Read This Surprising Legend Now, Before Traveling To Spellbinding Sibiu

Reading about the legends and history of a place you plan to visit is a must if you wish to turn your traveling experience into a whimsical time. Sibiu is a spellbinding traveling location and Romania’s Destination of the Year for 2024. Yes, my native Romania, Europe’s coolest destination.

Enjoy a surprising legend from Sibiu. Remember, you heard it from the horse’s mouth together with other surprising legends and myths from Transylvania.

What is the origin of the legend of Hermann and Hermannstadt?

It came to us through the threads of historical sources and the heartwarming lore whispered by the hearth. A legacy passed down through the generations. A Transylvanian legend not to be forgotten. This age-old story revolves around the construction of an exquisite fortress nestled among rugged forested mountains. One of the Siebenburgen, one of the first settlements established by the Saxon settlers.

Hermann, a venerable and enigmatic figure whose name quickly became synonymous with the city itself—Sibiu, formerly Hermannstadt—is at the center of this legend (but also of the burgh).

An old postcard depicting the Big Square, Sibiu, and the statue of Saxon settler Hermann who, legend says, gave Sibiu its medieval name, Hermannstadt
An old postcard depicting the Big Square, Sibiu, and the statue of Saxon settler Hermann who, legend says, gave Sibiu its medieval name, Hermannstadt

What event sparked the legend of Hermann?

According to the legend Hermann, a leader of the Saxons immigrants who came seeking refuge and opportunity to a better life in this far-away lands promised to them by the Hungarian King Géza II, was not only a commander but also a master furrier and a skilled saddler. Hermann led his people to the lush right bank of the Cibin River, where he saw a future full of promise and endeavor. Together with the winds of change whispering through the valley at the end of the 12th century, the Saxons got to work laying the groundwork to a settlement destined to greatness, all in the hope of a peaceful life, away from the feudal ties of early medieval Europe. They called their hamlet Hermannsdorf.

When word of their thriving settlement reached the Hungarian king (who ruled Transylvania at the time), his curiosity led him to their doorstep. Seeking to assess their situation, needs, and desires, the king found himself conversing with Hermann, whose request would go down in history.

What was Hermann’s only wish?

Hermann begged the king with solemnity to allow him to build a fortress—a bastion of security and autonomy for his people—rather than a settlement. The Mongols kept trampling their roads. Safety was paramount.

 Hermannstadt, Sibiu, a city’s expansion from the XII to XIV centuries (after E. M. Thalgott 1934 and H. Fabini, 1983)
 Hermannstadt, Sibiu, a city’s expansion from the XII to XIV centuries (after E. M. Thalgott 1934 and H. Fabini, 1983)

But, a fortress? Where even the King couldn’t go without permission? How big is a fortress? Asked the king, who was suddenly feeling less generous. The settlers, despite being invited guests, required the king’s approval because the king was the one who guaranteed their privileges on these territories. The Hungarian crown regularly renewed these privileges, which are better known from a guarantee diploma issued by King Andrew II in 1224.

Hermann bowed low before the king, not out of respect, but to conceal his smile and the mischievous glint in his eyes. Then he asked for a plot of land that was no bigger than a bull’s hide.

The Hungarian king smiled. Hermann smiled as well. For he issued a challenge that was as clever as it was daring.

Sibiu at 1240, Hermannstadt, a fortress around Huet Square
Sibiu at 1240, Hermannstadt, a fortress around Huet Square

Hermann’s clever plan for obtaining enough land for a fortress

Hermann obtained a bull’s skin from his wooden hut, and the king had his scribe write the donation deed on calf’s skin parchment. When Hermann returned, he surprised the king by giving him a bull’s skin that was only big enough to cover a hut-sized patch of ground. But Hermann, a well-known furrier and leather worker, expertly shaped it into a slender strip. A narrow, long strip. Extremely long. He grabbed one end of this strip and ran up the hill south of their hamlet, encircling a large portion of it. With what was once a bull’s skin, as agreed by the king. Encircling a large area of land, as if by magic.

When the king saw Hermann’s ingenuity, he could only smile and agree, impressed by his skill and cunning. The king signed and sealed the document with the royal insignia on his ring, laying the groundwork for the fortress that would become the heart of Hermannstadt, as it was known from 1366 to 1864.

Sibiu Hermannstadt Hermanstatt old map

Throughout the centuries Hermannstadt, today Sibiu, had other names too

Between 1864 and 1918 when Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Hermannstadt was known as Nagyszeben. After the union of Transylvania with Romania was declared on 1 December 1918 the city’s name s changed to Sibiu, after the Latin name of the first settlement found on the banks of Cibin River, Cibinium, as Sibiu was first recorded in 1191.

Hermann’s legacy lives on through the ages, a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of those who dared to dream amidst the turmoil of history.

6 Replies to “Read This Surprising Legend Now, Before Traveling To Spellbinding Sibiu”

  1. That is a great story about Hermann as well as interesting history. I’ve been to Sibiu and it is a very beautiful city. I remember the church in the photo. We went to the top of another famous church. We stayed at a hotel called “Imparatul Romanilor”, which was built in 1555. I read that many famous people stayed there including Johann Strauss, Franz Liszt, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Emperor Joseph II, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, King Carl XII of Sweden, just to name a few.

    1. I am so excited to read about your memories from Sibiu, Thomas. This town is close to my heart.
      You were very lucky to stay in that hotel. It is the oldest in Romania. When we visited Sibiu last, we had a look at its facade. I found its almost triangular design along two joining street intriguing.
      We rented, through an online booking website, a small two rooms, restored medieval house with bathroom and kitchenette. We had our little yard and full autonomy:) It was in the lower town, where peasants would have lived, not the aristocracy that had homes around Big Square and such. But it was a charming place with its original, wide door frames.
      But this kind of accommodation is new on the market. Perhaps if you consider visiting Sibiu again you will keep this in mind.

  2. Thank you so much Patricia for sharing this interesting legend on Hermann and Hermannstadt. I’m always happy to learn new facts and curiosities about Sibiu.

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