Sighisoara: The Outstanding Citadel of Saxon Transylvania
There’s no place like Sighisoara if you wish to step back in time to the medieval centuries when the Transylvanian Saxons settled central Romania, and when legendary princes like Vlad the Impaler were making history in the battle against the Ottoman Empire. With its dazzling well-preserved architecture and fortifications, Sighisoara is one of the most beautiful and authentic small medieval towns in Europe, also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its ‘outstanding testimony to the culture of the Transylvanian Saxons’.
Due to its geographical position, Sighisoara was for many centuries an important commercial and strategic point of Central Europe. It is also one of the seven fortified citadels the Transylvanian Saxons built after their settlement in this region starting with the 12th century. Attested at the end of the 13th century under the German name Schespurch, Sighisoara rapidly developed into a powerful economic and commercial center due to its many craftsmen and tradesmen that fortified the settlement with 14 towers and five artillery bastions in the coming centuries against Ottoman invasions.
Each guild took responsibility for the maintenance in time of peace and defense during attacks of a tower named after their craftsmanship, for example, the Blacksmiths’ Tower or the Goldsmiths’ Tower. The local importance of the guild was also reflected in the dimensions and endowment of their towers. Even the members of the local council were in charge of defending the city from their own tower, the Clock Tower, that guarded one of the main access routes to the Upper Town.
During the violent 15th century, Sighisoara became the second political center of Transylvania, after Sibiu. During this century, its Romanian name of Sighisoara was first mentioned in a document by Prince Vlad Dracul, the ruler of the territory south from the Carpathians and the father of Vlad the Impaler who was born here. While we know this for a fact, there is no actual historical proof of the house where he was born, don’t get fooled by the local ‘house of Dracula’ attraction.
You can find most of the medieval attractions of the town in the area of Sighisoara Citadel, located on a hill above the Lower Town. The Upper Town is, in fact, the part included on the UNESCO Heritage List with hundreds of houses more than 300 years old.
The Clock Tower
Nine towers still exist of the original 14, but most of them are closed for visitors. The Clock Tower, one of the symbols of Sighisoara, guards the citadel entry and going all the way up to the top is a must. The highest and the most imposing tower, it was used until 1556 for the reunions of the Town Council. Due to its dimensions, the Clock Tower offers an excellent view from the last floor balcony over the historical center and the whole town of Sighisoara. Today, it hosts the History Museum and each room has a thematic exhibition, starting from the ancient time. You can even see the mechanism of the clock and the figurines that announce the exact hour every single day for the past hundreds of years.
The City Square
Next, you can admire the historical buildings from the small squares in the Upper Town where most of the commercial activity took place in the past. You can also visit the Church of the Dominican Monastery, first mentioned in 1298, and the Museum of Weapons, or admire the Venetian House and the Stag House among the many that belonged to the richest members of the local community. From the City Square, you’re only a few meters away from medieval towers like the Tailors’ Tower or the Cobblers’ Tower.
The Scholars’ Stairs
The Scholars’ Stairs are a distinctive attraction, built in 1642 to protect school children during winter time, connecting the City Square with the School on the Hill, the Church on the Hill, the Ropemakers’ Tower and the Evangelical Cemetery. After the 175 steps, you’ll reach the most peaceful part of medieval Sighisoara, and we strongly suggest you don’t miss the chance of the vast open view of the town and its green surroundings. If the stairs prove too much, try an alternative route that starts next to their base.
While here, don’t miss a tour inside one of the most representative Gothic constructions in Transylvania, the Church on the Hill, and a walk in the centuries-old Evangelical Cemetery. Its caretaker lives next to the church, in the Ropemakers’ Tower, the only inhabited tower of the remaining nine. From the cemetery, you can go back down on a small paved street without taking the stairs again.
Sighisoara offers many attractions besides its historical monuments. Its old colorful houses with their bizarre doors and windows, its crowded streets with tourists and artists during the Medieval Festival of Sighisoara that takes place each July make Sighisoara a great place for those of you in search of memorable experiences. The city is also an excellent starting point for the discovery of the Transylvanian Saxons’ heritage, one of the special elements that make this region a world-unique destination.
While we normally don’t recommend restaurants, we warmly suggest you try Grill Caffe Raluca, maybe the only place in Sighisoara where food is prepared on the spot.