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Drummer of Sighisoara fortressSighiÅŸoara is one of the most beautiful medieval towns in Europe and one of the few inhabited fortresses of our times. Highly reminiscent of the Middle Ages, 'the Pearl of Transylvania', as it was called two centuries ago, wins you over with its fairytale like atmosphere. With its narrow paved streets, its passages from underneath the towers, its brightly colored houses, monumental churches, lively small squares and architectural richness, SighiÅŸoara rivals with burgs like Vienna and Prague. The old city is an outdoor museum offering a fascinating journey in time, back to the days when the troubadours and the minstrels displayed their virtuosity everywhere and the elegant young ladies skirted the courtship of the handsome knights. History is everywhere to be discovered by the eager tourists, who get to feel like genuine inhabitants of the fortress. We invite you to discover a charming town situated at the heart of Transylvania, where the people are welcoming, the landscapes - delightful and the stories - never ceasing.

A Short History of SighiÅŸoara Fortress

Shoemakers TowerThe story of SighiÅŸoara begins at the end of the 12th century, when German colonizers laid the foundations of a fortification that would protect the eastern borders of the Hungarian Kingdom. The Saxons built a strong fortress here, with an exterior wall more than 8 meters high, 14 impressive towers and 4 bastions. The numerous guilds of the craftsmen have contributed not only to the cultural richness of the place, but they also had an important economic role; the weekly fairs brought travelers from distant places and the flowering commerce gave SighiÅŸoara the title of town in 1367. Throughout time, the fortress stood against sieges and foreign occupations, internal uprisings, a devastating fire and its inhabitants were confronted with a long period in which the plague took thousands of lives. However, SighiÅŸoara continued to be a cultural center, encouraging and hosting artistic manifestations. The Romanians and the Saxons equally helped to create the identity of Transylvania’s symbol-city, so authentic that it became a part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

The Clock Tower

Clock TowerVisible from any corner of the city, the Clock Tower has become the emblem of the fortress, the most popular attraction with the tourists. Built to keep watch over the main gate of the fortification, the tower was also meant to impress foreigners. The four turrets on the roof are a sign that the legislators in SighiÅŸoara had the right to administer the capital punishment. Until the 16th century, the Clock Tower was the headquarters of the Town’s Council and nowadays it houses the collections of the History Museum. In different thematic rooms you can admire archeological objects (tools, ceramics, and numismatic collections), popular art items, medical instruments belonging to Josef Bacon - the founder of the museum, painted furniture and period clocks. The fourth floor of the tower is dedicated to the guilds of the craftsmen, which defended the fortress for five centuries and contributed to its economic and political development. Nineteen in number, they occupied the smaller towers and they had representatives among the town leaders. The guilds were disbanded in 1884, with the modernization of the manufacturing industry. The exhibits are a proof of mastery and patience on behalf of the tailors, shoemakers, skinners, hatters, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, locksmiths and coopers.

Torture RoomSeen from the streets of the fortress, the most attractive is the balcony and the baroque roof of the tower, with its wonderful mosaic shingles. If you climb up to the last level you will see the mechanism of the big clock and the figurines witnessing the continuous passing of time. The miniature citizens still remind of the peace and justice which were supposed to prevail in the citadel, while the seven gods obviously represent the days of the week. On the roof you will also see the meteorological post and the cock indicating which way the wind blows. From the balcony, the view generously opens over the Lower Town and the citadel, while the valley of the Târnava Mare catches your eye with picturesque sceneries. Now that you know what SighiÅŸoara looks like from a height, don’t hesitate to discover it on foot. You can make a short layover right at the foot of the tower and visit the Torture Room, a place of agony for the condemned. The scaffold, the shackles, the chains and the rock hanging by the throat of the convicted evoke the most well known punishments of the times. Close by there is the Weapons Chamber, displaying side arms and fire arms, cavalry items and armors. Among the medieval collections, those who enjoy cloak-and-dagger novels will find rapiers, swords, crossbows, maces, hunting rifles, pistols, revolvers, the entire arsenal of a brave defender of the fortress.

The Church of the Dominican Monastery

Church of the Dominican MonasteryOn the right side of the main gate there is The Blacksmiths’ Tower, built to protect the Church of the Dominican Monastery.  Dating back to the late 13th century, the halidom initially belonged to the Dominican friars and the Franciscan nuns, then it was taken over by the evangelical community in SighiÅŸoara. The gothic monument was rebuilt after the fire in 1676, when arches were added and the interior was decorated with Prague baroque elements. The church has simple ornamentations with traditional Saxon motifs and sculptures, but it keeps some objects of great artistic value: the painted altar, the organ, the bronze baptistery and a collection of oriental carpets.

After the buildings of the monastery were demolished in the last years of the 19th century, the headquarters of the City Hall was raised here, an imposing neo-renaissance building with high windows.  The well taken care of park in front of the edifice is a place preferred by the tourists who want to rest admiring the buildings of the Lower Town. Very close to the precincts of the wall you will find the Roman-Catholic Church, raised where the chapels of the Franciscan nuns used to be. Elegant and sober, the church is a discreet presence inviting to introspection, thus mostly visited by those who want to find inner peace and a connection with divinity.

The Pupils’ Staircase

Church of the Dominican MonasteryA lane neighboring the exterior wall of the fortress reveals four guild towers. The first is the Shoemakers’ Tower with its high roof and the exterior staircase inviting you to climb its steps. The reward is sure to come: SighiÅŸoara’s stately and colored houses will lie at your feet, among paved alleys which lead to the Square of the fortress. But before, be sure to visit the Tailors’ Tower where the locals used to store their wheat and gun powder. Used as a second gate of the fortification, the tower consisted of two closed alleyways with iron gates, as high as the Clock tower. If you follow the former Guards’ Alley you will soon see the Skinners’ Tower and right next to it, the Butchers’ Tower, offering a panoramic view of Târnava Mare Valley.

Pupils StaircaseOne of the tourist attractions which intrigue the visitors of the fortress, startling their imagination, is the Covered Staircase of the Pupils (or the Pupils’ Staircase). As its name reveals, it was built in 1654 to protect the pupils of the School uphill from the rain and wind. It is built entirely out of wood and the shingles of the roof let the light come inside. From its foundation, the staircase seems downright unapproachable, but imagine that the pupils of SighiÅŸoara used to climb it every day, all 300 steps, while nowadays there are only 175 divided into groups of 6, symbolizing the working days. At the end of this road you too will see the school which is now a famous high school in the town, and the Uphill Church, one of the most representative Gothic monuments in Transylvania. The halidom was raised on the foundation of a Roman chapel between the 14th and the 16th century, being the place where Gheorghe Rákóczi was elected king of Hungary. Although austere, the interior keeps fragments of fresco dating from the period of the Lutheran Reformation, the polyptych altar, the sculpted pulpit, renaissance pieces of furniture, natural size statues. Under the altar there is a crypt where 60 of the historical personalities of the town were buried and the curious are invited to explore it. Once you’ve left the church behind, you can take a walk in the Evangelical Cemetery, part of the UNESCO World Heritage. The names of the Transylvanian Saxons in SighiÅŸoara can be read on the tomb stones, reminding of the founders of the fortress. Maybe you will learn a few stories from the watchman of the cemetery, whom you can find in the Rope Makers’ Tower, his dwelling place.

Hill ChurchThe last bastions of the fortress can still be found on the right of the Pupils’ Staircase. The Harvesters’ and the Tanners’ Towers were part of the first defensive line of the fortress and had firing posts. Proofs of the continuous sieges are still visible on the two façades, but the towers remain the testimony of the guilds which have created the fame of SighiÅŸoara fortress.

The Square of the Fortress

A tour of the fortress is not complete without a layover in the central Square, where, in days of old, weekly fairs and public trials were organized. The nobles of the town built houses around this lively place which was up to date with all the news. Today, the square is just as animated; the tourists, as well as the locals meet between the walls of the fortress, eat at traditional restaurants or relax at the nearby terraces.

Deer HouseThe buildings painted in lively colors and the small windows on the roofs, also called 'the eyes of the fortress', draw you like a magnet. Without a doubt, the Deer House (Casa cu cerb) is an unexpected sight, with the orange frames on the immaculate background of the façade and with the deer horns displayed on the corner of the building. The renaissance edifice houses a board and lodging with a restaurant, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to live at the heart of SighiÅŸoara for a couple of days. That is, if you are not frightened by the legend of count Dracula, as Vlad Å¢epeÅŸ was born in 1431 only a house away from this board and lodging. Previously, the house belonged to Å¢epeÅŸ’ father who had started an obscure mint in the basement. At the first floor of the building you will find a rustic restaurant, while at the upper floor, the Count himself awaits his guests. Another building of impressive architecture is the Venetian House (Casa veneÅ£ianÓ‘), whose double windows and ogival doors are specific to the Italian gothic.

The fortress of SighiÅŸoara is always welcoming and spectacular, but in order to experience a real journey in time we recommend you visit it during the Medieval Festival. For three days on a row the fortress becomes festive and greets you with a fascinating epoch décor. The knight orders demonstrate their skills, craftsmen bring all sorts of items carefully crafted, and concerts entertain the public from dusk, when street lights magically relume the fortress, to dawn.

Central SquareThe Lower Town

Just like any town formed around a fortification, SighiÅŸoara was raised on two levels: the Upper Town, where the fortress was, and the Lower Town, which started developing in the 16th century. Although the tourists rarely visit them, the little streets on the shores of the Târnava are worth discovering, especially for the Saxon houses populating the area. Over 160 buildings more than 300 years old have been declared historic monuments; you will certainly find one to truly please your eye. One edifice which dominates the Lower Town is the Orthodox Cathedral, representative for the neo-Byzantine style.

SighiÅŸoara seems to have come out of a history movie. At every step you can expect to meet a graceful young lady, an elegant knight, zealous craftsmen or merchants preoccupied with selling their goods. The old burg charms you from the very beginning and invites you to enjoy its delightful medieval atmosphere.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]