the new establishment along with all other ethnology-related collections. In 1997, the Emil Sigerus Museum was opened in a building adjacent to the Franz Binder Museum in the Small Square. After the end of the restoration project restoring The House of the Arts in the Small Square, the museum will have a more appropriate space to exhibit its collections of over 2,700 ceramic pieces, including the permanent exposition of decorative tiles, over 4,000 objects in the classifications of costumes, textiles and embroideries and over 400 wooden, metal, or bone objects out of which over 150 are painted furniture items.

Besides the four museums, the “ASTRA” National Museum Complex contains a series of other departments related to its activity:

The Cornel Irimie Memorial Cabinet contains the personal collection of the founder of the Museum of Folk Technology and also the foremost personality in the field of ethnological and rural sociological studies to have worked in the Sibiu’s Museums.
The Information and Documentation Center groups together the museum’s library, archive and publishing house.
The “ASTRA” Film Studio is specialised in documentary film production. It evolved from the museum’s audio-visual department. It organises a biennial documentary film festival, an important one in the Central and Eastern Europe.
The Conservation and Restoration Department handles over 60,000 items in the museum’s patrimony.
One of the most important projects of the museum complex is the opening of a new museum named The Museum of Culture and Civilisation of the Romany. This project is attempting to bring together cultural artifacts of the Roma people (also known as Romanys), the only significant ethnic group in Romania that does not have yet have a museum.

In 2007, Sibiu was, along with Luxembourg, the European Capital of Culture. The museum organised a series of events to promote the Folk Traditions in Romania.

1861 – The ” Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and the Romanian People’s Culture ” – ASTRA is being established in Sibiu. The stated goal was the material and spiritual advancement of the Romanians and one of the indispensable means of this process was the knowledge, preservation, valorization and popularization of the cultural-national heritage and the creative potential of the people. In a European atmosphere favorable to these efforts, the leaders of the Association realized that the Romanians must have their own museum, so they have to organize one.
1867 – “The Astrologers” foresees the establishment of a “Significant Museum”.
1871 – In the “divides” ASTREI propaganda is being made for a “National Museum”.
1880 – The General Assembly of Turda establishes the need to create a “historical-cultural museum”.
1881 – A “great exhibition” of ASTREI is organized in Sibiu.
1880-1890 – “Industrial” exhibitions are predominantly ethnographic.
1882 – It is the idea of buying a building for ASTREI’s “Museum and Ethnographic Collection”.
1897 – The General Assembly of Mediaş decides to start the construction of an edifice that will house the ASTREI Museum.
1903 – The association appropriated the project of the future building in which the Museum is reserved for 8 rooms, “the library, offices and other societies will function in the other.”
1905 – August 19-28 inaugurated, through a large “ethnographic and historical-cultural” exhibition, the MUSEUM OF ASSOCIATION, in the new ASTRA Palace Palace (currently the seat of the ASTRA County Library).
1918 – this year the ASTRA Museum is subsidized by the Romanian state.
1940 – Romulus Vuia proposes the organization of an ASTREI Outdoor Museum in Dumbrava Sibiului (Sibiu City Hall has proposed the land).
1944 – The ASTRA Museum collections are evacuated to Gârbova (they will return to the end of the war).
1950 – The ASTRA Museum’s collections are “distributed to the history, art, natural sciences” of the Brukenthal Museum; This year, 1950, the Museum of the Association was “killed”.
1951 – 1953 – The section of folk art was opened, the exhibition being for the time being provisional.
1956 – Cornel Irimie, an outstanding personality of the Romanian School of Sociology, establishes the Folk Art Section.
1963. – The State Committee for Culture and Art – Bucharest approves the organization of the Dumbrava Sibiului People’s Art Museum (according to the opinion of the “Thematic Project for the Organization of the Popular Technique Museum – Dumbrava Sibiului” granted by the Romanian Academy for the first time) the scientific authority of Cornel Irimie, the team of museographers led by Herbert Hoffmann and the architect Paul Niedermaier.
The first monument – the hydraulic mill with vertical wheel and lower adduction, is transferred from the village of Dăbâca, Hunedoara County.
1966.- (September 7-15) The International Symposium “Organizing the Outdoor Ethnographic Museum – Principles and Methods” takes place. Following the great success of the symposium organized in Romania (with an international premiere of the Museum of Dumbrava Sibiului), the European Association of Outdoor Museums is founded in Bocryk (Belgium).
The periodical of the Museum of People’s Technique (“Cibinium”) appears in bilingual edition.
1966. (October 17th) Official inauguration of the People’s Tech Museum on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Brukenthal Museum.
1971. (March 11-13) During the session of the Scientific Council of the Museum of People’s Technique, the original thematic project (on the proposal of Corneliu Bucur, headed by the Department of the open air of the Brukenthal Museum on August 1, 1970) a broader representation of the concept of popular technique and the opening to the habitat civilization, by the transfer of complex households, instead of isolated workshops.
1974. Inaugurates the Conservation and Restoration Zone Laboratory of the Popular Art Museum (through extensive investment works) and unites the Outdoor Museum with the Brukenthal Museum of Popular Art.
1979. (March 29-30) Within the “National Colloquy of History of the Popular Civilization of Romania” (made in a national premiere, in a modern, interdisciplinary conception) the interdisciplinary perspective of the research of traditional folk civilization phenomena and the orientation of the museum profile in the Free Air to include and represent the whole area of the phenomena of popular civilization.
1980. As a result of the National Colloquium, the Church in Bezded, Salaj County (obtained as a donation from the rural community) was transferred, its reconstruction being postponed, following the political interdictions of the moment, after 1990.
1984. The People’s Crafts Fair is inaugurated (August 15, St. Mary’s Great), with the participation of 36 folk craftsmen. This is the moment of inauguration of the “actuarial” program of the immaterial cultural heritage in the Dumbrava Sibiului Outdoor Museum. At its 20th edition, with more than 250 craftsmen, the manifestation has, over the years, led to the scale, consistency of participation and the quality of craftsmen and products as an absolute model and mark on the national level.
1984. By the original reconstruction and functionalization of the public utility monuments (the Church from Bezded, Cârciuma din Bătrâni, Prahova County, Botiza Pavilion, Maramureş County) the program of the museum’s orientation towards a modern functionality, conceptualized on a European level, by the expression “museum vivum”.
(February 17th) The City Hall of Sibiu adopts the decision (approved by the Ministry of Culture, Minister Andrei Plesu) to set up the Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization in Romania as a stand-alone institution with its own legal personality, by detaching from the Brukenthal County Museum Complex. Prof. Dr. Corneliu Bucur, an outstanding personality of the Romanian ethnology, modernises, theoretically and exponentially reproposes the open-air museum
1991. (2 September) The Ministry of Culture and the Association “ASTRA” (President Dumitru Abrudan) received the “ASTRA” cognomen, the new name being the “ASTRA” Traditional Folk Civilization Museum, for the award of the Sibiu ethnographic mue. In this way the direct filiation and patrimonial and programmatic continuity between the Association Museum and the ASTRA Museum (redivivus) was recognized, thus reconstituting the continuity of the oldest museum institution of the Romanians in Transylvania.
The museum is subordinated to the County Council of Sibiu, to the Ministry of Culture.
1993. It establishes the Association of the Popular Creators of Romania and the Academy of Traditional Arts of Romania, the last one, as a forum for the supreme recognition, at national level, of the superlative individual values of the traditional folk culture and art. They were to follow their “National Children’s Crafts Olympics”, transformed in 1996 into the National Artistic Traditional Crafts National Olympiad under the aegis of the Ministry of Education. The Council of Europe, through the EMYA Commission, decides to the director of the Sibiu Museum the personal EMYA distinction “as recognition for maintaining and developing the museum, despite all possible discouraging conditions.” The festivity takes place in Guimarães, Portugal, on the occasion of the annual EMYA institutional awards.
2001 (February 11th) The Government of Romania approves, by Government Decision, the establishment of the “ASTRA” National Museum Complex, the largest ethnographic structure in Romania, comprising: The Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization “ASTRA”, “Franz” Universal Ethnography Museum Binder “(1993),” ASTRA “Museum of Transylvanian Civilization (1993),” Emil Sigerus “Museum of Culture and Folk Art (1998),” Conservation and Restoration Zone Laboratory “(1991) Information and Documentation in Ethnology “Cornel Irimie” (1992), People’s Art Galleries (1991), Museum of Pedagogy (2001). The Open Air Museum organizes the first edition of the National Folk Tradition Festival featuring the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, Washington DCand a participation of 350 active peasants, invited alternately from all the counties of the country, including the Republic of Moldova; they are evolving in a museum for a week on the “seven arts” of the Academy of Traditional Arts (Religious Arts, Literary Arts, Musical Arts, Playing Arts, Fine Arts, Mechanical Arts and Culinary Arts).
2001. The museum organizes, under the auspices of UNESCO, the first edition of the International Fair of European Craftsmen, as well as the International Symposium “Culture, Tradition, Tolerance”. For the very special activity since 2001, the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs awarded three prizes of cultural excellence to the Sibiu Museum: ” Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş ” Prize for the “Human Living Treasures” program, ” Romulus Vuia Prize””For the exhibitions of the” ASTRA “Museum of People’s Civilization (open-air museum): the new thematic group” Architectural Systems with functions of storing and preserving agro-food and forage products “; “The complete restoration of the interior wall painting of the Bezded Church” and the “Museum Pedagogy Office”, as well as the ” Virgil Vătăşianu ” Prize, for the “In-situ Restoration of the Mulinological Complex in Rudaria, Caraş-Severin “.
2001. In accordance with the UNESCO recommendations of 1989 (Paris) and 1999 (Venice) and anticipating the signing of the “International Convention on the Protection of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Paris” by all governments of the world, the ASTRA Museum organizes, at the Palace of Parliament, Bucharest, the “Living Human Treasures” exhibition, which has been a great success at the national level, setting up the whole program initiated by the Sibiu Museum since 1984 and amplified especially since 1990, where it stands out as one of the most dynamic and modern museums in the world in Europe.
2005 Centennial of “ASTRA” Museum
2006 “ASTRA” Museum Receives from the National Commission of Romania for UNESCO the Pre-industrial Technical Patrimony Award from Romania
2007. 25 Projects of the ASTRA Museum in the Year of the European Capital of Culture
2008. 45th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Outdoor Museum. At the anniversary hour, the Outdoor Museum is a monumental heritage (169 monuments with 400 buildings) and objects (over 21,000 inventory objects), extensive scientific and educational programs, digitization of heritage and information systems documentary archives, by generalizing the computerized system at the level of all museum structures and functional departments, through publications made over time through modern media coverage programs, conservation and restoration programs of national interest (“Emergency Museology”) and through the projects of the future is the largest, most complex and valuable ethnological museum institution in Romania. Engaged in an ample international dialogue,