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Review: Sighisoara

City/Town/Region/Island

Romania

Forget the Dracula connotations, this is the best preserved inhabited medieval citadel in Europe

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2378 reviews

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  • May 2017
  • On your own

93 people found this review helpful

Sighisoara is on most tourist itineraries to Romania as it is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, better known as Dracula and a particularly nasty ruler of Wallachia. Although he has nothing to do with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it is impossible to avoid the Dracula theme here. The house where Vlad was born is now a restaurant and you can pay a fee to see the room where he was allegedly born. No-one tells you that the house has been completely rebuilt since then.

Leaving aside the Dracula theme, Sighisoara is a World Heritage Site and the best preserved and still inhabited citadel in Romania. The old town built on the top of hill is surrounded by defensive walls and towers and is surrounded by the modern lower town which is the main shopping area.

The town founded in the C12th when the King of Hungary invited German craftsmen and merchants to settle in Transylvania and to protect it from attack by Turks and Tatars. Each of the guilds was responsible for the financing and upkeep of a tower as well as defending it if attacked. Originally there were fourteen towers, but only nine now remain.

Dating from the C16th, the Bootmakers’ Tower was a key point of defence from the northern end. Just south, the Tailors’ Tower was built to guard over the back entrance to the citadel. On the eastern edge of the citadel is the Blacksmiths’ Tower, a pointy-roofed watchtower dating to 1631. The southerly Tinsmiths’ Tower is one of the most easily recognisable in the citadel, with its octagonal upper level. A siege in 1704 left scars in the building that are visible to this day.

The main entrance to the citadel is through the C14th Clock Tower. This was the Council headquarters of the city council and used to protect the munitions and the city treasury. Its upkeep was the responsibility of the council. The top two floors and the balcony were added in the C17th after the tower was damaged by a fire. The four small turrets at the corner of the tower signified the autonomy of the council and its right to sentence criminals to death. The colourful roof tiles were added in the C19th.

The clock dates from the C17th and has two faces; one facing the citadel and the other overlooking the lower town. On the citadel side is Peace holding an olive branch and a drummer who sounds the quarter hours by beating his drum. Above them are Justice, with a set of scales, and Law, wielding a sword. They are accompanied by an angels representing day and night. The face overlooking the Lower Town has seven figures, representing the seven pagan gods giving their names to the days of the week.

The clock tower now houses the MUSEUM OF HISTORY (2* although the views are 5*). This is a very old fashioned style of museum and there is no information in English. Photography permits are expensive. The first floor has a model of Sighisoara (possibly the most interesting exhibit in the museum) and artefacts from prehistory, Roman and Iron Ages. The second floor has example of painted cupboards and chests and a pharmacy display. The top floor has a display about the different guilds. Stairs go up past the clock mechanism with close up views of the days of the week. There are excellent views from the balcony and these make the climb and visit worthwhile.

The citadel is based around a small square which is always busy and has a network of narrow cobbled streets and narrow alleyways leading off it.

On the square is the DOMINICAN CHURCH (4*) which was one part of a larger monastery. The monks left in 1550 and their buildings were demolished at the end of the C19th when the town hall was built on the site.

The church was built at the end of the C15th and again after Sighisoara’s great fire in 1676. It was the main Lutheran Church in the city. From the outside it is a very plain whitewashed building with an equally plain interior. The wooden galleries have painted fronts with symbols of the guilds and there are C16th and C17th Anatolian prayer rugs displayed on the walls, given by wealthy merchants. The church is open daily and there is a small charge to enter.

At the top of the citadel is the CHURCH ON THE HILL (4*). It is reached by a covered stairway with 176 steps known as the Scholars’ stairs,which was built in the C18th to give dry access to the church and adjacent school during the winter.

The church is large, reflecting the importance of Medieval Sighisoara. Work on the church began in the early C15th and it took over 200 years to complete. This was originally a Roman Catholic church, becoming Lutheran after the Reformation in 1547. Some of the original murals have been uncovered and restored. The church also contains several triptychs from closed fortified churches from the area.

Steps near the chancel lead down into the crypt, which is the oldest part of the church and only one to survive in Transylvania. In the C18th it was used for burials with rows of coffin niches on each side of the central passage. Wealthy Sighisoara citizens were buried here between 1780-1815 although the niches were walled up in the 1990s.

The church is open 10-6 daily and there is a small admission fee. It is well worth the climb.

I visited as part of a ten day trip to Romania. My full report and all my pictures is here.

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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.

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