Biertan – Anatomy of a Fortified Church

    Biertan – Anatomy of a Fortified Church

    One of the reasons for which I love Transylvania is that it’s full of old, authentic villages. Miles and miles of red roof houses with big carved wooden gates line up on both sides of the highways. There are hundreds of villages, churches and fortifications built between the 13th and 16th centuries, of a diverse ethnicity. The villages remained unchanged in structure for hundreds of years and except for the fresh paint on some of the façades, they seem frozen in time. Located in Sibiu County, Biertan is a typical Saxon village easily accessible from the main road. In the centre of the village there is one of the most imposing fortified churches in Transylvania.

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    Transylvanian houses
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    Characteristic wooden gates for the villages in Transylvania

    The spiritual and defensive center of each village was a fortified church where the villagers would retreat with their belongings in case of an attack. This is very typical of Transylvania and was prompted by the Tartar destruction of the country in 1241. The villagers would store dry food (flour, dried ham and fat bacon) within the church walls and use it when they were forced to retreat there. Because the thick walls remained cool year round, food was also preserved there in times of peace.

    There are seven villages with fortified churches in Transylvania on the UNESCO World Heritage site. Biertan is the best known of these villages. The church was built in the 16th century in the style of a Gothic hall, with its own fortified walls. Biertan was one of the strongest fortified churches in Transylvania and the last one to be constructed in this style.

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    Biertan Fortified Church

    There are five ramparts on the inner wall, and three walls in all. One of the great attractions for visitors is the door of the sacristy that dates back to 1515. The door is unique because it has a complicated locking system operated by a key and a crank.

    The access to the fortress is through a covered staircase, very similar to the one in the medieval citadel in Sighisoara.

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    Covered staircase leading to the fortified church of Biertan

    The present church has three naves and was built between 1500-1516. Another church occupied the same place before. You can still see some frescos from the beginning of the 16th century on the Southern tower of the inner wall as well as the tombstones of the Saxon bishops in the Mausoleum tower.

    In the south area there is the gate tower with defensive role and in the west there is a massive tower. The legend says that spouses who were seeking separation, before being granted the divorce, were locked in the tower and forced to stay with each other for two weeks. If at the end of the two weeks they still wanted to divorce, they would be separated. But in the tower they had to share one bed, one chair, one table, one spoon, a fork, and no knife. And so, in 300 years only one divorce happened in Biertan.

    Anda:TravelNotes&Beyond

    There are around 200-250 villages with fortified churches in Transylvania, scattered along the main roads between Sibiu and Târgu Mures, and Sighisoara and Brasov. Every village has the typical small, brightly colored houses and a bulky and sometimes oddly shaped church. It’s a pleasure just driving around and looking at them.The Saxon villages in Romania still maintain their medieval charm. Traditions, culture and lifestyle in this area of the country remained unspoiled for centuries.

     

     

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