Romania is home to many beautiful castles and medieval fortresses. Some of them are famous throughout Europe. Others are less known, but equally impressive. Unfortunately, most of these fortifications suffered neglect over the centuries and remained in a dismal state until recent years. After the fall of communism, Romanians began rebuilding and restoring many of these historical buildings.
MUST-SEE CASTLES IN ROMANIA
There are many reasons to visit Romania and visiting the medieval castles and fortresses rank up pretty high on this list. Here are the top 10 castles and medieval fortresses in Romania you should add to your list:
Peleș is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful castles in Europe. Located in Sinaia, very close to Bucharest, the Peles was the royal hunting retreat of Carol I of Hohenzollern, King of Romania.
The construction lasted for over 40 years (1873-1941) and it costed 16,000,000 Romanian lei in gold (approximately US$ 120 million today). Peles Castle remained in the royal family possession until 1947, when the communists seized all the royal property, forcing King Michael of Romania to abdicate.
The communist regime closed the entire Peles estate and declared it a “State Protocol Interest Area.” Only military personnel and maintenance persons could go on the property. In the 1990s, after the fall of Communism, the castle opened to the public and became a museum.
Bran Castle was established as a fortress by the Teutonic Knights, as part of a defense system against the Mongolian invasions. The castle sits in a strategic location: up on a cliff, on the passageway between Transylvania and Wallachia (in old Romania).
Bran Castle was a gift to Prince Mircea the Elder from his ally, King Sigismund of Hungary. After the death of the Romanian Prince in 1419, Sigismund gave the castle to the Princes of Transylvania.
Contrary to the popular belief, Bram Stoker’s character Dracula did not have any connection with Bran Castle. Vlad The Impaler’s only connection with Bran was through an alliance that he did during his first reign with the Princes of Transylvania. They asked him to handle the anti-Ottoman resistance at the border.
In more modern times, Bran Castle became the summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania. She did a lot of remodeling and renovations to the old fortress, transforming it into the beautiful castle that we see today.
Corvin Castle (a.k.a. Hunyadi Castle)
This fairytale castle in the heart of Transylvania is one of the largest and most impressive ones in Eastern Europe. It is without a doubt one of the most instagramable places in Romania.
The castle was built in the 14th century by John Hunyadi (Ioan of Hunedoara) on the site of an old fortress which his father received from King Sigismund of Hungary.
It’s a real medieval architectural gem with pointed turrets, an imposing entrance bridge, scary gargoyles, beautiful fountains and many rooms. Despite the ugly industrial area that surrounds it, the Corvin Castle is one of the most beautiful fortresses I have ever seen. In 2003 the castle underwent lots of renovations and is today in a very good shape.
The beautiful Castle of Mogosoaia is just a short distance away from Bucharest, Romania’s capital. The palace was erected in the 17th century by Constantin Brâncoveanu, prince of Wallachia. The palace has a beautiful setting, alongside the lake that bears the same name.
Built in Romanian Renaissance style (or Brâncovenesc style), Mogoșoaia Palace had a troubled history. In 1714, the Ottomans invited Constantin Brancoveanu and his family to Constantinople and asked him to convert to Islam. As Brâncoveanu refused, they executed him and confiscated his fortune.
During the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774, Mogosoaia suffered again at the hands the Ottomans. In the following years the castle underwent a lot of restorations, but the Germans bombed it again in 1916.
In the 1920s Princess Martha Bibesco purchased the palace and spent her private fortune for its reconstruction. After 1945, the communist authorities palace forcibly nationalized the castle and arrested the owners. During that arrest a great part of the valuable art collection of the palace mysteriously “disappeared.” In 1957 Mogosoaia Palace became a museum.
Must-See Fortresses in Romania
The Citadel of Alba Iulia
Alba Iulia Citadel is one of the most beautiful examples of Vauban military architecture in Europe. The fortress’s history dates back to the Roman period.
In the Middle Ages Alba Iulia served as the capital of the independent Principality of Transylvania and the residence of the Transylvanian princes. The fortress that you see today was erected by Charles VI of Habsburg in the 18th century.
In the second part of the 19th century, the municipality demolished most of the fortress’s walls and bastions in order to make room for the modern city. During the communist era, the fortress fell into complete neglect because of the lack of funds for repairs.
In recent years the citadel of Alba Iulia was fully restored and became one of the most visited fortresses in Romania. When visiting the fortress today, you can still see three of the original six highly ornamented, early Baroque gates.
The Fortress of Râsnov
Not far from the city of Brasov is one of the best preserved fortresses in Romania: the Fortress of Râsnov. This fortification belonged to the Teutonic Knights who were brought here to defend the Southeastern border of Transylvania from the Cumans and the Pechenegs.
The legend says that during a long siege the citizens of Râsnov asked two Turkish prisoners to dig a well in the center of the fortress. Because the work was long and tedious, they promised to release the two men to once they completed their task.
Finally, after 17 years, the two Turkish prisoners managed to finish the well. But unfortunately the citizens of Râsnov didn’t keep their word. Not only they did not release the prisoners, but in the end they even killed the prisoners. The famous 146 meter deep well still sits in the center of the fortress.
The old Fortress of Râsnov underwent a lot of restoration and the remains look quite impressive now. There is also a museum where you can see some interesting artifacts.
The Fortress of Slimnic
Completed at the beginning of the 14th century on the site of another old fortification, the fortress of Slimnic was as a refuge place for the Saxon communities in the area.
For the construction, the Saxons used entirely the bricks from this other fort. They first erected a Gothic chapel and the current bell tower. Then, towards the end of the 14 century, they started building another structure which they never managed to complete.
The western wall of the fortification with crenels and loopholes dates back to the 15th Century. During the 16th century the fortress was extended again and reinforced to better resist the attacks.
Over the centuries the Fortress of Slimnic was besieged in various occasions first by the by Turks then by the Hungarians. The repeated attacks mainly destroyed the second ring wall, which surrounded the parish church built in the 14th Century. In the 18th century, after the rebels of Francisc Rákóczi II set it on fire, the fortress was abandoned for good.
The Fortress of Rupea
Established by the Saxons in the 13th century, the fortress of Rupea is one of the oldest medieval sites in Transylvania. The Hungarians called it Köhalom, meaning “mound of rocks” in Hungarian.
At some point almost 400 people lived self-sufficiently between the walls of the fortress. They had here everything they needed to survive: a local market, a fountain, a parish, a chapel, and even a so-called “bacon tower,” where they stored all the meat reserves.
The the fortress served as refuge for the inhabitants of the surrounding villages against attackers. Although once one of Transylvania’s most important citadels, Rupea was slowly abandoned. As a result, by the end of the 19th century, the fortres- became just a pile of rocks.
During the Communist era the ruins of Rupea barely escaped total demolition. After the fall of Communism in 1990, the local authorities made several attempts to restore the fortress but the lack of funds made the restoration impossible for more than 20 years.
Finally, in 2013, the once derelict ruins had undergone extensive renovations. Today the fortress of Rupea is a major tourist attraction in the county of Brasov.
The Church-Fortress of Biertan
Located in the County of Sibiu, Biertan is a typical Saxon village which is home to one of the most imposing fortified churches in Transylvania. The fortress-church of Biertan was first mentioned in a document of King Matei Corvin in 1486.
The fortified churches were spiritual and defensive centers of the villages where the villagers would retreat in case of an attack. Because the thick walls of the church remained cool year round, food was easy to preserve there. As a result, people used to store dry food (flour, bacon) within the church walls and used it when they had to retreat.
The fortress has three exterior walls and five towers, each one interesting on its own way.
The Ruins of the Fortress of Saschiz
Saschiz is known for its medieval fortress and church constructed by the Saxons, a population of German origin who settled here when Transylvania was part of Hungary.
The ruins of a 14th-century fortress sit atop a hill overlooking the village. Although the former fortress is in a pretty bad state, you can still see a good part of it if you walk around the ruins.
Not many people get to visit the ghostly ruins of Saschiz fortress. That’s partly because the local authorities don’t want visitors in that area, for safety reasons. Consequently, there is no marked road or signs leading to the fortress.
There is a small dirt road from the village center that leads to the ruins. Part of it is drivable, but the rest you’ll have to walk through a forest (about 15 minutes). The walk is not very difficult and it’s well worth it.
From the fortress you have a beautiful view of the village below and the beautiful Clock Tower of the fortified church of Saschiz. You can also see the Tower if you travel the European road (E60) that crosses the centre of Saschiz.
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