July 12-13, 2017
After traveling through the Carpathians on the famous Transfăgărăşan road, which winds and ascends to about 6700 feet with Bâlea Lake at its highest point, we traveled on to the Sighişoara Citadel in Mures County. The Dacians (ancient inhabitants/future Romanian peoples) built an early fortification called Sandava during the first century AD. The Transylvanian Saxons further established the walled city in the 12th century. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
On our approach into the fortress city, we had to pass underneath two bridges, giving us a taste of just how impenetrable it must have been in its heyday. I imagined rows of archers standing guard above the exterior sets of massive stone walls, waiting to decide whether we were friend or foe.
At its center is the historic Clock Tower, which still works to this day, although it is set up to ring on the hour electronically now. Inside, you can watch the massive gears move and hear them click behind glass walls installed to keep tourists away from the delicate mechanisms. There is also a miniature replica of the entire city on display within the tower’s museum. There are many items of the different workers, families, and people who lived within the city also on exhibition, including the coat of arms that represented them. At the base of the Clock Tower is a small museum with instruments of torture and descriptions of their methods on display. It is where actual prisoners were once tortured for confessions during the Middle Ages.
The steep downward slopes and inclines of the paved streets are designed to keep rainwater flowing along the sides where it runs off in a torrent, away from the walled fortress. We got to experience this firsthand as it began to rain while we were touring the inside of the Clock Tower. By the time we exited, the rain was pouring, and the water rushed over the cobblestones around us like small rivers.
Well-kept, ancient buildings weave around the Citadel Square, and have remained as shops (mostly for tourist items now, but also for local arts and crafts), living quarters, restaurants, and hotels and hostels. One of the most famous buildings was the birthplace of Vlad Ţepeş (Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula). It is now a restaurant. Prepare for a wait, or make reservations in advance.
Every year, the city hosts a summer medieval festival that includes arts and crafts, rock music, and stage performances. Here’s the link (make sure to hit “translate”: http://turismsighisoara.ro/festival-sighisoara/). On June 7-10, 2018, the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival will be bringing together vampire creatives from across the world in a cross-industry event that’s sure to be outstanding. Here’s a link for more information on the IVFAF: http://ivfaf.com/.
There are several churches within the walled city (even one for lepers), and to reach the larger ones, it is necessary to go through a long dark tunnel with steep steps leading upward. (And just when I thought I was done with steps for the remainder of the trip after Poenari Fortress.) It hurt my legs just to look up and anticipate the climb. There are no handrails, and painted wood planks cover the steps, making it difficult to see even during broad daylight. I tried grabbing the joints of the wood walls on a few occasions to help my climb but only got a handful of old cobwebs, and I dare not think what else.
The Church on the Hill was my favorite. There are three wood-carved coats of arms inside that belong to the families of Corvin, Beatrix, and Bathory. There is also a grand old cemetery at the top of the hill, which I’ll write about in a guest article for Loren Rhoads’ column, “Grave Fascination,” in the April Newsletter, so look for it.