THE HISTORIC CENTER OF SIGHISOARA
DESCRIPTION OF THE TOWN
The Historic Centre of Sighișoara (Sighișoara Citadel) is the old historic center of the town of Sighișoara, Romania, built in the 12th century by Saxon colonists under the Latin name Castrum Sex. It is an inhabited medieval citadel that, in 1999, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its 850-year-old testament to the history and culture of the Transylvania Saxons. Sighişoara is a fine example of a small, fortified medieval town which played an important strategic and commercial role on the fringes of central Europe for several centuries.
Sighişoara, an example of a small fortified city in the border region between the Latin-oriented culture of central Europe and the Byzantine-Orthodox culture of south-eastern Europe, is outstanding testimony to the fast-disappearing culture of the Transylvanian Saxons.
The city, which lies in the heart of Transylvania, developed on a plateau, and is dominated by a hill overlooking a bend in the river Tirnava. In the 13th century, German craftsmen and merchants, known as Saxons, were ordered by the Hungarian sovereigns to colonize Transylvania and protect the border of the Carpathians against the steppe peoples. They settled on a hill, called the City Hill, which has revealed traces of occupation going back to the Palaeolithic period. Following incursions by the Tatars in 1241, the fortified settlement was reinforced with walls, guarded by towers, later extended to surround the entire plateau. The town, known in 1280 as Castrum Sex, developed commercial activities thanks to the powerful guilds of craftsmen. Each guild was responsible for the construction of a tower and its defence. The importance of the town was recognized in 1367 when it obtained the title ‘Civitas’ and became the second national political entity of Transylvania. Under pressure from the Turks between 1421 and 1526, the city heightened its walls.
The historic centre of Sighişoara is composed of a fortified site spread over a steeply sloping plateau and dominated by City Hill, and the Lower Town with its woody slopes lying below. These two sectors form an indissociable group corresponding to the historic boundaries of the medieval town.
Apart from 19th-century settlements, the historic centre of Sighişoara has kept its original medieval urban fabric with its detailed allotment of building plots, with some variations depending on the successive development phases of the site, as well as its network of narrow streets lined with closely aligned rows of houses. The Citadel is composed of three roads running lengthways, cut by passages at right angles. The houses, most of them the simple homes of craftsmen of two or three storeys, were built from stone or brick, covered in coloured roughcast, and topped by a high tiled roof. They have a distinctive plan, with a narrow facade along the street, an L- or U-shaped layout, dwelling tower, linked rooms, etc. The houses with compact layouts, probably the oldest ones, are characterized by a lateral vaulted entrance gallery. This entrance gallery is sometimes shared by two adjoining houses because of the small plots of land. Many of the houses still have a barrel-vaulted basement, workshops on the ground floor with a wooden ceiling or brick vault, and the living rooms on the upper floors. A few facades have a more aristocratic architectural style of Baroque inspiration.
A group of houses between Citadel Lane and Hermann Oberth Square stand out because of the way the storeys have been arranged to fit the configuration of the sloping ground. A wall, 93 m long and with interval towers, encloses the Citadel plateau. The different phases of construction from the 12th to the 16th centuries can be clearly identified. It rises to a height of 8-10 m between the Ropemakers’ Tower and the Butchers’ Tower, the best-preserved section. Nine towers of the original 14 still stand and can be distinguished by their shapes. The imposing Clock Tower plays a special role as the symbol of the town, for it was placed under the responsibility of the city council, which held its assemblies there until 1556. Situated in the middle of the southern fortification wall, it dominates the three squares of the historic centre and protects the stairway connecting the upper town and the lower town. It now houses a museum.
Notable among the monuments in the historic centre of Sighişoara is the Church of St Nicholas, an edifice typical of the Gothic architecture of Transylvania. Perched on the hill, it can be reached by a ramp staircase of 175 steps. It has been protected by a wooden roof since 1642. The decorative sculpture on the facade reflects Central European influences. The Church of St Mary belonging to the Dominican monastery, demolished in 1886, is a 13th-century Gothic monument of the hall type with bare facades. The Dominican monastery and the Coopers’ Tower in the south-west of the Citadel, and the Locksmiths’ Tower and Church of the Franciscan convent in the north, made way respectively for the huge neo-Renaissance style City Hall (1886-88) and the Roman Catholic Church (1894).
The historic spire of the Sighisoara Town
Sighişoara, which lies in the heart of Transylvania, developed on a plateau, dominated by a hill overlooking a bend in the river Tirnava.
In the 13th century, German craftsmen and merchants, known as Saxons, were ordered by the Hungarian sovereigns to colonize Transylvania and protect the border of the Carpathians against the steppe peoples. They settled on a hill, called the City Hill, which has revealed traces of occupation going back to the Palaeolithic period.
Following incursions by the Tatars in 1241, the fortified settlement on City Hill was reinforced with walls, guarded by towers, which were extended to surround the entire plateau at the end of the 14th century. The town, which was known in 1280 as Castrum Sex, developed commercial activities thanks to the powerful guilds of craftsmen. Each guild was responsible for the construction of a tower and its defence. The importance of the town was recognized in 1367 when it obtained the title of Civitas and became the second national political entity of Transylvania (the scaun of Schässburg, the original Germanic name for Sighişoara).
Under pressure from the Turks between 1421 and 1526, the fortified city raised its walls. At the same time, a settlement grew around the Church of the Saint Anthony hospital (existence attested by documents in 1461), situated at the foot of the plateau. The core of the Lower Town, protected by walls with defensive gates, gradually expanded to the east and west, and now stretches to both banks of the Tirnava.
During the XVIIth century, the town of Sighişoara suffered from a succession of tragic events. The population was reduced by almost half as a result of two plague epidemics. In 1676, a fire destroyed three-quarters of the town (although the buildings on City Hill survived), but it was rebuilt over the old foundations. The Lower Town was also damaged by two fires (1736 and 1788) and floods (1771), and the entire town was shaken by an earthquake in 1838.
In 1840, the merchant guilds lost the monopoly granted to them in the 13th century, and they disappeared. Although Sighişoara remained somewhat on the fringe of economic development in the 19th century, it was able to safeguard its historic centre from extensive transformations. However, occasional interventions led to the loss of a few towers and a section of the wall. In 1866, when Hungary transferred the constitution of the Komitat (district) to Transylvania, Sighişoara/Schässburg became the capital of the Tirgu Mares/Neumarkt district, and the Dominican monastery was pulled down to make way for the new town hall.
In the 19th century, the upper part of Sighişoara continued to function as an administrative and cultural centre. The commercial and craft activities were moved to the Lower Town which lost its fortifications in a subsequent expansion phase.