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BiertanTransylvania is a fairy tale with idyllic landscapes and villages dotted about valleys and hills, with traditions passed on from ancient times, a rich history and welcoming people. The rural dwelling places from within the Carpathian arch and the white houses with red roofs preserve the architecture brought to the area by the Saxon colonists nine centuries ago. In the center of the villages we can still find fortified churches, surrounded by massive walls and guarded by towers. During the sieges initiated by the Turks and the Tartars, the fortresses functioned as places of refuge or storage rooms for provisions.

Built firstly to answer the defensive needs of the community, the fortified Saxon churches seem cold and austere. Imposing and dominating the surroundings, the churches distinguish themselves through the combining of architectural elements, through the original frescoes or the worship objects charged with religious meaning. The halidoms at Biertan, Saschiz and MÓ‘lâncrav are representative not only for the spirituality of the Transylvanian Saxons, but also for their culture and history. On the Târnava Mare Valley you will discover an atmosphere specific to medieval times, crafts passed on from ancestors and people waiting to receive guests. The quietness of the villages, the fresh air and the elders’ tales will definitely charm you.

The Fortified Church in MediaÅŸ

MediasMediaÅŸ is a Transylvanian medieval city blending the old and the new, reminiscent of the efforts made by Transylvanian Saxons and the Romanians to preserve their history and values. Inside the MediaÅŸ fortress there is the Saint Margaret fortified church, the place where Prince Stephen Báthory found out that he was chosen King of Poland in 1576. The edifice reunites architectural elements prior to the 15th century. Overall, the church stands out through its Gothic style. In the interior, you can see the heraldic insignia of the Báthory family, but also the coats of arms of Sibiu and MediaÅŸ cities. Throughout time, the halidom has housed several objects of art, among which a massive bronze baptistery and a generous collection of oriental carpets. The triptych altar, one of the most valuable in Transylvania, is made of eight volets on which scenes from the passions of the Christ are painted. In the pulpit you will also see the organ which dates back to 1678, having two manual claviers and over 1,300 tubes.

At the exterior, the church benefits from several fortification layers – three defense walls, main and secondary gates, a water ditch, towers and bastions. The tower of the church, also called the Trumpets’ Tower, became a symbol of MediaÅŸ once the latter became a town. A walk through the MediaÅŸ citadel will offer you a genuine journey in time, accompanied by the famous drummer.

If you are in this area, be sure not to miss the fortified church and the regional Eco-museum in the Viilor Valley. You will be able to admire not only a typical gothic halidom, but also a few traditional households where you can learn more about the villagers’ ancient customs. The dwelling places on the Târnava Mare Valley reveal extremely picturesque sceneries and they easily win you over with their simplicity and archaic atmosphere.

BrateiThe Fortified Church at Biertan

Biertan is one of the first Saxon settlements in Transylvania, the home of the Evangelical Lutheran Episcopate. In the Middle Ages, the commune was an important agricultural, vinicultural and handicraft centre and in 1993 it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The fortified Evangelical Church is situated on a small hill, in the center of Biertan and the way to get to it is by climbing the covered wooden stairs. The halidom stands out through the blending of gothic and renaissance elements, the pulpit made of a single piece of stone, with sculptures representing biblical scenes and an organ brought from Vienna. The polyptych altar, similar to the one at MediaÅŸ, is the biggest in Transylvania and it consists of eight panels with paintings illustrating the life of Jesus and of Virgin Mary. The door of the sacristy is particularly interesting and was awarded at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1910. It has 19 locks, maybe because the treasury of the church and the fortunes of the villagers were hidden here.

Seica MicaIn the yard of the church there are several towers, one of them being the Prison Tower or the Marital Tower. It is said that those who wanted to get a divorce were locked in a room in that tower for two weeks, during which they had to share one bed, one chair and one set of flatware. The elders of the place say that in 300 years, only one couple got separated, as for all the others this method proved to be very efficient. Biertan is a charming place, with alleyways elbowing the church, with rustic houses and tall doors. The colors and the light here and on the hills, under which the Tarnava Mare runs, will surely please your eyes.

Close by, you will find Richis village (in German – ‘The Village of the Rich’), which used to be an important vinicultural center, where they grew only the finest grape varieties. Furthermore, you can visit the fortified church here, whose entrance is warded by an impressive portal.  The walls are decorated with numerous sculpted figures, representing both biblical figures and Celtic gods. The halidom is full of mystery and stories worth discovering.

The Fortified Church at MÓ‘lâncrav

MalanclavMÓ‘lâncrav is one of the Transylvanian villages which charmed Prince Charles of Great Britain. It is no wonder, for the landscapes are splendid and harmony rules over this small rural universe. The Transylvanian Saxon community is still numerous here and keeps the old practices and traditions. One of them is taking care of the fortified church, erected by Apafi, the Magyar count, in the 14th century. The stone halidom is not very tall, but it was strong enough to defend the Saxons during the sieges. In the interior, the church stands out through the mural painting, a narrative fresco illustrating biblical scenes. The polyptych altar is also present, portraying Virgin Mary. The edifice at MÓ‘lâncrav still watches over the villagers, remaining a genuine bridge between the past and the future.

MosnaThe Fortified Church at Sachiz

At Saschiz, the fortified church in the middle of the village continues the merciless battle with time. Raised in honor of King Stephen I of Hungary, it stands on an older Roman construction.  Like the other Transylvania Saxon churches, the one at Saschiz was a defense fortress. As a matter of fact, the Clock Tower, a copy of the one in SighiÅŸoara, is still the commune’s symbol of power. The church is simple, with somber furniture, and on the walls you can see the names of the Transylvanian Saxon soldiers who died on duty during World War II. The gothic architectural elements reveal the embrasures. Although in Saschiz there are fewer Transylvanian Saxon families and the church is decaying, the historical and landscape value of the area was acknowledged, hence its featuring in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

BiertanÅžaroÅŸ pe Târnave is another typical Transylvanian Saxon village, with the church situated in the center and the alleyways going around it. The building, strengthened by a fortified structure, dates back to the late gothic period, but inside you will observe the influence of renaissance elements. The stone sculpted pulpit, the baroque altar and the still functional organ acknowledge the importance given by the Transylvanian Saxons to the holy ways and to the relationship with divinity.

The churches of the Transylvanian Saxons have throughout time fulfilled their spiritual purpose and they have been reliable shelters for the community. After six centuries, these halidoms preserve art objects representative of the Transylvanian Saxon culture, prompting the visitor to discover their history. At the heart of Transylvania, each village is watched over by a fortified church. Each one is unique in its way and worth seeing and admiring.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]