Transylvania’s fortified churches are some of the most authentic and inspiring travel attractions in Romania. A fundamental part of the Saxon heritage that transforms the region into a world unique destination, the fortified churches of Transylvania should be on any must-see list in Romania.
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 most impressive monuments you should visit on your next vacation in Romania.
Location: Biertan, Sibiu County
Included in the UNESCO World Heritage Patrimony like many of the fortified churches from this top 10, the monument from Biertan opens our list. Located only a 30 minutes drive from Sighisoara, Biertan was centuries ago a prosperous village competing with nearby Mosna and Medias for regional control. The construction of an imposing fortified church was yet another element used to increase its chances in this political race.
The fortified church from Biertan is one of the few that preserves its original altar, pews and stone carved pulpit, all from the 16th century. Not to mention its unique locking system of the vestry door and the marital prison organized in one of its towers.
Go on a day trip to the nearby medieval towns of Medias and Sighisoara.
Location: Prejmer, Brasov County
The fortified church of 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 the Teutonic Knights started building it. The church from Prejmer was donated in 1240 to the Cistercian monastery from Carta that had a major influence on its architectural style.
The church was enlarged and fortified with high and solid enclosing walls in the following centuries. No other fortified church from Transylvania has so many storage spaces and rooms where villagers lived during the numerous sieges endured centuries ago.
You can also visit the Eutrophic Forests and Swamp Reserve from Prejmer.
Location: Harman, Brasov County
Located only a few kilometers outside Brasov, the fortified church of 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, this fortified church has solid enclosing walls, seven defense towers, storage rooms and a chapel with rare 15th-century mural paintings. In the church, you can see a small collection of oriental carpets, a Baroque altar and hundreds of years old furniture and decorations.
The fortified church from Prejmer is only 9 kilometers away.
Location: Viscri, Brasov County
One of the most famous and authentic villages of Transylvania, Viscri is a travel destination of its own. Its pastoral landscapes, traditional houses, local artisans, the support of the Foundation Mihai Eminescu Trust and Prince Charles’ visits have transformed this old village into one of the trendiest attractions in the region.
Its white fortified church, included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is one of the must-visit attractions 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 fortification walls. One of the former towers is now a small museum of traditional objects belonging to the Saxon community.
Rent a bike and spend a full day traveling from village to village.
Location: Hosman, Sibiu County
The fortified church of Hosman is only a short drive from Sibiu, on the route that goes to Agnita. Less known than the other sites on our list, the monument dates from the 14th century. The village and the church suffered tremendously because of the Ottoman attacks, being even temporarily depopulated hundreds of years ago.
Fortified with two enclosing walls, five towers and a bastion, the church appears as a solid construction with a tall tower provided with loopholes and a wooden wall-walk. It Romanesque-style portal with carved fantastic figures is the ‘pièce de résistance’.
Plan your visit ahead. The church is open only if you call in advance.
Location: Calnic, Alba County
One more 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 a wall curtain, while storage rooms and even a small chapel were built in the enclosed space. Today, only the chapel and two of the towers are open for visitors.
Calnic is only 30 km from Alba Iulia and 15 km from Sebes where you can visit one of the most important Evangelical churches in Transylvania.
The road from Sebes to nearby Sasciori village is a treat if you’re cycling.
Location: Saschiz, Mures County
Just a few kilometers from Sighisoara, as you drive from Brasov, you’ll see the imposing tower of the fortified church from Saschiz, included 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, a commercial rival of Saschiz centuries ago.
You can buy hand-made jams 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.
Location: Malancrav, Sibiu County
Placed on a hill in the western part of the village with the largest Saxon population in Transylvania, the fortified church of Malancrav is a must-see. The 14th-century monument has some of the most interesting and rare mural paintings in the region, dating before the Reformation time.
The Gothic altar is 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.
For a panoramic view of the village, go up to the church tower.
Find out more about local traditions visiting the artisans of the village.
Location: Valea Viilor, Sibiu County
The last UNESCO Heritage Site from our top fortified churches from Transylvania, Valea Viilor is one of the best examples of this original architectural style. Dating from the 15th century, the church dominates the village with its imposing dimensions and two strong towers that rise above the fortification walls.
Its defensive system is one of the most advanced in medieval Transylvania, integrating also a visible aesthetic element. Besides the Western tower, both the choir and the nave were heightened — with four storeys in case of the choir — and provided with loopholes and interior corridors that connected the wall-walks from the towers.
The church is open for visitors until 5 pm from March to November.
Location: Alma Vii, Sibiu County
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 one of the many attractions of the village. Its local traditions, green surroundings and typical architecture make it a great weekend destination if you’re looking to try a more slow-paced life even if only for a few days.
The area around the village protects many species of plants and animals, around 100 species of birds and 70 species of butterflies.
Many more fortified churches from Transylvania are worth visiting. These original historical monuments best represent the legacy of the German colonists who came to Transylvania hundreds of years ago, protecting the borders in exchange for property rights. Dominating the landscape of their villages, these fortified churches are amazing works of arts, combining the spiritual, cultural and defensive roles to save their communities for centuries.