Transilvania

Transylvania is a complex mixture of culture, nature, history and myth. As the region is circled by the Carpathian Mountains, there are a lot of National parks, mountain forests and hiking or climbing possibilities. There are also about 100 castles and fortresses, about 70 fortified churches, and many small, traditional villages with old houses.

The Saxons settled in Transylvania in the early 11th century. They started to build fortified cities while the people in the villages fortified their churches against migratory tribes. The city of Sighisoara is probably one of the most representative among the over 500 German fortifications, of which only a few of are now listed by UNESCO.

This perfectly intact 16th century gem with nine towers, cobbled streets, burgher houses and ornate churches rivals the historic streets of Old Prague or Vienna for in magic atmosphere. It is also the birthplace of Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad the Impaler), ruler of the province of Walachia from 1456 to 1462. It was he who inspired Bram Stoker’s fictional creation, Count Dracula.

Year after year, on the last weekend of July, Sighişoara is hosting the Medieval Arts and Crafts festival, when the air is filled with a medieval atmosphere more then ever. This event is the perfect occasion to immerse oneself in the lore and legends of medieval Transylvania, enjoying troubadour music, exhibitions, costume parades, handicraft displays, open-air concerts and medieval ceremonies.

Sibiu is another spectacular place and the first city in Romania to be awarded the title of European Capital of Culture. It was the largest and wealthiest of the seven walled citadels built in the 12th century by the Saxons. Sibiu’s Old Town retains the grandeur of its earlier days: The Large square, existing since 1366 when the third fortification belt of the city was finalized; the Small square, which slopes under the Bridge of Lies towards the Lower Town; The Evangelic Church, the oldest church in Sibiu, dominates The Huet square.
Sibiu is also the birthplace of Hermann Oberth, one of the pioneers of rocketry, and he is honored  with a statue in front of Sibiu city hall.
 
The International Theatre Festivals Sibiu (will take place between 6-14 June in 2014) has become the most important theatrical arts venue in Romania along 20 years of its existence. Only two other festivals in the world can boast with greater performances that the ones in Sibiu.

For one week in June, the Grand Square and the main boulevards of Sibiu become innovative settings for various artistic performances, which may occur spontaneously, in any location.

The first edition was held in 1994 and featured only actors from Romania, but by the year 2007, when Sibiu was nominated the European Capital of Culture, artists from 70 countries attended the festival.

The plays are performed in the most unusual locations, such as the Astra Museum of Traditional Civilization in Sibiu, built on the shores of a lake, among windmills, watermills and traditional Romanian houses, providing a spacious background.
Less than 20 km from Sibiu, in the authentic village of Sibiel, can be found The Museum of Painted Glass Icons. The museum is the largest of its kind in Europe and hosts over 700 icons, some of them more than 200 years old. They were made by master painters or monks and their wish was for the icons to be seen by as many people as possible in order to spread faith and appreciation for traditional values.

Another pearl of Transylvania, which reopened its gates after years of restoration, is the Alba Iulia Citadel. With its seven bastions, guarded by six beautiful gates, the Citadel is the most impressive and visible fortification, built by using the Vauban military architectural system – the largest of this kind in Southeastern Europe.

Every stone of the Fortress breathes in the rhythm of  two thousand years of history and offers the visitors the opportunity to travel through the vestiges of three fortifications of three different eras, built successively on the same location, starting from 106 AD until the year 1735.

The ceremonial exchange of  the guards in the Citadel, gather every day, but especially on Saturdays, when the ceremony is more spectacular, dozens of tourists, enthusiasts to see a unique show, meant to bring life within the hundreds of years old walls.

Few people know that Sinaia, located in a beautiful mountainous region, Prahova Valley, was named after Mount Sinai in Egypt. It is one of the oldest and most famous mountain resorts, often referred to as “The Pearl of the Carpathians”.
Peleș Castle, with its fairytale turrets and pointed towers, was built as a summer residence by Romania’s longest serving monarch, King Carol I, who died and was buried here in 1914, just months after the castle’s completion.
The construction of Peleș took 8 years and the king himself supervised all of the works. That is why the castle exhibits so many German Neo-Renaissance elements, both on the exterior and the interior, with sharp lines, irregular shapes and asymmetrical building wings.
After you have visited the castle and the area, you will understand why the royal couple, Carol I and Elisabeth fell in love with the place and its landscape.

Another famous castle – Bran, was built in the mid-1300s on the edge of the Bran Pass, considered to be the legendary home of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.

Stoker’s story is based on the life of Vlad Ţepeş/Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476). Known as one of the Turks’ most feared enemies, he started enforcing the law, by introducing death penalty and impaling all those he considered to be a threat to the state’s security. In reality he was afraid that somebody would try to replace him, such as his step brother, Vlad the Monk or his cousin Dan the Young. People say he was Count Dracula because he used to sign with his father’s name, Dracul “The Devil”, the word alone carrying magic and mystery.

Braşov is surrounded on three sides by mountains, being a perfect choice for a medieval settlement. Founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1211, the old city is one of the best preserved in all of Europe.

Lined with beautiful red-roofed merchant houses, The Council Square (Piaţa Sfatului), situated in the heart of the old medieval Braşov and known to the Saxon population as the Marktplatz, is one of the finest in the country. The Black Church represents another important landmark of the city, and towers over The Council Square as the largest Gothic church between Vienna and Istanbul.
In the very heart of Transylvania, several Saxon fortresses and churches of rare beauty, well worth your attention:

Prejmer, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the largest and best preserved fortified church in southeastern Europe. The church, built in a cross-like plan, was completed by the Teutonic knights in 1225, featuring a late gothic vaulting. The powerful 12 m high and 5 m thick surrounding walls provide each village family with a room designated for shelter. Endowed with bastions, drawbridges, and a secret, subterranean passage through which food supplies could be transported, the fortress, though it was besieged fifty times over the centuries, was captured only once, in 1611 by Gabriel Báthori, Prince of Transylvania.
The village of Biertan is found between the cities of Medias and Sighisoara. The fortified church at Biertan is placed high on a hill in the middle of the village. For over 300 years (between1572 and 1867), Biertan was home to the Saxon Evangelical bishops of Transylvania. Its construction is really impressive: high defensive walls, connected by towers and gates which made the church impossible to conquer during medieval times.
The church features late-gothic architecture with a heavy, remarkable wooden door having an ingenious locking mechanism, double exterior walls, an organ featuring some 1,290 pipes and a wooden altar, both built by artisans from Vienna.

Very close to Sibiu, you can find two other medieval gems, as beautiful as Biertan, namely Cisnadie and Cisnadioara.
The fortified church of Cisnadie was first mentioned in 1349 as a Romanesque basilica but later in the 15th and 16th century, it was fortified and transformed into a gothic style. Fortified towers were built over the two side entrances and the choir, a moat, and several defensive towers along the walls.

Only 6 km from Cisnadie, The fortified church of Cisnadioara can be found. Though it is located on a high hill in the middle of a forest, it is worth visiting because it is the oldest roman style monument in Transylvania. The interior still features medieval paintings.
Saschiz is 20 km away from Sighisoara and 100 km from Brasov. It is renowned not only as home to one of Transylvania’s finest fortified churches but also as a carpentry and wood-painting center. It was here that Saschiz blue pottery was born in 1702.

The Evangelical Church of Saschiz represents a combination of roman and gothic elements and is very impressive due to the way the fortifying elements have been adapted to the shape of a church. Built on a hill, far from the center of the village, the building became the main refuge for the inhabitants of Saschiz during invading raids.

One of the best known and visited medieval fortresses in Romania is Rasnov.  It is located on a rocky hill in the Carpathian Mountains, only 15 km away from Brasov. Its size is impressive, around 3500 m and is one of the best preserved fortifications in Transylvania.
First mentioned in an official document in 1331, the fortress was built by Teutonic Knights and later enlarged by the local Saxon population.
Rasnov differs from other Saxon fortresses, it resembles to a village with houses, a school, and a chapel, because it was designed as a place of refuge over extended periods of time.

Last but not least, there is also a local legend connected to this fortress. It is said that two Turkish prisoners were put to the task of digging a well through solid rock in the center of the fortress. They were promised their freedom once the well was finished. The work took 17 years to complete.

Recently, the old fortress has been restored to its former glory and today, you can visit the impressive remains, including a museum, where you can find a skeleton buried beneath a glass floor.

Built in 1310, Fagaras was enlarged between the 15th and 17th centuries and was considered one of the strongest fortifications in Transylvania. For many years the fortress functioned as a residence for various princes, each one being strongly influenced by the architecture of their time.

Today, the fortress hosts the Fagaras County Museum, displaying Roman artifacts, a collection of medieval weapons, and traditional folk crafts. The museum also hosts a beautiful collection of icons painted on glass.
Hunedoara Fortress, also known as Corvinesti Castle: many names, one destination – an unforgettable one. The fortress is considered to be one of the most important gothic architectural monuments in Europe, built in the 15th century by Ioan de Hunedoara. The international fame of the Corvin Castle is certain: concerts, festivals, and other cultural and artistic events were organized here, also scenes from film productions were filmed in the castle, such as: “Vlad the Impaler”, “Michael the Brave”, “Alexander Lapusneanu”, etc.

The list of  monuments can go on and on as it is very rich and long. We are aware that many would be worth presenting. The examples above served to give you a taste of the long-gone medieval times.

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