The Fortified Churches of Transylvania, Romania

fortified churches transylvania romania courtyard prejmer
The courtyard between the church and the wall at the Prejmer church. Notice the wall has lots of doors. These were apartments, storerooms, workshops, and even a school for the villagers when they were shut in the fortress.

If you're looking for pure beauty, as we often are when we go out of our way to see churches, the so-called Fortified Churches of Transylvania are probably not it. The Unesco World Heritage designation is not for their beauty, it's for their history. And, as in most of Romania, there's plenty of that.

fortified churches transylvania romania apartment prejmer
Reconstructed apartment in the exterior wall at the Prejmer Fortified Church.

The basic story is that Romania has always been sort of a crossroads that the various European and Asian powers have passed through and their paths of conquest. So, the village people of the 13th through 16 Centuries, who'd already built the churches, just added a wall around them. The new wall, plus the thick walls of the churches themselves provided protection. When the enemies showed up, the villagers just moved into the fortified church, which was usually well stocked with provisions.

fortified churches transylvania romania pulpit prejmer
Pulpit in the Prejmer church. Note, the inscriptions are in German. This was a Saxon area within Romania for centuries. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, many German settlers in Romania have moved back to Germany.

We visited three of these churches. There are over 150 villages in the area which have fortified churches, and seven of those are on the Unesco World Heritage list. Of the seven, we got to Prejmer, Viscri, and Biertan.

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fortified churches transylvania romania inside wall prejmer
The interior of the fortifications at the Prejmer church. Lots of openings to shoot at the enemy.

The Prejmer Church was open. Indeed, it was actually set up for tourism with a ticket booth and everything. The other two, not so much.

fortified churches transylvania romania viscri
The graveyard at the Fortified Church of Viscri. Lots of dead around. No living.
fortified churches transylvania romania viscri
The only living being we saw at Viscri was this cow, who stuck her head through the gate, and then wandered into the churchyard for lunch.

We did not get into the Viscri church at all, although we did get a walk around it. The email and phone address on the door, which promised entry if you called, did not work. The phone went nowhere, and the email bounced back. Oh well.

fortified churches transylvania romania biertan
Our fifth, who joined us so we could get into the Biertan church. I wrote his name down, then promptly lost it. We gave him a few dollars, and he still didn't smile. Ever.

In Biertan, though, we ran into some luck. Just as we'd given up hope of getting in because the sign said the caretaker would only open the church for groups of five or more, we met a Romanian couple who also wanted to see the church. The man called the number and offered to pay for five if the caretaker would let us in. But she refused. Rules are rules. Then we had the idea of recruiting a fifth from the group of boys who were riding their bikes nearby. One of them agreed, and voila, we were in.

The Fortified Churches of Transylvania are, collectively, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Click the link to see all the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Romania.

To see a list of other UNESCO World Heritage sites we've visited, click this link.

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6 thoughts on “The Fortified Churches of Transylvania, Romania”

  1. Before I even read the title of your post I knew these pictures must be from Romania. I was born and raised there, so it’s easy to recognize it. I love the fortified churches of Transylvania and recently visited Biertan. I didn’t know about Prejmer though. Beautiful photos!

  2. Fascinating post, Tom. Recruiting the boy made me laugh out loud. Where there’s a will, eh?! But as funny as it seems to us, I suppose years of living under their former government gave them a no-nonsense approach to rule following…or ingenious ways of circumventing them. I guess your contact fell into the former group.

    • Yes, Emily. We see the very same behavior in Spain sometimes. This blind following of rules, combined with total anarchy whenever they feel like it. A wonderful combination that keeps things interesting, and frustrating.


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