Top 6 Fortified Villages of Transylvania – for those who wish more
Transylvanian fortified villages offer a vivid image of the cultural landscape that makes the region a wild and mysterious place with a complex history. Founded by Saxons, they are distinguishable by the specific land-use system, settlement pattern and organization of the family farmstead that have been preserved since the late Middle Ages. Apart from legends gone worldwide like Count Dracula, these settlements offer a glimpse of Romania’s culture and set of beliefs. Here are the top 6 fortified villages of Transylvania:
Viscri, (or White Church) from Brașov county, is the best known from all villages in Transylvania. This hidden village from the roadhouses one of the most spectacular Saxon fortified churches, one of the 6 included in the UNESCO world heritage. The particularities of the settlement attracted the attention and goodwill Prince Charles himself, who renovated the church and a few houses in the village, restoring them some of the original charms. The isolation, but also the absence of other occupations besides agriculture, caused at the end of the 1990s the project of knitting natural wool socks from Viscri to appear, initiated by the two Germans established here. As the pile of socks began to grow larger and larger, over time the bargain became a real project involving 125 women from the village. The peasants knit about 10,000 pairs of socks, gloves, hats, sweaters or house slippers that are sold throughout the country and even further, beyond Transylvania’s borders or abroad. Take some time to explore this remote world and make sure to have a home meal at one of the locals.
In the nearby countryside, another UNESCO World Heritage town, XIIIth century Biertan, stands high on a hill as one of the largest and most impressive medieval strongholds in Transylvania. The village was first mentioned in an official document in 1283 and is surrounded by quaint streets and vineyards with its XVth century fortified church perched high on a hill in the middle of the village. Three tiers of defensive walls, connected by towers and gates, encircled the complex, making the church impossible to conquer during medieval times.
Gaze upon the late-gothic architecture with heavy doors and double exterior walls of the church which boasts the largest Transylvanian multi-panelled wooden altar and a remarkable wooden door which once protected the treasures in the sacristy.
You can also admire the towers surrounding the church, namely 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 counselling purposes.
Not known much as a tourist destination and close to Biertan, Copsa Mare — or Grisz-Kapesch in the Saxon dialect — is a small village that dates back to the XIIIth century. It is a remote village which preserved its traditional appearances with big and strong houses, wide paved streets. But the most remarkable of all is the large XIVth century fortified church, armed hundreds of years ago with firing holes and defence towers. To make the experience complete, stay for the night in one of the guest houses of the Bassetti family who has done wonders to save their authenticity.
Although Malancrav or Malemkref is today the village with the largest Saxon population in the region, it is also the most isolated from main routes. This also makes it one of the most traditional and most beautiful places in Transylvania. Make sure to plan a full day trip here as there is plenty to do in Malancrav from taking photos of the scenery to getting to know and interact with the friendly locals, to visiting the Apafi Mansion and the nearby fortified church where you’ll see the largest Gothic pre-Reformation fresco in Transylvania, in total 53 scenes from the Old and New Testament. Make sure to taste some of the delicious traditional food the locals prepare.
Cisnadioara doesn’t look much like a village given the paved streets and car traffic that looks more like the suburbs of a big city. It is located though quite close to Sibiu, another beautiful medieval village. However, Cisnadioara is indeed one of the most traditional and at the same time modern versions of the Saxon villages from Transylvania.
Its main hot spot is the XIIIth century Romanesque basilica that dominates the village from the highest hill. It is surrounded by fortified walls and has a splendid stone-carved portal which conveys such an overwhelming feeling of peacemaking you want to stay more and enjoy it. In Cisnadioara you can also visit the XVIIIth century Evangelical Church and the Ethnographic Museum.
Located a bit further away from the heart of Transylvania, the fortified village of Calnic dates back to the XIIIth century. Back then it had to fight against the invaders and created forts and strengthened its walls which explains the work that was put into erecting and restoring the Fortified Church of the village. From the Middle Ages, you can still visit one of the few dungeon citadels in Transylvania – Calnic fortification featuring a 20-meter tower with a cellar and a total of four stories. Also, a chapel was erected within this fortification, while the village’s Evangelical church is actually found outside of it, in the village cemetery. Nowadays this small village is a peaceful place with an idyllic scenery where you can marvel at the exquisite organ fabricated in 1867 in Vienna.