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7 UNESCO Villages In Romania With Fortified Churches
Written by Maria from Its All Trip To Me
Romania is a wonderfully diverse country with many historical and natural treasures waiting to be discovered. The best way to get to know Romania and its charms is by visiting some of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered across the country. Among them, Transylvania’s seven villages with fortified churches definitely stand out for their fascinating history and architectural value alike.
The stunning region of Transylvania is one of the best places to visit in Romania. Its gorgeous countryside, picturesque towns, and unique architecture render Transylvania one of the most fascinating destinations in Europe.
A road trip across Transylvania is by far the optimal way to explore the region. Nothing beats driving on some of Europe’s most scenic roads and knowing that you are free to stop whenever and wherever you want. Moreover, driving is the easiest way to visit each and every one of Transylvania’s 7 UNESCO villages with fortified churches.
What Are Transylvania’s Fortified Churches
No trip to Romania is complete without a trip to some, if not all, of the country’s unique fortified churches. But what are those exactly?
The Transylvanian Saxons founded Transylvania’s villages with fortified churches. The latter were German populations who settled in the area back in the 12th century. The colonists enjoyed a special status, and the communities they created thrived. However, life in the Saxon villages of Transylvania wasn’t always easy. Or safe.
The entire region was invaded continuously by the Ottomans and Tatars. Therefore, people had to find ways to protect themselves from these frequent invasions. The most important towns had large-scale fortifications and impressive fortresses, such as Rasnov in Transylvania. But what about the smaller villages?
Each Saxon village of Transylvania created strong fortifications around the settlement’s main church. Situated at the very heart of the town and usually on a hilltop, the latter was thus turned into the core of an elaborate defensive system, complete with watchtowers and drawbridges. People also made sure they built large storage rooms to keep the community’s goods safe during long periods of siege.
There used to be about 300 fortified churches in the past. Nowadays, almost 150 well-preserved fortified churches still dot Transylvania’s countryside, among which the magnificent seven were awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1993.
UNESCO decided to include Southern Transylvania’s seven villages with fortified churches in its list of World Heritage Sites because they represent a settlement pattern that has remained unchanged since the Middle Ages. All 7 of these villages are dominated by their fortified churches built between the 13th and 16th centuries.
Transylvania’s 7 Villages with Fortified Churches
Probably the most popular of all Transylvania’s UNESCO villages with fortified churches is Viscri, a quaint, colorful village where time seems to have stood still for centuries on end.
The fortified church of Viscri is perhaps the prettiest one in the entire region. The Gothic-style church features a marvelous chapel and a small on-site museum that showcases the Saxon way of life. In the museum, items such as traditional clothing, furniture, handmade tools, and exquisite embroidery pieces are displayed.
The church also boasts magnificent views of the village and the surrounding countryside from the top of one of its watchtowers.
Viscri itself is one of the most beautiful villages in Romania. It is one of a kind destination with an inescapably vintage aura. There are no paved streets, only dirt ones that are lined with picturesque medieval cottages. Don’t be surprised if you see cows, ducks, and roosters wander around the quaint village. Viscri is all about the simple and authentic way of life, after all.
Be it either royalty or ordinary people; nobody can resist Viscri’s charm. Not even the Prince of Wales himself fell in love with the village and decided to buy and restore an 18th century Saxon house in 2006 to promote sustainable tourism in a place that respects and honors responsible travel values.
Viscri, like all the Saxon villages of Transylvania, is very compact. Therefore, you won’t need more than a couple of hours to see pretty much everything there is to see. That said, Viscri is definitely worth a longer stay, so perhaps you should even consider an overnight stay at one of its traditional guesthouses. If that’s not possible, you must at least try some handmade food at one of the village’s homelike restaurants.
Church Visiting Hours: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. – 6 p.m., Monday through Sunday
Church Entrance Fee: 5 Lei
How To Get To Viscri
Viscri is situated almost halfway between Brasov and Sighisoara. It’s a 45-minute drive from the latter and a little more than one h from the former. To reach Viscri from either, you have to exit the main road (E60) at some point, and that’s when the magic happens. Despite being quite damaged and abundant in potholes, the road winds each way through the incredible scenery, you could never dream of.
If you’re not driving, things can get a bit tricky as you can’t get to Viscri by means of public transport. You can always hire a taxi or join a guided tour with a transfer from either Brasov or Sighisoara.
The second most visited village with a fortified church in Transylvania is Biertan, a wonderful town built amid hills and vineyards.
Saint Mary’s Church is a medieval construction built atop a hill right in the middle of Biertan. The 15th-century church is an excellent example of late Gothic architecture. It features an impressive door that boasts an elaborate system of locks and padlocks, which is considered a marvel of engineering of its time.
Another fantastic thing to see at the fortified church of Biertan is the marital prison, precisely what its name suggests. Legend has it that whenever a married couple in Biertan wanted to divorce, they had to go through a particular test first. They were locked inside a room within the fortified church walls, and they were forced to use one bed, one chair, and one set of cutlery for two whole weeks.
After this period, if they still wanted to divorce, they were free to do so. However, in 400 years, only one couple is said to have gone through with the divorce in the end. If that’s not exemplary couples therapy, I don’t know what is.
Biertan was founded in 1283, and it’s regarded as one of the most important strongholds in Transylvania. Moreover, the village used to have a long winemaking tradition, which is almost extinct these days.
Walking around, Biertan is absolutely fascinating. The village is home to picturesque, brightly colored cottages, and its quaint narrow alleys cross paths with small running streams on more than one occasion. Similar to what happens in Viscri, you will most certainly stumble upon the occasional duck or hen during their carefree stroll around Biertan as well.
Church Visiting Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Church Entrance Fee: 10 Lei
How To Get To Biertan
Biertan lies 30km west of Sighisoara and 80km north of Sibiu, so it’s an easy drive from either. It’s not accessible by means of public transport. The best way to get to Biertan is with a guided tour from Sighisoara if you’re not driving.
The fortified church of Prejmer is the largest of its kind in southeastern Europe. Throughout its long history, which spans five centuries, and due to the fact that it was the easternmost Saxon village in Transylvania, Prejmer went under siege at least 50 times. Yet only once did it fall into enemy hands.
A visit to Prejmer offers the opportunity to wander around a perfectly preserved defensive medieval construction as well as step inside one of the oldest Gothic churches in Romania. Last but not least, Prejmer is probably the best example of how Saxons managed to attribute defensive functions to their places of worship, which ultimately spared their lives from enemy attacks.
Church Visiting Hours
- May 1 to October 31: Monday – Friday: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
- Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Sunday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- November 1 to April 30: Monday – Saturday: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
- Sunday: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Church Entrance Fee: 15 Lei
How To Get To Prejmer
Prejmer lies less than 20km from Brasov, and it’s super easy to reach either by car or by train.
Built in the 13th century, the fortified church of Calnic is one of Transylvania’s most imposing defensive structures. Its most striking feature is Siegfried Tower, a five-story high construction that looms above the tiny village. Calnic is one of the most off-the-beaten-path places to visit in Romania. Apart from wandering around the fortified church’s peaceful grounds, you can also visit an on-site medieval art museum while there.
Church Visiting Hours:
- Monday – Sunday: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Church Entrance Fee: 5 Lei, Camera/ Photo fee: 7 Lei
How To Get To Calnic
Calnic is a 40-minute drive from Sibiu or a 30-minute drive from Alba Iulia. Alternatively, you can visit Calnic by joining a guided tour, which starts from Cluj Napoca.
Initially built in Roman style in the 14th century, the main church of Darjiu was later rebuilt in the Gothic style and fortified during the 16th century. The church’s interior boasts impressive frescoes, which are among Transylvania’s most remarkable medieval art pieces.
The fascinating thing about the fortified church of Darjiu is that locals still use their storage rooms to keep their grains and cold cuts. A unique tradition that has been around for centuries still takes place there every week.
Every Wednesday, at the sound of the church bell, the fortress gates open so that villagers can go inside and grab their weekly supplies. Visitors are most welcome to attend this ceremony of sorts. For a small fee (6€), they can even try mouthwatering local delicacies.
How To Get To Darjiu
The only way to get to Darjiu is by private means of transport. The closest town is Sighisoara, which lies about 36km from Darjiu.
If you’ve been to Sighisoara, then the clock tower of the fortified church in Saschiz will ring a bell. The tower’s shape and its roof’s decoration with colorful tiles are almost identical to Sighisoara’s iconic clock tower. Apart from its impressive fortified church, Saschiz is also famous for being an important center for carpentry and wood-painting crafts.
Saschiz is one of Transylvania’s best-kept secrets, as not many travelers add it to their itineraries. As such, it offers visitors the rare opportunity to experience an authentic Saxon village like no other.
Church Visiting Hours
- Wednesday to Monday: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
- Tuesday: closed
How To Get To Saschiz
A mere 20km drive from Sighisoara, Saschiz is only accessible by private means of transport.
This massive fortified church is visible from a great distance as it dominates the Vineyards Valley, where it is located. The church features Saxon decoration and furniture, while it is also famous for having a well in its center, which proved life-saving for the villagers who sought shelter within its walls in times of siege.
Church Visiting Hours
- Summer: Monday – Sunday: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.
- Cold season: Please call to announce/schedule your visit.
Entrance Fee: 5 Lei
How To Get To Valea Viilor
You can get to Valea Viilor by private means of transport. The closest town (14km) is Medias.
Now you know everything there is to know about some of Romania’s most precious treasures. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning a fantastic trip to explore Transylvania’s seven villages with fortified churches now!
Now, all you have to decide is which of the 7 UNESCO villages in Romania with fortified churches you’ll see first.
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