someone is watching

Words and Photography by Pete Heck

Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed – no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters in your skull. ~ George Orwell, from his novel 1984

We walked through Piata Mare (the large square) and felt the stares upon us. Not from the people casually strolling by eating ice cream, frolicking in the water fountain, or those just sitting on the benches watching others go by. But instead by the buildings.

And no matter where we walked, their gaze followed.

Sibiu is known as the city with eyes. The old historic city is composed of an uptown and downtown connected by intertwining alleyways. The gothic style buildings reflect the Hungarian-German influence and many carry a common feature in their heavy tiled roof top: small attic windows that appear as eyelids looking down upon you.

Sibiu was once the administrative centre and capital of the Siebenbürger Sachsen, the German-speaking population of Transylvania. People have claimed that the eyes were purposely built by German occupiers in the region to instill fear into the people – for it to be known that they were always being watched and thus must behave appropriately.

And then came the deranged Communist dictator Ceauşescu – and you know he used them to his advantage as well.

People have claimed that the eyes were purposely built by German occupiers in the region to instill fear into the people – for it to be known that they were always being watched and thus must behave appropriately.

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Quoted from Aura Imbarus, in Out of the Transylvania Night: A Story of Tyranny, Freedom, Love and Identity:

The government had blacklisted our family, tapped our phone, and checked our mail. Spies were always listening, opening and checking every piece of mail. Every other neighbor became a secret agent and informant for Securitate. If your face registered all the pessimism, sadness and pain you felt, nobody thought anything of it, but if you squinted in defiance or spilled over with excitement or laughed in merriment, someone would notice you and wonder why.

Aura goes on to describing Sibiu’s main square:

Originally a grain market that began in the early 1400s, the site of beheadings, hangings, and even cages for “crazy people,” the square gave rise to a unique architecture. Its buildings featured attic windows, which peeped out of a smooth rise in the roof – instead of a gable – forming an uncanny “eyelid” that hung over dark, recessed panes. It looked as if black, unblinking human eyes, sometimes five to a single stretch of tiled roof, were always watching. With Ceauşescu in power, this felt especially disturbing and eerie. They saw you, but you had no idea what or who was hiding behind those haunting windows.

We stayed for a couple weeks in this sleepy Romanian city. We both felt comfortable and at ease here. We looked back at some of the other Romanian and Transylvanian towns we visited and saw some similar eyes peering from buildings, but none like those in Sibiu.

As I shot photos of these eyes, I couldn’t help but wonder about the days gone past, when someone might have actually been shooting back.

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18 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • They definitely look like heavy lidded eyes, it gives the buildings a distinct personality. Love it.

    • August 19 2014

      That it does! At first, a little creepy, but overall, a very interesting architectural feature!

  • Jo @ Migrating Bird
    August 11 2014

    That is so creepy! The first picture was interesting and amusing, but the sheer number of these weird eyes is really unsettling. I’d feel paranoid wandering around today, I can’t imagine what it would be like walking around the town when you knew someone was actually watching from those windows.

  • August 12 2014

    These are really unique roofs and windows you’ve captured, Pete. Interesting how the history remains present in details you wouldn’t expect.
    Ivana recently posted..Sunday Story #9: Karolina, a Sweet Dreamer Taking Action

  • August 12 2014

    Wow those are creepy and cool at the same time, loved the history and details.

  • August 12 2014

    Whoa! The longer I look at those photos, the creepier they look!
    Amanda recently posted..How I Make Money to Travel the World

    • August 19 2014

      Haha, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe we added too many photos. 🙂

  • Erik
    August 13 2014

    Hehe,
    I’ve been living here for 22 years and I didn’t notice the “eyes”. Here in Timisoara are not so often, those are specific to the center of the country Sibiu, Brasov, Sighisoara.

    • August 19 2014

      Wow! I can’t believe you never noticed them!

      • Erik in 80 countries
        August 19 2014

        It always looked like something normal for me 🙂

  • August 15 2014

    “Every Breath You Take” by The Police was playing in my head as I read this. Those eyes are so beautifully creepy! I really want to visit this special place!!
    Heather recently posted..Rundale Palace: The Versailles of Latvia

    • August 19 2014

      Yeah, I found myself humming that tune a few times too. 🙂

  • August 20 2014

    Very cool photos. Very clever blog post. Got my attention and read all the way through. What a trip!
    Nancy D. Brown recently posted..Del Mar Racetrack: Day at Horse Races

  • Very interesting post. In one light, it’s slightly comical since they’re houses, but with reading the quotes, it’s something totally different.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..INTERVIEW: Bear Grylls on Wilderness, Celebrities & Running Wild

  • pinkpackrat
    August 23 2014

    Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I found the watching eyes sort of humanized and animated the buildings in a nice way– not creepy at all .

  • Very cool

  • September 7 2015

    I was wondering what’s “creepy” about the city I was born in, Sibiu.
    Wow, amazing story, Pete, and especially the photos! Living for years in Sibiu, I got used with the city. But seeing the “eye’s of Sibiu with fresh eyes, shows the story in another light. Thanks!
    Ovi @ 100 Travel Stories recently posted..Let’s Go to Singapore!

  • Dale
    March 20 2018

    In August 2017 my wife and I spent two weeks in Sibiu and nearby Cisnaedia. We plan to return sometime this year as missionaries to the Gypsy population there. The “eyes” didn’t bother us much, knowing they were a part of the past, and yet who knows, sometimes things come full circle.

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