Since 2008 the Mihai Eminescu Trust (MET) has implemented several restoration and social reinvigoration projects in Alma Vii, supporting the local people to renovate the facades of their houses, to become self-sufficient and to turn their cultural, natural and social heritage to better account. Thus, the main bridge has been repaired, the dispensary and village shop have been restored and many of the facades of the old houses have been renovated. At the same time, residents were also advised and supported in opening and managing small local business.
The project currently conducted in Alma Vii, entitled “Centre for the interpretation of traditional culture Alma Vii – Rehabilitation and functional conversion of the fortification” began in April 2015. It is implemented by the Mihai Eminescu Trust and its partner, the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, and was designed at the request of local residents, after several community meetings and local studies.
After the departure of the majority of Saxons from these places during communism and then in the early 1990s, the nearly 400 people living here today created a complex community. There are people of several ethnic groups: Romanians, Roma, Germans and Hungarians. In order to weld the community and generate long-term sustainability, meetings and activities are organised with the villagers within the project. The Foundation aims to unify this new community from Alma Vii formed from a mix of cultures and seeks to develop a united group of villagers who work together for a better life.
The core of the project is the restoration of the fortified enclosure of the evangelical church. “Centre for the interpretation of traditional culture Alma Vii – Rehabilitation and functional conversion of the fortification” is one of the most complex projects of the foundation and includes all the main principles developed over 15 years of activity and more than 1,200 projects implemented in Transylvanian villages.
The project aims to restore the local cultural heritage and the work is done only by using traditional techniques and materials. Because it is the local craftsmen who are contracted to do the work the service providers become also the beneficiaries. This results in long-term involvement of the inhabitants in the efforts to revive the village.
Once the restoration is complete another essential component of the project begins: the active integration of the fortified church in the daily life of the community. The villagers of Alma Vii were consulted from the beginning on how the church should be used after the restoration so that everything happening there is according to their wishes and plans. Even though religious service is no longer being held there the church is still considered by locals an important monument for the identity of the village, and it will remain a centre where the local community of Alma Vii will gather for important events and celebrations. Villagers who master a craft and or prepare homemade dishes according to old, traditional recipes will also be able to exhibit and sell their products to tourists.
Given the foundation’s experience in sustainable development and revival of Transylvanian villages, the project in Alma Vii is designed as a motor for future development. It’s aim is not just the restoration of the church, but also local economic growth. The MET encourages the preservation and revival of crafts practiced for hundreds of years in this area and it is for this purpose that they have opened and supported the carpentry and blacksmith workshops in the village. For this purpose work is being done for the revival and preservation of crafts practiced for hundreds of years in this area, which is why carpentry and blacksmith workshops have been opened in the village. Also in support of this idea, locals were encouraged to attend trainings and learn about traditional building techniques and they benefited from logistic and material support when they wished to start their own projects. Within the MET projects some of them were also trained in agrotourism and learned basic English to help them better communicate with their guests.
The project aims to promote the village as a destination for cultural tourism in Transylvania. Tourism is an important component of the project, as the village is being promoted as a destination for cultural tourism. By promoting the rich local heritage consisting of architecture, traditions and crafts we are pursuing sustainable economic growth and an improvement in the living standards of the community.
Using the practical experience gained in 15 years of involvement in such projects, the foundation knows that in order to ensure project sustainability and long-term heritage conservation, the involvement of the community is essential. Simultaneously with the restoration works, which can be seen with the naked eye, the MET team is working hard to entice the villagers of Alma Vii to develop a sense of pride and belonging to the existing natural and cultural heritage. Once the project will be completed the restored site will be handed over to the local people.
In conclusion, we can say that the Whole Village Project evolved very well in Alma Vii. Through the “Centre for the interpretation of traditional culture Alma Vii – Rehabilitation and functional conversion of the fortification” the MET Foundation tries to adapt the Whole Village Project, which proved successful in other Saxon villages, to the local particularities of Alma Vii.