We invite you to discover Transylvania, an area in central Romania steeped in history, tradition and legend
The Transylvanian rural landscape has always enthralled both Romanian and foreign tourists. This special natural setting is home to some of the most beautiful fortified churches, dating back centuries. A total of 200 such monuments have been identified in Transylvania to date, of which today we will look at some of the most beautiful and interesting, recommending to all our listeners to include as many as possible on their must-see list when planning their trip.
The first stopover is a village that was first documented 810 years ago, in 1209 – Alma Vii. Overlooking the village is the church that was built in the 15th century. To reach it, you need to drive on a dirt road leading to a monument on top of a hill. The church is evidence of the Saxon population in the area, and speaks for the multiculturalism in Transylvania.
Mihaela Turk, a project manager with the Mihai Eminescu Trust Foundation, told us that the church has four towers that were restored with an EFTA grant: “We completed the project in 2016 and we mounted an exhibition in these towers that reinterprets the local multi-ethnic traditional culture, specific to the region of Transylvania. We wanted to capitalize on the church to attract tourists to this area and contribute to its sustainable development. Each tower has a theme: The Clock Tower or the Gatehouse Tower, the Bacon Tower, the Ice Tower and the Granary Tower. We wanted to restore the old purpose of the towers by means of the exhibits. The towers can also host certain events, such as conferences with 50 participants. They can also host temporary exhibitions at certain levels”.
Mihaela Turk has also told us tourists can visit traditional peasant houses: “These houses have preserved their original furniture for their most part, and in some cases we have restored some of the items ourselves. The floors are covered with mats woven from scrap cloth, which we like very much. They are very colorful and they are placed on wooden floors, which in turn are warmer than those made from present-day materials. They are all painted with traditional motifs. Whenever we restore a house we don’t use cement and pane glass, but wood, stone, gravel and limestone”.
At present, the fortified church in Alma Vii no longer hosts regular service, but the village community gathers here for important events, such as Christmas, which is also a great time for a visit to Alma Vii.
73 km from Alma Vii lies Cisnadioara, where you will find the oldest Roman-style monument in Transylvania. The citadel here is different from others in Transylvania through the fact that it didn’t undergo too many subsequent alterations, despite the troubled ages it endured.
Here is Carmen Kelber, a steward and guide: ”The church was built in 1180, and its outer walls were built in 1241, before the Mongol invasion. For 300 years the Church was a home for Cistercian monks, as at one point, in 1223, the Church was donated to the Cistercian monastery in Carta. Throughout the centuries it served first as a church, then as an archery citadel and arsenal, even as a prison for a period of time. Right now it is mainly open for visitors. Masses are being held, three, maybe four times a year”. So, just like the fortified church in Alma Vii, the Cisnadioara citadel can make a perfect Christmas destination.”
However, one of the best-preserved citadels in Transylvania is located in Frauendorf Axente Sever.
Livia Pelger invites you to visit the life-size catapult and a battering ram: ”The citadel dates from as far back as 1322. It is special because the bell is placed above the choir. In Transylvania, there are around 300 evangelical citadels, but usually, the tower or the belfry and the church are located in two separate places. The names of those who lost their lives in the line of duty in World War II are written on the wall, near the altar, next to those of WWI heroes. Not only the names, but also the number of the houses they lived in, in the village, are mentioned on the wall. The altar is built in 1777, in the Baroque style. The organ in the upper part dates back from the same period. It is still functional. The church is still in use as well. Every two weeks, a priest from Medias arrives in the area and performs the divine service in German.”
Viscri is one of the toponyms that has become well known world over thanks to HRH Prince Charles, who fell in love with the village and its surroundings. Houses here are very old and are painted in pale colors and they have window shutters. The area’s unique selling point is the fortified church, an impressive example of Transylvanian defensive architecture.
Gerhild Gross, organist and administrator, and always ready to offer info on the citadel: “Nowhere else will you find so many fortified churches, on a rather small area, like in Transylvania. Of course, not all of them can be visited, however, there is something unique about the vast majority of them that are open to the public. They were built for the same purpose, yet there is something special about each and every one of them. In the beginning, a little church was built and afterwards our ancestors had to think out a defensive means to protect them from Ottoman, Mongol, Tartar and Turkish invasions. The church was the soul of the community and they thought to erect fortifications around it, for safety reasons. The entire population in the village, in case of danger, could take refuge inside the church. We have a very small and simple organ, built in 1817 by a Translyvanian organ master. For me, it is something special, since my ancestors were organists: my grandfather, my uncle. Right now it is me who play it. At a very early age, I was very close to the organ.”
The administrator of the fortified church and the organist invites you to take time when you plan a visit to the fortified churches. It will be the only thing you need to enjoy the authenticity of the village and of the monuments. Because, if you have some time, you will escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and step into a genuine fairy tale world.