Biertan: Saxon fortified church - A view from our expert author

Fortified church, Biertan, Transylvania, Romania by cge2010, ShutterstockBiertan's central square is dominated by the fortified church © cge2010, Shutterstock

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is one of the largest fortified churches in Transylvania

Biertan (Berethalom/Birthälm) is a prosperous-looking large village whose central square is dominated by the large and impressive fortified church, which features defensive structures running down the hill towards the square. The church is one of those inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1999, and among the largest and most visited of all the Saxon fortified churches of Transylvania. The first church was built here in the 14th century, but the present building dates from the start of the 16th, its size an indication of Biertan’s wealth, which was at least partly down to the local wine industry. 

The ticket office for the church sells a range of guides (albeit mostly in German) and some postcards. From the ticket office, a restored covered wooden staircase heads up the hill. The staircase brings you out inside the inner of the two circles of defensive walls. There is also a third partial wall, all adding up to an impressive and complex array of defensive structures. The towers in the inner wall include the Catholic chapel, a place for prayer for those who did not convert to Protestantism, which features some late-Gothic frescoes. The building in the walls to the left of this, which currently houses a two-room museum, is apparently a place in which quarrelling couples were locked together, with just a single bed, plate, knife, fork and spoon, as a last-ditch attempt to see whether they could get on. Another tower houses tombstones of priests and bishops of the church, including Lucas Unglerus.

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