Romania is undoubtedly one of the lesser-known hidden-gems travel destinations around the world. Our country has it all: from impressive 2,500m high Carpathian Mountains to the Black Sea’s golden beaches, from cities with a young and vibrant culture to peaceful countryside villages where time stopped and friendly villagers serve you home-grown food.
There’s much to discover on a trip to Romania but one thing that fascinates many travellers is the complex history these lands have witnessed with many decisive twist-and-turns. At the intersection between Ottoman expansion, Habsburg domination and Russian influence, Romania’s Middle Ages have been turbulent, to say the least. That’s why our country has many cities, citadels and even fortified villages with defensive walls, towers and bastions to protect locals against invaders. Most of these sights are very well preserved so check out below the cities in Romania you should visit if you’re passionate about medieval history!
Brasov – Romania’s most popular medieval city
Brasov is one of the most charming and representative cities for Romanian history. The first archaeological discoveries around the city indicate the presence of human communities since the Paleolithic Era but the city started being mentioned in official documents since 1235. Presently, Brasov is one of the most picturesque cities in Transylvania attracting many tourists each year. The rich historical heritage that it holds, as well as the medieval architectural details of this city, make it worthy for its popularity. Just look again at the picture of the main square!
To get the best view of Brasov, tourists should head to the top of Tampa Mountain which at 1000m altitude (don’t worry, there’s a cable car!) offers breathtaking views of the entire area. This is where observers would keep watch for approaching enemies. After that, consider visiting the following sights to learn more about the city’s history:
- The Black Church: built in the late 14th century by Saxons, the massive and impressive Black Church features gothic-style elements that make it one of the most oldest landmarks in Romania. Located in Brasov’s Old Town area, the church has many stories and legends thanks to the centuries of history it witnessed.
- The Old Fortress: a complex system of defence walls and fortresses were built around Brasov as early as the 13th century when the Tartar invasions started. Brasov’s fortifications expanded in size and complexity in the centuries that followed to surround the city’s main squares; the perimeter of the entire area measures no less than 3 square km and has walls that are 12-meter thick; you will find traces of walls and ruins of fortresses when walking on the outskirts of Brasov’s Old Town
- The Weavers’ Bastion: initially, there were eight bastions spread across the fortress’s walls guarding the gates into the city, but some of them disappeared over time due. However, one of the remaining ones is the Weavers’ Bastion which looks like a small castle in a circular shape. Go on a slow walk inside if you want to travel back in time a bit!
Sighisoara – best-preserved medieval citadel in Europe
Sighisoara is a small monument-town in the centre of Transylvania, close to Sibiu and Brasov. This city has a very troubled history as it was on the path of various waves of migrating people. So the Saxon colonists who came to Transylvania in the 14th century built a defence system that you can still admire today! As the city’s most important buildings were located on a hill, walls and access gates were built around it with watch towers to guard and defend. Inside the old citadel you’ll find sturdy and colourful medieval houses and cobble-stone streets that preserve an authentic medieval feeling, now part of UNESCO heritage. Visiting Sighisoara is one of the best things to do in Romania and the main tourist attractions are:
- the Medieval Fortress – guilds and merchants worked together to build a stone wall 930 meters long and 4 meters high around the main areas of the old city
- the Hill Church – this is another gothic-style ecclesiastical edifice and the reason why many tourists choose Sighisoara as their destination. It is the third largest building of such kind in Transylvania and it is located on a hill where tourists can see the citadel-city in its entirety.
- the Clock Tower – the highest and most popular defence tower, a symbol of Sighisoara and now a tourist attraction that should not be missed. Its position on the eastern side of the fortress had a strategic view of the entire surrounding area which made it very important during the Middle Ages
A cultural jewel: Sibiu
Sibiu is a medieval city located in Transylvania, near the Cibin River. In the distance Fagaras mountains can be seen, the most impressive of the Carpathians in Romania. Sibiu was the center of the Saxon colonists who came to Transylvania in the 13-14th centuries and has always been an important economic and cultural centre in the region. In the vicinity of Sibiu, the Donarium of Biertan was discovered which dates back to the 4th century AD. This Donarium proves the existence of a Romanized population in Dacia after 271 AD, which eventually gave birth to the Romanian nation. During the Middle Ages, Sibiu continued its economic development thanks to various guilds and merchants. By the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th, military conflicts start influencing the social life in Sibiu as well as its architecture and urban planning, now geared towards defence. There are many interesting tours in Sibiu and attractions you shouldn’t miss such as:
- The Upper and Lower Town (Sibiu’s fortress) – circling the main areas of the city is the old Saxon fortress well preserved with
defencewalls even after 900 years, watch towers, and entry gates; most of these towers you can visit: Council’s Tower, Carpenter’s Tower, Circular Tower, Iron Tower.
- The Big Square – this is where the city hall, town church, and the richest (old) merchant townhouses are located; it’s also where various events are organized and where you should spend some time to get a feel for the local scene
- The Small Square – full of well-preserved townhouses of medieval architecture, these belonged to famous craftsmen, and
artizansin the city. Nowadays, many cafes, restaurants, and bars fill up the square
- The Astra National Museum Complex – This is the largest outdoor museum in Europe and a great way to discover different architectural styles in Romania. The Astra ethnographic museum hosts around 340 buildings that tourists can visit to discover authentic Romanian culture
Unofficial capital of Transylvania: Cluj-Napoca
The history of Cluj-Napoca in medieval times is surely an impressive one. The city was previously known as Castrum Clus. The fortifications in Cluj were built after Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg decided to protect the city from invaders. More and more walls, bastions and towers started to appear years later to help craft guilds and merchants keep the city safe. Cluj-Napoca was among the few towns in the Middle Ages that was granted the right by King Charles I of Hungary in the 14th century to choose its own governors, which reflected the prolific economic and social development of the city in future years. The first fortified area of the medieval city was built after the 1241 Tatar invasion covering a territory of about 7 hectares. The second fortified enclosure was much larger in size, reaching around 45 hectares. What historic monuments should be visited?
- Cetatuia Hill – built as an Austrian garrison in the early 18th century with a strategic view of the city and surrounding area; although the fortress was closed in the 19th century by Hungarian authorities, Cetatuia remains a popular hotspot in Cluj especially for the amazing view it offers.
- Tailors’ Tower – over 500 years ago, the Tailors’ Tower in Cluj was probably the most powerful defensive point of the fortress. Named after a famous and powerful local guild, the Tailor’s Tower was destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly, becoming an architectural symbol of Cluj.
- Unirii Square – with the impressive 700-year-old Gothic St. Michael Church at its centre, this square is the heart of the city; Roman artefacts and ruins of old settlements were discovered following archaeological excavation in this area which can be seen at the National History Museum of Transylvania;