If you’re planning to visit Sibiu, you’re in for one of the best travel experiences in Romania as for many this small city is the most beautiful in the country. Catching your attention with its unique mix of well-conserved architecture that makes you feel like you landed directly in Central Europe, medieval fortifications, monumental churches of different confessions, boutique shops and narrow romantic streets, Sibiu simply fascinates.
It’s a must-see if you want to experience the magic of Transylvania and a great destination no matter the season. If you’re planning a longer trip, Fagaras Mountains are only a few kilometers away and so are many traditional villages where you can enjoy typical rural life.
The city was founded around 1150 under the German name ‘Villa Hermani’, around the area of today’s Lower Town, extending to the Upper Town once the construction of the Evangelical Church began. The Saxon colonists who settled in the south-east of Transylvania starting with the 12th century had a primordial role in developing the city, making it one of the richest and most powerful in the region. Commerce and craftsmen guilds flourished and the wealth of the city was soon protected by four layers of fortifications that were built between the 13th and 15th centuries.
Sibiu was also a powerful political center as it subordinated all the lands inhabited by the Saxon colonists. It was the headquarters of the Evangelical Church and of the Saxon University, the central judicial and administrative institution of the Saxons.
The 16th century marked a temporary downfall of the city, in a regional context of prolonged conflicts and fights for power and control of the region between the Hungarian Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire. Sibiu only recovered its status at the end of the following century when Transylvania became an imperial province of the Habsburg Empire. The German affinity and loyalty of the city were key to obtaining new privileges. The governor – the highest representative of the Empire – was based in Sibiu as well as the treasury and the general commander.
During the Habsburg domination, the Catholic Church made quite a comeback in the city, the authorities even built a tall Catholic Church to purposely block the view from the Large Square of the Evangelical Church. Even so, the German community who was the majority remained Evangelical.
An important and symbolical event for the Romanians, the largest yet most disadvantaged group in Transylvania until 1918, took place in the 19th century when the Orthodox Bishop settled in Sibiu.
At the end of the First World War, Transylvania united with Romania, back then a kingdom. But, overall, the 20th century is a darker chapter in the history of the local German community. The communists sent many of them to forced labor camps, confiscated their goods and properties. In the end, the descendants of this ethnic group that once founded and created one of the most powerful cities in Transylvania migrated massively abroad in the last decades of the past century.
Before you visit Sibiu, check our guide to the best things to do and places to see. Remember to book your accommodation in time, there are plenty of events taking place in the city and sometimes it’s difficult to find a room short notice especially if you want to stay in the center.
Also, walking is the best idea as it’s the most fun and least complicated option. You should reserve a full weekend if you’re planning to include museum visits to your itinerary. After all, Sibiu has great museums, but then again the city has so much to offer that you might find yourself doing something completely different than your original plan.
Take a peek at the charming interior courts from the historical center. At number 12 on Nicolae Balcescu, in the court of the house that belonged centuries ago to Michael von Brukenthal, you’ll see his coat of arms and also his wife’s, Countess Christina Teleki. On Avram Iancu, at number 8, step inside to see a large court with columns and vine.
Go inside the former Jesuit college, the building between the Council Tower and the Catholic Church, if you want to see the statue of Saint Nepomuk, moved here from the Large Square after the communists came to power.
Don’t forget to take photos on Aurarilor Stairs that start from the Small Square. The colorful and decrepit facades make dazzling backgrounds.
The souvenir shop from the House of Arts has reasonably priced authentic hand-made objects, from traditional blouses to pottery.