Medieval Sighisoara & Vlad the Impaler

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Something bit me in Transylvania, and that is no joke.
I kept a close eye on the painful new swellings and watched for any strange symptoms but they have healed, and now… I guess I’m fine now.

Before I begin, I found a video on Youtube that someone else filmed of Sighisoara that truly shows how exciting it is, in a way that my cell phone camera could never capture.

Sighisoara (aka Segesvar in Hungarian or Schassburg in German) is a striking and well-preserved medieval Transylvanian city in polyethnic Romania that was originally founded by Saxons in the 1100s. Sighisoara is a Unesco World Heritage Site and, like the rest of Transylvania, it is framed by the mystical Carpathian Mountains.

For this entry my song is Gogol Bordello’s “I Suddenly Miss Carpaty:”

My friend and I hopped a train from Szekelyudvarhely (Odorheiu-Secuiesc) to Sighisoara and were shaken down by some adorable Roma kids who wanted his cookies. A Roma woman boarded and immediately started smiling and speaking to me, but I did not recognize any Hungarian or Romanian words. Then she found the one she was looking for- “Beauty!”- she loved my tattoos.

I became speechless as I realized that we had crossed into territory of the Roma people, not to be confused with Romanians, and whom I respectfully will not refer to as “gypsies.” I stared out the window in genuine awe as we passed through village after village.

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Fronius Residence
Once we arrived in Sighisoara we checked into the lovely medieval villa, Fronius Residence, for the weekend and I was completely giddy with my underground suite. The villa has several rooms, each with a different name and concept, and all embellished with gifts of candy, nectarines, and mineral waters.

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Another Lucky 13

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Fronius was built by a Transylvanian Saxon family and is one of only a few homes that survived a devastating fire. All of the art, furniture, and comforts of each room is furnished by local craftsmen, woodworkers, and other artists.

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The Augusta

The Augusta Room is underground, making it one of the coolest rooms here. Air conditioning is not common in Transylvania, not even in hotels, and I started to feel spoiled. Even the bathroom was luxurious, spacious, and with a giant showerhead spraying a waterfall across its cool stone walls.

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For breakfast our host set out a variety of local cheese, breads, meats, preserves, and other treats. The bells of a church or tower nearby rung out the hour, and then another, as we sat savouring the whole experience.

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The courtyard has terraced gardens and patio seating covered in ivy and with flowers coming from every direction. It rained a bit, which tamed the heat slightly.

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Just off the lobby, Fronius has a large stone wall that can be rolled away to reveal a hidden bar. After a couple hot and sweaty weeks, this tiny surprise had the air of an ancient civilization and I felt like we were partaking of exotic elixirs in a secret ritual.

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Cetatea Sighisoarei / Piata Cetatii
Sighisoara’s Citadel / Center is compact and quite easily navigable. Most people here keep to themselves and safety was not a concern. Every hotel and restaurant appeared to have its own pet dog or cat that lounged on the patio, stretched out in the sun waiting for scraps or belly rubs from admiring patrons.

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From Fronius, looking to the right toward the center of Sighisoara

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From Fronius, looking to the left toward the darkened entrance of Scara Acoperita.

Scara Acoperita, the Covered Scholar’s Stairs
175 uneven rocky stairs took us nearly 1,400 feet high in the smoldering heat. After a few weeks of nonstop walking with an ankle injury, my feet had morphed into giant bloody blisters and I kind of wanted to die halfway up. If you find yourself in this situation, keep going. It was so worth it.

At the top of the stairs is the entrance to Church on the Hill, a Saxon cemetery, schools, and one of the greatest views in town.

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Biserica din Deal- Church on the Hill
The third largest church in Transylvania is the towering Biserica din Deal, likely built in the 1420s. In the late 1400s and 1500s, existing structures were either destroyed or converted from Romanesque into Gothic styles.

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Transylvanian churches are still considered modest in comparison to other parts of Europe since important buildings here were also fortified. This left little room in the budget to boast on the exteriors.

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In the 1930s, a group of restoration architects discovered the walls of the sanctuary were decorated in massive Renaissance frescoes, but for some reason had been covered in lime to hide them. They are visible now, but the lighting is kept very low to protect them.

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Below the podium is a trap door that raises up. Follow the stairs below to walk through the only ancient crypt in all of Transylvania. The walls have been sealed up permanently but this was once a highly guarded place. People of the town kept their valuables here centuries ago, but were robbed by Cossacks and other invaders.

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Cimitirul Parohiei Bisericii Evanghelice
Across from the Church on the Hill is this lovely Saxon cemetery.

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People of Romania were originally known as the Dacians, and while their citadel and towers still stand proudly, reminders of Saxon rule abound within the fortified walls.

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I had heard that wild peacocks can be spotted here sometimes, but no such luck today.

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As we walked through the cemetery my friend and I talked about what it would have been like to live our entire life in the same place while everything we knew changed suddenly, drastically, and completely.

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A person’s name, language, identity, culture, religion, street, the way everything was spelled and their way of life changed each time a new ruler or foreign invader took power. It was common back then in periphery of the Roman, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires, but especially here in Transylvania (and worse yet in the Balkans). It must have been maddening.

I also wonder how much grief had passed through these paths- not only of lost love, but of lost cultures and of worlds that no longer belonged to their people.

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Back at street level, it is just a short walk to the Clock Tower.

Turnul cu Ceas- The Clock Tower
The Clock Tower looking out over Sighisoara is the center of tourist activity. That same fire that took out most of the town, save the Fronius, caused great damage to this tower and a group of Austrian builders were commissioned to restore it in the late 1890s. They modified the appearance, updating it with dazzling Baroque-styles tiles across the roof.

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The clock has two wooden faces on either side, each looking in the opposite direction, and carved figures move into view at the start of each hour. The entire procession is full of symbolism and virtue; peace, justice, law, day and night. Early morning and early evening times are marked by the presence of angels.

On the other side, seven figures representing seven pagan gods mark each day of the week- Diane, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, and the Sun.

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Navigating the tower is sometimes physically and logistically difficult. Each floor of the tower was constructed at varying heights and parts of the connecting staircase are hardly wide enough for one person to crawl through, let alone two people moving in opposite directions. If you can hunker down and bear it, you will be rewarded.

Inside the tower is the Medieval Torture Room, Weapons Collection, and the History Museum that displays ethnographic data and artifacts, old clocks, furniture, household items, medical equipment, and relics of medieval village life.

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Towers of Sighisoara
Nine of the original fourteen towers exist in the citadel, each representing the skilled trade of the town’s original settlers. Aside from the Clock Tower you will find Turnul Fierarilor- the Blacksmith’s Tower, Turnul Macelarilor- the Butcher’s Tower, Turnul Cizmarilor- the Cobbler’s Tower, Turnul Cojocarilor- the Furrier’s Tower, Turnul Franghierilor- the Ropemaker’s Tower, Turnul Croitorilor- the Tailor’s Tower, Turnul Tabacarilor-the Tanner’s Tower, and Turnul Cositorilor- the Tinsmith’s Tower.

From the top of the Clock Tower, you can see everything.

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Looking down to the citadel, with the yellow Dracul House on the left

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Near the top right of the photo below is the Tinsmith’s Tower.

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Biserica Manastirii Dominicane
Church of the Dominican Monastery, also seen from the Clock Tower, overlooks the the River Tarnava. This Gothic monastery complex was built in 1298 as a Dominican monastic settlement and was used by the Saxons in the 1500s. Sadly most of it was destroyed in the late 1800s but the church itself remains.

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Not far from the Clock Tower is Casa Dracul.

Home of Vlad the Impaler
Sighisoara, more specifically this yellow house, is the birthplace and childhood residence of Vlad Dracul, known around the world as Vlad the Impaler.

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The legendary man who inspired Dracula ruled the Wallachia region in the mid-1400s and drove terror into the hearts (and through the heads) of everyone around.

Vampire lore draws a significant amount of tourism to the area, sometimes to the residents’ chagrin, but do indulge yourself.

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Famous Dracul (dragon) sign with Clock Tower in the background

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Three floors of the Casa Vlad Dracul offer a restaurant, bar, and Dracula Museum upstairs. The museum has several exhibits of Vlad Dracul’s possessions in campy Halloween type decor. We loved it.

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I will not ruin the surprise of what happens inside, but prepare yourself.

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Food in Romania draws from a diverse palate of influences all over Europe. Romania’s close connection with Italian and French cuisine bestows great elegance on Old World Recipes.

Hotel Transylvania
My favourite meal of the entire trip was crisp sauteed pork and smoky polenta, dripping with roasted garlic oil. Simple, and highlighted with some local wine.

It is tradition here to add a splash of white vinegar over most dishes, like the American habit of adding table salt. My friend wanted mashed peas with his meal but the waitstaff was extremely vocal against ordering items outside their suggested pairings.

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Casa Cositorarului
On the side of a cliff is the boutique hotel and restaurant, Casa Cositorarului. They serve Romanian specialty dishes and are known for their Lemonade.

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I took a risk on an entree I could not translate and was surprised with this.

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The slices of roasted herb-and-cheese-filled chicken were wonderful and the potatoes were perfectly buttery. I do not eat tomatoes or corn but both were fresh, and the lemonade was absolutely worth the hype.

Here is a photo from Nicolae Gheva Photography that better shows how romantic and lovely this area is:

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Photo credit to Nicolae Gheva Photography

Another favourite was this restaurant near St. Josf’s Roman Catholic Church in the citadel.

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St. Josf’s to the right

Unfortunately I can not recall the name and neither Google or Trip Advisor helped. It was open late so we went for coffee and a dessert. The front parlor was empty and we had the full attention of half a dozen gorgeous, flawless waiters.

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Holy Trinity Church

An elegant black and grey church caught my eye as we caught a ride through the city on our way back from a day trip to Biertan. Holy Trinity is a Romanian Orthodox Church overlooking the River Taranava Mare that was built in Neo-Byzantium style during the 1930s. It is a chronological spring chicken in comparison to all the other structures in Sighisoara, and has its own regionally famous choir called Vox Animi.

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Stag House & Cellar Bar was just down from Fronius. It is one of the most preserved original structures in the citadel and is now a guesthouse and bar, but we did not have time to visit.

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Early one morning we had watched a Romanian Wedding Party assemble in the center of the citadel, just steps from Fronius. Now, long after the sun had settled in, their real party was about to begin.

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The cobblestone streets are inviting here and they beckon you to follow them. Every time we passed through I noticed some intricate design I had missed before. There was not enough time for it all in one weekend, but I have been invited to return and will be sure to document new discoveries.

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“Lord teach us to remember that we must(will) die, so that we can become wise” – a simple prayer painted on the courtyard wall that inspires a quest for knowledge.

2 thoughts on “Medieval Sighisoara & Vlad the Impaler

  1. Pingback: The Szekler Heart of Transylvania | Fernweh

  2. Pingback: Medieval Biertan, Romania | Fernweh

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