The fortified churches of Transylvania are dotting the idyllic countryside in the south of this historical and legendary region, a unique legacy from the troubled medieval past of the region. Once, over 300 of these rural architectural jewels adorned the villages of Transylvania, guarding over their small communities as spiritual beacons and safe retreats. Built between the 13th and 16th centuries by the Saxon and Szekely settlers of southeastern Transylvania, about 160 of these fortified churches can still be found today, although the communities have almost disappeared and many of them are in poor shape. To defend themselves against often enemy attacks, especially by the Ottomans, the villagers began to fortify their churches, building defensive walls and other structures through the years. . While there are many fortified churches in the villages of this region, some of them have gained popularity for their amazingly preserved architecture and superb locations. Seven of these have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage: Biertan, Prejmer, Viscri, Dârjiu, Câlnic, Saschiz and Valea Viilor.
In times of peace, these spaces were the cultural hubs of each village, while in case of danger, villagers would seek refuge inside the fortified churches. Today, these magnificent sights are the trademark symbol of the Transylvanian countryside, each one with unique features and history
The Fortified Church of Biertan
The most famous and visited of the fortified churches in Transylvania, it is located on a small hill in the center of Biertan village, about 80 km north of Sibiu, surrounded by forests and farms. Once a thriving medieval settlement and the center of Saxon ethnics in Transylvania, the village still preserves parts of its authentic architecture. The majestic site of Biertan includes the imposing church built at the beginning of 15th century, as well as three defensive structures around it, developed through the next centuries. The late Gothic church is monumental and has amazing architectural and artistic features. Most of these rich elements are truly unique and around 500 years old. The impressive northern altar is unique in Europe and was built by craftsmen from Nurnberg and Vienna, featuring 28 unique religious paintings. Another unique and original feature is the sacristy door locking system, with 19 locks operated by a single key, developed in 1515. The three consecutive walls have several towers and ramparts, while the entrance is possible through a covered stairway tunnel. There is an official short panoramic path that explores the nearby hills and offers stunning views of the village and fortified church.
The Fortified Church of Prejmer
The fortified church of Prejmer is located in the village by the same name, 15 kilometers east from the city of Brașov. The imposing monument was started by the Teuton Knights around 1218 and continued in the following centuries, featuring a beautiful late Gothic architecture. It is the largest and best preserved medieval fortified church in Eastern Europe, as well as the only one in Transylvania built on a Greek cross structure. Probably the most amazing feature of the church interior is the unique and superb altar piece with beautiful paintings, dating around 1450. Starting with the 15th century, the church fortifications are built to defend against Ottoman attacks. These include 12 meters high and 3-4 meters thick walls that form a circular structure around the church, including hundreds of rooms on four stories inside. These amazingly original interior spaces were used as living and storage spaces, each room being inherited by families inside the community. They are still beautifully preserved and quite unique in the world. The defensive structures are truly exceptional, the fortress resisting around 5o Ottoman attacks.
The Fortified Church of Viscri
During the last decades, the lovely Saxon village of Viscri has become famous at an international level. It is mostly known following the visits of Prince Charles of Wales, after he bought a house inside village. Located in the countryside between Brașov and Sighișoara, Viscri is regarded as one of the most authentic villages of Transylvania, although thousands of travelers visit each year. Considered as the most beautiful of the UNESCO fortified churches, it is located on a small hill surrounded by strong walls with two bastions and two towers. Built in the 13th century by Saxon settlers, the Romanic church presents some unique features, while the fortification walls are 7 meters tall, although parts of the them have not been preserved. Apart from the fortified church, the village of Viscri also features traditional rural architecture, accommodation in authentic houses and ecotourism activities.
The Fortified Church of Dârjiu
The most fascinating and important Szekely fortified church of Transylvania is located in the small village of Dârjiu, about 35 km east of Sighișoara. Mostly famous for its exquisite old mural paintings, the interesting fortifications and the authentic traditions, this place is truly astonishing. In the center of the village and surrounded by green hills and plains, the fortified church of Dârjiu has a long history and amazing features. The church was built during the 14th and 15th centuries, over an older Roman style basilica dating from the 13th century. Of immense value, the mural paintings and frescoes have been covered in the past and only discovered during the 19th century, being brought to life again were possible. The most impressive is the story of Saint Ladislau, dating from 1419, as well as others that have been uncovered both inside and outside the church. The surrounding defensive walls are about 6 meters tall and very strong, also featuring towers and bastions. It was built during the 16th century, a unique feature being the interior storage rooms that are used since medieval times by the villagers. The fortified church is also known as the Fortress of Bacon, as people still use the barns inside to store goods. According to old customs, they can only access their bacon supply only during Wednesday mornings.
The Rural Fortress of Câlnic
Among the amazing cultural heritage monument of Transylvania included on the UNESCO World Heritage, the rural fortress of Câlnic is truly unique. It was originally a noble family residence during the 13th century, including strong defensive walls that protected a massive keep, as well as a moat and towers. During the 16th century, the fortress was expanded by the villagers who bought it in 1430, with another defensive wall, while the moat was covered. Inside the walls and near the imposing keep, they also built a small chapel and other structures for storage. The entire complex of Câlnic is beautifully preserved, with the keep tower now including a small museum of medieval and traditional art, while the cellar has a small collection of objects related to winemaking. There is also a small accommodation space inside the fortress, with two rooms organized in the former storage areas, near the gate tower. Close to the fortress, travelers can also admire the old Evangelical Church, built in the 15th century and modified in the 19th century, when it got its neogothic features.
The Fortified Church of Saschiz
Between the wooded hills of Transylvania and only 20 km east of Sighișoara, the village of Saschiz is best known for the imposing medieval church and its mighty defensive tower, while on the nearby hill, the ruins of an older rural fortress can still be seen. Once surrounded by defensive walls, the beautiful church of Saschiz was built at the end of 15th century, on the place of an older Romanic basilica. The Gothic structure is truly majestic, built of river stone and very large, it is surrounded by 22 counterforts. While being quite austere and lacking ornaments, travelers can still admire the interior altar and organ of the church, two extremely interesting features dating from the 18th century. The upper level of the church was fitted for defensive purposes with ramparts and firing windows. The nearby massive defensive tower was built in the same time and style with the one in Sighișoara, in 1677. Its current aspect is much more recent, having been damaged two times by fires. There is a clock mechanism at the upper level, with a figurine that the locals call Bogdan. The ruins of a rural fortress dating back to the 14th century. It once has strong walls, six bastions and 60 meters deep well that was supposed to lead to the center of the village through a tunnel.
The Fortified Church of Valea Viilor
One of the most beautiful and fascinating fortified churches of Transylvania can be found in the village of Valea Viilor, about 50 km north of Sibiu. The massive Gothic church was built in the 15th century, replacing an older church dating from the 14th century. The surrounding defensive walls and towers were added starting with 1500, including impressive defensive features to the church. The chorus was surrounded by a four-story high strong tower that included a parapet walk, while the belltower and all the entrances were fitted with defensive elements. Inside the large church, some of the most interesting features include the old paintings dating from 1779 and a lectern from 1528. The surrounding fortification are 6-7 meters tall and very thick, including three bastions, ramparts and a covered parapet walk. There is also a small chapel near the main church, as well as a small museum at the entrance, housing interesting traditional Saxon exhibits.
Other Fortified Churches of Transylvania
These are only the six fortified churches included in the UNESCO World Heritage, Transylvania having over a hundred such unique cultural heritage sights. Some are lost through the hills and valleys of the region, in small villages with authentic atmosphere, while others have been lost along the centuries.
Alma Vii – The splendid fortified church of this remote village is located on a small hill near its center, about 20 km south of the town of Mediaș. The small hall church was built in the 14th century and its surrounding fortifications during the 16th century. The defensive wall has four towers and firing holes. The village is truly enchanting, surrounded by wooded hills and orchards.
Apold – Just 16 km south of Sighișoara lies the charming village of Apold and at its center, the beautiful fortified church dating as far as the 13th century. First built as a Romanesque basilica, it was rebuilt in a let Gothic style during the 16th century. The defensive structures of the church and the defensive wall with three towers dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. Inside the three-apse church, visitors can admire the Neo-classical altar with an organ piece or the wooden pulpit and galleries dating from 1760.
Cincșor – The splendid fortified church in the village of Cincșor is located in the middle of the village, on the banks of Olt River and close to the town of Făgăraș. The church was built in 1421 over an older chapel, while the fortifications were developed during the next centuries using stone from an old Roman military camp. The fortified church is surrounded by strong walls with towers and once even had a water moat.
Hărman – An important fortified church of Transylvania, the one in Hărman Village has some unique and original features. The Romanesque basilica used to be defended by three defensive walls and a moat. The interior wall was 12 meters tall and had 7 defensive towers and a zwinger. The exterior wall is no longer preserved, but it used to have storage spaces. The church was already defended by a wall in 1290, when it receives a bell tower. It was further modified during the 15th century in a Gothic style, while some living spaces and granaries were built on the southern side of the church.
Meșendorf – Lost between the hills of central Transylvania some 40 km southeast of Sighișoara, the fortified church of Meșendorf was built in the 14th century in a late Gothic style and further modified during the 15th century. The church vaults had to be removed during the 19th century restorations due to the risk of collapse, but the bell tower was kept in its original form. The strong defensive walls used to have three towers, only two of them still visible today, while part of the wall was removed to make room for the school. Inside the church, the most interesting features include the wooden gallery with Baroque paintings and the 1693 altar with a newer organ piece.
Moșna – One of the most beautiful fortified churches of Transylvania is located in center of the village, about 10 km south of the town of Mediaș. The present church was built after the 15th century, at the same time with the fortifications and over two older structures dating from previous centuries. It is a large church and it features defensive structures, including a level over the choir and small towers at the north and south entries. The interior is adorned with many architectural and artistic treasures.
Mălâncrav – The remote village of Mălâncrav is located about 25 km southwest of Sighișoara, surrounded by wooded hills. Its fortified church is renowned for housing the largest interior frescoes in Transylvania, with images of the so-called „poor man’s Bible”. Other beautiful features of the interior include the impressive sculptures and the old Gothic altar with the figure of the Virgin Mary. Outside the astonishing church, the defensive features can only be seen in the ruins of the surrounding wall and the church tower. This used to be the court church of the Apafy noble family, whose splendid mansion can be admired nearby.
These are just some of the most beautiful and interesting fortified churches of Transylvania, with many others which can be found exploring old villages like: Agârbiciu, Apold, Archita, Băgaciu, Bazna, Brădeni, Bunești, Cloașterf, Feldioara, Ghimbav, Homorod, Hosman, Roadeș, Sânpetru, Șeica Mare and dozens more.
Best Authentic Accommodation in Southern Transylvania
9.6 Rating from 22 Reviews!
Located in the village of Biertan very close to the fortified church, the accommodation offers several traditional spaces for couples of families, with private bathroom, common kitchen and garden!
9.0 Rating from 125 Reviews!
Located in the village of Criț, this accommodation consists of an 18th century house that is fully renovated, featuring private baths and common lounge. It houses the Transilvania Culinary Academy!
9.0 Rating from 99 Reviews!
Located in the village of Prejmer, this lovely guesthouse offers fully equipped rooms with private bathrooms, small summer pool, large garden with barbeque, free parking and easy access to the fortified church!
9.6 Rating from 71 Reviews!
Located in the village of Saschiz just 300 meters from the fortified church, this amazing accommodation features in superb houses that are equipped with traditional new facilities, private bathrooms and garden!
9.3 Rating from 26 Reviews!
Located in the village of Viscri, this traditional house offers authentic accommodation with private bathrooms and a kitchen, a bar and a large lush garden. The old fortified church is just 700 meters away!
9.4 Rating from 222 Reviews!
Located in the village of Mesendorf, this highly rated guesthouse offers traditional accommodation in superb Saxon houses that are fully equipped, with private bathrooms, common dining area and large garden!
Local Tips to Visit the Fortified Churches of Transylvania
- Most of the fortified churches are located in the center of each village, so they are fairly easy to spot!
- Travelers can freely admire them from afar, as most of them are closed and many are deserted!
- The most interesting and those that have been renovated can be visited by calling the person in charge of the church in each village!
- Visitors can either find the telephone number on the gate of each church or b searching information on Google Maps!
- The entry ticket is a small fee (6-10 RON) that helps the community preserve the fortified church!