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Biertan Fortified Church – Unesco Heritage

“Eye” over Biertan village
Church gate

We left our accommodation in Criț to drive to Biertan, our third Transylvanian fortified church. The road is about one hour long, but the beauty of the landscape may want you to stop and take photos several times. You drive past Sighișoara, a medieval gem, and towards the final part, you turn left from the main road. It is the same strategy that made Saxons build their settlements out of easy reach not to be conquered effortlessly.

As a very first impression, Biertan has the appearance of a more touristic village, it also has a car park where you actually have to pay a small amount! The houses do not keep the same medieval spirit as we got used to. We had lunch at Unglerus Guesthouse (also has a restaurant). Despite eating well, we could sense some disappointment, everything was more commercial and less authentic. But we couldn’t stop watching…

Old stairs to Biertan’s fortified church

On top of the village hill, the Lutheran fortified Church of Biertan (Birthalm) (UNESCO World Heritage) lies majestically and watches over the village. It is definitely well positioned. I had a feeling that it would be somewhat different from the previous ones…and I was right! The access is made through some covered stairs (entrance fee – 10 lei/around 2 €).

Biertan as a settlement was attested from the late 13th century, but it took two more hundred years to build the church. At the time, Biertan was very prosperous (it almost turned into a town), so the villagers could afford building such a strong church and fortress that it was invaded only once in 500 years of existence.

The beautiful and austere church of Biertan

The reason that made this fortress more imposing arises from the fact that it was in competition with two other towns (Medias and Mosna) over control, and the villagers finally decided to erect in Biertan this grandiose fortified church, also due to its placement. Although very austere on the inside, its placement together with the afternoon sun give you the impression of domination.

The beautiful church altar

The main gate already introduces you to the land of fortifications and power, being minutely crafted. The architectural style is totally different from Viscri or Crit, it is built in late-Gothic style.

It has a special door that attracted the attention in several circumstances as it has a cleverly designed locking mechanism with 15 bolts that can be simultaneously activated by a key. This ingenious trick served to the protection of the goods. You can still see the original altar comprising 28 painted panels that go back to the 16th century. The altar was built by German artisans in the 15th century. It also has an imposing organ.

A piece of art

On the outside, it has three thick fortification walls, eight towers and many solid defensive elements. All these elements were necessary to cope with the Ottoman threat that at the time was still real. This fortress-church is maybe one of the best examples of Saxon know-how put in practice successfully that resulted both in a sumptuous church, as well as true fortress.

The exterior towers fulfilled different interesting functions. If you visit, do not miss the Marriage Prison Tower, or the ancient way of doing couple therapy. Married couples who wanted to divorce were locked for 14 days in a tiny room, with one bed, one plate, one spoon. They had to share everything. If reconciliation came early, they could leave the tower, if not, they had to fight more for their marriage. It is said that in 300 years, this method only failed once! Another interesting tower is the Tower of the Lard that served as warehouse to store the goods (and possibly smoke the lard).

The village seen from above

Rapidly, the feeling of Biertan’s arrogance from the first minutes was suddenly replaced by the feeling of a masterpiece. Yes, it is now very clear why it is assaulted by hordes of tourists. And yes, let’s not forget: the houses and road seen from behind the fortress (opposite the car park in fact) display the same humble and beautiful charm that only Saxon Transylvania has!

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As I watch the church, I can’t stop wondering about diversity in uniqueness. The fortified churches in the land of Transylvania display so many similarities, still, they are so very different! This is definitely one aspect why you should pay a visit to Transylvania. There’s so much diversity that you cannot get bored by exploring villages situated so close to one another!

Recommended by TTF:

  • A detailed look at the fortified church of Biertan including the gate and towers
  • The Marriage Prison Tower to see where couples had to spend time together until their marriage was up and functional again.


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