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Fortified Churches

A little bit of history

In the 12th century the first Saxon colonists arrived in Transylvania from the left bank of the Rhine. A few decades later, their numbers grew significantly and the colonists established in Transylvania were joined by those coming from Franconia and southern Germany.

The central point of colonisation was the region of Sibiu; the core increased gradually and covered other Transylvanian regions, as well. At mid-14th century, Sibiu was turned into the province of the Seven Seats and in 1486 the Saxon University was set up, reuniting all Saxons from the Royal Lands (Transylvania). Most of the colonists settled to the north of today’s county of Sibiu, in areas with hills and plateaux which allowed them to grow crops and practice various crafts.

The colonists built themselves big villages with streets concentrated around a central square. The community’s spiritual life was not at all neglected. As soon as they arrived, the colonists erected Romanesque basilicas similar to the ecclesiastical buildings from Saxony, Bavaria and Thuringia. In mid-13th century, the ecclesiastical buildings are completed with early gothic elements - the most eloquent example is the Cistercian abbey from Cârţa, a basilica with three naves and a linked cross nave.

In mid-13th century the first gothic influences appeared in the building of the churches and as of the 14th century, the new churches built in rural areas were strongly influenced by the urban ecclesiastical styles.

In the third decade of the 15th century, after the Ottoman invasions, the Transylvanian churches changed their role. If until then their customary role was to be the centre of the spiritual life, with the Turkish invasions they turned into symbols of resistance against the invaders. They were fortified by adding embrasures and machicolations, patrol routes and defence towers and walls.

The churches built after this moment (late 15th century) had the structure of an all-round defence tower, like for instance the fortified church from Bazna.

There are over 150 fortified churches built in Transylvania; today, to the north of the county, there is no Saxon settlement without a fortified church. Over 50 such churches from the county of Sibiu were declared exceptional architectural monuments - among which the UNESCO heritage churches from Biertan and Valea Viilor - and many of them were or will be restored.

It is very difficult to make a top of the most beautiful fortified churches. They are each distinct in their own way because they each bear the print of a harsh history, each is marked by the spirit of the community it sheltered for centuries.

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