The History Of The Medieval Saxon Fortified Churches In Transylvania
Since the High Middle Ages, a German-speaking population known as the Transylvania Saxons has been living in southern and north-eastern Transylvania, Romania. One of their greatest historical achievements is represented by the architecture and usages of a series of fortified churches, which can be still found in many places in the proximity of the Carpathians.
These peasant citadels (as opposed to their fortified cities) were built in the wake of the Mongol invasion of Europe in the 13th century. Given the fact that many settlements from Transylvania were completely obliterated by the Mongols at the time, the surviving Saxon colonists from the rural areas collectively contributed to a series of multi-purpose citadels that could serve them both religiously, economically, and defensively.
So it is that an estimated number of 250 up to 300 such imposing structures (referred to as ‘Kirchenburgen’ in German) were erected throughout the High and Late Middle Ages in the region, most notably in present-day Sibiu (Hermannstadt), Brașov (Kronstadt), and Mureș (Mieresch) counties. Nowadays, there can be visited 150 well preserved fortified settlements of this sort.
Some of these impressive Saxon architectural monuments were subsequently listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites during the early 1990s. Those which made it to the UNESCO list of ‘Villages with fortified churches in Transylvania’ are the following ones (listed in Standard German, Transylvanian Saxon dialect, and Romanian):
- Birthälm/Bierthalmen (Biertan), Sibiu county
- Wurmloch/Vurmliχ (Valea Viilor), Sibiu county
- Weisskirch/Veiskiriχ (Viscri), Brașov county
- Tartlau/Torteln (Prejmer), Brașov county
- Keisd/Kaest (Saschiz), Mureș county
- Kelling/Kellenk (Câlnic), Alba county
Below you can watch a short documentary by Mihai Eminescu Trust foundation highlighting the tumultuous history of these medieval landmarks (also with subtitles in English), and in particular the story of Almen (Alma Vii):
Documentation sources and external links:
- Fortified Churches in Transylvania on www.whc.unesco.org
- 12 Fortified Churches of Transylvania: The Castles of the Peasants on www.atlasofwonders.com
- List of fortified churches in Transylvania on www.wikipedia.org (in English)