To Marvel at the Medieval Towers of Sighisoara Fortress

marvel medieval towers Sighisoara

Let’s further our historical journey and marvel at the medieval towers and walls of Upper City Sighisoara, the fortress, Vlad the Impaler‘s birth place. If we walk clockwise around the citadel’s defense wall or rampant, still 14 meters in height in some places, we’ll admire, in this order:

Sighisoara fortress - marvel medieval towers fortress. Tanners Tower

The Tanners’ Tower is one of the oldest, original towers dating back to the 13th – 14th centuries as it suggest its position too, retracted behind the wall. Its roof, slanted towards the inside of the fortress, suggests the same. It was built to guard and protect the courtyard of the Clock Tower nearby.

 Tanners' Tower Sighisoara, 13th - 14th century. marvel medieval towers fortress
Tanners Tower, Turnul Tabacarilor

The Tinsmiths’ Tower & bastion. At 25 m of height it has a specific shape: square at the base (the original foundation), then becomes pentagonal (probably late 15th century), and it ends octagonal at the top, while the roof has a hexagonal plan. It had one of the strongest defense systems of the Sighisoara fortress. One can still see the traces that Hungarian bullets left during the last siege, that of 1704.

The Tinsmiths' Tower & bastion, Sighisoara. Turnul Cositorilor. marvel medieval towers fortress
The Tinsmiths’ Tower & bastion with Riflemen’s Gallery – Turnul Cositorilor

Do you see the Rifle-men’s Gallery, adjacent to the Tinsmiths’ Tower – left side? It has a unique architecture in the Sighisoara fortress.

The Rope-makers Tower is high up on the hill and today houses the cemetery guard. But 200 years ago, the first family allowed to make a home here had to sound the church bells three times a day, at 7 am, at noon and 7 pm, and look after the cemetery.

Rope-makers Tower - Turnul Franghierilor
Rope-makers Tower – Turnul Franghierilor

The original fortress’ wall between the Rope-makers Tower and the Butchers’ Tower still stands. The Butchers’ Tower has a bastion as well and it dates from the 15th century. Initially, it was an octagonal prism, but during the 16th century, it was rebuilt on a hexagonal floor plan and raised to make it easier to defend the west side of the Citadel. For this reason alone, the Butcher’s Tower was armed with five arquebuses (a lighter type of musket and one of the first hand-guns with a trigger), and at least one cannon (as the cannonballs and gunpowder discovered here attest).

The Butchers' Tower. Medieval Sighsoara - Turnul Macelarilor
Butcher’s Tower – Turnul Macelarilor

Did you know that it was the Romans who discovered that towers made it easier to defend a walled fortress? Towers made it easy to give covering fire for the walls during an attack.

The Butchers’ Tower and the Furriers’ Tower saw many sheep a-counting while guarding the Törle gate in between. It was through here that each evening the shepherds returned with their flock from the pastures and proceed to count and separate the sheep. Of course, they would have had at least one dog to help them round the flock, to head them off or hold them up just by standing in the road, blocking the sheep’s way, and barking, to remind the woolly beasts who’s the boss.

The plain, square floor plan of the Furriers’ Tower dates its construction back to the 14th century, although it was rebuilt various times, latest at the end of the 17th century. Worth noticing are the narrow window-slits on the top, fourth level for dousing invaders with hot liquids. Over the centuries, fighters armed with spears, halebards, arquebuses, and even a small cannon manned this tower.

the Furriers' Tower, medieval Sighisoara, 14th century - Turnul Cojocarilor
The Furrier’s Tower, Sighisoara – walking into the fortress – Turnul Cojocarilor

The Weavers’ Tower was located between the Furriers’ Tower and the Tailors’ Tower. The Weavers’ Tower was demolished in the mid-19th century together with the fortress wall stretching between the Furriers’ Tower all the way to the Shoemakers’ Tower.

The Tailors’ Tower is a massive baroque-style construction, first mentioned in 1521. Located opposite the Clock Tower it marks the second entrance in Sighisoara fortress. Nowadays is the only access way for cars. It was rebuilt after the big fire of 1676 and today it looks like this:

Journey in medieval city sighisoara. Tailors' Tower, medieval Sighisoara - Turnul Croitorilor
Tailors’ Tower – Turnul Croitorilor – source

Look at the two passageways. They do suggest a 12th – 14th century construction and so are the two ancient porticullis, the metal latticed gates, that lock by sliding vertically to fortify the access way into the fortress.

As mentioned, this tower went up in flames taking with it the adjacent corridor where there was a storage area for projectiles and gunpowder apart from grains and halbards.

The Shoemakers’ Tower, standing since 1522, is quite a spectacular view, proving once again that the strength of a guild lies in its demand. Reconstructed after the fire of 1676 (when it exploded due to the large amount of gunpowder stored inside), it picked up the baroque architectonic influences of the late 17th century.

Shoemakers' Tower Sighisoara plaque - Turnul Cizmarilor - marvel medieval towers fortress
“Shoemakers’ Tower – although it dates from older times, it gained the shape you see today in 1681.” – Turnul Cizmarilor

This was my favorite tower! Do notice the small observation tower (lookout turret if you wish) on the roof visible in the picture below (there are two such towers), and the large windows, so not in the style of the Middle Ages.

Shoemaker's Tower - street entrance - marvel medieval towers fortress
Shoemaker’s Tower – the back entrance

These windows are post World War Two when, for a spell, the tower was turned into a depository of archival documents. The outside wooden staircase is very recent, since 2001.
Today it houses a local radio station.

Shoemakers Tower - roof. Medieval Sighisoara
Note the slanted roof to fend off piling of snow during heavy snowfalls
Shoemakers Tower, Sighisoara - new, wooden staircase
Shoemakers Tower, Sighisoara – the new addition, a wooden staircase

And if you climb the stairs you’re treated to a colorful view:

Shoemaker's Tower view on Sighisoara - marvel medieval towers fortress
A charming view from the balcony

One last look up the Shoemakers’ Tower before we move on, certainly a sight to marvel at as not every day we get to see such medieval towers and Sighisoara fortress is a place far away for many tourists.

Shoemaker's Tower - looking up. marvel medieval towers fortress
Looking up at Shoemaker’s Tower, Sighisoara Fortress

The Locksmiths’ Tower and bastion nearby were part of the main defensive system. This area has seen an explosive history: blown up during a siege in 1706, hit by lightning and burned down in 1809, demolished at the end of the 19th century, making way for the construction of the present Church.

The Ironsmiths’ Tower is a massive tower built in 1631 to protect the fortress and the nearby Monastery Church.

Monastery Church, Sighisoara Fortress - marvel medieval towers fortress
As we spied on the Monastery Church, nestled in the medieval Sighisoara fortress

The tower we see today dates from 1631, raised on top of the Barber’s Tower and rebuilt after the big fire of 1676. At the end of the 19th century it was repurposed as a fire-station. Medieval elements worth noticing are the consoles at the top, protecting the windows, and the machicolations (the floor openings between the corbels, the stones jutting from the wall at the top), and the slits and holes.

marveling medieval towers sighisoara / Ironsmiths' Tower, Turnul Fierarilor
Ironsmiths’ Tower as we saw it, Turnul Fierarilor

And looking up at Ironsmiths’ Tower from the pathway surrounding the fortress:

Ironsmiths Tower medieval Sighisoara  - Turnul Fierarilor - marvel medieval towers fortress
Looking up at Ironsmiths’ Tower from the pathway surrounding the fortress

Looking back – and suddenly it doesn’t look that massive, does it? Perhaps that’s why many attackers thought that they might take it on.

A snow covered path outside the walls of Medieval Sighisoara - marvel medieval towers fortress
Looking at the past…

And with one last look over our shoulder, thinking of its medieval atmosphere, with medieval horns, dark staircases and eerie views, we marvel one last time and bid farewell to the medieval towers of Sighisoara fortress and a snowy winter.

Remember to visit more medieval castles of Romania: Corvin Castle or discover if, without Mircea the Elder, we would have even had a Vlad the Impaler.

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Medieval Sighisoara and the House where Vlad the Impaler was Born

medieval Sighisoara, House where Vlas the Impaler was born

What turns a house into a home? Is it the light that peeks inside through its windows? The scents rising from the kitchen? Or is it the people, the mingle of generations, of shared laughter and tears?
While we visited the house where Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes, was born, I asked myself: what was the light like inside? What street noises reached every morning to little Vlad’s room and woke him up? What childhood memories he kept locked in his heart that reminded him of his mother and home – while imprisoned by the Turks? Or when he was fighting them, surrounded by the sights and the stench of war?

Imagining the medieval Sighisoara fortress at the time Vlad Tepes was born

Imagine 164 houses and thirteen public buildings up on a hill, within the protective walls of a fortress. Tall or short, stone or wood, depending on the wealth of their owners, the houses have one floor, some two. But not more.

Sighisoara - narrow streets stone paved.
Sighisoara – narrow streets stone paved.

Well worth looking up, their roofs have sharp slopes to reduce the weight of the snow in winter, as well as a small window acting as a watchtower, for protection. One can see far away from the tiny, dark attic as well as keep an eye on whoever approaches the house. Friend or foe?

Sighisoara - slanted roof and a peep-window
Sighisoara – slanted roof and a peep-window

The doors are narrow and so are the windows – functionality and safety are paramount. If the house has an extra floor, then the inner stairway is narrow and most probably dark.
The homes are built close together, often sharing a wall, making for narrow, dark streets and passageways. Comfort, as we know it and understand it today, meant a shelter overhead and safe, strong walls during the Middle Ages.
Yet shiny stones pave the streets and there are gutters too, aiding to the drainage of rain-water, melted snow, and – how else – the household’s gray water.

Sighisoara - typical house

The city has only eight wells for drinking water, not enough for the increasing number of inhabitants or siege or fire hazard situations. But it is fresh, clean water, and it is almost enough for their families’ usage during peaceful days, when they can also up the supply from the river.

Let’s meet little Vlad, his family and the house where Vlad the Impaler was born.

The house where Vlad Tepes was born

As you leave the Clock Tower behind, just ahead and on your left, on the corner of Cositorilor Street (Tin-makers Street) stands a tall terracotta house with clean lines. Today it rises with two levels above the ground floor plus a dark attic. You will want to have a good look at it as, although not supported by plenty of historical documents but letters signed by Vlad II and written from Sighisoara , so not impossible, it is the house where Vlad Tepes was born, also known as House Paulinus after its 18th-century owner.

The house where Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler was born - A house like any other.
A house like any other.

But when it was just built in the vicinity of the Clock Tower, out of river stones and with only one level, this house belonged to the guards protecting the main entrance into the fortress.

Vlad’s family was well-off, his father, Vlad II, a first-class member of the Order of the Dragon and lawful prince of Wallachia but without a kingdom at this stage. They settled in Sighisoara and rented guestrooms in a house of stone, awaiting the right moment to raise an army of trusted boyars and reclaim his land.

This is the house, the oldest one in the fortress and still standing because it was built of stones thus withstanding the big fire of 1676. The round vault on the ground floor is the original one, constructed with the stones picked from the nearby rivers, Tarnava Mare especially. Its second floor rose much later, during the 18th century.

The round vault on the ground floor in the house where Vlad the Impaler was born
The round vault on the ground floor in the house where Vlad the Impaler was born

It appears that in the basement of this house there was a coin mint at that time – when the coinage was only the monopoly of the Hungarian Kings ruling the Kingdom of Hungary. This is another proof of Sigismund’s trust and respect towards Vlad Dracul II as Vlad II minted his own silver ducats, the “new ducat”. He did this in preparation for his expected ruling. These coins were first used in Transylvania, then in Wallachia too (yay!). They had the eagle on the head side and a winged dragon on the coin’s tail.

Vlad II Dracul ('the Dragon') coin, struck circa 1445-1446. Eagle standing, head right; cross above / Dragon advancing to the left, its wings spread
Vlad II Dracul (‘the Dragon’) coin, struck circa 1445-1446. Eagle standing left, head towards the right; cross above / Dragon advancing to the left, its wings are spread. Source

It was now, during the time Vlad Dracul II spent in exile in Sighisoara preparing for his rule over Wallachia, that the Romanian name of the fortress appears in writing for the first time. Double yay!

Vlad Tepes was born in 1431 (or some sources state 1429), the middle son of Vlad Dracul II, Prince of Wallachia and son of Mircea cel Batran (Mircea the Eldest) from the Basarab Dynasty. King Sigismund of Luxembourg held Vlad Dracul II in high regard, awarding him, as mentioned before, the Order of the Dragon on the 8th of February 1431 in Nuremberg, for ultimate services in the gruesome fight against the Ottoman Empire.

Dragon order insignia
Dragon order insignia

The Order of the Dragon (Societas Draconistarum, Society of the Dragonists) was a monarchical chivalry order awarded only to selected members of the nobility. Founded in 1408 by the Hungarian King Sigismund von Luxembourg (later Holy Roman Emperor), it was similar to the military orders of the Crusades. Its members were expected to defend Christianity against all enemies, especially the Ottoman Empire.

The Order of the Dragon on a medieval sleigh
The Order of the Dragon on a sleigh

I liked the dragon featured on the sign above the door, I thought it is a great reference to the Order of the Dragon.

a dragon on the house where Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracul, Vlad the Impaler was born

The symbol of the Order was a dragon with the tip of its tail coiled around his neck and a red cross on his back, the Red Cross of Saint George.

Calling him Vlad Dracul, correct or not?

Before 1475 Vlad III signed his name simply Vlad. But from 1475, before his third ruling as Prince of Wallachia, he signs as Ladislaus Dragwlya (or Dragkwlya, Drakulya) which appears on his seal too.

Hence Vlad the Impaler’s nickname Dracul (and identical with the Romanian word for devil) or Draculea, his ancestors named Draculesti, from dragon, or Drachen in German.

Vlad’s mother was also of Romanian royal blood, Chiajna Musatin, a Moldavian Princess and the eldest daughter of Alexandru cel Bun as well as aunt of Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great), of the Musatin Dynasty.

So, Vlad Tepes and his parents hopefully lived in Sighisoara until 1436. Just imagine, young Vlad might have used one of these cups to drink fresh milk.

medieval ceramics found in the house of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracul
Medieval ceramics found in the house of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracul

Vlad would have been five or seven years old when his parents moved to Targoviste when his father took over Wallachia (the principality located south of Transylvania) and was – finally – crowned the rightful Prince of Wallachia.

In the middle of the 20th century, a hidden mural was discovered in the house where Vlad the Impaler was born, that of a man resembling his father, Vlad II.

Comparing Vlad II with Vlad III, Tepes, the Impaler. Notice similarities.

A Sad Reality

Without saying too much, here are some pictures from the upper level of Vlad’s house as it looked when we visited. No skulls here, just misunderstood advertisement.

inside house Vlad Impaler born
inside house Vlad Impaler born
inside house Vlad Impaler born
inside the house where Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracul, Dracula was born

A Secret Entrance into Vlad the Impaler’s House

Most tourists are familiar with the front entrance of the house where Vlad the Impaler was born.

house Vlad Impaler born

Yet if you play “what if” and follow the narrow street on the left, walking underneath the arch connecting the two buildings and feeling tiny compared to their height…

house Vlad Impaler born

You will soon discover the back entrance, through a small, walled yard:

house Vlad Impaler born

We took this way in.

The back entrance in the house where Vlad the Impaler Vlad Dracul, was born
The back entrance in the house where Vlad the Impaler Vlad Dracul, was born

Sighisoara City: Coat of Arms and blazon symbology

Sighisoara’s coat of arms is so fitting for its rich medieval ancestry. It depicts a rampant golden lion and a silver fortress with three towers on a red shield topped with a silver crown with five crenelated towers.
The lion, facing right, dexter (with respect to the person carrying the shield), wears a gold crown, his tongue sticks out and holds a gold sword.

Sighisoara's coat of arms today
Sighisoara’s coat of arms today

The fortress on the shield symbolizes the medieval Sighisoara and its crucial economical and military strengths as well as the cultural and religious roles it played. The lion, through the way it is depicted on the shield, symbolizes the judicial autonomy Sighisoara held, having the right to decree the death penalty, the right of the sword, jus gladii. The lion also symbolizes strength, generosity, and beauty.
The crown shows that today, Sighisoara is a municipality.
It is worth noticing that the lion’s hind legs are apart, symbolizing stability.

Medieval Sighisoara has much more to reveal besides the house where Vlad the Impaler was born, with its history and secrets.

Moving on from it, our eyes fell upon a beautiful building with clean lines and… a pair of horns.

We’ll open the door to this story next time.

Sighisoara, a medieval door

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4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred

4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred

The Romanian Myths draw from a popular culture that is tightly blended with the history and the sacred and it spills into a rich national culture.

Myths have a powerful significance to the cultures who tell them, for they explain sacred origins, bring forward human archetypes, and are a model for future aspirations. A myth unifies cosmic and social events, explaining them in a way that is in touch with the most fundamental values of a community.

Carried forward through a nation’s folklore, myths enrich its culture in many ways, acting as a catalyst in literature, music, and the arts . Enchanting to children and still shrouded in mystery, myth reveal their meanings, like stepping stones, only as one advances through life. I remember learning about these myths in school. They felt abstract and their charm escaped my younger self. I am happy I revised them recently. I found them fascinating, dripping with insight and wisdom that over-passed the millennia.

The Cosmogonic Myth of Miorita

At the very origin of this myth is the ballad of Miorita that originates in Soveja, a small town in the Romanian Vrancea Mountains (right at the curve of the Carpathians). The eerie, mournful ballad was often sung by local troubadours. Worth mentioning here is that the Romanian populace, developed around strong Christian values and governed by a social structure, was fundamentally rural until the middle of the 18th century, so the myth of Miorita influenced a local and vibrant culture.

The word miorita has its root in mioara, a nick-name for a small, young sheep, an ewe.

Shepherding has been a millennial occupation of Romanians. Humans domesticated sheep since the early Stone Age, about the same time they met the trusted dog. Tradition and rituals are deeply embedded in the mindset of these people.

The sheep in Miorita may symbolize purity and simplicity, but also the complexity of unpretentious things. In Christianity, sheep symbolize purity and goodness.
In Miorita, the (young) sheep represent the oracle.

The ballad tells of three shepherds, one from each historical province of Romania (Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania), who meet in the Vrancea mountainous area during the transhumance. One of them is approached by a sheep who predicts that the other two will plot against him to steal his sheep. The shepherd accepts his destiny. His only desire is that the sheep tell his mom that he fell in love with a princess and ran with her to a far away kingdom.

The Legend of Traian and Dochia is the myth of the Romanian people’s ethnogenesis

Ceahlau, Dochia and Traian, Romanian myths culture history
Source

The Legend of Traian and Dochis is part of the Romanian myths that try to explain the origin of the local culture and the history of the Romanian people.

In antiquity, the geographical area we know today as Romania was known as Dacia. The geto-dac people lived here. Dacia was at the height of its power during the ruling of Decebal, 87-106.

Dochia was Degebal’s daughter. When the Romans under the ruling of Emperor Trajan attacked Dacia for its valuable gold mines, Trajan fell in love with Dochia and wished to take her with him. He chased her over the hills, eager to catch her. Dochia did not wish to leave her people and asked the gods to remain in her homeland, no matter what. She was instantly turned to stone together with her maidens.

The myth is placed in the eastern Carpathian Mountains, in the Ceahlau Mountain, where there is a group of stones with a strange appearance. Ceahlau Mountain is unique in Romanian culture, being the only mountain with patron saint.

The myth of Dochia represents the pain that Decebal felt at the thought of the Romans conquering his people, as well as his helplessness in front of irreversible life and its events. Just keep in mind that Decebal did not go down without a fight. The Dacs fought the Romans in two wars before they were finally conquered.

As it is often with myths and legends, this specific story might draw from a different one, about a grumpy master mason and his daughter.

The Myth of Master Builder Manole

The Legend of Master Builder Manole. Curtea de Arges Cathedral

This myth speaks of the sacrifice that sits at the foundation of each accomplishment or construction. The bigger the sacrifice, the more sacred the result is considered.

The theme of this myth is the sacrifice as a source of new life.

Tradition asks for cats, puppets, coins, or crosses to be built in the foundation of a new home or on its doorstep to protect it from evil spirits. And diggings prove that this tradition is true and widespread.

Prince Neagoe Basarab, ruler of Wallachia at the beginning of the 16th century and his wide Millica Despina were the founders of the Curtea de Arges Monastery.
Nine builders under the leadership of Manole worked all day long only to see their work falling to pieces during the night. Needless to say, the Prince was not happy. Manole prayed and prayed until one night he had a dream. Human sacrifice was needed, more exactly a laborer’s female relative, the first one to bring them food at dawn. And so it happens that the first woman to arrive with food was Maole’s wife Ana.

As soon as the sacrifice took place, Manole building his wife into the foundation while she was still alive, making it look like a game, the construction stood and it was soon finished.
The most beautiful monastery ever to see the light of the sun.
The Prince was ecstatic, but not desiring his master builder to raise another construction as beautiful as that one again, perhaps even more stunning, ordered for the scaffolding to be removed abandoning Manole, who were still standing on the roof. Manole fashioned himself wings out of its of wood he had nearby and tried to fly to safety, only to fall to his death.

The construction of Curtea de Arges Monastery was finished during the ruling of Prince Radu the Black. It is unclear if the myth of Manole speaks of him or his image was distorted. One version of the ballad mentions that Manole and the builders boasted together that they will be able to build an even better monastery, and so they were all left on the roof.
The Monastery Curtea de Arges is real, a pearl of byzantine architecture with Moorish arabesques and its two twisting cupolas are famous worldwide.

The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy

The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy -  mitul Zburatorului
Amore e Psiche by Canova

This Romanian myth blends culture with social and religious believes as well as the history and beginnings of psychiatry.

Fly-boy is said to be a magnificent young man that visits young maidens in their dreams, similar to the myth of Incubus.
In Romanian mythology he is depicted as a handsome youngster with golden hair or as a dragon that shines, his skin covered in precious stones, with a tail made of flames.

The myth of Fly-boy signifies the impossible love, the unanswered love, the burning passion and even remembers of the vampire’s myth – giving the symptoms of the girls he “visits”: weight loss, pale skin.

The Fly-boy is presumed to have been a man whose love was rejected during his lifetime by a woman. He returned to hunt all women, but especially the one who rejected his feelings.

The Romanian folklore and literature are abundant with fabulous characters and archetypes: giants, ogres, sirens, three headed dragons, magic horses, talking wolves, spirits of the forest and of the lake, ghosts, eerie maidens, magic birds, witches and saints, fairy godmothers, handsome princes or clumsy page-boys, good or evil emperors, and many more. Their stories have animated the childhood of many generations and form an unseen golden thread that unites a strong national spirit that prevailed over millennia.
The Romanian myths connect its people with an abundant culture, a stormy history and the ever-permanent sacred.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Romanian myths between culture, history and the sacred. You might also be interested in:

Symbolism in Silent Heroes, the Story behind it
Orthodox Easter Eggs, folktales, symbolism, traditions
Snow’s Thousand Faces and Meanings

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Snowy Night, a Winter’s Dream

I love the snow for what it is –
Of dreams and stars that spark,
Of clouds and tears.
Some say it’s angels in the dark.

I love the snow for what it stands,
My childhood memories asleep
And holidays with frozen hands.
Snowmen were built of snow knee-deep.

I love the snow for what it might,
The hopes it brings, the smiles it carves
Each winter, a brand new sight
To welcome with open arms.

I love the snow, I hope you too –
This thread that links all that is true.

Snowy Night Winter Dream
Christmas decorations in Cismigiu Park, Bucharest
snow at night
blizzard in the middle of the night
white flakes against a Christian Orthodox church
Snowy Night Winter Dream
winter wonderland
Snowy Night Winter Dream

I hope you enjoyed my sonnet on snowy night, a winter’s dream.
You might also enjoy reading about:
Snow’s Thousand Faces and Meanings
A Train Journey through Snow, in Romania
A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara
or
Amazing Roles dogs Played During WW1: Sled Dogs, Pulling Dogs

What is it that you enjoy about snow?

snowy night winter’s dream

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A Journey through the Medieval City of Sighisoara, Romania

Winter Journey to Medieval Sighisoara, Romania

If you journey through Transylvania, ‘the land across the forest’, (searching for Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler or Dracula) and head towards Brasov along the banks of the Big Tarnava River, you will surely spot from quite afar the pointy towers of medieval Sighisoara City, with its centuries old fortress and churches. We traveled there by train one winter.

I give you the ‘Pearl‘ and the ‘NĂĽrnberg‘ of Transylvania, Sighisoara!

A brief history of Sighisoara

Nearly two millennia ago here rose a Roman castrum, a military fortified camp for guarding the roads. But more proof of local human settlements dates back to the Bronze Age.

Looking at Sighisoara fortress from the Lower City
We see the fortress up on the hill, as we cross the river over Tarnava Mare

Sighisoara as we know it took shape during the 12th century when Saxon merchants and craftsmen settled here for a few reasons…

First, to defend against Tatar invasions the eastern and southern borders of the Hungarian Kingdom, formed at the beginning of the Middle Ages on the Pannonian Plain. This border was none other but the line of River Târnava Mare.

Second, in search of a better life. These settlers, who chose the banks of the slower Saes river to build their homes, were soon known as the Transylvanian Saxons. By the 14th century, Sighișoara was a well known royal center with the status of an urban settlement, Civitas de Segusvar, and by the 15th century its guilds had received the sole right to its administration.

As it was the custom during the Middle Ages, captains ruled such territories, or royal citadels, and these captains obeyed the Prince of Transylvania which, in turn, was a vassal of the King of Hungary.

Yet there was a third, less known reason. As the people already living in this land were Christians and the Pope loved converting new territories to Catholicism, the plan of populating this area with Saxons emerged. So, over the centuries, in Transylvania arrived first the military contingents, then the Saxon merchant settlers.

Dominican monks also settled here at the end of the 13th century, followed by the Franciscans.

Sighisoara view
Admiring Sighisoara from the very top of the hill

Today, a journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara is time-travel at its best, as this is one of the few preserved medieval cities still found in Europe and the only one fully inhabited found in Romania.

Sighisoara – the etymology of a town’s name

Castrum Sex, Castle Six, was the name of the fortress that existed here prior to the apparition of the first Hungarian military contingents. This fortress was first attested at the beginning of the 13th century, before being almost completely destroyed by Tatars.
Later we hear the name Castrum Sches, from Hungarian seges, or citadel, although it makes more sense to connect the fortress’ name with that of one of the rivers that run through it, river ĹžaeĹź.

Other names used for Sighisoara during the Middle Ages were Segusvar and Segeswar, as well as the German Schägesburh.

Vlad Dracul, Prince of Wallachia, was the first one to use the Romanian transcription of the town’s name, Schegischone, in a document from July 1st, 1435.

Sighisoara City – a layout with a purpose

One of the things I enjoyed about our journey around the medieval city of Sighisoara was that everything is within walking distance. Although the train station’s location is in the Lower City, Sighisoara’s modern area, it is easy to spot the walled fortress, atop a hill in the Upper City. The medieval citadel rises, colossal and gray, yet within close range, accessible through a bridge spanning across Tarnava Mare River.

Encircling Sighisoara fortress, one can very well admire the original defensive wall with its towers and bastions.

To recognize the craftsmen’s importance, each guild – and there were ten such associations in Sighisoara – received a tower of the citadel’s fortification. Thus, each guild was responsible for its own administration and it is still easy to guess which guilds were the most productive ones, as their towers are the best-preserved ones, and the biggest: Tailors’ Tower, Tin-makers’ Tower, and Goldsmiths’ Tower. But, above all, stands the 14th century Clock Tower and through here we made our entrance into the Sighisoara fortress.

The guilds were important as they fought against those who practiced the profession illegally. Also, their members enjoyed privileges with the Wallachian rulers.

Sighisoara City Map (Harta Orasului Sighisoara)
Sighisoara City Map (Harta Orasului Sighisoara) source

The story of the fortresses’ ramparts and towers

Apart from its 164 houses, what we admired the most during our journey through the medieval city Sighisoara were its 930 meters long defense wall and towers. Why so many – for such a small fortress?

During the Late Middle Ages, sadly, the danger of the Ottoman Empire escalated. Therefore, the first mention of a wall around Sighisoara fortress dates back to 1490. The very first wall elevation showcased crenelations and rose only 3-4 meters in height, principally intended for arbalesters (crossbowmen).

16th century came and the bastion rose by two extra meters. Meurtrieres were now built in the wall, either as floor-holes (for dropping hot substances onto the attackers) or as loopholes (arrow slits or cannoniers). After the big fire of 1676, the fortress’ wall was 8 – 10 meters in height.

Let’s make our way inside this incredible medieval fortress.

The Clock Tower

Placed on the eastern side of Sighisoara’s defense system of walls and towers, closer to sunrise, to mark its value, the Clock Tower was the first to welcome us on our journey. On a follow-up blog post we’ll have a detailed look at the other towers, each one with its own incredible history, but for now let’s start here.

The Clock Tower is the main entrance in the fortress and the first spot we visited during our journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara.
The Tailors’ Tower, on the opposing wall of the fortress, is the second way into the citadel.

Yet it is the Clock Tower that hides a few symbols.

Massive and everlasting, the Saxons built their Clock Tower out of a myriad of humble river stones handpicked from the banks of the nearby rivers. Each stone is insignificant on its own, their strengths coming from their number, much as a king’s army. Erected with the intention of being the main entrance in the fortress the Clock Tower, fortified accordingly, had only two levels. Its walls are 2.3 meters thick and three gates defend it, while its belly protects the stairway connecting the Upper City with the Lower City.

Only a handful of visitors know that the Clock Tower is a symbol of Transylvanian Saxons’ pride and craftsmanship. They desired to build the biggest, tallest clock tower in the principality – as horology had a long tradition here, since the 14th century.

The only path into the fortress takes you underneath the tower itself. It is the Front Gate ensemble and part of the tower’s barbicane, a fortified outpost.

journey medieval city Sighisoara

In 1844, inside the barbicane a courtyard appeared, the Old Ladies’ Corridor that you can see here. This is a wooden passage meant to ease the aged peasants’ access into the fortress, during heavy winters.

Sighisoara, Old Ladies' Corrisod - Galeria Doamnelor Batrane

Into the fortress we go, underneath the Clock Tower, through the belly of the beast:

Sighisoara: main entrance in the fortress, underneath the Clock Tower

And emerging into the fortress. The visitors’ entrance in the Clock Tower is immediately on the right-hand side. The ground level of the tower dates back to the 14th century.

Similar to the second gate tower, the Tailor’s Tower, the Clock Tower has a rectangular floor plan and a ground floor with two vaulted gates over the passageway.

Soghisoara Fortress - the visitorts' entrance in the Clock Tower

Hard to guess, but the Clock Tower, or the Big Tower of the Front Gate, reaches a height of 64 meters, of which 34 meters is the roof alone!

I admired the central, pointy roof with its baroque embellishments and its own main tower surrounded by four smaller ones, each rising at 12.5 meters. These four towers are a symbol of the city’s own judicial autonomy, right of the sword, meaning that back in the Middle Ages the Sighisoara City Council could give the death sentence and executions were also performed in the City Square.

The Clock Tower. journey medieval city sighisoara
The Clock Tower, Sighisoara

Unlike the other wall towers, each belonging to a guild, the Clock Tower belonged to the public authorities serving as headquarter for the City Council. Master builders added the upper levels during the 15th and 16th centuries and when the great fire of 1676 destroyed the roof, Austrian craftsmen built a new one in 1677.

The top of the Clock Tower, Sighisoara

At the very top is a golden sphere, atop which a wind vane in the shape of a rooster still stands. The bulb-shaped roof stands as the oldest proof of Baroque influence in Transylvania.
The golden sphere is a symbol of local power and has a diameter of 1 meter. Why? Because it is a time capsule hidden in plain sight. Inside you would find a copy of the Chronicles of the Clock Tower by Georgius Krauss as well as documents pertaining to the history of Sighisoara and that of the Transylvanian Saxons.

The Sphere, the Crescent and the Double-headed Eagle of Sighisoara

At the very top of the Clock Tower is a rooster weather-vane. But underneath, between the rooster and the golden sphere, now this is an entirely different story.
We now see the double-headed eagle, a symbol of the Austrian Empire between 1867 and 1915.
During the tower’s refurbishing from 1677 the three builder masters placed here a Turkish crescent, surely under political orders, meant to remind the people of Sighisoara of the Ottoman Empire’s ruling.
The crescent got damaged in 1704 by local insurgents or curuti, from Hungarian kuruc. New work on the Clock Tower was only possible in 1776. Then the double-headed eagle, in a nod towards the Austrian Empire’s authority, replaced the crescent.

A time capsule and hidden symbology of Clock Tower and its very top. Journey medieval city Sighisoara
The Sphere, the double-headed Eagle and the golden sphere – symbology in Sighisoara

The roof, as we see it today, dates back to the 19th century. It uses hexagonal, glazed shingle tiles in shades of red, yellow, blue, green, and white. Mostly birds, able to fly this high, can enjoy such intricate details.

The Clock Tower's roof  has glazed shingle tiles in shades of red, yellow, blue, green, and white. Medieval Sighisoara.
The Clock Tower’s roof has glazed shingle tiles in shades of red, yellow, blue, green, and white.
journey medieval city Sighisoara
The Clock Tower’s roof as we saw it on a winter’s day.

Yes, we climbed to the very top, to the balcony you see above – the sixth level of the Clock Tower.

Imagine living here in the late Middle Ages. The Tower, the tallest structure for miles, protecting you, and beside the sun, the keeper of time and your only measure for the time of day and the day of the week. Yet the tower was much more than that, for during important celebrations an orchestra would climb to the balcony placed at its very top and perform music that reached every corner of the fortress as well as those living outside its walls, in the Lower City.

And looking up at this medieval giant you will want to watch out, as the slits and murder holes are still visible:

The Clock Tower in Sighisoara - Medieval, solid rock.
Looking up at the Clock Tower in Sighisoara – Medieval, solid rock.

The two faces of Sighisoara’s Clock Tower

Well worth noticing as you journey towards and through the medieval city of Sighisoara are the two faces of the Clock Tower, on its fifth level.

The best feature of the Clock Tower is on the fifth level, its 17th-century clock mechanism. In 1648 craftsman Johann Kirtschel even improved its system. He included a minute hand, added quarter-hour chimes and the one-meter tall wooden statues representing the days of the week.

Facing the Upper City or the inner fortress we can see a niche carved in the tower, holding statues and located to the left side of the 2,4-meter diameter clock dial.
Here, Peace holds a trumpet and an olive branch, near a Drummer who marks quarter hours and full hours.
Also, two statues in blue dresses symbolize Righteousness, with her eyes covered, holding a raised wooden sword and Justice, with laurels on her head, holding a scale. Yes, here Righteousness has her eyes covered and not Justice.

Later, two more statues appeared here, placed right at the top, two angels. At 6 AM the Angel of Day shows up, with flames above his head, holding a burning heart, replaced at 6 PM by the Angel of the Night, holding a torch in each hand.

On the clock’s side facing the Lower City, we can admire a horse and a drummer as well as seven 80 cm tall statues depicting seven Roman gods, symbols of weekdays: Diana / Artemis, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and the Sun.

Sighisoara - the Clock Tower - Turnul cu Ceas
The Clock Tower, the clock’s face and the statues’ niche its the left side as seen from the Upper City, the inside of Sighisoara fortress.
The Clock Tower in Sighisoara: the inner, fortress' side: spot Peace with a trumpet and an olive branch and the Drummer
The Clock Tower: the statues placed bellow represent Peace, with a trumpet and an olive branch, and the Drummer .
journey medieval city sighisoara. The Clock Tower, the clock's face and the statues' niche its the right side as seen from the Lower City, the  outside of Sighisoara fortress.
The Clock Tower, the clock’s face and the statues’ niche its the right side as seen from the Lower City, the outside of Sighisoara fortress.

The Seven Statues of Sighisoara’s Clock Tower

Diana / Artemis, the goddess of hunting, depicted in a blue dress holding a bow and arrow; she has a half-moon over her head, the alchemist’s symbol for silver.
Mars / Ares god of war, holds a spear and wears a helmet with a feather, and above is the chemical symbol for iron, also a symbol for the star sign Ares.
Mercury / Hermes, the god of commerce, holds a caduceus in his right hand and a bag with money in his left and has a pair of wings at his helmet and another pair at his heels. Above his head is the symbol for mercury or quicksilver – just like his temper.

Jupiter / Zeus, the god of sky and the King of gods, depicted with his right foot resting on a globe, holds a lightning rod in his right hand and a thunder in his left. Above his head we find the alchemy symbol for tin, looking like a 24.
Venus / Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, has the alchemy’s symbol for copper, passion, above her head and a winged cupid.
Saturn, the god of agriculture and abundance, has the symbol for lead above his head.
Sun / Sol / Helios, depicted as a female goddess with a crown of golden rays, the symbol for gold.

The Warning Statue, a Vestige of Sighisoara’s Medieval Past

But the traveler is also warned on his journey, long before he approaches the medieval city of Sighisoara. Can you read the signs?
Two lone statues are easily spotted underneath the seven peaceful ones, depicting days of the week and crafty symbols. One of these two statues is a drummer, matching the one on the other side of the clock tower, and hammering away as the bells chime.
Lo and behold for next to him stands an executioner, who once held in his hands a whip and a hatchet…

Going up into the medieval Clock Tower of Sighisoara

220 years old, the Clock Tower’s museum is a place worth visiting. One can admire coins, weapons, medieval pharmacy equipment and a detailed layout of the fortress.

Up until 1566, the rooms located on the tower’s first floor accommodated the Council’s City Hall.

going up in the Clock Tower of medieval Sighisoara

But what you do want to visit is the roofed gallery at the very top, hugging the clock tower all around.

Up here a 360 degrees panoramic view of Sighisoara unfolds in front of your eyes.

We spot the bridge over Tarnava Mare River that connects the Lower City with the Upper City.

If you dare count, you will see over 150 medieval houses clustered in the old town, their red roofs and the stone-paved streets where once kings, artisans, and even Vlad Tepes strolled.

over 150 medieval houses are clustered in the old town of Sighisoara
There are over 150 medieval houses clustered in the old town of Sighisoara

There, on the left, below, is the house where Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, Dracula, was born. We’ll go there soon. Meanwhile, have you noticed the slanted roofs powdered with snow?

journey medieval city sighisoara

From the top of the Clock Tower, we even had a glimpse back in time, through the history of Sighisoara. The Church on the Hill, dating back to the beginning of the 14th century, was one of the first constructions the Transylvanian Saxons built:

The early 14th century Church Hill as seen from the top of the Clock Tower.
The early 14th century Church Hill as seen from the top of the Clock Tower.

From the Clock Tower’s top balcony one can get a panoramic view of the world as well. How good is your eyesight? Can you see as far as Moscow?

Clock Tower - 1368 km to Moscova, Moscow

Measuring from the Clock Tower, Vienna is 656 km away, Rome 1.096 km, Paris 1.680 km, London 1.872 km, New York 7.431 km, Tokyo 8.890 km, and Sydney 15.438 km away.

Sighisoara, Clock Tower - 14 025 kn to South Pole

It looks like someone has left a secret message for us. Can you decipher it?

footsteps in the snow in Sighisoara - a secret message?

As a child, Vlad would have played hide-and-seek through this passageway when he was a lad of five. Lucky times as later, during the 18th century, this small space became a prison. For when the Clock Tower was first built there were two dark passageways running through it – what better place for children to play?

After the great fire of 1676, when the tower was rebuilt, one of these passageways became a torture chamber / jail. In this very space the convicts had their hands and feet tied in chains. As a way of torture the convicts were tied to the infamy pole, in the city square, with 6 kilograms river stone hanging around their necks, for all to see.

The Clock Tower, Sighisoara. A secret saide gate. Vlad Tepes would have played hide-and-seek here when he was a lad of five.

Go ahead, take a peek:

I am sure that, as a child, Vlad would have engaged in snowball fights and even built animals out of snow. On the patch of snow you see above, we built a dragon to honor Vlad’s name derived from the Order of the Dragon awarded to his father:

A Dragon of snow in Sighisoara
A snow dragon in Sighisoara

I hope you enjoyed our journey through the medieval city Sighisoara thus far.

If I were you, I would follow this blog as there are three more legs to this journey: a visit inside at the house where Vlad Tepes, (Vlad the Impaler or Dacula) was born, a walk around the medieval towers of Sighisoara fortress, as well as a pair of horns on a building, a mysterious stairway, and a graveyard.

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