Last but not least on our journeys list, there are the transylvanian villages with fortified churches, which present the lively image of the cultural life in Transylvania.
These villages are characterized by the way their land is cultivated, the settlement pattern and organization of farms, preserved since the Middle Ages. They are dominated by their fortified churches built between the XIII century and the XVI century.
Once in number of about 300, the fortified churches, specific of Saxon and Székely villages, played both a religious and a military role for more than five centuries. With nearly 150 buildings at the beginning of the XXI century, the fortified churches in Transylvania form one of the densest, well preserved, medieval fortification system on the European continent. In Transylvania, in rural settlements Saxon and Székely, we can find three main types of fortifications:
– Fortified church site (eg Prejmer or Sânzieni)
– Fortified church (eg Saschiz Seica Mare or Selişte)
– Fortress-church (eg Vine Valley or Dârjiu)
The following fortified churches (6 Saxon and one Székely) were included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage: Biertan (Birthälm) Câlnic (Kelling) Dârjiu (Székelyderzs), Prejmer (Tartlau) Saschiz (Keisd) Vine Valley (Wurmloch ), Viscri (Deutschweisskirch).
In 1397 Biertan is certified as a city. Like any Saxon settlement, Biertan had an urban organization with lined houses arranged around a central square, overlooked by the imposing church-fortress. The impressive monument of worship harmoniously blends the Gothic style and Renaissance style; the church was defended by three walls with towers and medieval bastions. The first site of the city is attributed to the XII century, when probably the first church was built (St. Mary). The present church was built in 1486-1524 in late-Gothic style.
It is said that once, in the “detention room” of the eastern bastion, couples (husband and wife) who were fighting and were planning to divorce, were closed for two weeks. In that small room with a small table and a single bed, Saxons provide one plate, one dish and one cup water. It is said that, in those circumstances, only one pair remained steadfast in the original judgment of divorce, all other couples coming out reconciled without resorting to justice. Interestingly enough, is not it? What do you think should be the percentage today?
The name of the village comes from the Slav settlement “kal” or “Kalinic” (= clay, silty) firstly given by the Romanians or Hungarians, from which it was later rooted by the Saxons.The Saxon name of the village is Kelling and comes from the first master, Kelling noble family. The fortified church was initially based on a dwelling tower, a chapel and an oval enceinte, its walls being fitted with two towers. The old dwelling tower was transformed into a defensive tower.
At Calnic, prehistorical material and vague medieval traces of the XI-XII centuries where discovered, but the actual medieval settlement dates back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The local Unitarian Church is one of the most representative fortified Székely churches. Dârjiu church hosts a valuable heritage of mural paintings, largely damaged during the Protestant Reformation. The church is unique by the fact that within its walls there are supply rooms, where the villagers keep their food, why it is also called the city of bacon.
The fortified ensemble consists of a fortified evangelical church, fortified interior with its defense road, two towers, two bastions and a gate tower. Prejmer is the best preserved and most powerful medieval fortified church in Eastern Europe. The fortress, built in the shape of circles, had 3-4 meters thick walls and 12 meters high towers with gates and iron bridges which rose. A watch guarder road was used to supply the crenels. In addition to the fire mouths fixed on the walls, the city had an unusual battle device: the famous “death organ”. Consisting of more weapons stacked together, firing all at once, produced great panic and heavy losses to the enemy.
The great fortified church was raised in 1493, in honor of King Stephen I of Hungary on the place where a Roman basilica once stood. The massive church, built out of stone in Gothic style is a room-type church and reinforced with 22 buttresses. The room is very wide and long, and the chorus is closed on three sides. The Saxon fortification has high walls up to 9 m. Saschiz rivaled even Sighisoara that, at that time, was the “capital” of the Transylvanian Saxons.
Archaeological excavations provide material evidence of a habitation since ancient times, the village leeding to discoveries of a Neolithic stone ax and a bronze bracelet from the beginning of the Iron Age, two pottery items and a bronze ax with hole tail fixing, dated to the Bronze Age. Even on the site of the fortified church there was evidence of an old Roman basilica that can be seen under the floor of the sacristy.
The church is surrounded by a single oval enclosure, that has a vaulted passage located in the west as the entrance. There are still three bastions on the wings, in the four cardinal points. The walls reach 6-7 m tall and have ramparts and throwing holes supported by consoles.
In Viscri endures, well preserved, one of the most scenic and spectacular Saxon peasant fortress, its walls holding a XIII century Roman hall church .
The settlement particularitties have attracted even Prince Charles, who has renovated several houses in the village church and gave them back some of their initial brightness with the help of the Mihai Eminescu Trust.
The Prince of Wales calls the area the “last corner of Europe where you see true sustainability and complete resilience”.