Fortified Churches of Transylvania
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The German Villages
he Transylvanian Germans, called "Sasi", came to Romania in the 12th Century as colonists from the northern part of Germany (Saxony). They settled in the central part of Transylvania, lured by its beauty and economic potential. Here they built strong cities and developed powerful guilds, bringing along the spirit and development of the West. One can say that the Germans were the ones who heavily determined the subsequent economical and cultural evolution of the region.
nce in Transylvania, you will find reminders of the first Germans that came here eight centuries ago. If you find yourself tempted to stay a little longer, don't worry. You're not the only one who finds these places delightful. As soon as you enter the old city square, with its light-colored houses and its majestic yet sheltering church, you will forget the rushing city life that goes on behind the peaceful walls.
he Sasi were Lutherans and the church was the spiritual and social heart of the community. When they first arrived on this land the times were very hard. This part of Europe was constantly threatened by tribes of wandering warriors coming form the East. The most feared of all were the Tatars, descendants of Genghis Khan's Mongols. Their invasions always ended up in arson and savage slaughter, and once they even reached as far West as Vienna. Confronted with this constant danger, the Transylvanian Germans developed their own way of building houses and towns. The towns were protected by strong walls, the churches were defense dungeons and even the houses, with their tall gates and walls, resembled fortresses.
nfortunately, most of the Sasi decided to leave their homes for a better life in Germany after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Now the deserted villages are a strange and impressing view. Too many to be successfully preserved, some will most likely fall apart. Whatever their faith, the German villages will always share their treasure with the eager traveler. The pictures on the right are just a few of the most beautiful.
he biggest church-fortress, it once housed the Lutheran Bishop of Transylvania. Now as you look at the majestic figure of the church in the peaceful landscape, it is hard to imagine the tormented times of the middle ages. Instead, the double exterior walls of the fortress and the heavy doors bring to life stories of medieval knights on white horses. Beside its stature and lofty gothic architecture, the church of Biertan has other attractions that you shouldn't miss: it shelters a magnificent gothic altar from the 17th century and the door to the treasury, featuring a unique piece of metalwork - 17 locks. A nice hostel, built by the local German community in the old fortress wall, offers quality accommodations. Biertan can be easily accessed from either Sighisoara, or Medias
Cisnadie and Cisnadioara
isnadie features one the biggest German churches, while up on the hill, at Cisnadioara, in a superb landscape, lies one of the oldest buildings in the country, the local church built in the 12th Century in the Romanic style. Cisnadie and Cisnadioara are easily reached from Sibiu.
Merghindeal and Dealu' Frumos
hese two neighboring villages have churches with slightly different architectural shapes. They each have two towers which makes them especially appealing. While you are there, ask the church keeper to let you climb up the tower. This can be a real adventure, but once on top, you will find an 18th iron clock still working, and a magnificent view. You can get to these villages from Sighisoara or Medias.
his small village near the town of Fagaras features a special attraction: the workshop of a local glass-icon painter by the name of Nicolae Suciu. He is one the last such crafters alive, so he decided to share his skill, teaching children this ancient art. If you pay him a visit, he might even teach you.
ar South, at the border of the German settlement region, lies Prejmer. This is a real fortress, with double walls, dungeons and all. Inside the fortifications there is again a church, but the interesting thing here is the honeycomb like inner wall. Every family had one small room where they could find shelter in case their village was attacked. In peaceful times they used it as a storage room for food. Now only one family lives here and takes care of the citadel. Last year a complete restoration of Prejmer started with the help of the village community. Prejmer is close to Brasov.