The South-Eastern part of Transylvania is home to lots of Saxon villages dating back to the Late Middle Ages, a major attraction in the area, especially since Prince Charles has made the region famous by buying a house in one on these villages. Six of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, being founded by German colonists, when they were brought to Transylvania by the kings of Hungary, in the 12th century.
Being often under the threat of the Ottoman invasions, these close-knit communities of farmers, merchants and artisans, built strong fortifications around their towns and churches. The fortifications, as well as the centuries-old cultural legacy of the Saxon community, give these villages a special flavour and are not only worth visiting on your way to the more popular Transylvanian places, but destinations in themselves.
80 kilometres north of Sibiu, and only half an hour from the beautiful Medieval town of Sighișoara, Biertan looks like a fairytale setting. At least from the pictures! Famous for the fortified church—the first to be included among World Heritage Sites—with its intricate altar pieces and a unique system of protective padlocks, as well as its numerous towers, Biertan was an important clerical and commercial centre in the Late Medieval Period, as well as renown for its wine production, which has, unfortunately, diminished over the years.
With just a bit over one thousand inhabitants, Viscri is probably one of the most famous Saxon villages in Transylvania, thanks to Prince Charles, who bought several properties in the area in the past 20 years. His interest and frequent visits saw a boom in the agritourism, but also provided a much-needed help in saving the cultural patrimony of the region. Of much interest in the village are, besides the famous fortified church, the local artisan shops and even the typical Saxon houses, some of the best preserved in Transylvania.
The village of Saschiz is located in Mureș county, on the road that connects two important must-see Transylvanian landmarks, Brașov and Sighișoara. Two relevant clerical and historical places are of interest here (besides, of course, the beautiful surroundings): the fortified church, also a UNESCO heritage monument, and the peasant fortress, which is, despite the need of some serious restorations, still worth climbing and visiting.
Only 15 kilometres from Brașov, Prejmer is also worth visiting for its 12th century fortified peasant church, especially since it is in great condition, having undergone a careful restoration in the 1960s. Designed after churches of Jerusalem and sporting the Late Gothic style of the churches in the Rhineland, with a very clever architecture, the fortified church of Prejmer is considered to be the only one in the area that has never been conquered.
Thanks in part to Mihai Eminescu Trust, dedicated to the conservation and regeneration of villages in Transylvania and Maramureș, Richiș is one of the villages that have become quite a popular place in the past few years, having today a very diverse population. Quiet guest houses, sheds turned into dining-rooms, locally made and hand-painted furniture, simple, authentic food, and friendly hosts make Richiș and other similar Saxon villages a very sought for destination.
Cincșor, a village in the eastern part of Brașov county, has become in the past few years a very popular touristic destination, not only thanks to its impressive fortified church, completely restored, but also to its lovely and and very photogenic guest houses, which once hosted the Evangelical school. #cincsor hashtag on Instagram features mostly photos from the gorgeous library in one of the guest houses, and, to be honest, it looks pretty hard to resist taking a photo. An important heritage preservation project, the restoration process of the fortified church and the former school turned guest house is the combined effort of the local community and the Evangelical Church.
Founded in the 14th century, Mălâncrav, in Sibiu county, is the village that today hosts the largest Saxon population. Mălâncrav is considered one of the most picturesque villages of the area, and it’s worth visiting not only for that, but, thanks to local projects, one can take part in various workshops dedicated to weaving, carpentry, and other local crafts. The fortified church of the village is impressive and sort of unique, the interior frescoes, displaying scenes from the Old and the New Testament, being, in fact, one of the oldest Gothic frescoes in Transylvania. Similarly, the Apafi Mansion, fully restored, is another landmark of Saxon tradition worth taking a look at.
Only a few kilometres from Sibiu, Cisnădioara is mainly known and worth visiting for its remarkable Romanesque-style basilica, built in the 12th century. The fortified church, sitting on the highest rocky hill of the village, offers an outstanding view of the surroundings. Cisnădioara also hosts an ethnographic museum and lots of cultural and folklore events throughout the year.
Sure thing, there are many more lovely villages to be discovered. Grab a map and start planning.
Featured image: dozemode / pixabay