For most westerners, Romania is this former Eastern Bloc country of Nadia Comaneci –the famous Romanian gymnast who scored the first perfect 10 in the Olympics. But few people know how beautiful and culturally rich this country really is and how much it has to offer. Among other attractions, Romania is home to many beautiful medieval castles and fortresses. Some of them are famous throughout Europe, others are less known but equally impressive. Unfortunately, most of the beautiful castles in Romania suffered neglect over the centuries. They all remained in a dismal state until the collapse of communism. However, there are are still some great castles and fortresses in Romania that deserve attention. In more recent years, many of these have been rebuilt and restored.
Must-see Castles in Romania
Peleș Castle in Sinaia was built as a royal hunting retreat by 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). The Castle remained in the royal family possession until 1947, when King Michael I was forced to abdicate and the communists seized all the royal property.
Under the Communist regime the entire Peles estate was closed and declared a “State Protocol Interest Area.” Only military personnel and maintenance persons were permitted on the property. In the 1990s, after the fall of Communism, the castle opened to the public and became a museum. Peles Castle is considered one of the 12 most beautiful castles in Europe.
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 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, who gave him the castle in 1407. 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 was only connected with Bran through an alliance during his first reign (1436 – 1442). The Princes of Transylvania 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 (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. The castle was built in the 14th century by John Hunyadi (Ioan of Hunedoara) on the site of an old fortress that was given to his father by 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 Castle is one of the most beautiful ones in Romania. In 2003 the castle underwent lots of renovations and is today in a very good shape.
This beautiful palace located just a short distance away from Bucharest, Romania’s capital, was built in the 17 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. After being restored, was bombed by the Germans in 1916.
In the 1920s Princess Martha Bibesco purchased the palace and spent her private fortune for its reconstruction. After 1945, the palace was forcibly nationalized by the communist authorities and the owners arrested. 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 Fortress of Alba Iulia
Alba Iulia 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 of Alba Iulia was built in the 18th century by the Habsburg emperor Charles VI.
In the second part of the 19th century most of the walls and bastions were demolished 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 Alba Iulia citadel was fully restored, with beautiful walls and gates. 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 there is one of the best preserved rustic fortresses in Romania: the Fortress of Râsnov. This fortification was built by 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. They promised to release the two men to once they completed their task. According to the legend, it took the two people 17 years to finish the well. Unfortunately, the citizens of Râsnov didn’t keep their word and in the end they killed the prisoners.
The famous 146 meter deep well still sits in the center of the fortress. The old Fortress of Râsnov has been restored to its former glory and today you can visit the impressive remains. There is also a museum where you can see some interesting artifacts.
The Fortress of Slimnic
Also known as Stolzenburg, the Fortress of Slimnic was completed at the beginning of the 14th century, as a refuge place for the Saxon communities in the area. The construction was realized entirely from brick on the site where a smaller fortification used to be. At first a Gothic chapel and the current bell tower were erected. A new building (probably a church with three naves) was added towards the second half of the 14th century, but that was never completed. The western wall of the fortification with crenels and loopholes was built in 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. In Hungarian, the fortress’s name was Köhalom, meaning “mound of rocks.” It is believed that at some point almost 400 people lived between the walls of the fortress, where they had all the necessities: a parish, a chapel, a local market, a fountain and even a so-called “bacon tower”, where all the meat reserves were stored.
The the fortress was built to serve as refuge for the inhabitants of the surrounding villages against attackers. Although once one of Transylvania’s most important citadels, Rupea was slowly abandoned. By the end of the 19th century it was 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. The plans were however repeatedly deferred because of lack of funds. 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 Fortress-Church of Biertan
Located in the County of Sibiu, 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. The fortress-church of Biertan was first mentioned in a document of King Matei Corvin in 1486. The spiritual and defensive center of each village was a fortified church where the villagers would retreat in case of an attack. They stored dry food (flour, bacon) within the church walls and used it when they were forced to retreat. Because the thick walls remained cool year round, food was easy to preserve there. The fortress has three exterior walls and five towers, each one interesting on its own way.
The Ruins of Saschiz
Saschiz is a beautiful little village located about 20 kilometers from the city of Sighisoara, in the heart of Transylvania, in the Mures region. 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. 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. Saschiz was once a defensive fortress that protected the town against the numerous invasions in the region. Although almost destroyed, you can still see a good part of the former fortress and walk around the ruins.
There is a beautiful view of the village and the famous Clock Tower from up there. The Clock Tower from Saschiz is one of Transylvania’s most beautiful medieval monuments that also belongs to a fortified church built by Saxons in the 15th century. The Tower is admired by everybody who travels the European road (E60) that crosses the centre of Saschiz.