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Why Do We Feel Like We're Always Being Watched in Sibiu, Romania? Because We Are!
All eyes are on us in this charming Transylvanian city — in the form of roof vents that look exactly like narrowed eyes.
Private eyes! sang Hall & Oates. They’re watching you! They see your eveeeery move!
These words are especially true in Sibiu, Romania.
Brent and I are currently living in this city of 150,000, in the heart of the geographic region known as Transylvania, and Sibiu is famous for a delightful architectural quirk: most of the buildings have eyes.
Or, rather, the roofs of the buildings have little vents that look like eyes!
The resemblance is so uncanny that Sibiu is nicknamed The City With Eyes.
In Romanian, they’re called “ochiuri orasului,” or the city’s eyes.
And they’re everywhere.
Sibiu is famous for other things too. It was once the most important of the seven citadels established by Transylvanian Saxons back in the 12th century. Within its city walls, it now boasts world-class museums and a series of charming plazas lined with cafes and restaurants.
And the city was the European Capitol of Culture in 2007. Today, it’s one of Romania’s most important cultural centers. The month we’ve been here, the city has hosted a film festival, a jazz festival, and two different road rally events. Then there’s the dozen museums waiting to be explored.
But come on. The eyes are one of the first things you notice. And they’re hard to ever forget about entirely.
No one knows who created the first pair of eyes, though it might have been as early as the fifteenth century. But their function is the same today as it was back then: a natural ventilation system for the buildings.
If you find those watchful eyes a little disturbing, you aren’t the only one.
According to Romanian author Aura Imbarus, those eyes felt ominous under the rule of Nicolae Ceauşescu, a communist dictator who ruled from the 1960s until he was overthrown (and executed) in 1989:
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.
For a happier take, the Eyes of Sibiu have also been used as a symbol of openness and political reform. In 2017, activists even coined a slogan aimed at rooting out corruption: “Vă vedem din Sibiu!” — or, “We see you from Sibiu!”
Brent and I are loving Romania, which is sleepy and peaceful and exactly what we wanted after the intensity of Istanbul.
But maybe it’s not entirely relaxing, at least here in Sibiu.
The other day I was ordering some chocolate vegan gelato from a stand on the plaza.
“How many scoops?” asked the young woman.
One scoop was five leu, but three was only twelve.
Of course, I wanted the three scoops but a feeling of being judged held me back. I glanced at Brent to see if he was watching, but he was looking at his phone.
I hesitated, but finally said, “Three, thanks.”
She handed me my ice cream and as I paid, I glanced up and saw a pair of eyes on the closest rooftop staring down at me.
Not just staring, but judging me for my gluttony.
Because in Sibiu the eyes really are always watching us, watching us, waaaaatching us.
Here are some more photos I’ve taken of the Eyes of Sibiu: