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The Fortified Churches of Transylvania

1. Biertan Fortified Church biertan_fortified_church

   On a hill, in the center of Biertan village, lays one of the most imposing and well-fortified peasant fortress of Transylvania.

   A true economic center of the region, stated in the XVIth century as the Transylvanian Saxon Lutheran Diocese, Biertan became a coveted target for many invaders. It required as imposing church surrounded by strong defensive walls.

   The church was built in the early XVIth century as a late Gothic church-hall. This has kept it`s appearance until today, and the items inside are of a priceless value, ​​whose story goes back to centuries ago. As soon as you enter the church your sight will be taken by the imposing altar with the 28 painted scenes, the sixteenth century pulpit, the pews – artisticly made of inlayed wood, the Anatolian rugs and the impressive door of the sacristy.

   The layout of the 3 enclosures surrounding the church, the 6 towers and 3 bastions reveal such interesting things related to the daily life of the inhabitants. Access to the city is made by a large wooden covered staircase that passes through the Guardians` Tower (today a small bookstore is arranged here). At the top end of the stairs, in front of the church, there is a large stone used long ago as a the „Rock of Shame”, where all the evildoers were standing during the service, so the whole community could recognize them.

 

2. Calnic Fortress calnic_citadel

   The fortress was built in the 13th century by the Saxon settlers as a nobleman`s residence. Under the rules at that time, it was surrounded by massive defensive walls and a moat. Two centuries later, the villagers have become the owners of the fortress and built a new line of walls, a chapel and three towers. Two of them can be visited.

   The Gate Tower is the most difficult to reach because tourists have to climb about 50 steps, but the view that awaits them up there is delightful. The Gate is also known as the the Belfry Tower, for here are four old bells, which come on Sundays and feast day.

   The Donjon Tower is the nobleman`s house. Once the nobleman sold the fortress to the villagers, here were built two levels and the tower has been transformed into a defense tower. Currently, the Donjon Tower houses a collection of medieval and folk art.

   The third tower, the Bacon Tower can be seen just from the outside. The medieval complex comprises also the Lutheran Church, included in the UNESCO Heritage list, together with the parish house.


3. Village of Darjiu darjiu_church

   The Unitarian Church of Dârjiu was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, along with five other fortified churches of Transylvania. It was built in the Romanesque style, the construction work starting in 1274 and ending in the late XVth century. Later it was modified in the Gothic style. To fend off the attackers, the villagers had to fortify the church, to make it higher. There were also added shooting holes and a defense corridor.

   The church was declared a UNESCO site thanks to the murals of the XVth century, but also because of  a unique custom. Inside the church`s fortified bastions, the locals store now, as in the time of the Tatar invasions, bacon, cereals and since recently plum-brandy too. In the bastion`s rooms, hanging from wooden pegs, there are lined up pieces of bacon, but other meat products as well. A family can have a nail or more and, in ancient times, the number of nails shown the social status of the owner.

 

4. Prejmer prejmer_church

   The fortress, built in the XVth and XVIth centuries around the church of Prejmer, whose beginnings are linked with the mastery of the Teutonic Knights in Barsa Land (1211-1225), is considered the strongest medieval peasant - fortress in Transylvania.

   In 1240 the church and it`s domains become property of  the Cistercian monks  order. Erected in the XIIIth century  in early Gothic forms, the church keeps the cruciform plan with an octagonal tower on the square, ogive vaults and side chapels that flank the main apse of a polygonal shape. The polilobe windows and the cornice on the consoles with hooks that decorate the exterior are specific elements of the Gothic Cistercian monastery that would attest the influence of the nearby Monastery of Carta. Between 1512 and 1515 the church undergoes changes, the west wing was extended and covered with a net style ornaments on the ceiling.

   Inside the church there is a valuable altar painted on the "Lord's Passion" theme, dating from the middle of the XVth century.

   The annular fortress with two enclosures, equipped with towers, a moat and a large barbacana entry, had been modified and extended in stages until the XVIIIth century. Inside, the walls are lined with refuge rooms located on several levels, designed to house the village's population in case of a siege.


5. Saschiz prejmer_fortified_church

   The Evangelic Church of Saschiz was built in the late XVth century (between 1493-1496) by the Saxon settlers in the village. The monument impresses with the expressive beauty of proportions  and through the rigorous adaptation of fortifying elements to a worship place. There is a fortified floor that is superimposed over the nave and the choir, and a watch road above the great arches. From the outside, the building appears as a bastion, with imposing arches built over the great stone and brick buttresses - all characteristic elements of the Gothic monuments. But the architectural beauty combines with the defensive destination of the fortified church, behind the arcades being still visible the throwing holes. Due to the significant distance between the center of the village and the hill on which the Saxon fortress was built, over the time, the fortified church became the main refuge for the villagers.

   The Tower of Saschiz is one of the most beautiful medieval Transylvanian construction and belongs, same as the fortified church, to the Saxon architecture of the XVth century. The 10 meters tall tower marks the center of Saschiz today. Its defensive function is betrayed by the throwing holes and the 12 skylights that give rhythm to the roof, covered with different colored enameled tiles. And the entire roof, the four turrets on the corners and the very sharp spire, with the bulb shaped base, reminds of  the elegant tower which served as a model: The Clock Tower of Sighisoara.


6. Valea Viilor valea_viilor_church

   The Valea Viilor (Vine Valley) fortified church ensemble is characteristic for this type of fortification of an existing church, having the most complex defensive arrangements, the best organized in the villages of Transylvania Saxon colonization and being remarkably picturesque. The Gothic church, mentioned in documents in 1414 was built on the site of a Romanesque church. It was a church hall with a tower on the west, an elongated choir and a polygonal apse. The church had a wooden ceiling, surrounded by an oval precinct.

   In the late XVth and early XVIth century the church was fortified: above the nave was raised a level of defense on the arches and buttresses, the access ways through south and north were raised and protected with draw gates, the west access way was closed, the west tower was heighten with levels of the defense and security on arches and buttresses. The most complex defensive structures were built above the choir and the apse: their walls were buried to support the massive three-storey defense tower and an open level on arches and buttresses. The pyramidal roof is intreupt by the fifth guard level. The nave ceiling was replaced with a network vault, and in the chorus was dug a well. The oval precinct was built and endowed with a guards corridor on arcades and shooting holes, on the east, south and north towers were built, while on the west there was built a gate tower.

   The settlement, attested in 1263, is located in a renowned wine area (hence the name of the village). It preserves the historical structure: the triangular market with the fortified church in the center and three alleys in the corners. The same for the housing facades decoration, here was preserved the vine leaf, part of the emblem seat of Medias.

   In 1738, the church suffers some damage due to an earthquake, the repairs being finished in 1742. Other renovations are being done in 1781 and 1826. The church is surrounded by a single enclosure wall, from which four bastions were kept.

   The church of Valea Viilor is part of UNESCO since 1999, along with six more fortified churches of Transylvania region: Biertan (Sibiu County), Calnic (Alba County), Darjiu (Harghita County), Prejmer (Brasov County), Saschiz (Mures County) and Viscri (Brasov County).


7. Viscri viscri_fortified_church

   The Viscri village has long been in the mists of oblivion, but now reveals a rustic atmosphere, pure and untouched by the modern times we live. Visiting the village of Viscri is like a return in time to see the habits and the homes, the traditions and the crafts of yesteryear.

   In this picturesque village there is one of the architectural treasures of Transylvania, Viscri Citadel, that actually is the oldest fortified church of Transylvania. Viscri fort's history is rooted in the XIIth century, when the church was built. In the XIIIth century the church was surrounded with thick walls and imposing bastions.

   The fortified church is located 7 kilometers from Brasov, in Bunesti comune, Viscri village. The church is simple, with a single nave and a semicircular apse on the east side, built in the Romanesque style. This church was destroyed during the Tartar invasion of 1241-1242, then replaced by another building until 1498, which is preserved to this day.

   The old church and the precinct were consolidated in the XVIth century. The most interesting element of the defense fortification is probably the covered watch road, because in case of attack it could link the towers and the church. The materials used for the construction of the fortress are partially plastered stone mixed with bricks, wood and ceramic roof tiles.

   The settlement appears relatively late in documents, due to the remote position. Between 1970 - 1971 the citadel was restored, the corridor of the eastern bastion was rebuilt, and after 1990 Viscri was listed as UNESCO World Heritage site.