The largest and wealthiest of the seven Saxon walled towns of Transylvania
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Sibiu is the largest and wealthiest of the seven walled citadels built in the C12th by German settlers known as Transylvanian Saxons. They had been invited here by the Hungarian Kings and were granted numerous rights and benefits in exchange for their help in defending the lands against the attacks of the Tatars and Turks. Their towns and villages are typified by the fortified churches built to provide a safe haven in ties of attack.
By the end of the C14th it was an important trading centre with more than 40 trade guilds each representing a different trade. It was a part of the mighty Hapsburg Empire and for many years it was the seat of the Austrian rulers of Transylvania.
The riches amassed by the guilds paid for the construction of both impressive buildings and the fortifications required to protect them. Each of the guilds was responsible for building and upkeep of the towers and sections of the town wall.
Sibiu became part of Romania after the First World War following the break up of Austro-Hungary, although it remained ethnically German. There was a mass exodus of Germans after the 1989 revolution. Now the majority of the population is Romanian (Orthodox) with a few Hungarians (Roman Catholics) and Germans (Protestants).
The German influence is concentrated around the OLD TOWN which was renovated in 2006 in preparation for European City of Culture in 2007. There is a large out of town shopping area with car show rooms surrounded by high rise buildings.
The old town was surrounded by 39 defensive towers, five bulwarks, four gates and five artillery batteries. There was originally an outer wall with a moat then a dry ditch and the inner wall. Most of these were lost during the industrial development of the town in the late C19th. Now only a short stretch of the outer wall survives.
The best intact bit of inner wall still standing is along Strada cetacii with its two towers connected by a covered wooden gallery.
Most of the buildings were built by German settlers and merchants who came to Sibiu in the late Middle Ages. The old town is an area of cobbled streets lined with splendid houses with the characteristic ‘eyes’ in the roofs providing ventilation to the attic storage areas.
The old town is divided into two parts: the UPPER TOWN, which was the wealthier part and the commercial area with Baroque and C19th buildings. The LOWER TOWN was the manufacturing area and is connected to the Upper Town by steep passageways and steps.
The upper town is centred round three main squares. The largest is Piata Mare is entered through the C13th Turnus Statului which was the town council chambers. It is surrounded by splendid building which are now cafes and the Baroque C18th Roman Catholic Church is here.
The BRUKENTHAL MUSEUM (3*) also fronts onto the square. This is a late C18th house belonging to Samuel von Brukenthal, an 18th century governor of Sibiu, who acquired an enormous collection of art treasures. After his death it was opened as a museum displaying his collection. Some of the rooms are furnished as they would have been when the Brukenthall’s lived here. It houses one of the most important art collections in Romania with old masters from the Dutch and Flemish schools as well as less important works by Italian, german and Romanian artists. It is a large building built round two internal courtyards.
Photography permits are very expensive at 130Lei (£25) and there isn’t a lot to see unless you are particularly interested in paintings.
Piata Mica was the home of the towns most prestigious master craftsmen and is lined with their arcaded houses. Sibiu’s first pharmacy is here, in a house dating from the end of the C16th. It is now a Pharmacy Museum. There are views down onto the Lower Town and steep passageways lead down from Piata Mica to the Lower Town.
Between Piata Mica and the smaller Pieta Huet is the LUTHERAN CATHEDRAL (5*) with its brightly coloured tiled roof. The four turrets on the central tower signified the right of the town to sentence criminals to death. The building dates from 1520 and was originally a Roman Catholic Church with the inside covered with frescoes. After the Reformation in 1545, it became the Lutheran Cathedral and all the frescoes were removed apart from the beautiful fresco of the crucifixion which survives in the chancel. The remains of the original altar triptych also survives in the north transept.
The Church was the burial place for mayors, county administrative leaders or other leading citizens of Sibiu until the end of the C18th when burials were banned in the church. The tombstones were removed from the nave in church nave in the mid C19th and are now displayed on the walls of the back of the church. It is one of the best displays of tombstones in Romania.
The church is open 10-6 in the summer months and 11-4 during the winter. There is a small charge for entry.
The ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL OF THE HOLY TRINITY is a short walk away on Strada Mitropoliei. This is the second largest Orthodox Cathedral in Romania and is a splendid early C20th building of alternating band of red and yellow brick with a central copper dome which cannot be seen from the street.
The inside is even more impressive with every surface covered with neo-Byzantine style paintings. Splendid chandeliers are suspended from the ceiling and the gilded iconostasis dominates the east end. It is very much an active church and there was a steady stream of people coming to pray at the reliquary boxes and revere the icons. It is open daily and is free to enter.
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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.