Close this search box.

Best guide to villages with fortified churches in Transylvania

A hidden gem, villages with fortified churches in Transylvania, are a must for any visitor eager to explore more than just scratch the surface of Romania’s tourist highlights. The fortified churches are a fascinating historical legacy even for those who aren’t attracted by history! They add to the charm of the region. Many of these fortifications stand out with their paintings, legends, fabulous landscape, history lessons, or religious side…

Nowadays we have around 150 villages with fortified churches in Transylvania. 7 are part of the UNESCO world heritage.

Travel Transylvania and go from village to village to discover and explore one of this region’s hidden gems, the fortified churches. Built by the Saxons with the initial goal of sacred shelter, necessity turned them into fortifications, storage room and so much more!

Taste the freedom of modern times, but also a lesson of history! Taste the modesty and true happiness of simple people! And don’t forget to taste all the delicacies of the area!

Feel the true sense of the area and accommodate at a genuine countryside house (in some cases the parish house is now guesthouse). It is a magic feeling!

To understand the thing with fortified churches, here you have some preliminary info on the former inhabitants of Transylvanian lands, the Saxons, and some general facts before giving you my top 5 fortified churches. For more places to visit Transylvania, click here.


Who are the Saxons?
Fortified churches – General facts
Good to know before visiting
Best fortified churches
Biertan fortified church
Viscri fortified church
Harman fortified church
Prejmer fortified church
Alma Vii fortified church
Interactive map

Example of fortified church
Archita is a good example of fortified church
Interior of fortified church in Transylvania
The interior of Cristian church in Brasov county

Who are the Saxons?

To understand who the Saxons were and what they were doing in the part of the world called Transylvania, we have to dig nine centuries back in history.

Although the villages with fortified churches in Transylvania – are in this part of Romania – the Saxons had nothing to do with nowadays Romanians.

The Saxons were Germanic people. They had come to the invitation of Hungarian kings between 1180-1250 to colonize a formerly wild area. The king was looking for allies in the permanent fight with the boyars. So, he decided to colonize the land with people who had to be productive, pay taxes and be loyal subjects. In the 12th century, in Western Europe there was an overpopulation, so, the kings wanted to lure people from the West to the East.

Saxon lifestyle museum from Harman has on display many interesting items
Saxon lifestyle museum from Harman has on display many interesting items

Transylvania was the farthest away for these would-be emigrants, so the king had to come with serious incentives. Therefore, he offered many important liberties for the times. So, the land soon became a German republic with a Hungarian king. The Saxons were living a fine life …until danger stroke. Then, being totally alone in this part of the world, they couldn’t run away. They were tied down because of the liberties they enjoyed, so there was no other choice but protect themselves. Thus, they built fortifications.

Nowadays, there are basically no Saxons left in Romania. Most of them were deported after WW 2 and persecuted by the communist regime. Still, Transylvanian Saxons left an important legacy we take pride in.

Fortified churches – General facts

The great number of villages with fortified churches in Transylvania is unique in the world.

As the name says, fortification means protection, a building with a defensive role. But who were the enemies?

Mainly the Tatars.

Villages with fortified churches in Transylvania have got very thick walls
This is how thick the walls of Prejmer are to protect from the invaders; photo: @random.travellers

They were sent by the Ottomans with a precise mission: to spread terror. When the Tatars attacked, the villagers would see from the hill the troops and knew they had a few minutes to take action. So, that is why they erected the fortifications.

Churches have always been made of stone, so eventually, during an attack, they were turned into safe houses. As a second step, walls and towers were built to offer more room and increased safety. This explains the multiple functions of both the church and fortification. Besides serving as a spiritual place, the place of worship also meant protection. The fortress is not only an area of defence; it is synonymous with shelter, storage area and fight zone. You already understand my constant plea for the beautiful landscape. The top of the hill was a good observation point, and for us, nowadays, the Transylvanian highlands offer amazing views over the settlements.

Fortified churches and beautiful landscape
Here is my plea for the landscape behind; photo: @podu.stricat

Good to know before visiting

An interesting fact is that the houses from the village were ranged in the vicinity of the church based on some criteria. The wealthier families used to live closer to the church than the needy ones. It translates in the fact that whenever an assault was approaching, the more well-off were able to take their important belongings to the church fast, thus preserving the heritage.

Fortified churches in the villages have a different atmosphere from buildings with the same destination in the city. The small village community acts as a family because they all know each other. Simplicity and sincerity are two major assets that we can still see in the country.

Cincosr fortified church and garden
The fortified church of Cincsor is well taken care of and has a beautiful garden full of flowers

Upon planning a visit to one of these villages with fortifications, you will never need a GPS to find the church. But, you may need to find the key-holder. Churches are usually open in summer and at weekends, but you may need to look for the key at the village priest in a less crowded season. (His phone number is usually on the door church).

Initially, these places of worship were Catholic, but after the Protestant Reform from the 16th century, the whole religious system underwent changes, along with important education reformation. Most of fortified churches are now Lutheran.

Villages with fortified churches in Transylvania are mainly Lutheran
The Lutheran church always dominates the landscape; here, in Saros.

Best fortified churches

If you don’t know where to start, I prepared a description for some of the most representative and beautiful villages with fortified churches in Transylvania (this is not only my slightly subjective opinion). They can be found in the counties of Sibiu, Brasov, Mures and Alba.

Villages with fortified churches in Transylvania are charming
The landscape is too charming to fight it

Biertan fortified church

  • Location: Biertan, Sibiu County
  • Entrance fee: 10 lei

It is simply splendid. This UNESCO heritage has a special halo that surrounds it, but it is not only the outside that surprises. On the contrary! It has a special door with a clever mechanism. It contains 15 bolts that can be simultaneously activated by a key, thus serving to the protection of goods! In 1910, the door was awarded a prize at the Paris International Exhibition!

The original altar of this late-Gothic church comprises 28 painted panels that go back to the late 15th century. It is the most beautiful and largest from Transylvania.

The Marriage Prison Tower is a must-see, as it represents the ancient way of doing couple therapy. Married couples who wanted to divorce were locked in a tiny room where they had to share everything. It is said that in 300 years, this method only failed once!

Insider tip!: Visit the Prison Tower and soak in the sun and wind from one of the firing chambers that surround the church and offer views over the village!

Biertan fortified church
Biertan church dominates the landscape; photo @anamariamnc
Biertan altar
Late-Gothic altar in Biertan

Viscri fortified church

  • Location: Viscri, Brasov County
  • Entrance fee: 12 lei/adult and 6 lei/seniors and students

Viscri is already a legend thanks to Prince Charles whose love for these lands put the village on the map again. Like in all rural Transylvania, time stood still here. You can see troughs for the cows in front of the houses painted in blue and old peasants chatting about village life. Viscri simply has a charming touch and takes pride in their old white fortification that is part of the UNESCO heritage. It is today a Lutheran church and part of it is home to traditional objects belonging to the Saxon community.

The setting of the church awaits the visitors to share with them stories about the centuries when there was a Saxon community that came straight from the valleys of Rhein. The church itself was started by the Szeklers before Saxon arrival. It is very small, modest, and neat. The two towers and bastions complete the initial tribune and tower. The fortification was built later to protect from the Tatar invasion, somewhere after 1500. Nowadays, one can still see the old paintings and marvel at the simplicity of Saxon lifestyle. Although it does not impress by its dimensions, we can easily observe the thickness of its defence walls. After invasions became seldom, the church accomplished other functions, such as housing, or storing the lard.

Insider tip!: Going upstairs is a must. It offers a panoramic view of the area!

Viscri fortification
The white fortification of Viscri
Interior of Viscri church
Viscri church is really modest and simple on the inside

Harman fortified church

  • Location: Harman, Brasov county
  • Entrance fee : 15 lei adult/10 lei pensioners and students

Harman is one of those amazing villages with fortified churches in Transylvania. Placed very close to its highly rated brother, Prejmer, Harman fortification left me with lesser expectations. To be honest, Harman totally blew my mind. I was astonished by the beauty of the place, as well as the degree of preservation of the walls. It is a must for its rare pre-Reformation paintings, or area of natural beauty. But above all, for the perfect example of fortification.

Meaning Mount of Honey in Latin, Harman goes long way back, until 1240. According to the fashion of the times, Harman also underwent a lot of sieges. The fortifications proved strong even in front of Gabriel Bathory, the dictatorial prince. As a consequence, Harman was the only commune in the region that could defend itself.

The church is a mixture of Cistercian elements and other various styles, such as early Gothic or late Romanesque. Although the church itself isn’t fortified, it is surrounded by two concentrical walls and a defensive moat, has seven towers and strong gates. But the main attraction resides in the impressive size of the fortification. It was designed to shelter the entire village, more precisely 800 locals! Freshly restored, the fortification is a history lesson throughout the generations: from sieges to community pantry!

Insider tip!:  Walk around the fortifications and towers and observe the firing chambers!

Harman fortified church
Harman church watches over the neighboring hills; @daniciuca
Beauty and flowers in Harman
Beauty and flowers in Harman

Prejmer fortified church

  • Location: Prejmer, Brasov county
  • Entrance fee: 15 lei adult/7 lei student

Prejmer fortification is a must. Besides being UNESCO legacy, Tartlau (according to its German name), is the ultimate fortification. It all started with the church, whose construction began in 1218. It was under Teuton domination before being taken over by the Saxons. The interior of the Gothic church is simple and plain; however, it boasts the oldest triptych altarpiece in all of Transylvania, dating from around 1450.

The fortification closely embraces the church. You can observe the thickness of its walls. Everything comes with a reason: Prejmer is the most eastern village founded by Saxons, so it needed extra protection. And it offered protection. They say that throughout the numerous sieges, Prejmer fortification only succumbed once.

Being in the vicinity of Harman, Prejmer serves a similar role: protection, defence, living space and storage room. The fortifications are 5 meters thick and 12 m tall and contain firing chambers, holes to throw hot tar pitch or, the organ of death (a medieval machine-gun).

Insider tip!: Don’t miss the opportunity of climbing to the villagers’ rooms! Some of them are open and kids will love the freedom of exploration!

Prejmer fortification looks like a beehive
The Prejmer fortification looks like a beehive. It stands for storage and shelter as well.
Prejmer church
Prejmer church

Alma Vii fortified church

  • Location: Alma Vii, Sibiu County
  • Entrance fee: 10 lei

Visiting Alma Vii is an experience itself. The village and the surroundings are breath-taking, and they will make you fall instantly for the settlement with coloured houses, the honesty and simplicity of the locals and the UNESCO fortified church, of course!

Placed on top of a hill, the 14th century church rises proud above the village, while the fortifications were added two centuries later. The four towers represent the four cardinal points. The main tower had horizontal firing chambers, while the first floor could be used as shelter in times of need. Like most churches, the Alma Vii one has a beautiful blue and golden organ, is simple and plain, without paintings on the walls. Here, you can also climb your way up to the tower and admire the beautiful landscape. You will be amazed by the splendid nature and lovely houses painted in various colours that will remain on your retina! Alma Vii truly gives a feeling of peace and communion with nature that make centuries-old history so easy to integrate!

Insider tip!: The variety and beauty of the landscape caught the attention of Prince Charles, who, through Mihai Eminescu trust funded an important sum of money for Alma Vii.

Alma vii church
Alma Vii church and landscape look fantastic; @emicristea

Interactive map

All in all, villages with fortified churches in Transylvania are numerous. You can just jump out of the car without knowing whether the fortification is more or less famous. After all, in all my peregrinations hunting for fortified churches, I’ve never come across any that disappointed me or that I disliked. But … I came across some that I really liked!

Biertan, Câlnic, Dârjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Viilor and Viscri are the fortifications that are part of the world heritage.

These are other nonetheless beautiful churches that are worth paying a visit (in no particular order): Mălâncrav, Bazna, Moșna, Cristian, Cisnădie, Cisnădioara, Axente Sever, Hărman, Sânpetru, Codlea, Vulcan, Archita or Cloașterf.

So, fingers crossed! I’m absolutely positive you’ll also find your share of church/fortification – nature – history that will be just your cup of tea!

Recommended by TTF:

  • 3 in 1 attraction: church-shelter-nature;
  • Lesson of human solidarity and history;
  • Charming landscape and appealing nature in and around Transylvania’s highlands;
  • Some contain particular and unique elements.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.