The second day of the trip was the day of the fortified churches of the medieval Saxons. Who were these Saxons and why did they build so many fortified churches here?
The Saxons were German colonists brought to the area by the Kings of Hungary. The were settled mostly in the border areas of Transylvania and arrived here in a few waves between the 12th and 14th centuries. As the region was in constant threat of invasions from ottomans, tatars and other invaders, they had to build fortifications. Some were citadels built in high places, outside the actual settlements (like in Saschiz or Rupea). But in most cases, the fortifications were made around the church. Situated in the middle of the villages, the church was the only powerful masonry building in the village. So it was more convenient to fortify these with surrounding walls and defensive towers, creating around them spacious, protected precincts, capable of containing the entire population of the village during times of attacks. This way, in times of attacks normal daily life could still continue, in modest conditions. Apart from living places, they had storage rooms, schools and everything they needed.
You can find more than 150 well preserved such fortified churches in the south-east of Transylvania. We only visited five of them…
Our first visit was to Prejmer, one of the biggest of the fortified churches. It’s construction began in the 13th century and it was the most eastern settlement of the saxons. Prejmer was repeatedly invaded throughout the Middle Ages by various groups, including the mongols, tatars, Hungarians, ottomans, but the castle was only captured once, by Gabriel Bathory in 1611. The entrance is through a vaulted gallery and protected by a barbican. As soon as you go through that, you feel like in the middle ages! Surrounding the church there are the three storied rows on houses. They are really small, but at least there was a place for every villager. Each door is numbered and corresponds to the house number from the village. You can walk around and check out many of them 🙂 You can also find schools and some other rooms with a few objects displayed. Most of the rooms are empty now. You can also take a tour of the surrounding walls through the watch corridor (it goes all around the walls!!) and check out the fortifications. I loved this one, since we got to visit lots of it and it still maintains the medieval atmosphere. It’s really easy to imagine what is was like to live there and defend the place, very crowded but at least safe. A really nice addition to our visit was the group of German tourists that started singing in the middle of their tour through the church. It all seemed very random to me, but since I don’t know any German, I have no idea what and why they were singing. But it was a great surprise 🙂
Next stop, the fortified church from Hărman. Similar to the church in Prejmer, this was build between the 13th and 15th centuries. In addition to the church, the fortifications retain part of the interior living and storage rooms along the walls, giving a feel to what it all looked like in the middle ages. There are a few rooms that still hold the furniture and objects from those times: a school room, a bedroom and a living room. The watch corridor doesn’t go all the way around as in Prejmer, but you can still walk on it. There is also a small chapel with some wall paintings, but it was being restored and we didn’t get to visit it. Overall, I didn’t find the church from Hărman as impressive as the one from Prejmer, but it’s worth the visit! The rooms that are still decorated and more interesting than the ones at Prejmer.
We also wanted to visit the fortress from Rupea, but unfortunately it was being renovated and we could only take a look at it from outside. Oh well, maybe next time.
Next, we headed to Viscri, the only one of the fortified churches in our plan that was not on the main road. We had to take a 10 kms detour from the main road. The road was not very good, but practicable.
But the Viscri village was so nice, it still maintains the old style, colored houses etc. The fortified church from here is also my favorite from the ones we visited 🙂 Here we could climb in the tower and enjoy the view of the fortifications from above and also of the village and its surroundings. Apart from the church with its old furniture, there are also a few rooms (many more than in the other sites) that were turned into museums! Loads of old items can be seen. My favorite was the ham room, even though they didn’t have yummy ham that we could taste. There was a room where the temperature was low and constant throughout the year and this was the room where everyone from the village used to store their ham. The room was locked and only once a week it was opened so the people could come and get their ham ration for next week.
Next on the plan was Saschiz. Here there are two objectives to visit, the fortified church from the town center and also the ruins of an older medieval fortress that is on the hill next to the town. We visited the church from the town first. Only a tower remains from the old fortifications around it and it can’t be visited. The church can be visited and you can even climb some stairs and see the nave from above.
Next we took a nice walk of around 30 minutes to see the old ruins. It was not hard to climb, but it was not hard to get why they abandoned this fortress for the one in the town center. Climbing there for cover in a hurry with some belongings, doesn’t look so convenient…
After returning from the fortress we had a really good meal at Hanul Cetății close to the church. Besides the great food, they also have a few traditional old items on display, just like a mini-ethnographic-museum 🙂
Entrance fees (in may 2013):
- Prejmer – 8 lei
- Harman – 5 lei
- Viscri – 4 lei
- Saschiz – 4 lei
- one euro is about 4.4 lei or so
Other useful info:
- Hanul Cetății the restaurant from Saschiz
- we stayed at Unglerus Pension Biertan – neat spacious rooms, friendly staff and good food
And also I have pinpointed the sites from the roadtrip on the map below and you can see their exact location and get directions to them.
trip date: May 2013