Surrounded by forested hills in the center of Transylvania is a medieval citadel. Sighișoara’s historic center is enclosed within its walls, and the colorful medieval homes are still lived in or have been turned into craft shops, gift shops, quaint outdoor cafes, or boutique hotels. Recognized for its historical and cultural value, the only inhabited medieval citadel in southeast Europe, Sighișoara is a designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Growing up near Sighișoara, I visited the town often. Over the years, I’ve seen it change from a small town to a busy city and an international tourist destination. But one thing remained constant: the historic walled-in city center, the original medieval town. While outside its walls we saw new communist-style buildings erected rapidly, we could always walk into the center and enjoy its original homes aligned along narrow, cobbled streets, and parts of the original walls and towers once built to defend it.
As much as I enjoyed my childhood visits, I never fully appreciated the historic town. Surrounded by medieval citadels, I took them for granted. It wasn’t until I revisited my old country with my American husband and saw things through his eyes that I appreciated the unique nature of the area I grew up in. Sighișoara is his favorite town in Transylvania, so we make it a point of stopping in the historic center every time we visit the country. Here are a few reasons you should visit this city, too.
1. Explore The Streets Of A Medieval Town
If you ever wondered what it feels like to walk in a real-life medieval town, visiting Sighișoara offers the perfect opportunity. One of the most enjoyable things you can do in the historic center is walk through the cobblestone streets of the medieval citadel. Exploring the old town’s handful of streets makes a pleasant afternoon stroll.
The centuries-old brick houses don’t show their age in anything other than style. Covered with colorful plaster and tiled roofs, they are still the homes of locals. The citadel square tells a different story, though. Peaceful today, it stands witness to public trials and executions of medieval times. Reminiscent of those ancient times, you might still hear the calls of the town crier with his drum announcing important events, just like in the past.
2. Visit The Walls And Towers Built For Defense
The medieval town was designed and built for defensive purposes. In the 12th century, Transylvania was part of the greater Hungarian Empire lying at its southern border. To help defend this border from attacking Tartars, and later Turks, King Béla invited German-Saxons from the area of Flanders to settle at the border. Later known as the Transylvanian Saxons, they built several fortified towns and citadels. While Sighișoara, originally named Schassburg, was one of seven walled cities of the region, because of its central location, it grew into one of the largest by the 15th century and remained the best preserved.
Most of the population were craftsmen, merchants, and their families, and had an interest in protecting the city from invaders. Organized in guilds, they built and maintained several watchtowers as part of the defenses. Nine of the original towers and two bastions still stand and you can visit them while in the city.
3. Walk Up Into A Medieval City Tower
Unlike all the other towers, the city tower was built and maintained by the city council. Also known as the Clock Tower, it guarded the citadel’s main entrance. Originally the same height as the Tailors’ Tower, soon it became the dominant, tallest of all towers in the city. Its spectacular top is newer than the rest of the structure, built in 1677 after the original burned down.
The Clock Tower is the major attraction of the city today. Home to several museums on each level, it is a popular tourist destination, teeming with visitors, especially on weekends.
The history museum showcases an archaeological display of local exhibits dating back about two millennia, and a small furniture display dating from the 1700s. On another level, the pharmacy museum contains medical and surgical instruments from the era, offering a glimpse into the medieval medicine of the region.
Higher up, you’ll reach a narrow spiral stairway leading to the top of the tower near the clock and with a balcony encircling the entire tower. The views from this balcony are the highlight of the tower visit, and worth climbing up for.
4. Understand The Importance Of A Clock Tower In Medieval Times
While we admire the elaborate clocks on medieval towers for their esthetics, they had both a practical and a symbolic purpose. The only means to tell time in the city, they also designated the City Tower as the most important building in town.
În Sighișoara, it did this with clocks on two sides of the tower. Facing away from the citadel, the clock shows the time and the days of the week, represented by seven major ancient gods and goddesses. The wooden figures also symbolize the seven planets and seven principal chemical elements. When visiting the tower, you’ll get a close-up view of the figures, and the mechanism that turns them.
Facing the medieval city the clock marked the beginning and end of the workday for locals by moving two angel figures out at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., while a drummer boy announced the hour through drum beats. The other figures, symbols of authority, mark the tower as a public building. The Peace Goddess, near the drummer, holds an olive branch and a trumpet. Above them, both dressed in blue, Justice, blindfolded, holds a sword, while Righteousness holds a balance.
5. Relive The Medieval Days During The Sighișoara Medieval Festival
The best way to immerse yourself into the medieval history of Sighișoara is to visit during the Medieval Festival in summer, held in the last week of July. Medieval festivals are popular all over the world, but you won’t find a more fitting place to see one than Sighișoara, where the authentic medieval buildings offer the perfect backdrop for it.
You’ll see medieval dances, music, and heartfelt performances, and watch horse shows, sword battles, medieval crafts, workshops, and cooking. The festival, held on the streets of the citadel, offers an immersive experience in the medieval world. A fairytale event, the Medieval Festival of Sighișoara, attracts visitors from all over the world to the last inhabited medieval citadel in Europe.
If you visit Sighișoara during the Medieval Festival, you’ll have to deal with crowds and some street closures, making it hard to get around the city.
Tips On Visiting Sighișoara
Since everything of interest is within a short distance of each other enclosed in the old city walls, one full day is enough to explore the medieval citadel.
But, to soak up the atmosphere, you can live in the city for a few days. Several hotels are in the city center, including Casa Savri housed in a protected 16th-century building, and the Hotel Sighișoara, originally built in 1520.
For the best experience, international airports in Cluj, Sibiu, and soon Brasov offer a much closer alternative to Bucharest.
Travelers interested in ancient history can visit many old towns in Europe: