Romanian Travel GuideSighisoara

Included Highlights

· Citadel (12th c.)
· Clock Tower / Museum (14th c.)
· Gothic Monastery Church (15th c.)
· Covered wooden stairway (17th c.)

· Church on the Hill (14th c.)
· Venetian House (16th c.)
· Deer House (17th c.)
· Petöfy Sándor museum at Albesti

Geographical, Historical and Cultural Background

Sighisoara is no doubt the best preserved fortified town in Transylvania, with a beautiful and authentic medieval architecture.
   Counting 36,486 inhabitants (1995), Sighisoara lies in the valley of the Tarnava Mare river. The medieval stronghold was built on top of a hill, surrounded by forests, and known as the "Hill of the Fortress". The superb natural background against which Sighisoara was set made people call it "a gem of Transylvania" or "a pearl of the Tarnava river".

Sighisoara has always fascinated its visitors by its picturesque by-streets, houses, bastions, towers, churches; besides, it is the birthplace of a both historical and legendary hero Dracula or Vlad the Impaler. Narrow lanes winding towards the fortress, church towers, donjons, covered stairs, arched and tunnel fronted houses make up a rich and unique out-door medieval museum.
   Archaeological findings show that the territory of the present town was inhabited by Scytians as early as the 6th century b.C. The Dacian fortress that was raised in the 3rd century b.C. was called Sandava. Roman castri (whose ruins have been preserved to the day), built after 106 A.D. (when the process of colonization of the Dacians by the Romans actually started), were meant to defend the roads coming from Alba Iulia and going towards Odorhei and the Oituz strait.
   In the 10th century A.D., the area of Sighisoara was part of the voievodate Terra Blachorum ruled by prince Gelu.
   Gelu was defeated by the Hungarians, a migratory people coming from remote Asia. Led by Tuhutum, the Hungarians conquered his country. His residence town is, presumably, a still existing village, resembling the prince’s name, i.e. Gilau (near Cluj).

Towards the end of the 10th century A.D., the Hungarians, settled down in the Pannonian plain and reached Transylvania too. Starting from the 12th century, the Hungarians would populate Transylvania with German colonists from Flanders, Saxony, the Rhine and the Moselle rivers; the role of the so-called "Saxons" was to strengthen the borders of the Hungarian Kingdom. In return, they were stimulated by privileges granted to them directly by Hungarian kings. The Saxon new-comers, i.e. craftsmen, farmers, tradesmen would set up their own settlements among, which Sighisoara soon became a flourishing medieval town.
   The citadel was first attested in a written document in 1280, under the name of Castrum Sex (Fort Six). The name must have existed long before, as the Saxons built their walled town on the ruins of a former Roman fortress whose shape was an irregular hexagon. In 1298, the town was mentioned as Schespurch, while in 1367 it was called Civitas de Seguswar.
   In the 14th century, the lower platform of the citadel was occupied by many craftsmen, organised in guilds, which were similar to those in Western Europe; the town saw an unprecedented economic growth. In 1937, Schässburg (Sighisoara’s name in German) was the second important town in Transylvania (after Sibiu) [Starting from the main seven citadels built by the Saxons, Transylvania is also known as "Siebenbürgen".] The name of Sighisoara was first mentioned in a written document issued by Vlad Dracul, Vlad the Impaler’s father, in 1431.
   In the 14th-15th centuries, the economic growth recorded by Sighisoara’s industrious craftsmen and tradesmen ensured financial means for the construction of a strong defence system provided with 14 towers and several bastions, with gunnery directed to all four cardinal points. Each bastion was built, maintained and defended by a craft guild. Their archaic and picturesque names i.e. Tinners, Tanners, Butchers, Rope Makers, Tailors, Shoemakers, Blacksmiths etc. borne also by the towers they attended to, bring out the wide variety of trades typical of the Middle Ages. A glance at the social structure of the town in 1488 complements the picture Sighisoara counted 600 inhabitants, most of whom were craftsmen and tradesmen, 3 clerks, two mill-owners, 9 poor men and 4 shepherds.
   Crucial moments and history-makers are related to Sighisoara’s past. Vlad Dracul, Vlad the Impaler’s father and Wallachia’s prince between 1435-1446 lived in Sighisoara as a guard commander of the mountain passes into Wallachia before acceding to its throne between 1431-1435. His presence in Sighisoara is worth being mentioned as he coined money circulated both in Transylvania and Wallachia.
   In 1514, Sighisoara’s mayor, who was a dictator, was killed during the peasants’ revolt led by Gheorghe Doja against Hungarian landlords and rulers.
   In 1600, Sighisoara would welcome Michael the Brave, he who accomplished for the first time the short-lived union of the three speaking Romanian provinces, i.e. Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania.
Devastated by George Basta’s soldiers in 1601 [George Basta, general of the Austrian emperor, Rudolf the 2nd (1550-1607). Commander-in-chief of the Austrian troops in Transylvania (1600-1605), he first helped Michael le Brave, then betrayed him, and eventually ordered him to be killed at Turda], besieged by Gabriel Bathory’s troops in 1611 [Gabriel Bathory, prince of Transylvania between 1608-1612, tried to conquer Wallachia in 1611. He was unscrupulous, violent and debauched. Outraged by his behaviour, two Hungarian landowners eventually murdered him. mentioned in a 1566 document would have teachers for "all subjects and sciences"], set fire to and raged in by plague and leprosy several times, Sighisoara was always rebuilt due to the love, devotion and abilities of its hard-working craftsmen and tradesmen.
   Starting from the 16th century, Sighisoara has singled out as an important centre of culture and education. The first school, whose teaching language was Latin, was called Schola maioris (Higher School) and has been mentioned in 1522. The town school
   In 1619, a Schola Seminarium Republicae functioned in Sighisoara; its house has been preserved to the day and was built by Martin Eisemburger, the town’s mayor at the time.
   Various publications, most of which were in German, have been published in Sighisoara since the 19th century, for instance Schässburger Anzeiger (Sighisoara’s Bulletin). From the beginning of the 20th century are recorded journals in the Romanian language like the Tarnava’s Voice or the Awakening of the Tarnava.
   In Sighisoara lived and conducted his activity the Saxon chronicler Georg Krauss, who wrote a solid work on the three Romanian-speaking countries during the Middle Ages.
Between 1784-1785, Sighisoara was confronted with the peasant revolt led by Horea, Closca and Crisan.
   The 1848 Revolution went on in the proximity of the town. In 1849, the tsarist empire defeated the Magyar revolutionary troups led by general Bem. By that time lost their lives, among other salient people, the great Magyar poet Petöfi Sandor and the Saxon writer Anton Kury.
During Romania’s War for Independence (1877-1878), in Sighisoara was organized a committee whose role was to assist the Romanian armed forces.
   On the 5th November 1918, at Sighisoara were set up a Romanian Council and a National Guard which contributed to the accomplishment of the Union between Romania and Transylvania (given out on December 1, 1918). The idea of "all the Romanians’ union into a common homeland" was upheld by both the Romanian and the German written press in Sighisoara.
   After 1940, at Sighisoara was set up a committee of the National Revolutionary Union of the Romanians in Northern Transylvania which took a stand against the Horthyst occupation.
   Much of the tourist charm and worth of Sighisoara today is due to its past history which can be "read" in its well-preserved historic monuments.
Since 1992, every summer, Sighisoara becomes a meeting place for youth coming from Romania and from all over the world; they are trying to recreate and revive medieval ways of life by way of the festival of Medieval Art. Then, for a week-long, Sighisoara’s old streets and places become lively with theatrical plays, concerts, films dancing, painting, games, conferences, contests and carnivals.

Historic Monuments and Cultural-Tourist Attractions

The most famous bastion of Sighisoara, which has actually become a landmark of the town, is the Clock Tower, also known under the name of the Council Tower, because it functioned as such between the 14th-16th centuries. The Clock Tower is 64 m high, of which 39.5 m are represented by the spire roof; it has four turrets and a wood covered wall walk for watching from the top floor.
   Built in the 14th century, with 2 m thick walls, the tower was meant to defend the main gate of the citadel, the ammunition dump, the record office and the treasurery of the town. The four turrets symbolized the judicial autonomy of the Town Council who could apply, if necessary, the death penalty. In 1648, a clock was set up at the top of the tower. Its electronical mechanism is unique in Romania and has been brought from Switzerland in 1906. It gets in motion wood-made figurines which symbolize the days of the week. For instance, a soldier stands for Tuesday, the day of Mars, and Venus stands for Friday. At midnight a figurine would leave its slot and show up in order to herald the next day.
   Other figurines of the clock mechanism, carved in lime-tree and vividly coloured, are related to the lapse of time; they stand for various mythological or symbolical characters, i.e. the Goddess of Peace with the olive branch, the Goddess of Justice with the scales, the Goddes of war with the sword, two angels symbolizing the Day and the Night etc.
   The spire of the tower ends in a small golden sphere. At the top, there is a meteorological cock, which, turned around by air currents, forecasts the weather.
   During the Middle Ages, the Clock Tower would be defended by 29 regular soldiers.
   Starting from 1899, the Clock Tower has housed the Museum of History, which mirrors the evolution of crafts in Transylvania. The Museum holds also a medieval pharmacy from 1670, interesting artifacts of ethnography, a section of fine arts and a collection of clocks.
   In 1780, near the Clock Tower was built a covered walk called the Passage of the Old Ladies, which would shield the elderly against rain or snow falls.
   The Citadel was built in the 12th century; it was strengthened and extended in the 15th century. Today it counts 164 houses and 13 public buildings.
   The solid and variously coloured houses line up along narrow lanes; around them stands a 1 km long defence wall initially provided with 14 towers, of which only nine have been preserved to the day. The most impressive are the hexagonal Shoemakers’ Tower, the Tailors’ Tower and the Tinsmiths’ Tower.
   The towers of the Citadel have two to four levels and are provided with firing windows for cannons, shells and archebuses. They used to shelter powder magazines, ammunition and food supplies; besides, during sieges, the peace-loving craftsmen and tradesmen of the Citadel would turn into fierce soldiers who would fight bravely in order to defend their home town. Children and women would fight by their side too; they used to pour down hot water or tar over their assailants and throw stones down at them.
   The Saxon craftsmen or tradesmen in the town had to contribute to the construction of fortifications by work days and materials; the Romanian serfs in the area, the so-called "maiers", would be used for the hardest works; they would draw out and carry stone, they would build up the brick walls, the pavement and the houses of the medieval Citadel.
   Near the Clock Tower, there is the Monastery Church built in the Gothic style. First attested in a document in 1298, the Monastery Church epitomizes all the changes undergone by the town along time. It formerly belonged to the Dominican monks who lived in a monastery placed north to the church. The monastery was demolished in 1888, and its place was taken by the present town hall.
   Built in the late Gothic style typical of the hall-churches with 2 naves and 2 rows of pillars, the church holds valuable artistic assets. One of them is the bronze front dating back to 1440. It has been made by a bell caster, Jakobus by name, whose work exemplifies the artists’ craftsmanship in the 15th century’s Transylvania. Among other pieces of art can be mentioned a stone-carved frame adorned in the Transylvanian Renaissance style (1570); a baroque pulpit (1680); a baroque organ; 39 oriental carpets of the 16th-17th centuries.
   The altar was made by the Slovak sculptor Johannes West in 1681. The altarpiece belongs to Jeremias Stranovius, a master from Sibiu, originated also in Slovakia. It is interesting to note that in his Last Supper, the artist drew his inspiration from people alive in his day, i.e. the chief priest, the councillors of the town.
The church has acquired its present-day aspect in 1928-1929.
   Near the church, there is Vlad Dracul’s House, where Vlad the Impaler’s father, Vlad Dracul lived before he acceded to Wallachia’s throne. Benefitting from the friendship Hungary’s king, Sigismund I of Luxembourg, Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Devil) spent his youth at his court. He distinguished himself as a brave knight, punished some citadels rebelled against royal authority, and was bestowed the Order of the Dragon for his prowess against the Turks. Today his house hosts Dracula’s restaurant on the ground-floor and a Museum of Weapons on the first floor. Beside various arms, one can see also an oil portrait of Michael Freiherr von Melas (1731-1806). Born in Sighisoara, he became a general of the Austrian mounted troops and fought against Napoleon Bonaparte’s army at Marenga (June 14, 1880).
   As an extension of the School Street, in-between the Fortress Square and the upper platform of the Church on the Hill, one can find another peculiarity of medieval architecture, namely the Covered Wooden Stairway. It was built in the 17th century and was meant to facilitate and protect the school-children’s and the believers’ climb to school and respectively to church. Originally the stairs had 300 steps, but after 1849, their number was reduced to 175 only.
   The Church on the Hill is Sighisoara’s gem of architecture. A representative edifice for the Gothic style in Transylvania, it is placed on the School Hill (429 m high), and dominates the town. The fortified church has been first mentioned in a document in 1345. Superposed on a former Roman basilica, its construction lasted almost 200 years, and was finished in 1525. The former Catholic church was dedicated to St Nicholas. After the 1547 Reform, it became the main church of the Saxon inhabitants of Sighisoara, who had shifted from Roman Catholicism to Lutheranism.
   The church holds valuable paintings made between 1483-1488 and furniture in the Renaissance art style. The Gothic altarpiece dedicated to St Martin dates from 1520, and was painted by Johann Stoss, the son of the reputed sculptor Veit Stoss from Nürnberg. Four statuettes carved in stone and placed beneath the altarpiece make up the well-known composition of the Maggi’s Offerings.
   In the anterooms of the side naves are to be found three coats of arms carved in wood which belong to Mathias Corvin and his wife, Beatrix, to the Transylvanian prince Stephen Bathory of Nyir (1479-1493) and to the king of Poland and Hungary, Wladislav the 3rd.
   The only Roman crypt known in Transylvania is to be seen at the Church on the Hill, beneath the chancel, and dates back to the 13th century. The pews of the chancel stand for early Renaissance art styles in Transylvania. They were made by a master born in Sighisoara, Johannes Reymuth, the most famous furniture carver during the Middle Ages in Transylvania.
   The organ dates from 1858, and was made by master Karl Schneider.
   In the Fortress Square, on the same side as Vlad Dracul’s House, there is the Deer House, whose name was drawn from the stag skull set on one of the corners if its façade. Built in the Transylvanian Renaissance style of the 17th century, it is indicative of the way a nobleman’s mansion looked like during the Middle Ages.
   A building formerly used by the local authorities has gathered together the assets of the Local Library over 30,000 works, among which old and rare books like a collection of folklore in the Romanian language printed in 1768.
   Life was not easy to live in the Upper Town around the Fortress mainly because of the lack of water sources and supplies. By comparison, the living conditions in the Lower Town (which has started to grow since the end of the 15th century), especially in times of peace, were much better. The Lower Town was not encompassed by walls, though in times of peace, all the streets leading to the market place would be bordered at one end by the river Saes, and at the other end, by gates. Climbing down to the Lower Town, where the inhabitants of the Citadel used to live in times of peace, what one can see today are 17th century houses. Each house has its own history, as is the case of the one which belonged to Johann Schuller von Rosenthal, a mayor of the town, who was beheaded because of his dishonesty.
   Today the Lower Town, less picturesque than the Citadel, centers around Hermann Oberth Square (named after a pioneer of rocketry) and around 1 December Street.
   Near the footbridge over the Tarnava Mare river, one can see the Romanian Orthodox Cathedral, built in Byzantine style in 1937.
In the eastern part of the town, in the middle of the graveyard, there is an obelisk, the Monument of the Romanian Soldiers, raised to the memory of those who died during WWII.
   Among other worth-seeing architectonic monuments in Sighisoara are to be mentioned the Venetian House, placed in the Museum Square, which dates from the 16th century and has been restored in the Venetian Gothic style; N. D. Cocea’s House, with a memorial plaque reminding one that it belonged to N. D. Cocea [* N. D. Cocea (1880-1949) a Romanian writer and a democratic journalist and editor.] between 1927-1945.
   The Church of the Former Leper Hospital [In the 16-17th centuries, at Sighisoara, the leprosy killed thousands of people. This is why leper hospitals, where the diseased were looked after, were set up.] (Stefan cel Mare St.) is a small Gothic edifice with an outer pulpit where from the Gospel was preached to the sick. The lepers were not allowed to enter the church, but were none the less comforted in this way.


In the Cris village, one can find a beautiful castle typical of the Renaissance style in Transylvania, built between the 16-17th centuries. The building has a rectangular shape; the south-western side has a belle vue which looks out on an inner yard. Statues with soldiers have been mounted on the outer façade of the last floor.
   In the Albesti village stands an obelisk to the memory of the Magyar revolutionary army who fought against the troops of the tsarist empire in July 1849. It seems that it is in Albesti that the romantic poet Petöfi Sándor got killed.
   A small museum commemorates Petöfi Sándor’s life. They say that he may have ended up as a prisoner in the Siberia, as his body was never found around Albesti.
   In the village of Saschiz one can visit a Saxon fortress built between the 14-15th centuries and a fortified church which dates from 1494. Near the church there is a tower inspired by the Clock Tower in Sighisoara, and probably one of the most beautiful samples of Saxon architecture in Transylvania. Its roof is covered with enamelled multi-coloured tiles; it has four corner turrets and a pointed spire placed on a ball-shaped base.
   The Boiu village exhibits the Haler Castle, built in the late Renaissance style in the 18th century.
   Not far from Sighisoara, there is Villa Franka, a walking place for the locals, which offers a beautiful view over the town and over the Tarnava river meadow.

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