Towns & Cities

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Sibiu is the ultimate tourist town, filled with beautiful places and unique architecture worthy of being discovered and admired. The coquettish Transylvanian Saxon bourg seems like a labyrinth of narrow streets, revealing tourist attractions with enchanting stories at every step. The medieval charm is evoked by the massive walls of the citadel, by the numerous passage ways and towers of the guilds, by the architectural richness harmoniously combining western and oriental styles.  Even after eight centuries of existence, the town is divided into the Upper Town, covering Sibiu’s historical center, and the Lower Town, the oldest part of the citadel which was once inhabited by tradesmen.

SibiuAlthough it distinguished itself as the Saxons’ most important center in Transylvania, Sibiu is a symbol of interethnic communion, assimilating three major cultures – Romanian, Magyar and German – and influences of the minorities.  The town’s economic and cultural development was influenced by important historical personalities and events, so that numerous premiers in the Romanian space happened here, in Sibiu: the first book printed in Romanian, the world’s first rocket experiment, the first auditorium for theatre performances, the first lightning rod set in South-Eastern Europe, the first zoo in Romania.

Sibiu is surprising, effervescent, full of energy and color, very up-to-date and yet, reminiscent of a past full of mysteries and fascinating legends. The bustle of the town introduces you not only to historical and architectural monuments, but also to ample cultural events, art collections, a gastronomic tradition, picturesque sceneries and unknown places waiting to be explored.

The History of Sibiu

SibiuThe existence of Sibiu was first signaled by Pope Celestin III at the end of the 12th century, but the first page of the town’s history was written by the Transylvanian Saxon colonizers. Settled in Transylvania to consolidate the authority of the Hungarian Kingdom in the area, they have fundamentally changed the appearance and the organization of the settlement. The town was enhanced with a defense system consisting of exterior walls, bastions, four gates and twelve towers. At that time, the Sibiu Citadel was the strongest in Transylvania, standing against the Turkish and Tartar invasions.

Sibiu was declared a town in 1336, as a consequence of the development of the tradesmen’s guilds and of the flowering commercial exchanges. The military conflicts subjected the town to many sieges, but the inhabitants rebuilt it each time, and at the end of the 17th century, Sibiu became the capital of Transylvania, under the Austro-Hungarian influence. The Habsburg period also meant the building of new neighborhoods outside the fortifications and the raising of baroque monuments, the most representative being the Brukenthal Palace. Economically and culturally, the town made considerable progress, as the industry, education, science and art came to know an unprecedented development in Romania. Deeply marked by the two World Wars, by the deportation of the Saxons and the anti-communism demonstrations, Sibiu has remained the depositary of authentic values, both material and spiritual. Consequently, Sibiu became Europe’s cultural capital in 2007, the first city in Eastern Europe to receive this title.

The Grand SquareThe Upper Town

The stages in building Sibiu have determined the formation of two areas, almost superposed and with different functions. In the Upper Town, the wealthy families used to live and the main activity was commerce, while the Lower Town was mostly inhabited by tradesmen. Nowadays, this separation merely helps the tourists who want a complete tour of the bourg.

The Grand Square

In the center of the Upper Town you will find the Grand Square (PiaÅ£a Mare), the starting point towards all tourist attractions. Gatherings, fairs and public executions used to be held here. The cage for the mad men, the gallows and the pillory drew the crowds like a magnet. A genuine architectural monument part of the UNESCO patrimony, the square is surrounded by three distinct edifices:  Brukenthal Palace, the Council Tower and the Roman-Catholic Church.

Brukenthal PalaceBrukenthal Palace was built in the last decades of the 18th century, being the residence of Samuel von Brukenthal, governor of Transylvania.  Well accustomed to the Viennese luxury, the baron wanted to enjoy it in his hometown as well, and so, following the sketches of the architects, one of the most important Romanian baroque buildings was raised. Brukenthal brought art collections from all over the world to Sibiu: medieval objects, Renaissance paintings, gothic silverware, Transylvanian sculptures, glassware, pieces of furniture, oriental carpets and engravings. All of these are displayed in the biggest museum in South-Eastern Europe and the first official museum in our country. The Palace houses the Art Gallery, with works signed by famous painters, and the Brukenthal Library, with over 300,000 exhibits. Furthermore, the interior preserves the original pieces, dating back to the times of the baron: the rococo and neo-classical stoves, the red silk wallpaper and the Murano glass chandeliers. In the immediate vicinity of the museum you will find the Blue House, decorated with Sibiu’s coat of arms and functioning as an art gallery for Romanian exhibits.

Council TowerThe northern side of the Grand Square is dominated by the Roman-Catholic Church, a somber baroque edifice of simple ornamentation. It was painted at the beginning of the 1900s, so now it is decorated with frescoes and brightly colored stained glass. The organ above the entrance is still used for concerts these days. The church impresses with the height of its ceiling and the circular windows, which altogether create an environment for meditation.

The tour of the Grand Square only ends once you’ve climbed the Council Tower (Turnul Sfatului). Considered the emblem of Sibiu, it was part of the citadel’s second fortified line, and it functioned as a gate tower, storehouse for cereal crops, fire tower and prison. Along the spiral staircase there are exhibit rooms and small windows looking out over the bustle of the city. The penultimate floor houses the functioning mechanism of the clock which has guided the citizens of Sibiu for centuries. From the last floor of the tower, initially build in a pyramidal form, the view opens generously over the city; on sunny days, you can even see the FÓ‘gÓ‘raÅŸ Mountains.

The Small Square

The Bridge of LiesBy going underneath the arch of the Council Tower, the visitor arrives in the Small Square (PiaÅ£a MicÓ‘), a bohemian place, full of restaurants and terraces, perfect for a few moments of relaxation. In the beautifully colored houses where you can now serve traditional dishes, merchants used to live. In the evening, the warm light of the lampposts creates a romantic atmosphere, reminding of the town’s medieval origins.

Among the buildings which are part of the national heritage in the Small Square, the ones standing out are the Luxembourg House, with its burgundy walls richly decorated with floral motifs, Weidner House, a renaissance edifice with gothic elements and the House of Arts, the former Butchers’ Hall, presently the Museum of Saxon Ethnography and Folk Art. Near the Goldsmiths’ Staircase Tower you can find the old drugstore called ‘La Ursul Negru’ (At the Black Bear), opened in 1600, nowadays the Museum of the History of Pharmacy. Let’s not forget that the first drugstore in the country was opened in Sibiu and it is also here that doctor Samuel Hahnemann laid the foundations of homeopathic treatments. The Museum maintains the structure of a classic drugstore, consisting of a pharmaceutical laboratory and a sector dedicated to homeopathy. Here you can see pieces of furniture, medical instruments, devices and apparatuses used to produce pills and a collection of 2,900 instrument cases and vials for homeopathic products. It is said that above the entrance of the drugstore there was a boulder hanging by a frail spider web; it was ready to fall on whomever came in not trusting the beneficial effects of these cures.

The Clock TowerThe place most charged with legends is without a doubt, The Bridge of Lies (Podul Minciunilor), tying the 'two superposed towns'. Built on the foundation of a gate tower, it is the first bridge in Romania and the second in Europe built from cast iron. It is the place of meeting for young people in love who might not know that the bridge starts to squeak when empty promises are made. It is also said that lying brides were severely punished or even thrown off the bridge when their husbands found out that they were not chaste, while dishonest merchants were made an example of in front of the entire crowd of the fair. Surely, the Bridge of Lies has witnessed many false claims, but don’t be superstitious – dare to make the step and cross it!

Huet Square

Evangelic CathedralAfter crossing the Bridge of Lies you reach Huet Square, the town’s oldest medieval square. The place seems frozen in time: the buildings have preserved their gothic architecture and the archaic facades, restaurants haven’t yet invaded these streets, and the Evangelic Cathedral, with its imposing allure, reinforces the sensation that you are stepping into another century. The church dates back to 1520 and it was raised on the foundation of a former Roman basilica. Its tower, with a height of over 73 meters, is visible from any of the town’s corners. Until not long ago, between the two windows of the tower there were two wooden figurines: that of a woman cook and that of a drummer. Legends say that during the times when Prince Bathory’s troops held Sibiu under a reign of terror, the Saxons decided to kill the Magyars and get rid of them once and for all. The drummer of the citadel, a Hungarian soldier, found out about this plan from his Saxon girlfriend who was a cook, and started to play the drums at midnight, waking his fellow countrymen. Grateful for having escaped alive, the Hungarians made two wooden figurines representing their rescuers and placed them in the tower, to be seen by everyone. At the interior, the church impresses with its size and the multitude of religious items. The fresco on the northern side of the church portrays the scene of the crucifixion and marks the leap from the gothic style to the renaissance one. On the opposite wall there is the chorus and the organ, the former being the biggest in south-eastern Europe, enchanting the listeners with its tunes.

The Grand SquareIf you look carefully, near the church you will find a building which had a surprising destination for the 21st century, The Journeymen’s House (Casa Calfelor). It doesn’t only have a historic role, for journeymen have been present in Sibiu starting with 2002. Young apprentices from Germany, Switzerland or France travel different countries to gain experience and then become skilled workers. Dressed in white shirts, black flared pants, vests and hats, they work in restoration or as locksmiths, cooks, bakers or potters. The pole in front of the Journeymen’s House has small objects on it, reminding of these apprentices who embellish the town of Sibiu with their work.

After you’ve admired the architectural richness of Huet Square, the only way to go is towards the Lower Town, full of historic monuments waiting to be discovered. Two ramifications of staircases and arcades form The Staircase Passage (Pasajul ScÓ‘rilor), a picturesque place, characteristic for the medieval Sibiu. On one side, the street is flanked by a massive wall, while on the other there are some houses scattered; one of them used to serve as the headquarters of the customs, another one was a bakery, and at the end of the passage there is the oldest restaurant in the country, ‘The Golden Barrel’ (,,Butoiul de Aur”).

The Lower Town

Arquebusiers TowerThe Lower Town is a quiet area, with long streets, small squares and rustic buildings. Among these, the guild towers stand out, having different shapes and a resistance which has survived the hardships of the times: the Arquebusiers’ Tower (Turnul Archebuzierilor), the Drapers’ Tower (Turnul Pânzarilor), the Carpenters’ Tower (Turnul Dulgherilor), the Potters’ or the Leather Dressers’ Towers (Turnul Olarilor, Turnul Pielarilor), the Powder Tower (Turnul PulberÓ‘riei). The only one which gave in to the numerous sieges was the Cisnadiei Gate Tower (Turnul Poarta CisnÓ‘diei), belonging to the butchers’ guild.

Travelling through the mysterious tunnels of the town, buildings of surprising details will catch your eyes. The House with Caryatids is one of them, whose entrance is supported by two feminine statues. In the yard of the Altemberger House there is the History Museum, with a patrimony including medieval weapons and armors, sculptures, coins, seals, decorative objects created by the craftsmen of Sibiu, religious silverware. A special section is dedicated to the communities in Transylvania and it offers an overall image of society’s evolution from the Stone Age to the formation of the Romanian people. If you are a fan of exploring and learning new things, don’t hesitate to visit the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Arms and Hunting Trophies and the Steam Locomotives Museum.

A majestic halidom dominating this part of the city is the Orthodox Cathedral, founded by Andrei Åžaguna, the metropolitan bishop. Although it reproduces the plan of Saint Sophia Church in Istanbul, the cathedral preserves elements of the Transylvanian ecclesial architecture and baroque motifs. At the exterior, the cathedral is decorated with colored (yellow and red) bricks and mosaics, and in the interior the frescoes evoke the Transylvanian ecclesial art. Very spacious and bright, the halidom is a genuine architectonic jewel and an oasis of tranquility.

Dumbrava Forest, a Rustic Attraction

ASTRA MuseumIf you have walked through Sibiu, you deserve a place to relax, with a lot of greenery, secular trees and clear lakes. Dumbrava Forest is situated only 4 km away from the city and it welcomes you with a wonderful picturesque scenery. You can take a ride on the lakes or enjoy recreational sports, you can visit the zoo or the ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization. The world of the Romanian village reveals itself to you in all its splendor in the great outdoors. Peasants’ houses, handicraft workshops, the church, the school, the tavern and the fishery, you can find them all here, in this accurate representation of the rural universe. The alleyways of the museum will remind you of your grandparents’ yard at the countryside, and the atmosphere is charming. The households are carefully designed and at any moment you expect a peasant to open his door and invite you in. Fortunately, you don’t need an invitation and you can explore the yards at your ease, admiring the traditional works of art. The values of the Romanian people, the ancient customs and occupations have been passed on from the ancestors to the younger generations.

Sibiu is a town which reveals its history at every step. Every building, tower or wall in the citadel has its own story and takes you to another epoch. Although it never renounces its old, medieval attire, Sibiu is extremely up-to-date and doesn’t allow you to get bored. It lures you with lots of cultural events, tradesmen fairs and festivals of all sorts. The Astra International Film Festival, the International Theatre Festival or the Jazz Festival are only a few of the ample artistic manifestations attracting thousands of spectators. Hence, discover the charm of this Saxon bourg and the reasons why the tourists love it so much !

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]