Romania is home to many beautiful medieval towns, like Brasov, Cluj, Târgu Mures, and Sibiu. But perhaps the most charming one of them is the old town of Sighisoara, a perfectly intact 16th century gem. Sighisoara is one of seven Saxon walled cities in Transylvania, the others were Bistrita, Brasov, Cluj, Medias, Sebes and Sibiu.
The History of Sighisoara
The origin of Sighisoara goes back to Roman times. During the 1st Century AD, the Dacians (a population that Romanians consider their ancestors) built here a fortification called Sandava. During the 12th century King Béla IV of Hungary invited the Saxons –a Germanic people– to settle in Transylvania and defend the frontier of his realm. The Transylvanian Saxons built a new settlement on the ruins of the former fortress and named it Schäßburg (Sighisoara – in Romanian.)
The construction of the citadel of Sighisoara began in the 1100s and continued through the 1500s. Because of its strategical position – up on the City Hill – Sighisoara acted as protection against Tatars and other invaders. The citadel was a strong defensive construction, with towers, bastions and guns overlooking the valley and controlling the main gateway to the town.
Things to Do in Old Town Sighisoara
It’s not difficult to fall in love with Sighisoara. Its old strategic towers, cobbled streets, colorful buildings and ornate churches look like from the pages of story book. Walking through this historic town will take you back in time to the medieval ages.
Strolling the Streets of the Historic Town
The historic center still maintaines its medieval layout, with narrow streets and closely aligned rows of houses. Most of the houses are simple homes of craftsmen, built from stone or brick, covered in colored plaster and topped with tiled roofs. The citadel itself is tiny, just a handful of streets with a very authentic atmosphere.
The lovely citadel square that seems so peaceful today, used to be the place where they had trials and public executions in the old times.
Visit the Defense Towers
The Transylvanian Saxons who erected the citadel of Sighisoara were craftsmen and merchants. They organized themselves in powerful guilds and each guild was responsible for the construction of a tower and its defense.
The towers were named after the crafts, like the Tailor’s Tower, or the Boot-maker’s Tower. Out of the 14 original towers only 9 survive, along with 2 bastions. Of the 9 towers that survived, only one is still inhabited today – the Rope-maker’s Tower.
The most impressive of all towers is the Clock Tower that dominates the three squares of the historic center. The sixty four meters tall building was once the meeting place of the town’s council.
The clock has two big dials (one on each facade of the tower) each with a group of wooden figurines that are moved by the clock’s mechanism.Today the tower plays a special role as the symbol of Sighisoara.
Visit the Birth Place of Vlad the Impaler
An important attraction Sighisoara is the house of Vlad Dracul, the father of Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad the Impaler), ruler of the province of Walachia from 1456 to 1462. Vlad Dracul was a knight of the Order of the Dragon, thus being given the name Dracul (which means “Devil” in Romanian). Today, as you walk by the house, you can still see the dragon (symbol of the Order of the Dragon) hanging above the house entrance. Allegedly in this house Vlad the Impaler (Dracula) was born.
The house, now hosting a restaurant and a small museum, is located in the Citadel Square, close to the Clock Tower.
Climb the Covered Scholars’ Stairs
I found particularly interesting the long covered wooden staircase that leads up to the Church on the Hill. The Scholars’ Stairs, as it is also called, was built to cover schoolchildren and churchgoers from the rain. The staircase has 175 steps.
Visit the Clock Tower and Torture Museum
There are a few really good museums related to the town’s history. Those include the museum in the Clock Tower and a Torture Museum right next door.
Sighisoara still stands today as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. In 1999 the town became part of the UNESCO world heritage.