Of all the Romanian localities where Unification Day is celebrated by organizing events, there is one that certainly stands out. It is Sinaia, the famous resort on the Prahova Valley, where a tradition was born to also celebrate, on January 24, Badea Cartan’s birthday; he’s the self-taught peasant who traveled on foot to Italy, Rome, to see with his own eyes Trajan’s Columns and other evidences about the Latin origin of the Romanian nation.
Every year, on January 24, Sinaia celebrates both the Unification Day and Badea Cartan’s birthday, the events being organized through a partnership with the authorities and people from Cartisoara-Sibiu, the birthplace of the national hero. Moreover, in the last 15 years, year after year, official delegations of the two localities made mutual visits, reconstructing the crossing of the borders of the Historical Principalities, time and history by these symbolic trips, as Badea Cartan did it in the past.
Buried in Sinaia, according to his own desire, at the age of 62, the self-taught peasant from Cartisoara is mentioned every year on January 24, and the ritual of bringing wreaths and flowers in his memory has become a tradition in the context in which the authorities of Sinaia officially invite those from Cartisoara in order to mark together this day at Badea Cartan grave. Gheorghe Cartan – also known as Badea Cartan – was born on January 24, 1849 in Cartisoara, county of Sibiu, and he died on August 7, 1911, being buried in Sinaia, according to his desire. He was the second of the seven children of Nicolae and Ludovica Cartan, being a person who fought for the independence of the Romanians from Transylvania, distributing books that were clandestinely brought. His celebrity reached to be know n after he traveled on foot to Rome to see with his own eyes Trajan’s Column and other evidences about the Latin origin of the Romanian nation. His journey is worthy to be noted in the history books, given that he discerned the letters of the alphabet alone. More specifically, up to the age of 11, he never went to school and he didn’t do it later, learning alone in the early years.
In 1860, he led the sheep for the first time, with his family members. In 1864, when he was 14, while he was gone with the flock of sheep on the mountain, he crossed the border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Romania illegally, for the first time, only to see the country in which he considered that his Romanian brothers are living free from any foreign domination.
According to a legend circulated in Cartisoara, he crossed the border in the circumstances in which, being with his father and with the sheep on the peaks of the mountains, Gheorghe Cartan asked the head of his family what is beyond the towering peaks of the mountains. The answer he received, namely there are also Romanians over living there, confused the child, who said: “Who has seen a border in the middle of a country? But what are we? Aren’t we Romanian, too? Why Romania isn’t here, too?” Looking for answers by himself, peasant Gheorghe Cartan started to fight for the unification of all the Romanian people and for the awakening of the national consciousness.
In 1877, he put his flock of sheep at the Romanian Army’s disposal, voluntarily enlisting in the War of Independence, but he wasn’t sent into the battle because the battle ended before he finished instruction. He was discharged and one year later he went to Transylvania, wishing to go home. Since he was wanted because he didn’t fulfill his military service, he offered to be a volunteer, although his age was higher than the recruitment age, being discharged after three years. In May, 1984 he went to Cluj to assist to the Memorandists’ trial, being arrested and beaten by the gendarmes because of this participation. Three days after he was beaten, he went to Vienna to complain to the Emperor, succeeding to get an audience with him. In 1895, he went to Bucharest saying that that he wants to see Michael the Brave’s statue, appreciating him as a great Romanian hero. He arrived in Bucharest in the same month, after he crossed the entire distance on foot. He admired the statue of the Romanian prince, and since he had nowhere to sleep, he slept in the snow, thus being known across the whole country.
A Dacian came down from the Column!
To visit Italy, where he wanted to see Trajan’s Column, which was a symbol of the Latin origin of the Romanians for him, Badea Cartan decided to go on January 1, 1896, travelling only on foot. One month earlier, in December, 1895, he told Professor V. A. Urechia that he intends to make this journey, receiving his moral support, as well as a few recommendation letters and money for the trip. On January 3, 1896, Cartan started his journey to “Mother Rome”, as he used to say. Besides few spare clothes and some food, he took in his bag a handful of dust from his home garden and wheat grain, to bring offerings to the Roman ancestors when he will arrive in Italy. He followed the route to Rome through Timisoara, Szeged, and on January 17 he arrived in Budapest. He arrived in Vienna on February 1, 1896. From here, he left to Salzburg, then to Innsbruck, where he crossed the Alps arriving in Genova.
After forty-three days, breaking four pairs of moccasins, we arrived in Rome. In front of Trajan’s Column, Badea Cartan sprinkled the Romanian dust and wheat grain for an offering. Then, being tired after the journey, he laid down at the Column’s feet, where he slept until the next day. When he woke up, he was surrounded by a crowd of curious people. One of them, seeing the popular Romanian costume he was wearing, exclaimed, astonished: “A Dacian came down from the Column – haired, with a shirt, a cap, homespun peasant trousers and moccasins”, as big as this seemed to him the similarity between the Romanian shepherd and the Dacians on the bas-reliefs.
Thus, Badea Cartan became famous in Italy, several newspapers writing about him. His photo was published, he was interviewed, being invited into the political, cultural, and journalistic environments from Italy, being welcomed with sympathy and friendship. At the Romanian Legation in Italy, he met writer Duiliu Zamfirescu, who was at that time Romania’s representative minister. In the four weeks that he stayed at Rome, Badea Cartan was invited many times by Italian personalities, being considered “a messenger of the Romanian people”. From Rome, he went to Venice, from where he went back in the country through Trieste, on March 3. He arrived in Cartisoara on March 8, 1896. Ten days later he went to Bucharest, where he was Professor Urechia’s guest for two days.
On June 10, 1896 he was home, in Transylvania, being arrested by the Hungarians gendarmes, who also confiscated his photo with Trajan’s Column and other photos received in Italy as a present, as well as the books he held. He was beaten and sent to Fagaras, to the Court, where one of the questions addressed to him was “what connection do you have with Rome and Romania?” Released after two days, he never got back the confiscated things. In August 1896, Badea Cartan went again to travel, this time to Paris. In his way to the French Capital he made a stop in Vienna, to submit a complaint to the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, showing his sufferings. From Vienna, he followed his route through Bologna, Florence and Genova, then through Marseille, Avignon and Lyon, and from here to Paris.
He stayed here from 10 to 19 August 1896, writing to the newspaper called “universal” from Bucharest that “French people honored me very well, like a brother. Long live Rome’s family and Romanians’ friends”. From France, he went to Belgium, and then he traveled to Jerusalem, and then back to Rome. In September and October 1899, in Rome was held the XII History Congress of the Orientalists, with 700 representatives from 40 countries, including Romania, Romanian delegation being led by V. A. Urechia. By his own will Badea Cartan came to this congress. Professor Angelo Gubernatis proposed that Badea Cartan will be the one who will depose the laurel wreath to the Trajan’s Column from the side of the members of the congress. Italian newspapers wrote about this event: “A powerful voice was heard shouting: long live Mother Rome. This shout came out from the chest of George Cartan, who came to Rome, as we now, in his national costume, as a Romanian shepherd”.
Badea Cartan started to transport, from Romania to Transylvania, books and other printed materials for the Romanian pupils and students in Transylvania. He was bringing the books by carrying them in saddlebags, in his back, over the mountains, because many Romanian publications, in particular those who were speaking about the Romanian history, were forbidden in the empire. He was crossing mountains on hidden ways, less traveled, where there was no risk to be arrested by gendarmes. In total, he illegally brought 200,000 books for children, for the peasants who were teachers or priests, using several routes through which he illegally crossed Fagaras Mountains. He died in 1911, seven years before the Great Unification, and he was buried in Sinaia. On the stone cross, above his tomb, an inscription says: “This is where Badea Cartan rests, dreaming to the reunion of his nation”.