Bucket List for History Buffs: The Medieval Fortresses of Transylvania

Diana Condrea
Diana Condrea
Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer. You can find Diana on LinkedIn

You can discover these fortresses with our tours in Transylvania. More tours on www.uncover-romania-tours.com

Famous or secluded, restored or in ruins, the fortresses of Transylvania are, next to the fortified churches, the most peculiar feature of this extraordinary place. Guarding centuries of history, much of it still to be researched and discovered, most of these landmarks were built in the 14th century, after the devastating Mongol invasion from 1241-1242. Fortifications were built in great numbers to save lives and possessions, and they did just that in the centuries that followed.

Perched on hilltops, dominating cities and villages, small or imposing, the fortresses of Transylvania should be on any history buff’s bucket list. They sure are on ours. To help you plan, we grouped them based on their proximity to Brasov and Sibiu, probably the best cities to base yourselves while visiting the medieval side of Transylvania.

Feldoara Fortress

Feldioara Fortress

Let’s start with the fortresses close to Brasov. We recommend you plan the trip in two days.

Day 1: Feldioara – Rupea – Saschiz

Feldioara Fortress

Location: Feldioara

Dates from the 13th century

Feldioara Fortress

Feldioara Fortress

Recently restored, the fortress of Feldioara is only 20 km from Brasov, and is one of the oldest from the historical country of Barsa. It dates from the time of the legendary Teutonic Knights whose short stay in Transylvania remains an intriguing episode until today.

The four tours, the interior and exterior curtain walls were rebuilt, while the foundations of the chapel and the site of the 70 meters deep well are marked in the inner court. Smaller than Rupea, the most impressive monument of the itinerary, a visit to the fortress of Feldioara is a great way to kick off your day trip.

Check here the visiting schedule.

Rupea Fortress

Location: Rupea

Dates from the 14th century

Rupea Fortress Snail

Rupea Fortress

Saved from collapse after years of renovations, this medieval landmark offers great insight on the impact fire weapons’ use had on these defensive structures. The changes are visible in the structure of the three curtain walls that mark the different stages of expansion, starting from the oldest upper part where the chapel and the small houses were built directly on the basalt rock.

Check here the visiting schedule.

Saschiz Fortress

Location: Saschiz

Dates from the 14th century

Saschiz Fortress

Saschiz Fortress

Be sure to wear solid shoes before walking all the way up to Saschiz Fortress, once an important observation point on the route from Sighisoara to Rupea. Built on a hill, above the village and the fortified church that’s today a UNESCO Site, this peasant fortress was the best refuge in case of attacks for the locals of Saschiz and other six villages.

The monument is closed for restoration works, but you can still walk close enough to see the four tours and the surviving walls. Not to mention the wonderful panorama of Saschiz village and its grand fortified church.

If you have one hour left, discover the ruins of the small fortification from Jimbor, close to Racos and Homorod.

Day 2: Rasnov – Fagaras

Rasnov Fortress

Location: Rasnov

Dates from the 14th century

Rasnov Fortress

View from Rasnov Fortress

This fortress is one of the famous entries from our list which can only mean you should be there early enough to enjoy it in peace. It was one of the most important fortifications around Brasov, back in the day when Bran Castle was also a fortress. Like Rupea, its defensive structure changed with the widespread use of fire weapons, the Upper Part being in this case better equipped to resist artillery attacks.

The fortress is only partially open for visitors because of renovation works.

Fagaras Fortress

Location: Fagaras

Dates from the 15th century

Fagaras Fortress

Fagaras Fortress

Photo credits: Dan Dogaru Becheru

Plan at least two hours for this visit as the fortress of Fagaras is one of the most fascinating from Transylvania. Unlike most fortifications from the region, it was not abandoned after the Habsburg takeover when the Ottoman danger faded.

Transformed from a typical medieval fortress into an unconquerable and glamorous princely court in the 17th century, the monument conserved a military role until the first decades of the 20th century. But it’s the use as a communist prison (1948-1960) that remains the darkest episode of its history.

Check here the visiting schedule.

Keep reading and discover what fortresses of Transylvania you can explore if you’re staying in Sibiu.

Day 1: Slimnic, Aiud, Coltesti

Slimnic Fortress

Location: Slimnic

Dates from the 14th century

Slimnic Fortress

Slimnic Fortress

One of the many historical monuments left today to crumble, the impressive fortress of Slimnic once guarded the important access route from Medias to Sibiu. It faced many sieges and resisted until 1706 when it was partially destroyed.  It never recovered and lost all military importance, abandoned and used as a source of construction materials by locals.

Like the fortified church of Biertan, this fortress also had a divorce room where couples were locked for three days to reconsider their separation. If proved unsuccessful, they were again locked for six more days in Biertan. With only three divorces in two centuries, we can call this original couples’ therapy a major success.

You can visit the fortress from 10 am to 7 pm. But be prepared, the caretakers of the monument have little to no respect for history.

Aiud Fortress

Location: Aiud

Dates from the 14th century

Head to Aiud to explore one of the most underrated attractions of the region, the medieval fortress that dominates the small town center. Although built in the 14th century, as most monuments on this list, its current aspect is a result of the architectural changes from the 16th up to the 19th century. The oldest part includes eight defensive towers, the wall walks, the 15th-century Gothic church with its 64 meters high tower, and the 17th-century Bethlen Palace.

If you have an extra half an hour, discover the Jewish cemetery and the memorial for the political prisoners who died in the communist prison from Aiud.

Coltesti Fortress

Location: Coltesti

Dates from the 13th century

Coltesti Fortress

Coltesti Fortress

One of the most picturesque of all the ruins in Transylvania, this fortress is a must-see. Built by the powerful Thoroczkay family who owned large estates around, including the beautiful Rimetea, the fortification had both a defensive and residential use. Like Slimnic, it was destroyed during the Kuruc rebellion from the early 18th century.

Day 2: Orastie, Deva, Malaiesti, Colt

Orastie Fortress

Location: Orastie

Dates from the 14th century

Like Aiud, the fortress from Orastie is more off the radar, overshadowed by the ancient Sarmizegetusa Regia, but we promise you won’t regret it if you include it in your itinerary.

Surrounded by communist blocks and older buildings from happier times, the small fortress is dominated not by one, as usual, but by two churches of different confessions, the Reformed (14th century) and the Evangelical (19th century). It’s a clear sign of the different ethnic groups that marked the town’s history, the Hungarians and the Saxons of Transylvania. The ruins of a smaller church, dated from the 12th century, are the oldest discovery.

Deva Fortress

Location: Deva

Dates from the 13th century

Deva Fortress

Deva Fortress

Photo source: Telecabina Cetate Deva

This fortress had the good luck of being restored, and it’s today a great attraction to visit on the way to the more famous Corvin Castle. Built on an andesite hilltop, overlooking the small town of Deva, the monument was more important in the past than you would imagine it today.

A garrison point for the Hungarian army at first, it became one of the most powerful fortresses of Transylvania in the 15th century. It was often attacked by the Ottomans in the following century, and it was reinforced several times in the 17th and 18th centuries. Unlike other fortifications, this landmark was still in use in 1849 when a powerful ammunition explosion devastated it.

Check here the visiting schedule.

Colt Fortress

Location: Suseni

Dates from the 14th century

Colt Fortress

Colt Fortress

Photo credits: Andrei Kokelburg

The old walls of Colt Fortress appear almost suspended on an abrupt forested hill from the village road, but the trail up is easy enough to find before you cross the bridge to the small stone church. It was built as a last resort rescue site by the powerful Candea family who controlled the historical country of Hateg in the 14th and 15th centuries. Its ruins are better known today for allegedly inspiring Jules Verne’s The Carpathian Castle.

Malaiesti Fortress

Location: Salasu de Sus

Dates from the 14th century

Malaiesti Fortress

Malaiesti Fortress

The small fortress of Malaiesti is just a few villages away from Colt, on the way to Retezat National Park. It was built by a noble family as a small refuge, first only as a donjon tower, later reinforced with a curtain wall and a bastion to resist the attacks of rival families. You’d think they already had enough problems with more powerful enemies without fighting each other, but those were complicated times, almost incomprehensible for us from the 21st century.

Check here the visiting schedule.

Most of the fortresses of Transylvania lost their purpose after the Habsburg Empire took over the control of the region in the early 18th century. Some were fortunate enough to be used by villagers to store perishable goods – the Bacon’s Towers were indeed used for bacon –, but in most cases, the fortifications were abandoned or used as a source of building materials. Still, they have wonderful stories to share if you have the patience and curiosity to uncover their ruins.

You can discover these fortresses with our tours in Transylvania. More tours on www.uncover-romania-tours.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *