The ASTRA National Museum Complex, more than meets the eye

astra national museum complex

Astra Museum Complex is located in Sibiu, which is a strong exemplar of Transylvanian spirit.

The Astra Complex clusters under its name not only four ethnology and civilization museums, but also a documentation center, a conservation and restoration department and many more, which are to be mentioned.

The complex bases its existence on Romania’s need to harbor a deeply rooted history of its ethno-cultural identity and multiculturalism. The Transylvanian Association of Romanian Literature and Culture (ASTRA) set up the first exhibition in 1905.

The ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization (also known as “Muzeul civilizatiei populare Astra Sibiu”), often called the Open Air Museum, is the most significant unit. It is situated 8 kilometers away from the city center, within the confines of the natural reservation Dumbrava Sibiului. The Open Air Museum stretches over 96 hectares, out of which 40 hectares are covered by the permanent exhibition, which forms the largest ethnographic display in Europe. Architecture, technique and heritage are embodied by collections of mills, wooden churches, traditional homesteads and objects, which add up to more than 400 folkloric monuments.

The exhibits are grouped based on six thematic sectors, each with their own subgroups: food production, animal husbandry, production of raw materials, transportation, manufactured household objects, public buildings and an exposition of monumental sculptures.

Being an open air museum, it can easily host a series of events, such as: festivals, fairs, workshops and performances throughout all seasons, given the picturesque scenery. Also, it is very much suitable for walks, drives by carriage or sleigh and sightseeing.

The “Franz Binder” Museum of Universal Ethnography is located in the Small Square of Sibiu. It was inaugurated in 1993 and it holds the title of the first and only museum in Romania with the thematic of worlds’ civilization, culture and art, based on unique collections and collaborations. Its purpose is to introduce the perspective of everything non-European as a comparison and the term “difference” as an element of cultural identity.

Franz Binder is the founder of these extra-European collections. He was a merchant and a passionate explorer and also the Consul of Austria in the Turkish-Egyptian Sudan. The first move towards creating this museum is his donation of over 500 African objects to the Transylvanian Association of Natural Sciences from Sibiu. After this, a series of other donors added Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese, Ecuadorian, Argentinian, Indonesian, Indian, African (and many more) heritage to the collection.

The “ASTRA” Museum of Transylvanian Civilization was founded in 1993 and follows the same concept of traditional museum as the Open Air Museum founded in 1905. This museum is a curator of patrimonial assets. Its main goal is to highlight Transylvanian values, pluri-ethnic community and coexistence. It stocks collections of embroidery, costumes, religious objects, wood-bone-iron and ceramics items and dolls which all together sum an outstanding number of 9000 objects. This impressive number troubles the possibility of permanent display due to the lack of space. Various exhibitions were organized in the country and throughout the world. Otherwise, the treasure is withdrawn in storages. The museum organizes fairs, contests and festivals under the name of Living Human Treasures.

The “Emil Sigerus” Museum of Ethnography and Saxon Folk Art also located in the Small Square of Sibiu, was founded in 1997. It was established under the task of presenting the role of the ethnic group named Transylvanian Saxons in Romanian culture. The main attraction of this museum is the impressive collection of Terracotta Tiles, after which come other 4000 objects in the form of costumes and other textiles, wooden, metal and bone objects, as well as beautifully painted furniture. The Emil Sigerus Museum has been in a continuous enrichment throughout the years, by means of donations and acquisitions.

The ASTRA Museum Complex nests a series of other extensions, such as: the “ASTRA” Film Studio that specializes in documentary film production, the Cornel Irimie Memorial Department, a personal collection of Sibiu’s most influential personality in the field of ethnology, the Conservation and Restoration Department that cares for the longevity of over 60000 objects.

Whether it’s for the urban located exhibitions or the perfectly preserved rural lifestyle of Transylvanians, the ASTRA Museum Complex is definitely something to see. The surroundings that interconnect these two treasuries shouldn’t as well be overlooked.

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Stefania Tripe
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” ― Stephen King.


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