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Viscri – the authentic Saxon village

If you’re looking for relaxation, breath-taking landscapes, authenticity, medieval architecture and tasty food, the Transylvanian countryside is the place to be.

It is a place filled with traditions. Here, people and animals have lived in a strong communion for centuries, and they still do! The houses don’t only serve as shelters, they hide well-kept secrets for so many years! The emblematic buildings of the villages– the churches – are all fortified here… and they are so many! Read here about another UNESCO gem, the Biertan church.

Highlands of Viscri

Transylvanian fortified churches – some interesting facts

Well, southern and south-east Transylvania boasts over 150 fortified churches which were erected centuries ago by the Saxons (although there are basically no Saxons left in Romania) out of protective reasons. The churches were built alone initially on top of the hill dominating the village landscape, and later surrounded by solid enclosing walls to protect the village from the invaders.

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, that translates in the fact that whenever an assault was approaching to the village, 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 city places of worship. First, here the question will never be where the church is, but who has the key. It is not the case in summer, but for other seasons it might be. Second, the austere atmosphere is much better preserved in villages due to the dimensions and lack of tourists (usually) alike.

Viscrithe classic traditional Saxon village

Typical blue house in Viscri

As I visited Viscri on a hot summer day, there was some hustle and bustle. The peace of the village was lost to the numerous visitors eager to explore every inch. It is exactly this sense of remoteness that put Viscri on the map (together with the stunning landscape), but it misses nowadays.

If you travel to Viscri, you will see typical houses (many beautifully renovated in blue or white), some of them 300 years old. The rural atmosphere is completed by cows, troughs, and some vintage horse-ridden cart here and there.

Time stood still in Viscri

Due to the fact that Viscri boasts timelessness, there isn’t obviously so much to do in the village, except for the amazing scenery and the typical buildings. Still, the traveller can find hearty organic food and good accommodation, and book a bike tour of the area, or maybe rent a car to explore further (definitely!) the area.

Panoramic view
Viscri 32 barn, the place to chill and enjoy slow food.
Viscri 32, outside and inside

Nowadays, Viscri’s fame spread far beyond Romanian borders. Besides the surroundings, part of its popularity is due to the fact that Prince Charles is both a fervent advocate of Viscri and the owner of a property here (that he turned into a guesthouse where you can actually accommodate, Casa Printul de Tara Galilor din Viscri).

In case you want to know about the connection between Prince Charles and Viscri, the link is to be found deeper. Michael, the former King of Romania, and Prince Charles are related through Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 3rd cousins. This explains the fondness of Prince Charles for Romania, backed emotionally as well.

Viscri’s fortifications and church


Viscri fortified church – UNESCO site


The other major reason for Viscri’s acclaim is that it hosts an evangelical fortified church, part of the UNESCO World Heritage. The small white church is placed on top of a hill and has an out of the main road positioning which helps preserving the medieval atmosphere and offers a beautiful view over the entire village. You shouldn’t miss climbing up the stairs in order to get a majestic view over the area.

 

View from the top


The church itself (entrance fee 5 lei =around 1 euro) is very small, modest and neat, and preserves partially the bastions, towers and fortification walls. Nowadays, one can still see the old paintings. Although it does not impress by its dimensions, we can easily observe the thickness of its defence walls. Its cornerstone was set at the end of the 12th century, this is certain, but the inception concerning the ones who did it is a little blurry.

 

Some documents say it was the Székely (Szeklers) before Saxon arrival, others consider that it was started by the German ethnics. Anyway, it appears without any doubt that in the 13th century, it was the Saxons who started building a Romanesque hall church that comprised the chapel. It was gradually adjusted to the needs of the community; first got enriched with a tribune, later with a tower that had the initial purpose of housing. Later on, it received two towers and bastions.

Modest interior with organ

Viscri church in full beauty

It was built and fortified in several stages, the fortifications being added later to prevent the Turkish occupation, somewhere after 1500. After invasions became seldom, the church accomplished other functions, such as housing or storing the lard. Important parts of the church burnt down during a fire, but it was reconstructed from donations that came from all Transylvania.

It is today a Lutheran church (as consequence of the Reformation) and part of it is home to traditional objects belonging to the Saxon community.

Besides the traditional things to do mentioned above, something artisanal caught my attention. So, I definitely want to mention the cahle, a traditional terracotta plaque handcrafted mainly from clay. In the area you can find the only factory from Romania (in the town of Medias) that preserves the craft of producing each cahla manually by pressing, finishing, glazing and painting it.

Cahle, a sort of handmade terracotta tiles

Although originally destined to provide comfort through heating as they were meant to cover the heating stove, craftsmen gave their personal touch by hand painting them. I saw the cahle in the barn yard where we ate (Viscri 32 barn, absolutely great!) and I couldn’t stop marvelling at their beauty. The same place hosted an exhibition with sales where you could buy artisanal products made from felt.

Recommended by TTF:

  • Rent a car or bike, go explore the area and enjoy the landscape of the highlands
  • Go upstairs in the tower of Viscri’s fortified church
  • Have a truly organic lunch in the barn
  • Take a relaxing hike in the village where time stood still and watch the cattle pass, the ducks walk and the clouds move.

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