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

Saxon church at Biertan, Transylvania, Romania by Lucy Mallows
© Lucy Mallows

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this 14th-century Gothic basilica is one of the largest fortified churches in the region.

Biertan has one of the biggest fortress churches and once housed the Lutheran Bishop of Transylvania. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church was first mentioned in 1402 as a Gothic basilica, but it was completely demolished and the hall-shaped church with a chief nave and two side aisles that we see today was built 1500–25. The late Gothic and Renaissance stone masonry is well preserved with doorways, the pulpit and brackets.

The wooden furniture, including the folding triptych, dates back to the beginning of the 16th century. Europa Nostra carried out restoration work (1978–91) and found parts of earlier paintings and inscriptions.

The fortress has three concentric exterior walls, which can be explored and in the Mausoleum Tower are carved gravestones of priests and bishops. The building’s territory is large, taking up almost 1ha and the church is protected by two circular fortified walls with a third one on the west-southwest side. The complex has seven towers. On the northeastern side is the Clock Tower, with firing windows and a wooden footbridge.

The clock is still working and every day the crank is turned. On the southern side is the Catholic Tower where there is a chapel for the Transylvanian Saxons who didn’t convert to Protestantism. On the southern side are two gate towers, with one known usually as the Bacon Tower because food was stored here during sieges. The Prison Tower was used to punish husbands who wanted a divorce.

Legends say that feuding couples were held in this tower with one single bed, one table, one chair, one plate and one glass. The man and wife were held for a period of time here and the legend claims that because of this reconciliation tactic, there was only one divorce in 300 years. Personally, this method would drive me to something nasty and violent!

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