176 Criș, Judetul Mures,
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History, culture, and ancient architecture are just some of the reasons you should visit Transylvania’s fortified churches. Interesting stories, old paintings, legends, and history lessons stay hidden behind their walls, waiting to be discovered by curious travelers. Of the 300 fortified medieval churches initially build throughout Transylvania, today there are around 150 fortified churches left, seven of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
First, to understand why fortified churches are present in the Transylvanian villages you need to look into the Transylvanian Saxons, the former inhabitants of these lands. The colonization of Transylvania by Germans began under the reign of King Géza II of Hungary during the 11th century. For decades, the Saxon settlers have defended the southeastern borders of the Kingdom of Hungary against foreign invaders like the Cumans and Tatars.
After the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, many settlements were destroyed. As a result, many Transylvanian towns were fortified and 300 villages were defended by fortified churches with massive stone walls.
Read on to discover 5 remarkable fortified churches you should add to your list for your next trip to Transylvania.
Going over the forest-covered hills and across the Hârtibaciu Valley, you will come across the village of Dealu Frumos [Lesses; Schönberg] where a well-preserved fortified church can be seen from afar.
This 13th-century basilica was upgraded in the 15th century by the addition of defensive systems. A keep tower and enclosure wall with four corner towers were built and the side aisles were raised. The enable was originally built in the center of the village, making it accessible to all inhabitants in case of attack. Even farm animals would be sheltered behind these walls in case of danger, along with grain and bacon.
During the 16th century, the courtyard was extended to accommodate the growing population of the village and the whole community took part in the rebuilding of the fortifications.
Originating in the 13th century, the church was erected in a strategic position, on the top of a hill. After surviving turbulent times, the church of Apold [Apold; Trappold] remains one of the best-preserved medieval fortifications in Transylvania.
To strengthen the defense against invaders, the height of the steeple was increased and equipped with battlements. The walls were elevated to transform the church into a defensive structure. The two rows of walls built for protection were initially much higher than today, but have been damaged over the centuries.
This church is the home of unique treasures like the neoclassical organ altar dating back to 1821, and the Gothic tabernacle, pulpit, and wooden galleries dating back to 1760.
The 14th-century church of Malancrav [Almakerék; Malmkrog] has three naves, a polygonal chancel, and a west defense tower all part of a fortification system built during the 15th century. The church is home to one of the oldest Gothic winged altars and original 14th-century superb wall paintings preserved during the Reformation.
During medieval times, Malancrav was not part of the autonomous Saxon territory and villagers were serfs of the Hungarian noble families Apafi and Bethlen.
One of the oldest settlements of the Schäßburger Stuhl (the administrative seat of Sighișoara), Archita is home to a distinguished fortified church. Originally a Romanesque basilica, the church was reconstructed and consolidated during the 16th century with defense systems, and two fortification walls with cornering towers.
After a fire destroyed most of the village during the 17th century, the church was restored into its current shape. Interior design was well preserved, the central pieces being the organ, a masterpiece of a famous organ builder Samuel Maetz, along with the original altar and pulpit.
The village of Alma Vii [Almád; Almen] was first mentioned in 1298 in the „Herritus de Alma sacerdotes“, but the village was most likely established in the early 1200s. Its name comes from the Hungarian word “alma” meaning “apple” and the name „vii” reminds us of the majestic vineyards that once covered the hills surrounding the village.
During the 16th century, the church was consolidated with fortifications, defense towers, and firing posts to keep it safe from invaders. A charming place to visit is the gate tower, where you will behold a structure on 5 levels, three of which are equipped with defensive systems.
Today, due to careful restorations, the medieval establishment is returning to its former glory.
176 Criș, Judetul Mures