About one and a half hour north-west of
Brasov (120 km), is Sighisoara (Hungarian: Segesvár,
German: Schäßburg), the last inhabited medieval
citadel in Eastern Europe. It is a place straight out of the
pages of a fairytale - one of the best preserved mediaeval
citadels in Europe, a magical mix of winding cobbled alleys,
steep stairways, secluded squares, towers and turrets.
Sighisoara is one of the 7 fortified Saxon
cities in Transylvania, known as "Siebenburgen",
together with Brasov
(Kronstadt), Cluj (Klausenburg), Sibiu
(Hermannstadt), Bistrita (Bistritz)
Medias (Mediasch), Sebes (Mühlbach). According to the
legend the lost children of Hamelin emerged from the ‘Almasch’ (Varghis)
cave into Transylvania - just to the north of Baraolt in 1284,
lured there by the magical tune of the Pied Piper, a 'Romany'
who had been cheated by the burghers after ridding them of
their plague of rats. This is the 'romantic' explanation for
in Transylvania of Germans following ancient customs, yet isolated
by hundreds of kilometers from Germany. The reality is that
the fortified towns and villages of Transylvania were established
in the 12th Century by settlers from the Moselle region, referred
to locally as 'Saxons'( Romanian-'sashi'). They were attracted
to Transylvania by favorable market rights by the Hungarian
rulers who wanted them there to guard the mountain passes against
Tatar and Ottoman raiders. They created the 'Siebenbürgen',
the seven fortified cities, while in villages they constructed
fortified churches in which they could shelter during times
of siege. UNESCO has designated several of these villages and
mediaeval citadel of Sighisoara as Heritage Sites.
On the site
of today's Sighisoara, there used to be a Dacian settlement
known as Sandova dating as far back as the 3rd century
BC. It was the site of an Imperial Roman castrum and legion
base from the 2nd century.
Nevertheless the town as it is known
today was founded by German colonists.The chronicler Krauss
lists a Saxon settlement
in Sighisoara by 1191. This early settlement was most likely
a village with a fortified refuge on the Castle Hill of today,
and it was destroyed by a Tatar invasion in 1241, rebuilt,
and in 1280 documented as Castrum Sex (citadel number six).
Soon the Dominicans took interest in this place-in 1289 Schespurch
(Scassburg) is indicated as seat of their monastery-and later
other German settlers to follow in the 14th century are mainly
craftsmen and thus in 1367 Sighisoara
is already known
as town-Civitas de Segusvar. Under the threat of the Ottoman
invasions the town was fortified, wall and towers were raised
to surround the whole town. They were built in the 14th and
15th centuries, and subsequently consolidated. The walls were
up to 15 meters high, and the fortification included 14 defense
towers. Most of the citadel, and 9 of the defense towers are
The town played an important strategic and commercial
role at the edges of Central Europe for several centuries.
became one of the most important towns of Transylvania, with
artisans from throughout the Holy Roman Empire visiting the
settlement. The German artisans and craftsmen dominated the
urban economy. It is estimated that during the 16th and the
17th centuries Sighisoara had as many as 15 guilds and 25 handicraft
branches. Thus, the number of the crafts equal Sighisoara to
the main German towns of the time, and trade contacts went
as far as the Netherlands and Persia. This makes Sighisoara
to be the first of the settlements in Transylvania to gain
the status of a town in 1517, and even legal autonomy.The Baroque
sculptor Elias Nicolai lived in the town.
The inhabitants of
Sighisoara gave shelter (1431-1435) and support to Vlad Dracul
in his attempt to get to the Romanian
throne. The Wallachian prince Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracul's son,
was born here in 1431. His father minted coins in the town
and issued the first document listing the town's Romanian name
Sighisoara. Later the town supports the great Romanian Prince
Viteazul (the Brave) to conquer Transylvania.The citizens of
Sighisoara were also involved in the Peasant's Rising of 1514.
town was the setting for George I Rákóczi's
election as Prince of Transylvania and King of Hungary in 1631.
Sighisoara suffered military occupation, fires, and plagues
during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The nearby plain of Albesti
was the site of the Battle of Segesvár, where the revolutionary
Hungarian army led by Józef Bem was defeated by the
Russian army led by Luders on 31 July 1849. A monument was
constructed in 1852
to the Russian general Skariatin, who died in the battle. The
Hungarian poet Sándor Petõfi is generally believed
to have been killed in the battle, and a monument was constructed
in his honor at Albesti in 1897. After World War I Sighisoara
passed with Transylvania from Austria-Hungary to
|The Clock Tower
Landmark of Sighisoara, the Clock Tower
is the most impressive and picturesque if it's towers. Its
role was to be the main gate into the citadel
and to house the town's council. It was built in the second
half of the 14th century and expanded to 64m height in the
After a big fire in 1676 (when the town's gunpowder deposits
exploded) the roof of the tower was restored to the present
Baroque shape, and in 1894 the colorful tiles were added.
The four small
corner turrets (also seen in other Transylvanian towns) symbolize
the fact that the town had judicial autonomy, and the "right
of sword" (ius gladii) which was the right to convict
criminals to death. The clock was installed in the 17th century.
houses the town's History Museum. Make your way to the wooden
balcony at the top of the tower where you can look out over
the town with its terra-cotta roofs and painted houses and
countryside. On the way to the balcony one can also see the
|The Clock of the Clock Tower
1604 the tower was equipped with a wooden horologe which was
remade in 1648 by Johann Kirschel.
He equipped the clock
with two big dials (one on each facade of the tower) and with
two groups of wooden figurines arranged in niches. The figurines
are moved by the clock's mechanism. On the citadel side we
see the Goddesses of Peace holding an olive branch, accompanied
a drummer who is beating the hours in his bronze drum; above
them there are the Goddess of Fairness holding a balance and
the Goddess of Justice with a spade accompanied by two angels
representing Day and Night. At 6 AM the angel symbolizing the
day comes out, marking the beginning of the working day and
at 6 PM the angel symbolizing the night comes out carrying
candles in his hands and marking the end of the working day
and the arrival of the evening.
Looking over downtown there
is a second niche holding a figurine which some say represents
the executioner and a second drummer.
Above them there are seven figurines representing the pagan
gods who personified the days of the week: Diane, Mars, Mercury,
Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and the Sun. These figurines are sitting
on a wheel and they move at midnight marking the change of
the day. Like the tower's turrets, the figurines indicate the
fact that at the time the horologe was installed the rustic
Baroque style was the fashion in Transylvania. The clock still
works, complete with the rotating painted wooden figures, one
for each day of the week. The present mechanism of the clock
is newer, dating from 1906. The clock was modernized with an
electric engine in 1964. The niche with figurines representing
the days is visible from inside the Clock Tower.
|The History Museum
The museum consists of the clock tower,
torture chamber and the medieval arms exhibition; one ticket
will let you see all
three. The Camera de Tortura (torture chamber) at the foot
of the clock tower was used for prisoners and also to extort
using an amazing array of cruel instruments. Some devices are
on display here and on the walls are copies of German books
documenting the use and effectiveness of the contraptions.
Ask the staff
to show you the brick where around 1680, a prisoner scratched
the hardly legible words 'Morgen wird ich…' ('tomorrow
I will be….'), and see if you can figure out the last
word. The Medieval arms collection next door shows the development
of weapons used in and around town throughout the ages.
|The Church on the Hill (Bergkirche)
This beautiful Gothic church dominates
the hill at the southern end of the citadel. It can be reached
by climbing the 175 steps
of the covered wooden Schoolboys' Stairs which dates from 1642.
The building of the church started in 1345 and ended in 1525,
180 years later. Huge pillars carry a lofty gothic ceiling
(restored after an earthquake in 1838). The church was completely
on the inside but in 1776 it was decided to destroy the old
painting provided that exact copies should be made on parchment.
the copies were lost. The recent restoration brought out fragments
of the late 15th century frescoes. Inside the church there
are also beautiful religious sculptures and paintings like
carved in 1480, an old stone front dating from the 15th century
as well as shrines brought from the churches of Saes and Cund.
The church has been recently restored.
|The House With Stag
House with Stag gets its name from the stag head fixed on the
corner of the building. This type of construction is specific
to the Transylvanian Renaissance of the 17th century. The house
was recently restored. The restoration revealed the external
mural painting showing the stag's body and the inscription.
the building houses a modern pension, a cafe-restaurant with
traditional dishes and a Romanian-German cultural center.
|The Taylors' Tower
The taylor's guild was the richest in town and this can be
seen in the imposing tower they erected. Built in the 14th century,
the tower was initially as tall as the Clock Tower but its upper
part was destroyed in a fire in 1676, when the town's gunpowder
deposit which was located in this place exploded. The Taylor's
Tower is the second access road into the citadel, an entrance
consisting of two vaulted galleries, which used to have huge
oak gates with iron lattice. The tower was restored in 1935.
|The Monastery Church
Monastery Church is located in the Citadel Square not far from
the Clock Tower. The church, which is built in Gothic style
of the hall-churches with 2 naves and 2 rows of pillars, belonged
to the Dominican Monastery. The monastery used to be to the
of the church; it was built at the beginning of the 13th century
and it was demolished at the end of the 19th century. The church
was restored in the 15th century and then again after the big
fire of 1676. The last repairs were done in 1894 and 1929 when
the church acquired its present day look. The church holds
valuable objects like a bronze front dating back to 1440, a
frame carved in 1570 in the Transylvanian Renaissance style
and built into the northern wall of the church, a collection
century Oriental carpets donated by merchants and a fine altar
piece from 1680. The organ was built in 1680 in Baroque style
by the same artists that carved and painted the altar, the
sculptor Johannes West and the pilgrim painter Jeremias Stranovius.
organ is used even today in concerts organized in the church.
|The Rope Makers' Tower
The Rope Makers' Tower is part of the old fortification on
top of the hill. Its role was to defend - together with the Goldsmith's
Tower - the north-west corner of the hill. It is believed that
the tower is one of the oldest buildings in Sighisoara, dating
from the 13th century. Its foundations are on the pre-Saxon citadel
walls; the tower has a simple square plan. Nowadays the tower
is the home of the guardian of the Evangelic cemetery on the
|The Shoemakers' Tower
The Shoemakers' Tower is located in the north-eastern part
of the town; it was mentioned in documents dating from the mid
16th century but it was totally rebuilt in 1650 being one of
the recent towers of the town. It bears the influence of the
Baroque architecture, being short, with a hexagonal base with
sides of different lengths. It has a picturesque look due to
its roof which resembles a pointy helmet and which bears on one
side a small tower of observation.
|The Vlad Dracul House
Sighisoara fame is drawn mainly from being
the birthplace of Vlad Tepes
-The Impaler which some still believe
served as the
inspiration for the novel "Dracula". The house in
which he was born lies is located in the Citadel Square, close
Clock Tower. This ocher-colored house is the place where Vlad
Dracul, the father of Vlad the Impaler, once lived Vlad Dracul
was a knight of the Order of the Dragon (hence his name - Dracul
means Devil in Romanian). Today the house serves as a restaurant.
|The Covered Stairway
Next to the School Street there is a covered
wooden stairway named the "Covered Stairs" or "Schoolboys'
The stair was built in 1642 to facilitate the schoolchildren's
way to the School on the Hill and the churchgoers' way to the
church during winter. Originally the stairs had 300 steps,
but today their number was reduced to 175. The Covered Stairway
also to the Church on the Hill.
|The Orthodox Cathedral
A modern addition to Sighisoara’s
skyline, the cathedral has a simple Romanesque interior. It
is located on the northern
shore of the Tarnava Mare, and is accessible by a footbridge.
The cathedral, which is dedicated to the Saint Trinity was
built in 1934-1937 in Byzantine style. The building is painted
and white and features a dome and a tower.
|The Streets and Houses of the Citadel
of the nicest things in Sighisoara is to walk the long and
narrow cobbled streets lined with faded pink, green, and
ocher houses. Each house deserves a look as each one of them
is different than the others and has something worth seeing.
Some look like simple craftsmen's houses while others look
like houses that belonged to the rich. Since the citadel is
inhabited is interesting to see how life goes on within its
walls. Everybody goes about their business as they did centuries
Around the citadel walls are the towers
that the guilds erected during the 14th to 16th centuries to
protect the town from Turkish
raids. Each tower was built by one of the guilds and bears
the name of the guild. 14 towers were erected but only 9 are
standing. These are: The Rope Makers' Tower (Turnul Franghierilor),
The Taylors' Tower (Turnul Croitorilor), The Shoemakers' Tower
(Turnul Cizmarilor), The Butchers' Tower (Turnul Macelarilor),
The Furriers' Tower (Turnul Cojocarilor), The Tinkers' Tower
(Turnul Cositorarilor), The Tanners' Tower (Turnul Tabacarilor)
and The Blacksmiths' Tower (Turnul Fierarilor). The ninth tower
still standing is the Clock Tower itself.
|Medieval Music Festival
The unique yearly Medieval Music Festival
attracts thousands of young Romanians to a merry weekend of
music, party and dancing.
Many of them look like hippies, drink beer and go to the
pop concerts in the lower town. In the citadel, performances
from classical flute concerts to Indian music and theatre are
held in churches, the fortress towers and in the open air.
Market stalls will be selling traditional Romanian artifacts.
have to be booked long in advance, but ample accommodation
is available in simple local homes for around US$10 (or bring
tent to camp in someone's back yard for a fee); at the station
you'll find people offering rooms as well as at the festival
If you want to know how much time to budget for Sighisoara,
a day should be enough (plus a few days more for visiting the Saxon
in nearby villages). Sighisoara is usually very
quiet but in the first or second week of July the annual Medieval
Folk Festival takes place here and it becomes very crowded.