„Landscapes teach us to be peaceful, to love, to be patient, to love life, to have wishes without fanaticism, to appreciate our home and therefore to respect the homes of other’s.”
Overview of the Kaláka Movement
It is well known among professionals, but less known commonly that springs and medical waters are the main assets of Seklerland. Due to post-volcanic activities thousands of mineral water springs (locally known as ’wine-water’) spout from the depths of the Earth. The temperature of these ’Sekler thermal baths’ is usually between 4-15 °C. Beside the water springs gas emanations are also common in the area, which have similar curing effects. These ’places of healing’ had been known and used by the local people since ancient times. They have maintained them and built wooden pools and mofettas (gas-bathing huts). In the 19th century the trend of elegant civic bathing culture reached this area as well, leading to the emergence of spa cities at several locations. Mineral water was bottled, that soon became famous with high demand even in distant places in Europe. This vivid spa culture was destroyed by the ravages of history during the 20th century, and the memory of it was slowly erased. The pools and wooden structures of the traditional spas were reclaimed by nature, and with them the water springs have been erased from memory. At most places the destroyed baths and springs were only remembered of by the village or a few elderly people.
The idea of reconstructing traditional Sekler baths was born while working on the development strategy of the Csomád-Bálványos Region. The Ciuc County Nature Protection and Tourism Association (CCNPTA) led by geologist Csaba Jánosi had been researching the natural and cultural values of the historic landscape of the area for several years, bringing public attention to the importance of protecting this heritage. Between 1997 and 2000 CCNPTA, along with Pagony Landscape and Garden Design Studio and Axis Architecture Studio - both from Hungary - was assigned by Harghita and Covasna Counties to complete one of the very first regional development strategies in Seklerland after the end of socialism in Romania. As a result of the collaborative planning local decision-makers, civil organizations, and residents of the villages were also involved in the planning processes and the shaping of their future. During a forum in 2001 in the village of Lázárfalva (Lăzărești, Romania) a silver-headed, starry-eyed old Sekler man stood up, and asked the attendees to help in the revival of the once famous Nyírfürdő (Nyír-bath). The renovation of civic spa cities is a complex task due to the unclear or unsettled ownership of the sites, the difficulties caused by privatization processes, and the increasing need of funds. Renovating and rebuilding traditional Sekler baths can be done by leaning on local resources with the integration of some external help. The memory and practice of ’kaláka’ (co-operative voluntary work) had been preserved in this region, as an example of community collaboration and giving help mutually. Everyone contributes what they can offer, therefore it also includes the traditional wisdom of social justice. We shaped the old method to fit the new tasks. Organization tasks - including applying for grants and inviting young participants and university students to the summer camps - were undertaken by the Ars Topia Foundation in Hungary. The young architects and landscape architects created plans and worked for ten days during the summer. Local organizational tasks of the kaláka were carried out by the CCNPTA and the local government. Local people provided accommodation, donated food, and also joined in to work together with the ’guest-workers’.
The news of the first kaláka quickly spread in the Lower Ciuc Basin, and later all around Seklerland. Small communities applied one after another asking for help in the renovation of their lost baths and restoration of their wine-water springs. After a while as organisers we realized that it has gotten to the point where we were doing voluntary work at several places annually, what is more kalákas have spread over to Hungary as well. That is how kalákas have grown into a grand movement.
In the case of renovating traditional wine-water baths kaláka means the returning to community work. It makes it possible for everyone to participate in recreating a place to their own extent. We build pools, foot baths, changing rooms, plank paths, pavilions, benches, catchment spots of the water springs and spring houses using traditional, local building materials and building methods. We use woven willow features to stop erosion, and we also create living willow structures. With our work we aim to draw attention to the preservation of natural values. We paint information and sign boards with the traditional Sekler painting method. We raise crosses and willow domes on the sacred points of the landscape. In the evenings lectures are held about landscape, the natural, architectural, and cultural heritage, and about the future of Seklerland. There are also discussions, and forums where plans for improving the villagescapes are born. Folk dance events are important parts of the programme as well. For the local children we organize drawing and craft workshops, and we also set up exhibitions. All of this takes place in just ten days, covered by hard earned funds.
Kalákas are international with 50-70 or sometimes even 100 volunteers from Hungary and abroad working together with the local people. The participants are mostly university students, architects and landscape architects who get a chance to gain technical experience through Kalákas. The motivation for planning and building is not self-expression, but serving the local community. Shared work often leads to friendship between the guests and the local hosts. Through these movements the foundations of local tourism are established.
Since 2001 thousands of people participated as volunteers in the kalákas organized by us. Kalákas also set an example and in a lot of places similar bath revival projects launched utilising community work. The reconstructed baths and their surroundings are of a small scale, yet they do have an effect on the development of the villages. The shared work towards a common goal brings people of the community closer and works as a team building exercise. The baths are built with natural materials that require care and maintenance. Even in the past the baths had been maintained, fixed or renovated every 5-8 years. From our experience of the last 10 years of Kalákas, the maintenance, carrying out of necessary repairs and in some cases further improvement of the baths depend on local village leaders, Sadly, at certain locations the baths were not kept properly by the local community, our efforts had been unavailing, the baths deteriorated. Organizing the maintenance works is an important task in the future, however, it is a duty of the local community, not the kaláka movement. The healing places created by the kalákas are used by the locals regularly, but even people from distant places visit them for bathing or drinking cures. The movement celebrated its 15th birthday in 2015 with the renewal of the Bath of the Apor Sisters in Bálványosfürdő (Băile Bálványos, Romania). Our continuously expanding exhibition presents the events of the movement. The exhibition is written in four languages – Hungarian, Romanian, German, English – and it is printed on outdoor molino, therefore it is easy to transport and install. We are happy to exhibit it to share the spirit of kalákas, hoping that it would move the visitors. The opening ceremony of the travelling exhibition took place last spring in the Ciuc Sekler National Museum in Mikó Castle in Csíkszereda (Miercurea Ciuc, Romania), and we are hoping that it will get to many places, promoting the joy of kaláka, and the values of voluntary work.
We will continue to organize kalákas in the future, because we firmly believe that devoted voluntary work that roots from love can preserve and create values that affect individuals, communities and the landscape. Protection and development of the landscape needs to be done with the involvement of the communities living in it!
We want to thank every kaláka participant for their voluntary, loving contribution to this uplifting work!
Landscape and Garden Designer, President of Ars Topia Foundation,
Program Officer of the Kaláka Movement