In the “heart” of Romania, there are medieval citadels of a special beauty, with a typical Saxon architecture, testimonies both for the presence of the Saxons on the territory of Romania, as well as for the presence of the Teutonic Knights. If you are among the tourists who invariably associate Transylvania with Bran Castle or with the historical center of Sibiu, you must know that in this historical region of Romania there are many more medieval fortresses and other interesting monuments that deserve your attention.
The fortified churches of Transylvania attract many foreign tourists, each year, eager to study from close up the edifices with a double purpose: religious and military. Most of these buildings have been restored and are open to access for a modest entrance fee or even for free. Some of them were included in the UNESCO World Heritage. Therefore, if you want to find out more about Transylvania’s medieval history, or if you need some starting points for a medieval tour in Transylvania, here are some of the most important medieval sites that you should visit:
Probably, one of the most famous medieval fortresses in Transylvania is Biertan. It’s located in the north of Sibiu County, at an equal distance from the cities of Medias and Sighisoara. Biertan has been the seat of the Evangelical Episcopal for more than 300 years, and the construction of the fortress is truly impressive, surrounded by tall walls and defense towers.
You can enter the fortified church and admire the altar, the pipe organ or the sacristy. You can also study carefully the construction of several towers such as the Clock Tower, the Bell Tower, the Catholic Tower or the Gate Tower.
Alba Carolina Citadel
The Vauban fortress in Alba Iulia was built between 1715 and 1738, in the context of the establishment of the Habsburg rule in Transylvania. That is why the Habsburg authorities, who initiated and supported this project, saw the new fortification as one with an important role both in the defense system against the Turks and in the process of consolidating their power in the occupied territories. The city of Alba Iulia was to become the main fortification of Transylvania, especially because it was built according to the latest methods of fortification of the times, inspired by the systems designed by the French military architect, Marshal Vauban.
From the point of view of the location, the fortress was raised over two other ancient fortifications, namely the Roman castles of the Legion XIII Gemina and the medieval fortress Balgrad. Also, in order to free the land that was to be used, for the construction, it was decided to demolish the old town, which had been raised on the ruins of the ancient Apulum, and moved to the eastern part of the fortress where it formed the present lower city.
Fagaras Fortress has a history of more than 600 years and it was the place of the balls organized by local noblemen, a defense fortress, but also a prison. Now it’s a museum and it’s worth visiting.
The fortress has 66 rooms spread over five levels. Tourists can admire the architecture of the city, but they can also see several objects dating from medieval times and the torture chambers.
The fortress became famous when it was taken over by Mihai the Brave (Mihai Viteazul). The ruler donated it to his wife, Mrs. Stanca, who lived for a year in Fagaras. This is how the castle became the most sought after location for the Transylvanian balls. It was the most glorious period for the edifice. Four balls were held in Fagaras each year. All Transylvanian nobility, more than 1,000 people attended the parties. Besides the famous balls throughout Transylvania, Mrs. Stanca organized in the fortress musical evenings for the wives of the nobles in the area. After the death of Mihai Viteazul, the fortress became a military fortress, and Lady Stanca was to become a prisoner between its walls.
Rasnov Fortress is one of the best-preserved peasant fortresses in Transylvania. The first mention of the Rasnov Fortress dates back to 1335 on the occasion of a Tatar invasion. Within the Rasnov Fortress, tourists can visit the feudal art museum where arms, weapons, galleries, period furniture, and specific clothing items are exhibited, but also some more unusual objects for our time but common in the 17th and 18th centuries, such as: a torture mask and a yoke for the transport of prisoners.
The lack of water led to the limitation of the possibility of resistance over a long time. That is why in 1625 the decision was made to dig a well in the rock on which the fortress was built. The fountain in the fortress, 146 meters deep, was dug between 1623-1640 when a small church was also built nearby.
The town of Sighisoara
Sighisoara is located approximately in the center of Romania in the south of Mures County, being linked to Europe through the European road E60. It is a gorgeous town that houses a history for thousands of years, a city where many nationalities coexist in harmony. It’s a real town-museum. Due to its remarkable architecture, dominant position and geographical ambiance, the city has been surnamed since the late 19th Century “Pearl of Transylvania”. The city and fortress were founded in the Middle Ages.
The Clock Tower is the main point of interest of the town and it’s considered to be its symbol. It was built to defend the main gate of the fortress. It has been named so because of the clock with figures, unique in Romania, located on the fourth floor. The tower features five levels, which together with the balcony and the pyramidal roof have a height of 64 m.
Sibiu was, since its founding by Saxons in the 12th century, constituted as a true medieval fortress. In the course of three centuries, the fortress of Sibiu was fortified with strong defense walls and towers. The brick walls and the stone towers were seen from a long distance, thus causing the invaders to fear. They called Sibiu “The Red City”.
One of the most beautiful promenades in the old center of Sibiu is Cetatii Street. This street retains its original 16th-century appearance with fortification walls, towers, and bastions. On the southern side of the fortress, you can admire two defense walls and three towers: the Tower of the Potters, the Carpenters Tower, the Gunsmiths Tower, and the former Thick Tower.
The Haller and Cisnadiei bastions are immediately in the continuation of the fortification walls. On the north side of Sibiu, there is the Stairs Passage, a suite of well-preserved fortifications, built in the 13th century. This passage connects the Upper Town to the Lower Town. Above the fortification walls, next to the evangelical church you can admire the panorama of the Lower City.
These are just a few of the landmarks of Transylvania’s rich medieval heritage, but during a medieval Transylvania tour, you will discover other tourist attractions, fortresses, castles and historical monuments waiting to share their secrets.