12 Fortified Churches of Transylvania: The Peasants' Castles

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The Carpathian Mountains enclosing Transylvania used to be a frontier land. This historical region located in the heart of Romania has always been a mosaic of cultures and people.

It was not only inhabited by Romanian but also Hungarian-Székelys, Jews, Gypsies, Vampires... ;) and a group of skilled artisans, descendants of Germanic tribes called the Saxons.

These privileged immigrants were invited by the King of Hungary in the 12th century to help to defend and develop this conflictive territory.

The castles of the peasants

Constantly threatened by Ottomans, Mongols, Tatars, Cossacks, and also Romanian invaders, unlike Hungarians, Transylvanian Saxons were too far from their originary 'homeland' to run away.

Their only option was to stay and resist. Thus what made their legacy unique is the fact that instead of gathering around a lord in his castle, these people transformed their most representative communal building into a stronghold.

Only 150 of these fortified churches are still standing, out of approximately 300. After a memorable journey to the area, we have selected some of the most interesting remaining ensembles from this magnificent architectural legacy.

Just in case, if you are looking for the filming locations of Dracula, follow this link.

Fortified Churches
The fortified church of Cincșor is one of the best-preserved. The strategy of the villagers was to represent a too-hard effort for a too-small reward for the attackers.

Some invaders could spare the town in exchange for food supplies, so locals had the hope to transfer the raid to better-defended positions.
Image by Atlas of Wonders

Biserici Fortificate din Transilvania
Pictured, the compact church of Axente Sever. The inhabitants of these little towns had no resources to protect the entire settlement, and the temple used to be the only stone building where to take refuge.
Image by Bogdan Croitoru

Saxon Village
From all the Transylvanian fortified churches, Biertan is one of the most spectacular and representative.

Also, it belongs to the group of only 7 included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Image by Otto Schemmel

Transylvanian Saxons
The Șeica Mică fortress is a massive building defended by two belts of walls and a few towers.

The external apse has a row of openings (technically called machicolations) to throw stones and boiling water over the enemies, just like a castle.
Image by Zsolt Deak and Stefan Bichler

Kirchenburgen in Siebenbürgen
To get to most of the places on this list, like Dealu Frumos, you have to take roads less traveled.

A bicycle is ideal to cross the beautiful villages and landscapes of Transylvania.

The church of Cristian (near Brașov) looks better from an aerial perspective.

The circular wall enclosure is reinforced by 8 towers, a bastion, and a moat.
Image by Neighbor's goat

Fortified Churches of Romania
Prejmer is considered the most powerful medieval fortified church in Eastern Europe.

It has thick walls of 4 meters, 12 meters high bastions, and even a special weapon called the "death organ", which was able to shoot several arquebuses at one time.

Inside the round courtyard, there are almost 300 cells, one for each family in the village, very handy in case of siege (or zombie apocalypse).
Image by Andreidan

Churches of Transylvania
It is possible to camp inside the first enclosure of the church of Moșna for a small donation if you ask nicely.

This village is very close to the beautiful city of Mediaș, not to be missed.
Image by Zsolt Deak and Atlas of Wonders

Fortress Church
Viscri is a visually harmonic and picturesque monument located in a remote rural area, also selected by UNESCO.

On the other hand, the capital and the bigger city of the Saxon community was Hermannstadt, better known as Sibiu.
Image by Zsolt Deak and Valentina Datcu

Siebenbürger Sachsen
As a curiosity, the fortified Gothic church of Valea Viilor has a well right inside the center of the building to provide water in case of siege.
Image by Zsolt Deak and Atlas of Wonders

The castles of God
In Hărman you can find rooms embedded in the external walls of the church, where families could stay in troubled times.

In many of these ensembles open to the public, some of the spaces have been transformed into small museums displaying old surviving artifacts.

Saschiz church
Saschiz has one of the tallest and impressive towers. The Saxons played a key role in the history of Transylvania until they decided to move to Germany en masse, from the second half of the 20th century.

The diaspora left many of these fascinating monuments unguarded from the ravages of time.
Image by Mihai Raducanu

Finally, here is a short and interesting video about the last member of the Saxon community in the village of Richiș.

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