Founded by Transylvanian Saxons during the 12th century, Sighisoara (Schassburg in German) still stands as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this perfectly intact 16th century gem with nine towers, cobbled streets, burgher houses and ornate churches rivals the historic streets of Old Prague or Vienna for atmospheric magic.
Sighisoara’s citadel was built in the 12th century, when it was known as Castrum Sex (Fort Six), and was further strengthened and extended in the 15th century. The name must have existed long before, as the Saxons built their walled town on the ruins of a former Roman fortress. In 1298, the town was mentioned as Schespurch, while in 1367 it was called Civitas de Seguswar. The name of Sighisoara was first noted in a written document issued by Vlad Dracul, Vlad the Impaler’s father, in 1431.
Sighisoara was not the biggest or richest of the seven Saxon walled citadels in Transylvania, but it has become one of the most popular. A walk through the town’s hilly streets with their original medieval architecture, magical mix of winding cobbled alleys, steep stairways, secluded squares, towers, turrets and enchantingly preserved citadel, is like stepping back in time. Other citadels in Transylvania: Bistrita (Bistritz), Brasov (Kronstadt), Cluj (Klausenburg), Medias (Mediasch), Sebes (Mühlbach), Sibiu (Hermannstadt)
The Citadel Square
This quaint small square lies at the heart of the citadel. In the old days, street markets, craft fairs, public executions and witch trials were held here. From this square, you can easily access the main attractions of Sighisoara.
The Clock Tower
Sighisoara’s main point of attraction is the Clock Tower, also known as the Council Tower, built in the second half of the 14th century and expanded in the 16th century. The four small corner turrets on top of the tower symbolized the judicial autonomy of the Town Council, which could apply, if necessary, the death penalty.
After a fire in 1676 when the town’s gunpowder deposits located in the Tailors’ Tower exploded, Austrian artists rebuilt the roof of the tower in its present baroque style and in 1894, colorful tiles were added.
In the 17th century, a two-plate clock, with figurines carved from linden wood, was set at the top of the tower, with one dial looking over the Lower Town, and the other facing the citadel (cetate in Romanian, burg in German). The figurines, moved by the clock’s mechanism, each represent a different character.
On the citadel side we see Peace holding an olive branch, accompanied by a drummer who is beating the hours on his bronze drum; above them are Justice, with a set of scales, and Law, wielding a sword, accompanied by two angels representing Day and Night. At 6 am, the angel symbolizing the day appears, marking the beginning of the working day and at 6 pm, the angel symbolizing the night comes out carrying two burning candles, marking the end of the working day.
The spire of the tower ends in a small golden sphere. At the top, there is a meteorological cock, which, turned around by air currents, forecasts the weather.
The Church of the Dominican Monastery
Not far from the Clock Tower stands the Church of the Dominican Monastery. First attested in a document in 1298 as part of a Dominican monastic settlement, the church became the Saxons’ main Lutheran church in 1556. The monastic complex demolished in 1888 and its place was taken by the present town hall. Only the church has remained from the original structure.
Built in late-gothic style typical of the hall-churches, with two naves and two rows of pillars, the church was restored in the 15th century and then again in the 16th century after the big fire of 1676. The last repairs were done in 1894 and 1929, when the church acquired its present-day look.
Inside the church, you can admire some valuable artistic objects, such as the bronze font dating back to 1440, the stone doorframe carved in 1570 in Transylvanian renaissance style and built into the northern wall of the church, the collection of 16th and 17th century Oriental carpets, a baroque organ and a fine altarpiece from 1680. Classical and baroque concerts are often held here.
The Church on the Hill
To the north of the Clock Tower stands one of the most representative gothic-style structures in Transylvania, the Church on the Hill – so called because of its location on the School Hill (1,373 ft high). First mentioned in a document in 1345 and superposed on a former Roman basilica, its construction lasted almost 200 years.
Initially a Catholic church, it became the main church of the Saxon inhabitants of Sighisoara, who had shifted from Roman Catholicism to Lutheranism after the 1547 Reform.
Inside the beautifully restored interior, you can admire fragments of *murals from 1483-1488, the period prior to Martin Luther’s Reformation, and renaissance-style furniture. The gothic altarpiece dedicated to St Martin dates from 1520 and was painted by Johann Stoss, the son of the renowned sculptor, Veit Stoss from Nürnberg. The three wood-carved coats of arms, found in the anterooms of the side naves, belonged to Mathias Corvin and his wife, Beatrix, the Transylvanian prince Stephen Bathory of Nyir (1479-1493) and the king of Poland and Hungary, Wladislav the 3rd.
The church is reached by a covered wooden staircase known as the Scholars’ Stairs. Opposite the church is the main entrance to a serene Saxon cemetery (open daily 8:00am – 8:00pm).
The Scholars’ Stairs
Located at the end of School Street and connecting the Citadel Square with
the Church on the Hill, the Scholars’ Stairs, or Schoolboys’ Stairs, as it was also known, makes for an interesting piece of medieval architecture.
Built in 1642, the covered stair-passage was meant to facilitate and protect schoolchildren and churchgoers on their climb to the school and church during wintertime. Originally, the stairs had 300 steps, but after 1849, their number was reduced to 175.
Vlad Dracul’s House
The Vlad Dracul House is located in the Citadel Square, close to the Clock Tower. This ocher-colored house is the place where Vlad Tepes, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula, was born in 1431 and lived with his father, Vlad Dracul, until 1435 when they moved to Targoviste. A wrought-iron dragon hangs above the entrance. The ground floor of the house serves as a restaurant, while the first floor is home to the Museum of Weapons (see museum details).
For his deeds, the Order of the Dragon was bestowed upon him, hence the title Dracul (the Latin word for dragon is draco). While in medieval lure dragons served as symbols of independence, leadership, strength and wisdom, the biblical association of the devil with the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve, gave the snake-like dragon connotations of evil. Thus, the Romanian word Dracul stands in English for both dragon and devil.
The Stag House
Built in the 17th century in Transylvanian renaissance style, the house draws its name from the stag skull set on one of the corners of its façade. Recent restorations revealed an external mural depicting the stag’s body. Nowadays, the building houses a hotel, with a ground floor that doubles as a cellar bar.
The Venetian House
Built in the 16th century, the house was later restored in Venetian gothic style with the upper part of the windows forming a three-lobe arch.
The Ropemakers’ Tower
Dating from the 13th century and standing above the pre-Saxon citadel walls, the Ropemakers’ Tower is one of the oldest buildings in Sighisoara. Its role was to defend – together with the Goldsmiths’ Tower – the northwest corner of the hill. Nowadays, the tower is the home of the caretaker of the Saxon cemetery, located next to the Church on the Hill.
The Tailors’ Tower
This imposing tower was raised in the 14th century by the richest guild in town. Initially as tall as the Clock Tower, its upper part was destroyed in the 1676 fire, when the town’s gunpowder deposits, located here, exploded. The Tailors’ Tower, with its two vaulted galleries which used to have huge oaken gates with an iron lattice, also serves as the second access road into the citadel. The tower was restored in 1935.
The Cobblers’ Tower
The Cobblers’ Tower, located in the northeastern part of the town, was first mentioned in documents dating from the mid-16th century but it was rebuilt from scratch in 1650. The tower bears the influence of baroque architecture, featuring a hexagonal base with sides of different lengths. Its roof, resembling a pointy helmet, houses a small observation tower.
The Lower Town
Lack of water and supplies made life in the Citadel
quite difficult at times. By comparison, living conditions in the Lower Town, which had started to develop at end of the 15th century, were much better. Today, the Lower Town, less picturesque than the Citadel area, centers around Hermann Oberth Square (Piata Herman Oberth) and Strada 1 Decembrie. Here, you can admire 17th century houses.