Walled Fortified Churches of Transylvania

Walled Church Fortress of Cincu  (click to enlarge)

During the Orthodox Easter weekend of 11-13 April 2015, I took a three day tour through Romania Transylvania to visit a selection of the walled fortified churches Transylvania is famous for. These churches are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We were extremely lucky with the weather as it was sunny throughout and with the traffic. As it was the Easter weekend there was hardly any cars on the road. On the other hand we learned that on Easter weekend a number of historic sites are simply closed. As it was early spring, it may have been a bit too early still to see the country side in a green glow with blossoming trees which definitely makes for more colorful photos. These Fortified Churches date from the 13th to 16th century and were built by the Saxon settlers of the region. The intent was to provide protection against invaders of many origins that would cross these lands, Mongols, Tatars, Hungarians, Ottoman Turks, Cossacks, and Moldavians.


In all it was a three day trip. Starting out from Bucharest on a Friday afternoon we drove up to Brasov to spend the night. On Saturday morning we visited Brasov and then around lunch time set off tovisit a number of sites on our way to Sighisoara. Late afternoon and the nextmorning we visited Sighisoara after which we drove to Sibiu visiting more churches along the way. When we arrived in Sibiu we had dinner in town and didnot spend extra time visiting the city as we had been there before. The last day we left Sibiu for Bucharest by traveling on the road “inside” Transylvania to visit a few more far off locations.


UNESCO World Heritage List

There are seven fortified churches on the heritage list and I managed to visit four.

Prejmer


Inside Prejmer, tha family rooms  (click to enlarge)The first Fortified Church I visited was Prejmer near Brasov. It’s only a 15 min drive from the city center and should definitely not be overlooked. I found it one of the better preserved and quite impressive sites and as it was the first one I visited I used it as a benchmark for all the others I would see later. Prejmer gives a very good idea what the idea behind the fortifications was. In times of external threat the villagers could seek refuge within the high protective walls and each family was assigned a room which was built in tothe fortification wall. In normal times the village families would use their rooms for storage.

Prejmer  (click to enlarge)The Teutonic Knights constructed the fortress Tartlau (Prejmer) in 1212–1213. The town near the castle begun development by 1225, and was the eastern-most settlement of the Transylvanian Saxons.

Biertan


Biertan from afar  (click to enlarge)The Biertan fortified church was the see of the Lutheran Evangelical Bishop in Transylvania between 1572 and 1867. It’s one of the most important locations for the Transylvanian Saxons who organize yearly a reunion in the village. The Church was constructed and further developed between 1468 and the 16th century. The ensemble is an impressive sight that can be seen from afar.

THE lock (click to enlarge)The old sacristy of the church where the sacred vessels and vestments were kept has an impressive lock that allows the door to look in to 19 different points. It’s so remarkable that t won first prize at the Pair World Expo of 1900.

Viscri


Viscri  (click to enlarge)From Wikipedia, we learn that the origins of the fortified church date from 1100 when the Székelys built a small church with a single hall and semicircular apse. Around 1185 the church was taken over by Saxon colonists, and the Székelys were forced to settle further north. In the 14th century the eastern part of the church was rebuilt and in 1525, the first fortifications with towers were added. In the 18th century the church was surrounded by a second defense wall. After 1743 a covered corridor for the storage of corn was built. A century later, two chambers in the defense corridor of the bastion were turned into school rooms.

The altar  (click to enlarge)The classic 19th-century altar has as centerpiece "the Blessing of the Children" by the painter J. Paukratz from Rupea.

Valea Viilor


Valea Viilor  (click to enlarge)When we visited the site was closed. It appears a rather small ensemble.


Other Sites

Harman


Harman  (click to enlarge)Situated between Brasov and Prejmer, Harman church is well worth the stopover. It was built in Roman style in the early 1500’s with 5m thick and 1m high walls. The Roman style church was built by Cistercian monks between 1280 and 1290 and later rebuilt in gothic style. The site used to be surrounded by a moat.

Rupea


Rupea Fort  (click to enlarge)The fort at Rupea is an impressive sight from afar. It sits high on a butt on historic crossroads between Transylvania, Walachia and Moldova. It is first referred to in 1324 as “Kuholm Castrum”.A lot of the fort has recently been “rebuilt” which lends it more of a game park aspect than a feel of a historic site. The views over the towns and the valley are impressive.

Railroad

Defunct Transylvanian railroad  (click to enlarge)When driving from Sibiu to Hosman and Agnita, one can notice abandoned railroad tracks in parallel to the road. Surprisingly it was in use till 2004 as a narrow-gauge track and was part of a track that lead all the way to Sighisoara but the section from Agnita to Sighisoara was closed in 1963. It would be a great touristic asset to be able to discover the region via a narrow-gauge train that winds itself though all the historic sites and beautiful landscapes of Transylvania.

Farm houses


Farm Houses  (click to enlarge)Not only the fortified churches are an attraction in the region, yet, the many villages have managed to retain a lot of their original character and many have streets lined with well kept farm houses each highlighted in a different bright color.

CITIES

Brasov


Piata Sfantului  (click to enlarge)Brasov is an easy daytrip away from Bucharest and is well worth a visit due to its many historic sites. It was originally known as Kronstadt in German. The old town retains much of its original medieval charm and the centerpiece to this is the town square, Piata Sfatului, with its Old Town Hall right in the middle, dating back to the 13th century. It was where the town councilors would meet and it was topped with a watchtower.

Brasov Black Church  (click to enlarge)The Black Church, named after the damage caused by the great fire of 1689, is a must to visit. It is the largest gothic church in Romania with the largest church bell in the country, weighing in at seven ton. It has a huge organ, among the largest in Eastern Europe, with 4000 pipes dating to 1839. Remarkable inside is also the fact that it is decorated with Anatolian carpets that were offered by tradesman and it has richly decorated pews.

Catherine gate to Kronstadt  (click to enlarge)As a mediaeval city, Brasov was surrounded by defense fortifications built by the Saxons. The walls were 12m high, 2m thick and the total length was about 3km. It was strengthened with 7 bastions, several of which survived till today and it had a number of gates. One of these is the fairytale like Catherine’s Gate, the only one surviving and it used to be the main entrance in to Kronstadt.

Sighisoara


Hill country  (click to enlarge)Sighisoara is another UNESCO World Heritage site not to be missed. Its German name was Schassburg. Its historic center is the 12th century citadel. It even boasts a house near the clock tower where Vlad Tepes lived from 1431 to 1435.

Hill country  (click to enlarge)It has cobble stoned streets lined with colorful “burgher” houses.



Last Updated: 14-08-2015



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