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.
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.