176 Criș, Judetul Mures,
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The Middle Ages in Transylvania were a true era of citadels and castles. After the damage of the Mongol Invasion in the 13th Century, the Crown of Hungary established clear policies for building fortifications, due to the impending Tatar invasions. A century later, a new threat appeared: the Ottoman Empire.
Over the next three hundred years, between the 13th and 16th centuries, hundreds of stone fortifications were erected for defensive purposes, some of which are still standing today. This article will let you in on some of the best-kept Transylvanian medieval fortresses that are open for visitors.
In the middle of a gorge of the Tarnava Mare river, on an isolated hill, one of the most beautiful medieval towns in Southeast Europe, the Sighisoara [Schässburg; Segesvár] Citadel, has been preserved. Built almost entirely by the Saxon settlers during the medieval period, this charming citadel offers a portal for traveling back in time.
The Saxons, a Germanic population, were invited to Transyvania during the 12th century by the Hungarian king Geza the 2nd, left behind thousands of architectural gems – and the Sighisoara Citadel is one of them.
Sighisoara’s old name, Segesvar has Hungarian origins, and literally means “The fortress (var) on the top of the hill (seg)”. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the city developed rapidly being situated at the crossroads of two critical Transylvanian trade routes.
In the 14th century, the town becomes part of the supreme political and administrative structure of “Siebenbürgen” [The Seven Citadels] along with Sibiu [Hermannstadt; Nagyszeben], Brașov [Kronstadt; Brassó], Mediaș [Mediasch; Medgyes], Sebeș [Mühlbach; Szászsebes], Rupea [Kuhalme; Kőhalom] and Bistrița [Bistritz; Beszterce].
Currently, Sighisoara is the only inhabited medieval fortress in South-East Europe. It is also part of the UNESCO world heritage site since 1999.
As the Sighișoara Citadel remains largely intact, 9 out of the 14 original defensive towers are still standing. Each tower was erected by one of the medieval guilds of the city: Blacksmith’s Tower, The Butcher’s Tower, Tailor’s Tower or the impressive Clock Tower to name but a few.
One of Transylvania’s most iconic medieval sites, the Rupea [Kuhalme; Kőhalom] fortress amazes through shape, size, and rich history.
First mentioned in a 1324 document, the Rupea Citadel is placed on a 120m basalt cliff. Its name comes from the Latin rupes meaning cliff, located on one of the oldest archeological sites in Romania. The Rupea Citadel, as it appears today, covers an area of almost 11 ha with walls, towers, and inner courtyards. Due to the imposing position it occupies near the former trade road and next to the city, it is a remarkable sight from even great a distance.
The Pentagonal Tower, whose constructive “family”, from the second half of the 16th century, can be found in the military architecture of the whole of Transylvania, was influenced by the Italian craftsmen of the late Renaissance. Rupea Citadel was radically restored during 2010-2012, when a large part of its original dowry was recovered.
The center of one of the most significant domains in Transylvania, which in 1632 included 62 villages, the fortress of Făgăraş [Fogarasch; Fogaras] was an important residence for noblemen during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Initialy built out of wood in the 12th century, it was transformed into a reinforced castle in the 17th century by Gábor Bethlen, Prince of Transylvania, who gave it priority over Alba Iulia [Karlsburg; Gyulafehérvár] in the modernization of the fortifications. The fortress was besieged many times: in 1530, 1540, 1541, 1559, 1601, twice in 1658, 1661, 1705, 1849 – without ever being conquered.
The passing of Făgăraş into Austrian ownership in 1696 and the transformation into a garrison meant the beginning of a period of degradation. Serving military purposes, the castle and fortress of Făgăraş lost their former elegance and grandeur.
Between the years 1948-1960, the fortress of Făgăraş was transformed into a prison for political prisoners, and after 1960, the fortress will be decommissioned and vast restoration works will begin, aimed at restoring the appearance of a fortified castle from the glory period of the 17th century.
One of the most important medieval fortifications in Transylvania is the Deva [Diemrich; Déva] Citadel. Thanks to its strategic positioning on the hill, the fortress acted as a key defense point in the Mureș [Mieresch Maros] Valley, on today’s border between Transylvania and Banat.
Its first mention is in 1269 when it appears in a deed made by young king Stephen V of Hungary, son of Béla IV of Hungary. He makes a donation to a Wallachian count for his bravery in the battle fought under the walls of the Deva Fortress. In 1444, János Hunyadi will take possession of the Deva Citadel with all its riches: 56 villages and gold mines.
In the second half of the 17th century, prince Gábor Bethlen built inside the citadel a bastion that served as a prison and place of torture, and at its base, he built a residential palace, in Renaissance style: the Magna Curia Palace (in Latin “Great Court”).
In 1800, the military commander of Transylvania decides that the fortress no longer meets modern military requirements, so it loses its military purpose. As a result, the citadel’s carpentry – gates, doors, window frames – were dismantled and put up for auction. In 1817, Emperor Francis I and his wife visited Transylvania and, impressed by the beauty of the place, ordered the reconstruction of the fortress and offered a substantial subsidy in this regard.
The works lasted more than 12 years and were completed by 1830. In August 1849, however, a powerful explosion produced the gunpowder storage room, killed some soldiers, and destroyed most of the construction. Today the fortress is being restored, the works being carried out with European funds.
The bastion fortification at Alba Iulia [Karlsburg; Gyulafehérvár] is the largest Citadel in Romania, with a history dating back to the Roman empire. The fortress that can be seen today was built at the beginning of the 18th century by architect Giovanni Morando Visconti, who also led the first phase of the works. The year of completion of the works is considered to be 1738, although there were various works in the following years as well.
Designed on an extensive area of 110 hectares, with an enclosure defended by three rows of walls, the fortress was erected in the shape of a star given by the seven bastions, which form in the central area the “security enclosure” of the fortification, the most important and the best protected.
The impressive walls of the bastions are 2.5 meters thick at the base, and the height exceeds 10 meters, making it one of the most imposing Baroque monuments in the province.
The Citadel’s role was military, and defensive, given by the bastion system, the type of artillery pieces it was equipped with, as well as the size of the troops inside it. The fortress was attacked only once in its military existence but never conquered.
The Alba Carolina Citadel has experienced spectacular transformations in recent years, which make it increasingly visible on the tourist map of Europe.
176 Criș, Judetul Mures