RURAL TOURISM IN ROMANIA in Prahova County

  Dorin and Maria PARASCHIV Guest House Starchiojd, Romania

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Agrement of Romania Tourism Ministery n° 5206 / 11.12.2001

 

 

Saxon Fortified Churches of Transylvania

Transylvania, a hilly region situated in the centre of Romania, represents a very special cultural landscape. Bearing the mark of a centuries long mingled life of the Romanians, Hungarians and Germans, it has a unique feature: nowhere else in the world are there to be found, preserved, in such a narrow space, so many reinforced churches and fortress-churches, witnessing such a varied material expression of the defence technique.

The Gothic Evangelical church of Prejmer(15th- century)

 
The origin and development of church reinforcements are, undoubtedly linked to the troubled history of Transylvania, starting from the Tatar invasion, in 1241 - 1242, passing through the Turks' repeated forays - from 1395 - to the devastating Mohacs defeat of 1526. All along those bleak years, the churches naturally did their best to protect themselves from the neverending wars waged around the principality of Transylvania until the beginning of the 18th century. The grographic density and, above all, the high number of these buildings - of which, over 150 survived to this day - can be considered a phenomenon characteristic of the historical, legal, religious and social environment of those who built them: the Saxons of Transylvania. During one of the many attempts of the Hungarian crown to occupy Transylvania, king Geza the 2nd (1141 - 1161) decided to bring German colonists to the country, especially from the Cologne archdiocese, who later on would be called Saxons.

Axente Sever saxon church dating from 1322-1323

 
After other immigrants came in, the colonisation of the present Saxon localities would end with a few exceptions, before 1300. From a religious point of view, these communities were linked to the Saxon church. From 1542 to the Reformation, the Saxon church of Transylvania - which had adopted the Augsbourg religion - preserved (and still does) the characteristic of a popular church.

The fortified church of Biertan

 
From 1542 to the Reformation, the Saxon church of Transylvania - which had adopted the Augsbourg religion - preserved (and still does) the characteristic of a popular church. In their native land, the colonists had already learned that, in wartime, it was better to leave one's village and save one's life and goods, by fleeing to the closest fortress . All that influenced their choice of the kind of colony fit for the place for such a construction. The arable land was shared according to the Flemish system; the houses surrounded by gardens were arranged in tight rows and made up villages along with streets, commons and squares; the churches stood in the centre of the village.

The citadel of Harman (15th- century)

 

Bearing the print above all of the mediaeval fortresses, the art of stronghold building - as far as towns are concerned - was then transferred to fortress churches: the walls were raised, with an open sentry road and reinforced by a row of entrenched towers. The gate was reinforced on the outside with supplementary entrenchments. Often a second or third precinct was built. The oldest fortress churches dating from those ages can be found in Tara Birsei region. The churches built in plains were reinforced as they used to be protected only up to the west tower. The most important entrenched church in Transylvania is the Prejmer one. This cross-shaped building , dating from the early Gothic, was influenced by the Kerz Cistercian construction site; it was surrounded by 12 metre high walls. These walls have a square round angle layout and are protected by stockades, water ditches, four towers and two advanced reinforcements. Within this area, the constructions supported by the precinct wall had three or four storeys; divided into 60 compartments, they had basements and 260 store houses.

The fortresses are very different in the other colonised regions where the natural features of the hilly landscape have been rightly used. One of the largest and most renowned fortress-churches is the Biertan one, standing on a hill, in the centre of the village. The hall church, with three naves, dating from the late Gothic, was raised between 1500 and 1516, the preexistent chorus of the edifice having an entrenched storey. The precinct wall, dating from the same time, was reinforced during the 16th century with 8 towers; it is coil shaped, like a three tower belt, around the hill.

The citadel of Codlea

 

The church preserved its furniture dating from the end of the Gothic age, including a complex altar. One can still notice the frescoes dating fron the 16th century, on the southern tower of the inner precinct wall, as well as the tomb stones of several Saxon bishops. Since 1993 this fortress church, as well as the access paths around it, is on the world heritage list drawn up by UNESCO. In the times when the Biertan chorus was reinforced, the religious buildings continued to be entrenched all over the place. A wide range of defence means and architectural grandeur were put to good use for raising the west tower and endowing it with three entrenched storeys. There is a second tower under the chorus or a side entrance.

The entrenched churches and fortress-churches are the most relevant Saxon legacy and the token of their fusion with their own past. To point out the significance of the Saxon fortress-churches of Transylvania, a German- Romanian team revealed the project to include on the UNESCO world heritagelist some representative examples of different kinds of communities, once German, including the villages: Cilnic, Valea Viilor, Saschiz, Viscri and Prejmer (as at present onlu the Biertan fortress- church is on the list).

The citadel of Viscri



Dorin and Maria Paraschiv  Guest House, Starchiojd village, Grui street, Prahova county, Romania

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