There are many reasons why people like to visit Romania. Like its stunning scenery, old medieval towns, or legendary castles and fortresses. But not many visitors are aware of the authentic old villages in the region of Transylvania which remained unchanged in structure for hundreds of years. There are seven villages with fortified churches in Transylvania on the UNESCO World Heritage site. But perhaps the most imposing one of them is the fortified church of Biertan.
What Is a Fortified Church?
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 had to retreat there. Because the thick walls remained cool year round, the villages also stored food there in times of peace in order to preserved it.
What to Look for When Visiting the Biertan Fortified Church
Biertan is a typical Saxon village, dating back to 1283. The main characteristic of the Saxon villages are the fortified churches. Therefore, the village of Biertan also has a fortified church located on a hilltop.
The Covered Staircase
The access to the fortified church is through a covered staircase, very similar to the one in the medieval citadel in Sighisoara.
The main role of fortified churches was to defend the lives of the villagers, so they were always surrounded by strong ramparts and built up on high hills.
Biertan Fortified Church is one of the best examples of how skillfully the Saxon could transform their churches into real fortresses, surrounding them with several layers of walls. There are five ramparts on the inner wall and three walls in all.
The Sacristy Door Lock
One of the great attractions at Biertan church is the door of the sacristy, which dates back to 1515. The door is very unique because it has a complicated locking system operated by a key and a crank.
The Church Sanctuary
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the church in Biertan was built in the 16th century in Gothic style, on the site of an earlier Romanesque church. This was one of the strongest fortified churches in Transylvania.
The current hall-church has three naves and retains a design very close to the original. You can still see many of the original elements, including some frescos, the painted pews, the southern tower, as well as the tombstones of the Saxon bishops in the Mausoleum tower.
The church has a spectacular altarpiece with twenty-eight icons, painted by a Viennese artist in the year 1483.
One of the most impressive elements at Biertan are the towers surrounding the church: the Clock Tower, the Bell Tower, the Gate Tower and the Bacon Tower. Within the grounds are several other interesting buildings, including the Prison Tower – which once served marital counseling purposes.
Within the grounds are some other interesting buildings not to miss, like the Marriage Prison. According to the legend, spouses who were seeking separation were locked in this tower and forced to stay with each other for two weeks before being granted the divorce.
If at the end of the two weeks they still wanted to divorce, they would be separated. But in the tower the couple had to share one bed, one chair, one table, one spoon, one fork, and no knife. And so, in 300 years only one divorce happened in the fortified church of Biertan.
Visiting hours and admission price
High season (April 1 to October 31) Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m – 1:00 p.m. then from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Low season (November 1 to March 31) Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Cost: 10 Lei/person
A Final Note
This fortified church of Biertan has a great historic and esthetic value. Firstly, it gives an insight into a time in history when Transylvania was colonized by the Saxons.
Secondly, the value of Biertan’s Medieval Fortified Church is further enhanced by the fact that out of the 300 fortified churches built during 15th and 16th centuries, this church has been the best preserved. It comes to no surprise that it was included in the UNESCO Patrimony.
There are around 200-250 such villages with fortified churches in Transylvania, scattered along the main roads between Sibiu, Târgu Mures, Sighisoara and Brasov. If you have a car, you should try to visit some of 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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