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Dates of visit:
September 1 - 20, 2010

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Trip Highlights:
 Meeting Cousins
 Historic Bulgaria
 Roman Ruins
 Nature Reserves
 Rock Churches
 Black Sea Coast


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Bulgaria - Part 0 - Introduction, Portrait & History of Bulgaria
Bulgaria - Part 1 - Rock Curches, Rusenski Lom, Medieval City of Cherven
Bulgaria - Part 2 - Nove, Ulpia Eskus, Belogradchik Fortress, Vratsa
Bulgaria - Part 3 - Sofia, Poenari Fortress, Trigrad, Shiroka Laka, Plovdid
Bulgaria - Part 4 - Nesebar, Balchik, Kaliarka, Yailata Reserve, Tsarevets Hills
Romania - Part 1 - Arges Monastery, Poenari Fortress, Alpine Pass
Exploring Romania's Cultural Highlights
City of Sibiu

Location of City of Sibiu - #3
Map: City of Sibiu - Central Map

Sibiu Sibiu (German: Hermannstad) is an important city in Transylvania. It straddles the Cibin River, a tributary of the river Olt. It is the capital of Sibiu County and is located some 282 km north-west of Bucharest. Between 1692 and 1791 it was the capital of the Principality of Transylvania.

Sibiu is one of the most important cultural centers of Romania, and was designated a European Capital of Culture for the year 2007, in tandem with Luxembourg. Formerly the centre of the Transylvanian Saxons, the old city of Sibiu was ranked as "Europe's 8th most idyllic place to live" by Forbes.

Sibiu Geography ... Sibiu is situated near the geographical center of Romania. Set in the Cibin Depression, the city is about 20 km from the Fagaras Mountains, 12 km from the Cibin Mountains, and about 15 km from the Lotrului Mountains, which border the depression in its southwestern section. The northern and eastern limits of Sibiu are formed by the Târnavelor Plateau, which descends to the Cibin Valley through Gusteritei Hill.

The Cibin River as well as some smaller streams runs through Sibiu. The geographical position of Sibiu makes it one of the most important transportation hubs in Romania with important roads and railway lines passing through it.

Sibiu History ... The first official record referring to the Sibiu area comes from 1191, when Pope Celestine III confirmed the existence of the free prepositure of the German settlers in Transylvania, the prepositure having its headquarters in Sibiu, named Cibinium at that time. It was probably built near a Roman settlement, one that would be known during the early Middle Ages as Caedonia.

In the 14th century, it was already an important trade center. In 1376, the craftsmen were divided in 19 guilds. Sibiu became the most important ethnic German city among the seven cities that gave Transylvania its German name Siebenbürgen (literally seven cities), and it was home to the Universitas Saxorum, the assembly of Germans in Transylvania. Common opinion in the 17th century ascribed Sibiu the quality of being the easternmost city to be part of the European sphere; it was also the eastern terminus of postal routes.

Sibiu During the 18th and 19th centuries, the city became the second and later the first most important center of Transylvanian Romanian ethnics. The first Romanian-owned bank had its headquarters here (The Albina Bank), as did the ASTRA (Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and Romanian's People Culture). After the Romanian Orthodox Church was granted status in the Habsburg Empire from the 1860s onwards, Sibiu became the Metropolitan seat, and the city is still regarded as the third most important center of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Between the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and 1867 (the year of the Ausgleich), Sibiu was the meeting-place of the Transylvanian Diet, which had taken its most representative form after the Empire agreed to extend voting rights in the region.

Sibiu After World War I, when Austria-Hungary was dissolved, Sibiu became part of Romania; the majority of its population was still ethnic German (until 1941) and counted large Romanian and Hungarian communities. Starting from the 1950s and until after 1990, most of the city's ethnic Germans immigrated to Germany.

Milestones in Sibiu's history ...

  • 1191 - Mentioned for the first time in a document of the Vatican, under the name "Cibinium" (due to the river Cibin that flows through the city)
  • 1292 - The first hospital in the Kingdom of Hungary was opened.
  • 1380 - The first documented school in the Kingdom of Hungary.
  • 1494 - The first pharmacy in the Kingdom of Hungary.
  • 1534 - The first paper mill in the Kingdom of Hungary.
  • 1544 - The first book in the Romanian language was printed in Sibiu, funded by John II Sigismund Zápolya. This was in Cyrillic letters.
  • 1551 - Conrad Haas' experiment with rockets.
  • 1570 - The Ottoman-dependent Principality of Transylvania was formed after the Ottoman conquest in Hungary.
  • 1671 - Methane gas was discovered near Sibiu.
  • 1782 - Franz-Joseph Müller von Reichenstein discovered the chemical element tellurium.
  • 1788 - First theater in Transylvania.
  • 1795 - The first lightning rod in Transylvania and in Southeastern Europe was installed in Nagydisznód (present-day Cisnadie).
  • 1817 - The Brukenthal Museum, the first museum in Transylvania was opened.
  • 1867 - The Principality of Transylvania was reunited with Hungary in the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary
  • 1896 - The first use of electricity in Austria-Hungary, and the first power line in Southeastern Europe.
  • 1904 - The second city in Europe to use an electric-powered trolley.
  • 1918 - Upon the Union of Transylvania with Romania, Sibiu became part of Romania.
  • 1928 - The first zoo in Romania.
  • 1941 - Saxons lost their historical majority in the population
  • 1989 - The third city to take part in the Romanian Revolution.
  • 2007 - European Capital of Culture 2007

Main sights

Much of the city's aspect is due to its position, easily defensible, but allowing horizontal development. The old city of Sibiu lies on the right bank of the Cibin River, on a hill situated at about 200 m from the river. It consists of two distinct entities: the Upper Town and the Lower Town. Traditionally, the Upper Town was the wealthier part and commercial outlet, while the Lower Town served as the manufacturing area.

Evangelical Cathedral The Evangelical Cathedral viewed from Small Square

Lower Town The Lower Town ... (Romanian: Orasul de jos) comprises the area between the river and the hill, and it developed around the earliest fortifications. The streets are long and quite wide for medieval city standards, with small city squares at places. The architecture is rather rustic: typically two-storey houses with tall roofs and gates opening passages to inner courts. Most of the exterior fortifications were lost to industrial development and modern urban planning in the late 19th century; only one or two towers still exist.

Upper Town The Upper Town ... (Romanian: Orasul de sus) is organized around three city squares and a set of streets along the line of the hill. As the main area for burgher activities, the area contains most points of interest in Sibiu.

Piata Mare Grand Square ... Piata Mare (Grand Square, German: Großer Ring) ... is, as it's name suggests, the largest square of the city, and has been the center of the city since the 16th century. 142 m long and 93 m wide, it is one of the largest ones in Transylvania.

Brukenthal Palace Brukenthal Palace ... one of the most important Baroque monuments in Romania, lies on the north-western corner of the square. It was erected between 1777 and 1787 as the main residence for the Governor of Transylvania Samuel von Brukenthal. It houses the main part of the National Brukenthal Museum, opened in 1817. Next to the palace is the Blue House, an 18th century Baroque house bearing the old coat of arms of Sibiu on its façade.

Roman Catholic Church On the north side is the Jesuit Church, along with its dependencies, the former residence of the Jesuits in Sibiu.

Council Tower Next to the Jesuit Church on the north side is the Council Tower, one of the city's symbols. This former fortification tower from the 14th century has been successively rebuilt over the years. The building nearby used to be the City Council's meeting place; beneath it lies an access way between the Grand Square and the Lesser Square.

City eyes On the south and east sides are two- or three-storey houses, having tall attics with small windows known as the city's eyes. Most of these houses are dated 15th to 19th centuries, and most of them are Baroque in style.

Piata Mica Lesser Square ... As its name says, the Piata Mica (Small Square) is smaller in size, being rather longer than wide. Its north-west side has a curved shape, unlike the Grand Square, which has an approximately rectangular shape. Accordingly, Piata Mica plays a smaller part in the city's present-day life.

Liars BridgeThe square is connected to the other two squares and to other streets by small, narrow passages. The main access from the Lower City is through Ocnei Street, which divides the square in two. The street passes under the Liar's Bridge - the first bridge in Romania to have been cast in iron (1859).

House of the ArtsTo the right of the bridge is another symbol of the city, The House of the Arts, an arched building formerly belonging to the Butchers' Guild.

Luxemburg HouseOn the left side of the bridge is the Luxemburg House, a Baroque four-storey building, former seat of the Goldsmiths' Guild.

Huet Square Huet Square ... is the third of the three main squares of Sibiu. Its most notable feature is the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral in its center. It is the place where the earliest fortifications have been built. The buildings around this square are mainly Gothic.

Sibiu Fortifications The fortifications ... (Image - Sibiu fortification outer wall) The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Central Europe. Multiple rings were built around the city, most of them out of clay bricks. The south-eastern fortifications are the best kept, and all three parallel lines are still visible. The first is an exterior earth mound, the second is a 10-meter-tall red brick wall, and the third line comprises towers linked by another 10-meter-tall wall. All structures are connected via a labyrinth of tunnels and passageways, designed to ensure transport between the city and lines of defense.

Sibiu Fortifications - Haller Bastion

Sibiu Fortifications - Potters Tower

In the 16th century more modern elements were added to the fortifications, mainly leaf-shaped bastions. Two of these survived to this day, as the "Haller Bastion" (all the way down Coposu Boulevard) and "Potters Tower".

Passage of the Stairs ... The steep Passage of the Stairs leads down to the lower section of Sibiu. It descends along some fortifications under the support arches. It is the most picturesque of the several passages linking the two sides of the city.

Passage of Stairs Passage of Stairs

Text Source: Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia - Sibiu

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Gallery - City of Sibiu
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Saxon Colonization and Fortified Churches in Transylvania - Brief History

In the mid 12th century, the land stretching east of the Tarnava Mare River, to the southeast edge of the territory under the sway of Arpad kings changed possessions and became the possession of Saxons from the new communities of German colonists brought from Flanders, Saxony, and the Rhineland. In eight centuries, they built an original and lasting civilization.

In Transylvania, the history of citadel-churches is one with that of Saxon settlements, these fortified ensembles having become their defining symbol. Thus, according to economic possibilities, each community strove to erect a citadel church as unassailable and imposing as possible, to delight and awe the eyes of strangers.

A fortified church
A typical fortified church

The conquest of Transylvania by Hungarians began during the reign of King Stephen the holy (crowned and christened in the year 1000), and continued throughout the 11th century, The Hungarian royalty gradually subjected the old Romanian duchies and voivodates in the area as presented by king Bela's anonymous chronicler.

During Transylvania's conquest, the Hungarian royal authority applied concomitantly two methods, besides direct subjugation: integration of the local communities in the administrative organization of the occupied land, and colonization of new population. In the second category, we can mention the Saxons, who took over from the Szecklers the position of colonizers in south Transylvania. The Saxons' settlement in Transylvania represented just a part of the ample eastward German colonization, a process that took place, by and large, between the 10th and the 14th centuries.

In the mid 12th century, the territory stretching south of the Tarnava Mare constituted also the southeastern border of the territory under the Arpad kings, passed from the Szecklers into the possession of the new communities of Germans brought from Flanders, Saxony and the Rhineland. Two waves of German colonists penetrated the Hungarian Kingdom in the 12th - 13th centuries that marked chronological stages in the consolidation of central power and the growth of the role the big barons played. Research of the origin of Transylvanian Saxons represented a problem of major interest, the matter of the oldness of settlements of certain colonist groups being put on the back burner. (more)

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Fortified Church of Biertan

Fortified Church of Biertan - #4

BIERTAN - short history ...

Fortified Church of Biertan Fortified Church of Biertan

Fortified Church of Biertan The place called BIERTAN is one of the first rural settlements of Transylvania. The first documentary attestation was recorded in 1283. For nearly 300 years (1572-1867) it was here that the Lutheran Protestant Episcopate of Transylvania had its headquarters. THE SAXONS as we know them today started populating Transylvania in the Twelfth to the Fourteenth Centuries, coming from the cast and west of the Rhine. They were given rights in Transylvania and were free to practice the crafts they knew. The first Saxons who came to Biertan were peasants, but they all mastered crafts before coming to Transylvania. The men were very good with handling the axe, the saw and they cut stone and made pottery. They worked the land, cultivated vine, fruit trees and reared animals. The women could spin wool, weave, tailor and were good cooks, being able to make a meal out of barely nothing. The Saxons were hard workers, disciplined and well organized. (Images (3) source - #)

Fortified Church of Biertan The CHURCH was built on the site of a catholic basilica between 1490-1524. It remained catholic until the Reformation, after which it became a Protestant church. It is an extensive Gothic building, having also renaissance and baroque elements (the pulpit, the northern gate, the door of the vestry). This church is one of the biggest rural churches in Transylvania. Since 1993, it has been on the patrimony list of UNESCO.
(Images source - ##)

Starting in 1400, there were more and more invasions by Turkish and Tartar tribes. They stole and destroyed everything in their way. In order to protect themselves from these invasions, the Saxons started to fortify their churches by building fortified walls and towers. Thus, they built three walls around the Biertan church, with three interior courtyards. These walls of the fortress were built approximately in the same period when the church was built (15th - 16th centuries). On the walls, one can see at present the traces of the battles that were fought against various barbarian peoples. The towers of the fortress are placed all around the fortress so that the observers could strike the alarm in case of invasions.

Biertan Tower #1 THE TOWER WITH THE CLOCK the original mechanism was made in the 16th century and it was replaced by the one that is at present in 1883. THE CATHOLIC TOWER served as a worship place for those who, after the Reformation, did not convert to the Protestant religion. The fresco within the lower lasts from 15th century.

Biertan Tower #2THE COMMUNE HALL was initially a gate-tower that could block the entrance to the second inner yard. THE MAUSOLEUM, inside it there are the tombstones and the commemorative plates of priests and bishops. THE BELFRY made of wood had and still has a great importance. The hells had a very big resonance and each sound had a special meaning. Thus, they could announce an invasion, a wedding, a funeral, a foe, the religious mass, the meal break for those working in the fields, a popular gathering, etc.

Biertan Tower #3THE BACON-TOWER was also used for the storage of the traditional Saxon bacon. Because it was a well-aired and cool place, one could very well store bacon there. Each family would bring their own for storing, and there was a strict record kept of how much was brought in and how much was taken out for personal use. THE EXTERIOR GATE-TOWER also had an entrance for all the carts with food, various materials and guns.

DonariumThis disk-shaped 'donarium' was discovered in 1775 in a forest 5 km far from Biertan. It is a fragment from a chandelier and it has lasted since 4th century A.D. It has a Latin inscription 'EGO ZFNOVIUM VOTUM POSUI' (I, Zenovius, have brought this gift), which proves the incursion of the Christianity among the Dacian Roman population as early as the 4th century.

Church of Biertan Pulpit THE PULPIT, which is an actual artistic work, was built by the master Ulrich of Brasov in 1523. It is a remarkably valuable piece, as it was carved from a single rock. The shapes in relief present biblical scenes: the crucifixion, the Ghetemani garden, Simon's prophecy, Jesus on the Mount of Olives etc. The decorations are made in Gothic style, also having renaissance influences. The pulpit is placed on a pyramid turned upside down, with many corners. This is the most valuable stone work within the church.

Church of Biertan Pulpit THE LID OF THE PULPIT an interesting work is made of wood and it has very beautiful painted decorations. It was built in 1754. The work is Baroque with a beautiful combination of colors.

Church of Biertan Pews THE PEWS were made of lime tree wood by Johannes Reichmut of Sighisoara between 1514 and 1523. Their value and beauty are emphasized especially by the remarkable marquerty that they contain.

The priests, bishops and ordained elders would sit on well-established seats, so that the priests would always sit on the right, while the church committee on the left.

THE DOOR OF THE VESTRY, unique in Europe, was built in 1515. It is made of oak tree wood and it is very solid. Its value is emphasized by the exterior plate which is decorated with very beautiful marquetries. They were made by the same J. Reichmut of Sighiaoara, the one that also built the pews. As the door closed the room of the treasure, on the interior part was built a locking system that blocked all around in 19 spots.

In order to work all the nineteen locks one needs to use two objects: a key and a handle. With the key one would work four of the nineteen mechanisms, and with the handle the other fifteen. All these mechanisms, when acted upon, would penetrate metallic sockets in the wall. In 1910 the door together with the lock were taken to the world exhibition in Paris where it was awarded a prize.

Church of Biertan Organ THE ORGAN, imposing in its dimensions and having an impressive sound, was built in 1869 by the master Karl Hesse of Vienna. It bas 1290 tubes, 25 registers, pedals and 2 manuals. It is in good working condition. The organ was restored several times. In 1926 thorough cleaning was carried out and a few pipes were replaced. Another restoration took place in 1994 and was performed by Hermann Binder from Sibiu. The last restoration was performed in 2005 by a Swiss restoration team.

Fortified Church of Biertan THE ALTAR, one of the biggest polyptic altars in Transylvania, was built by the masters of Nurnberg and Vienna between 1483 and 1513. It contains 28 paintings that present scenes from the life of Jesus and Mary: the crucifixion, the baptism, the circumcision, as well as various paintings with saints. Some of them are copies of the paintings that are in the Schottenstift church in Vienna. The building of the altars in a triptych shape was only started in the Fourteenth Century. The panel is subdivided into three sections. When it is in the open position one can see eighteen paintings, whilst one can see another ten paintings when it is in the closed position. The altar is unique in Transylvania because of the number of paintings. In the middle of the altar, where the crucifix with Jesus Christ is, in the catholic period there used to be a statue that represented Virgin Mary. This is where the name of the church comes from: 'Church Saint Mary'.(Images source - ##)

Here is represented the scene of Jesus' crucifixion, with the inscription in latin "SIC DEUS DILEXID MUNDUM UT FILIUMSUUM UNIGENITUM DARET UT OMNIS QUI CREDIT IN EUM NON PEREAD SED HABET VITAM ETERNAM", "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" At the bottom of the Cross are shown 3 people in profound veneration and suffering. They are Mary, Jesus mother, Mary Magdalene and John the beloved disciple. The Scriptures, John Chapter 19.20 say that when Jesus was crucified, he laid his eyes on the people at the bottom of the Cross, saying to Mary and John: "Woman, behold thy son!" and "Behold thy mother!" And from that moment on, John, Jesus beloved disciple, took Mary home with him, as his mother.

Matrimonial Prison THE MATRIMONIAL PRISON This building has two rooms meant to shelter the couple that wishes to divorce. They used an original reconciliation method, which meant that the two spouses were given a bed, a table, a chair, a spoon, bread and water. They had to share everything and they were forced to stay locked in there until they gave up the idea of divorce. The method proved to be efficient as for 300 years there was only one case of divorce. From the psychological point of view, the reconciliation could be explained by the fact that the two spouses, no longer caught up in daily chores, stress and children, had to pay attention to each other and thus the communication was established again. There could be another explanation, that is, the shame. In those times, after the Reformation, the rules of moral behavior were quite strict and therefore it was considered a great shame to be there. For this reason, quite often, the couple used to solve their problems before being locked in there. (Image source - #)

Download Full Article ... Fortified Church of Biertan - (1.2 Mb)

Text Source: Site brochure, Fortified Church of Biertan (1490-1524)
Image # Source: Site brochure, Fortified Church of Biertan (1490-1524)
Image ## Source: Biserici fortificate ale salisor din Transilvania, Ioan Tiplic, Ovidiu Morar

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Gallery - Fortified Church of Biertan
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Village and Fortified Church of Viscri (Deutsch-Weisskirch)

Village and Fortified Church of Viscri - #5
Map: Village of Viscri - Village Plan (Image source - ###)

Aerial View - Village and Fortified Church of Viscri History ... The beginnings of the village in the High Middle Ages are closely linked to the territorial expansion of the Hungarian kings of the Arpadian dynasty who strove to integrate Transylvania, which lay to the east, into their domain. For this reason, Hungarian-speaking Szeklers were settled here as border guards first, probably in the early 12th century.

Plat - Fortified Church of Viscri Here they built a small church made of white-green limestone which the place name probably refers to. After their resettlement further to the east, closer to the natural border of the Carpathian Mountains, new settlers followed in the second half of the 12th century who were referred to as "Flandrenses" and were later entitled Transylvanian Saxons.
(Above/right, image source - ###; Legend below)
  • 1. Keep of the Church (former tower-house)
  • 2. Gate Tower
  • 3. Southern Bastion (Museum)
  • 4. Eastern Bastion
  • 5. Northern Fortified Tower
  • 6. Western Fortified Tower

Fortified Church of Viscri - Archival Photo The leader of these German-speaking farmers was probably a so-called "locator" who later had the title "Graf" with a rank comparable to that of an "Erbschulze" (hereditary village chief). The place is first mentioned in a document from around 1400 under the name "Alba Ecclesia". The Latin form of the name corresponds to the old name Vyskirch, the Saxon Waiskirich and the Hungarian Szószfeheregyhaza. The Romanian name Vicri derives from the Saxon name. Politically Deutsch-Weisskirch became a free commune with the disempowerment of the Graf dynasty. This occurred in the second half of the 15th century at the latest. It kept this status up until the 19th century and belonged to the Saxon-led County of Rupea/Reps which was named after the nearby market town Rupea/Reps. (Image source - ###)

In religious terms, the place was part of the Catholic - after the Reformation, Lutheran - Chapter of Kosd, later Chapter of Rupea. In the 18th century Romanian shepherds were settled in the Saxon village and by the 19th century around two thirds of the inhabitants were Saxons and one third either Romanians or Roma.

Between 1989-1993, after the Communist rule had come to an end in Romania, a large part of the Saxon population left Deutsch-Weisskirch and the rest of Transylvania and immigrated to Germany. The huge reduction in the population could only be made up for in part by Romanians and Roma moving to the area (the latter constitute the majority of the population today). As a result, many houses stood empty and started falling into decay. However, the stock of historical buildings in the village was saved thanks to the commitment of the families who live there and the aid of a number of international organizations, in particular the foundation Mihai Eminescu Trust (MET). Since 1999, numerous projects have been realized by the MET in order to preserve the historical structure and architecture of the village. Some of the restored farmhouses, together with their historical fixtures and fittings, are now available as lodgings for tourists.

In 1999, the fortified church and the village were included, together with six other places in southern Transylvania, in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List thus acknowledging an ensemble which, in terms of its settlement structure, the structure of the parcels of land as well as the architecture of the buildings and their fittings, has almost completely preserved the character of a typical Saxon Transylvanian village over a period of centuries.

The standard type of farmstead remained the same from the time of the wooden buildings over and beyond the appearance of the first stone ones at the end of the 17th century up until the first third of the 20th century. The few younger buildings inconspicuously blend in with the general appearance of the village. Changes are only noticeable in the design of the facades: The facade of the standard type, which is only accentuated by differently shaped ventilation openings in the gable, is occasionally supplemented from the third quarter of the 18th century on by isolated painted decoration. From about 1880 onwards, stucco, in an elaborate and varied manner, was preferably implemented as a means of decoration and an architectural partitioning element.

Since the painter Eduard Morres (1884-1980) visited the village in 1912, Deutsch-Weisskirch has served as a source of inspiration for the protagonists of Transylvanian-Saxon academic painting. This has contributed to no small degree towards making the place well known and its fortified church has become one of the main symbols for the Saxon civilization as a whole.

The mediaeval Transylvanian-Saxon dialect, which is similar to that of Luxembourg, is still spoken by the German inhabitants of the village today. The names of each lane ("Gasse") and Saxon farmstead ("Hof") are also written in this dialect in the description below.

Fortified Church of Viscri The fortified church ... Situated above this is the castle forecourt with the former house of the castle custodian which was originally integrated in the outer ring wall of the fortification. This wall, of which only parts have survived, was built in the second half of the 17th or in the first half of the 18th century.

Fortified Church of Viscri In terms of its position, the church of Deutsch-Weisskirch is a hill castle, from the point of view of its construction and function it is, like most Transylvanian-Saxon defensible churches, a so-called fortified church, i.e. a church within a ring wall defended by towers.

Fortified Church of Viscri Building history ... The church, which was originally dedicated to the apostle St. Andrew, began as a small tower less hall church with a semicircular apse in the east. It was probably erected between 1100 and 1120 by the Szeklers and after they had been resettled, was taken over by the Saxon settlers or rather by their locator.

Probably around the middle of the 13th century, the successors of the latter, the Graf dynasty, had a tower-house built to the west of the (from the point of view of defense) advantageously situated chapel. One may presume that the tower and the chapel were surrounded by a ring wall that was quickly replaced by an oval one. Presumably, at the beginning of the 14th century the apse was extended in the form of a trapeze, once again semicircularly closed and surrounded by buttresses. The extension of the church towards the west, where it met up with the tower-house, and the conversion of the latter into a keep, probably took place after the middle of the 1th' century because a Graf of Weisskirch was still mentioned in a document of 1449.

It is possible that the Graf - as in other Transylvanian-Saxon communes - lost his privileges in the second half of the 15th century and also relinquished the church and keep to the community. At the same time, the church was provided with a fire-resistant ribbed barrel vault. This process of fortifying the church as a refuge for the village community in the event of attacks was a typical response at that time to the increased raids of the Turks in the 15th century. This often included - as in Deutsch-Weisskirch - the conversion of the eastern end of the church into a so-called "fortified choir": In front of the exterior wall, a hoarding was erected on top of the high arches of an arcade. The gap between the wall and the arch served as a machicolation in order to defend the foot of the wall. In addition, a new ring wall was constructed which partly incorporated the existing one and was provided with so called "Wiekhauser"or' Kampfhauser". These were curtain wall towers with an enlarged base which are usually known in Transylvania under the general term "bastions".

The process of fortification probably came to an end, at least file the time being, in the first half of the 16th century, but was continued when the ring wall was strengthened with fortified towers on the steeper, and therefore less vulnerable north side in 1630 and on the west side in 1648/49. According to the inscriptions, Johannes Hartmann from Lovnic/Leblang as well as David Lanko and Stephan Schuller from Ungra/Galt, master builders from villages in the vicinity, were entrusted with this task. The straightening of the curtain wall probably went hand in hand with these measures in order to improve artillery coverage. In addition, the gate tower, which also served as a bell tower, was re-erected in 1650 on the foundations of its predecessor in the first ring wall.

In 1717, on account of its dilapidated state, the church had to be given a general overhaul. Broad buttresses, which were constructed in the south in the form of small porches for both portals, were added in order to absorb the enormous lateral forces resulting from the vaulting. The second storey of the western porch, which was reached by means of a wooden stairway, was also the entrance to the galleries. The old sacristy was demolished in order to be able to erect the northeastern buttresses and was replaced with a new one nearby.

Because of cracks, the vault above the nave was dismantled and replaced with a coffered ceiling in 1943. With the end of the so-called "Kuruc Rebellion" in 1711, times became more peaceful and a partial defortification followed. The wooden rampart on the inside of the ring wall was dismantled and replaced by the gallery with stonewall and pent roof which still exists today. Like the towers of the ring wall, it was used to keep stores such as grain and bacon safe from fire. The hoarding around the top of the choir was also dismantled. The choir vault was also removed and replaced with a simple stucco ceiling, but this was not done until 1870.

In the second half of the 19th century the bastions were provided with windows on the ground floor and a kindergarten was set up in the southern tower and a school in the eastern one. Restoration work on the fortified church was carried out amongst others in the 1930s, in 1970/1 and since 2003. Archaeological excavations took place in 1942 and 1970/71.

Fortified Church of Viscri - Ring Wall The ring wall ... If you contemplate the fortified church from the outside, it is the towers and the height of the massive defenses (they belong to the most extensive ones in Transylvania) which stand out and the small church almost totally disappears behind them.

Characteristic are the projecting wooden hoardings of the towers and bastions with their hipped or pyramidal roofs. Floorboards could be removed in the hoardings to function as machicolations. The bastions, ring wall towers as well as the ring wall itself are provided with horizontal loopholes (with and without pivoting shutters), loopholes pointing downwards as well as straight ahead for defense purposes using gunpowder weapons. The southern bastion is connected to a tower that was intended as an additional defense for the nearby gateway tower and the sally part (man-hole) between them. Salty port and castle gateway both have oak gates which pivot on wooden door hinges and - as is usual in Transylvania - have iron bars nailed to them on the outside.

Fortified Church of Viscri - Interior The interior of the church ... The interior is dominated by a gallery from the 18th century which extends along three sides of the church and is supported by wooden columns. The panels of the balustrade are decorated with Baroque marble painting. The majority of the other furnishings also date back to the 18th century and floral motifs from the repertoire of rural furniture ornamentation play an important role. The strict seating arrangements during the services are dictated by age and gender and this is reflected by the differences in the pews: The typical low plank pews in the nave are reserved for women and children.

Fortified Church of Viscri - Organ The renowned organ builder Johann Thais (1769-1830) from the Burzenland created the neo-classical altar with the organ above it along with the gallery in 1817. Corinthian columns and pilasters flank the altarpiece that was painted by Josef Pancratz at the end of the 19th century in the Nazarene style. It portrays the motif "Let the Children Come to Me" (Matthew 10,13-16). The organ front is richly decorated with vases and festoons and, like the altar, was painted and gilded in 1827. The eight-stop organ, the bellows of which are located in an extension, was restored in 2007/08.

Particularly noteworthy is the font that was made out of a Romanesque basket capital and part of a column. These spolia and two further capitals as well as some bases and column parts which were found in the area of the fortified church and in the village may have originally been parts of a west gallery from the middle of the 13th century which was supported by columns. Some other fragments, amongst others, parts of the ribs of the net-vaulting, date to the Gothic period. Since the church was extended, a simple Gothic pointed arch portal in the west wall has served as the access to the former tower-house. This portal, which is in secondary use, probably dates to the beginning of the l9th century and is to be seen in the same chronological context as the extension of the chancel. It is said that a similar portal was once situated where today's eastern entrance is.

Fortified Church of Viscri - Tower House In the former tower-house (tallest tower, center of image), which is constructed of grey basalt, a stone staircase in the wall connects the lower storeys. The two lowest ones are vaulted. When it was converted into a keep, the tower-house, which was provided with high loop-holes for cross bowmen in the upper floors, was made higher and provided with a rampart walk. It also served as a clock tower for a time. One of the community's significant liturgical utensils is a Late Gothic chalice of gilded silver that was made around 1500 and has a hexafoil truncated pyramid foot and pearled cup. It is decorated using a technique, a kind of cloisonne, which was particularly widespread in Transylvania. There is a relationship to pieces of gold craftsmanship from Bistrita/Bistritz. In the vicinity chalices from Soars/Scharosch and Selistat/Seligstadt show a great similarity.

Fortified Church of Viscri - Museum Museum of everyday rural life ... A museum which was set up in the southern bastion and parts of the storage corridor in 2006 conveys a comprehensive image of Saxon life in Deutsch-Weieskirch. Its numerous historical exhibits include furniture, textiles, pottery, farming as well as domestic tools and utensils and also liturgical books.

The traditional Saxon costume or the village, particularly the women's headdress (veil), has apparently remained unchanged for centuries: there are obvious parallels of the Flemish women in the 15th century.

The so-called "Nachbarschaftsladen" are colorfully painted chests which contained, amongst others, the carved wooden emblems of the corporations of neighbors. These were sent from farmstead to farmstead together with news about social events in the village. The "neighborhoods" they belonged to were corporations, organized according to streets, which had the function of arranging mutual assistance, for example when a house was being built, within the Saxon villages and safeguarding moral and church traditions.

Viscri Orthodox Church (1906) The Romanian Orthodox Church ... The small hall church which was built in 1906 has a massive square west tower with pyramidal roof and an eastern annex with a straight end. The design of the facade is unpretentious and dominated by round arched windows. The painted depictions of saints were first added in 2008, at the same time as the painting of the interior. The interior with its flat ceiling, pitmans, naos and a chancel separated from the rest by an iconostasis shows an arrangement which is typical for an Orthodox church. The stone building replaced an older wooden one that probably stood on the hill. This is a development which DeutschWeisskirch shares with many other places in the vicinity because they all have stone Orthodox churches of a similar type which were constructed in the 19th century.

The unostentatious hall churches with west tower often follow the building plan of the older Saxon churches in the villages. This also applies for the Orthodox Church in Deutsch-Weisskirch which also has great similarity, even in the details, with the Saxon church in Leblang which was also built in 1906. For this reason, one may assume that both were constructed by the architects Johann and Karl Letz from Sighisoara/Schassburg. As the youngest representative of the named group of Orthodox village churches, the church in Deutsch-Weisskirch was built at a time when, in the urban centres of Sibiu/Hermannstadt and Brasov/Kronstadt, endeavors were already being made to make a clear distinction between Orthodox churches and those of other Transylvanian types by building them in the Byzantine style.

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Text Source: Site brochure - Verlag Schnell & Steiner GMBH Regensburg, Leibnizstraße 13, D-93055, Regensburg
Image ### Source: Site brochure (above), Angela Gröber from plan by Paul Niedermaier
Image ### Source: Biserici fortificate ale salisor din Transilvania, Ioan Tiplic, Ovidiu Morar

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Gallery - Village and Fortified Church of Viscri
Fortified Church of Viscri
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Fortified Church of Viscri - Museum
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