UNESCO E-library of Park Škocjan Caves and The Karst Biosphere Reserve

Iozefina Postăvaru

The villages with fortified churches provide a vivid picture of the cultural landscape of southern Transylvania (central region of Romania). They are characterized by a specific land organisation, individualized by compactness and regularity which is preserved since the late Middle Ages. Their unique character is due to the presence of the fortified churches, the dominants of the entire urban structure, which illustrate different Ages of building, dating back from the Romanesque to the Baroque periods.

During the 13th century the kings of Hungary encouraged the colonization of the sub-Carpathian region of Transylvania (then, part of the Hungarian Kingdom) by a German population of artisans, farmers and merchants, mainly coming from the Rhineland region. Known as the Transylvanian Saxons, they enjoyed special privileges granted by the Hungarian Crown, till the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite living in a country where the majority of the population was ethnic Romanians and Hungarians, the Transylvanian Saxons were able to preserve their civilization intact throughout the centuries.

The geographical location at the foothills of the Carpathians exposed the Transylvanian Saxon communities to a permanent danger, because of the Mongol invasions and especially of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire to the Hungarian Kingdom and Europe. As a reaction, the Transylvanian Saxons built defensive works within which they could take shelter from the invaders. Lacking the resources of the reach European Medieval towns that were able to be entirely surrounded by walls and towers, the Transylvanian Saxons villagers fortified their churches, equipping them with devices of defense and of subsistence in case of sieges, of great diversity.

Villages-with-fortified-churches-Biertan

The 7 villages admitted on World Heritage List were chosen from other around 250 Saxon localities in Transylvania, on the basis of the representativeness of the fortification system which was applied to the church.

Biertan. The large hall-type church in Gothic style, completed around 1522-1523, which stands on a hill in the middle of the village was provided with a fortified storey on the choir and three precincts of walls and towers.

Câlnic. The mid-13th-century noble dwelling tower and chapel, provided with an oval wall were embedded, in 1430, in a powerful citadel with high walls and towers.

Prejmer. The Cistercian Gothic church was provided, during the 15th century, with a circular fortified precincts 12 meters high and 6 meters wide, barbican and moat. Inside the precincts, around 250 of storerooms are housed on three or four levels, being accessible through outer wooden galleries and staircases.

Viscri. In the early 16th century, the Saxon settlers turned a pre-existing Romanesque chapel into a single-nave church, with bell tower on the west and fortified storey resting on semicircular arches supported by massive buttresses; the precincts walls and towers were strengthened and developed during the 17th century.

Dârjiu. The late Gothic church caring murals (1419) was fortified towards 1520, with a fortified storey on arches and buttresses and with rectangular precincts with corner towers, which was developed during the 17th century. It is an example of irradiation of the Saxon model of fortification in the Szeklers area.

Saschiz. The late Gothic church (1493-1525) was designed as a fortification; defensive storey gives the church the appearance of a massive bastion.

Valea Viilor. The early Gothic Church was transformed in late Gothic style at the beginning of the 16th century, being -in the same time - provided with a defensive storey which rose above the choir, nave and bell tower. The 6 meters high oval precincts is pierced by machicolations, which are accessed from a covered watch road supported by masonry arcades. 

Izdelava: Studio Matris