The village of Sighișoara (See ghee swahr’ ah) in Transylvania is possibly most well-known as the birthplace of Vlad Dracula, but this charming town of around 30,000 inhabitants is so much more! Originally a Roman fort, the town was colonized by settlers of Germanic descent known as Transylvanian Saxons in the 12th century. At the request of the Hungarian king, the settlers built a walled hill-top citadel in Sighisoara to help defend the kingdom’s borders. The heavily fortified Sighisoara was one of seven such citadel towns built in Transylvania, which collectively became known as the Siebenbürgen, German for “seven fortresses”.
After WWI, Hungary’s borders were redrawn, uniting Transylvania with Romania. Transylvanian Saxons began emigrating from Transylvania during the Second World War with most settling in Germany, an exodus that continued throughout the decades of Ceaușescu’s Communist regime. Though few Saxons remain in Romania today, their influence in Sighisoara is still clearly visible in everything from signs written in German to the town’s history and architecture, much of which is remarkably well-preserved within the confines of the city’s medieval citadel. After spending the better part of a day exploring this fun little town, these are a few of the sites we most enjoyed in town.
Built in 1894 on the grounds of an old monastery, St. Joseph’s is a fairly modern Roman Catholic Church compared to the other historic churches and buildings in town. The interior is a bit plain, but the wooden ceiling beams are rather interesting and it’s a pretty little church.
Over the centuries, a total of 14 guard towers were built within the citadel. Nine remain. Used for storing ammunition and food and at times even serving as living quarters, some of the towers still show signs of recent sieges.
Built in 1642, the Scholars’ Stairs provided a covered passage for students walking from town to their school up the hill and for townsfolk attending services at the Church on the Hill located near the school.
The oldest known school of higher education in Sighisoara, Schola maioris has stood at its present location since 1619 when it was moved there to accommodate more students. Prior to that, records from the University of Vienna indicate that a number of its students reported studying first at the little school at a different location in Sighisoara as early as 1402. Students attended classes in Latin and learned the classics. The school remains open (and free) to visitors.
One of the more notable attractions in Sighisoara, the “Church on the Hill”, literally stands on top of a hill in town. Once a Roman basilica, it was later rebuilt as a Catholic church, then converted again in the 16th century to serve the Saxons as a Lutheran church. Biserica din Deal is unique in Transylvania for its crypt beneath the main floor of the church. Several wooden caskets are visible entombed behind glass in the crypt.
A short path and large gate lead from the Church on the Hill directly into the wild, wooded Saxon Cemetery.
Marked by a black iron dragon, the house where Vlad Țepeș, popularly known as Vlad Dracula, was born in 1431 still stands in Sighisoara. Though he only actually lived in the home in the heart of the citadel until he was a few years old, his memory is still kept very much alive. The lower floor of the building now operates as a restaurant, Restaurant Casa Vlad Dracul, while the upper floor is a weapons museum.
Lunch at the restaurant ended up being another highlight of the trip for us. Though we assumed it would be packed with tourists and pricey, we couldn’t resist the enticing smells wafting into the street when we passed by. Since we happened to pop in at an odd hour in the late afternoon, the place was empty when we arrived. Not only did they allow us to dine with our dog, but for less than 10 bucks, we ordered Hungarian potatoes, mititei, and bean soup with smoked pork that was all delicious. They didn’t bat an eye when we asked for a “doggy bag,” and I swear it tasted even better as leftovers for dinner later that night!
Just past Vlad Dracula’s old homestead, the Clock Tower rises above the main citadel square. The tower is one of the nine surviving towers of the original 14 in the fortress. It’s probably the most visited of the towers, and for good reason. The multi-colored roof tiles are stunning, particularly in the sun, and the tower houses the Museum of History. Purchase of a ticket to the museum allows you to climb to the top of the tower for a superb view of the old town.
Located in the Clock Tower since 1899, the Museum of History is worth a visit. Just beware that your entrance ticket doesn’t allow interior photography unless you pay an additional fee. Even if you don’t like museums, the cost of the ticket is minimal and is worth it to climb through the five floors of exhibits to the wooden overlook at the top. It offers superb views over the red roofs of Sighisoara. From the upper floor, you can also see the interior of the tower’s famous mechanical clock, decorated with giant wooden figures that represent seven pagan gods.
Wandering the old cobble-stone streets of Sighisoara and simply soaking up its magic is a pleasure unto itself. Even if you hate museums, churches, and touristy areas, the town will still charm your pants right off. And to think we almost didn’t visit. Had it not been for a couple of our friends who recommended we check it out in the midst of our Romania trip, we would have missed it!
The purple pins mark our travel for day six; the blue line roughly follows the first half of our entire 11-day travel path and attractions we visited.