10 Fortified Churches from Transylvania You Should See
Transylvania’s fortified churches are some of most authentic and inspiring travel attractions in Romania. A fundamental part of the Saxon heritage that brings an invaluable cultural value, transforming the region into a world unique destination, the fortified churches from Transylvania should be on any avid traveler’s list. If you don’t know where to start because there are literally hundreds of fortified churches in Transylvania, we prepared a guide to 10 of the finest monuments of this type you should visit on your next vacation.
We included fortified churches from various counties – Alba, Brasov, Mures, Sibiu – and you can easily see all of them in a weekend tour.
One of the key Saxon centers from Tarnavelor Plateau across centuries, Biertan was an Episcopal headquarters for almost 300 years. Its fortified church was, since its first days in the 16th century, more than worthy of this privileged position, remaining until today the most impressive in size.
Included in the UNESCO World Heritage Patrimony like many of the fortified churches from this top 10, the monument from Biertan conserves three defensive walls, several towers, covered stairways similar to those in Sighisoara and several particular elements like the marital room, the altar or the sacristy door.
Where: Biertan, Sibiu County
Travel tips: Do a cycling trip from Biertan to Copsa Mare and Malancrav, it’s one of the best ways to enjoy the region.
Go on a day trip to nearby medieval towns of Medias and Sighisoara.
Located only 2 km from Biertan, this fortified church dominates the eastern part of the village, and you’ll see it as you drive, walk or cycle on the winding road that descends in Copsa Mare. Built originally as a Gothic church in the 14th century, the actual fortified church is the result of the many architectural changes that led to its fortification in the 16th century.
The village is also an excellent overnight stop, and you can choose one of the traditional Saxon houses restored with the utmost care and respect for local culture by the Basetti family. The guest houses are part of the patrimony of the village, and combine both more contemporary needs like Wi-Fi with typical furniture and home cooked meals from local ingredients.
Where: Copsa Mare, Sibiu County
Travel tips: Walk around the village or go horseback riding and truffle hunting.
The fortified church from Prejmer – also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites – is the strongest fortification of this type from Transylvania. Attacked 50 times, but conquered only once in 1611, this almost invincible monument dates from the beginning of the 13th century when its construction was started by the Teutonic Order. They did not get to complete the works as they were chased away from Transylvania, and the church from Prejmer was placed in 1240 under the control of the Cistercian monastery from Carta
The construction works continued, but this time the Cistercian architectural influence became a key feature of the church, visible in the round windows, ogival arcades, sexpartite vaults. The church was further enlarged and fortified with enclosing walls in the following centuries. These high and thick defensive walls give access to many storage spaces and rooms where villagers lived during the numerous sieges the fortified church faced.
Where: Prejmer, Brasov County
Travel tips: You can also visit the Eutrophic Forests and Swamp Reserve from Prejmer.
Located only a few kilometers from Brasov, the fortified church from Harman dates from the 13th century, but was massively reinforced between the 15th and 17th centuries, becoming one of the strongest in the historical Country of Barsa.
One of the most beautiful monuments built by the Saxons of Transylvania, the fortified church from Harman conserves solid walls, seven defense towers, storage rooms and a small chapel with 15th century mural paintings. Inside the church you can see a rare collection of oriental carpets, a Baroque altar that dates from 1787 and hundreds of years old furniture and decorations.
Where: Harman, Brasov County
Travel tips: The fortified church from Prejmer is only 9 kilometers away.
One of the most famous, but still authentic villages of Transylvania, Viscri is a travel destination of its own. Its pastoral landscapes, traditional houses, local artisans and the support of the Foundation Mihai Eminescu Trust and Prince Charles have transformed this old village into one of the trendiest attractions in the region. Its white fortified church, also part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, is one of the most beautiful monuments in Transylvania, more than worth the bumpy detour from the main national road.
First mentioned in the beginning of the 15th century, but dating some hundreds of years back, the church was built and fortified in several stages, conserving partially its bastions, towers and enclosing walls. Today, the monument also hosts a small museum of traditional objects from the Saxon community.
Where: Viscri, Brasov county
Travel tips: Rent a bike a spend a full day cycling on the available biking trails.
The fortified church from Cisnadioara is over centuries old, and is one of the most remarkable and oldest monuments around Sibiu. Dating from the late 12th century, this church is a rare example of surviving Romanesque architecture in Romania, and its Western portal is a wonderful example of this style.
Similarly to Prejmer, this fortified church was also controlled by the Cistercian Abbey from Carta. Today, the enclosing walls, once seven meters tall, are only partially conserved.
Where: Cisnadioara, Sibiu County
Travel tips: Spend one day in Sibiu.
Another of the fortified churches from Transylvania part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the monument from Calnic was initially an aristocratic residence. Sold to the local community in the 15th century, the small castle was fortified with higher walls, storage rooms were added and even a small chapel was built in the courtyard. Today, only the chapel and two of the towers are open. Uphill from the fortified church you can also visit the Evangelical Church.
Where: Calnic, Alba County.
Travel tips: Calnic is only 30 km from the impressive Citadel from Alba Iulia and 15 km from Sebes, a medieval town with one of the most important Evangelical churches in Transylvania.
The road from Sebes to nearby Sasciori village is a treat if you’re cycling.
Just a few kilometers from Sighisoara, as you drive from Brasov, you’ll see the imposing tower of the fortified church from Saschiz, also listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Built in the late 15th century by the Saxon community, a few decades after the crushing Tatar invasion from 1421, this fortified church was designed from the beginning with a defensive purpose in mind. Its tower is very similar to the one from Sighisoara, its clock being, nonetheless, older than the one from the nearby city’s Clock Tower. Interesting fact, Sighisoara was a commercial rival of Saschiz centuries ago.
Where: Saschiz, Mures County
Travel tips: You can buy hand-made gems and other delicious sweets from a small boutique shop in the village.
Walk up to the ruins of the peasant fortress that stands since the 14th century above the village.
Last but not least, you should definitely stop in Alma Vii, a small village with – you’ve guessed it – a beautiful fortified church of its own. Built two centuries after the village was first mentioned, in 1289, the initial hall church was fortified gradually to resist potential attacks. Recently restored through the care of the Foundation Mihai Eminescu Trust, the church is only one of the many attractions of the village. Its local traditions, green surroundings and well-conserved architecture make it a great weekend destination if you’re looking to try a more slow-paced life even if for only two days.
Where: Alma Vii, Sibiu County
Travel tips: Enjoy nature taking long walks. The area around the village protects many species of plants and animals, around 100 species of birds and 70 species of butterflies.
The fortified church from Malancrav, located on a hill in the western part of the village with the largest Saxon population in Transylvania, is a must-see. The 14th century large monument has some of the most precious mural paintings in the region – covering 20 meters with more than 50 Biblical stories – dating hundreds of years back, before the Reformation. The Gothic altar is also a veritable work of art done more than 600 years ago, decorated on top with a crucifix and the statues of Saint Mary and Saint John.
Where: Malancrav, Sibiu County
Travel tips: For a panoramic view of the village Malancrav, climb into the church tower.
Find out more about local traditions visiting the artisans of the village.
Transylvania has many rare and wonderful attractions to offer. Many more fortified churches are worth seeing. Traveling from one to another you’ll stumble upon many more of these original historical monuments that best represent the legacy of the German colonists who settled Transylvania hundreds of years ago, protecting the borders in exchange for property and commercial rights from the Hungarian King. Dominating in most cases the landscape of their villages, the fortified churches are true works of arts, combing the spiritual, cultural and defensive functions across centuries.