Saxon settlements and their fortified churches
The fortified churches, as well as the villages, are part of the UNESCO world heritage.
Saxon settlements and their fortified churches provide a vivid picture of the cultural landscape of southern Transylvania. They are characterized by the specific land-use system, settlement pattern, and organization of the family farmstead units preserved since the late Middle Ages, dominated by their fortified churches, which illustrate building periods from the 13th to 16th centuries.
In the 13th century the kings of Hungary encouraged the colonization of the sub-Carpathian region of Transylvania (Erdely) by a German-speaking population of artisans, farmers and merchants, mainly from the Rhineland. Known as the Transylvanian Saxons, they enjoyed special privileges granted by the Hungarian Crown, especially in the period preceding the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite living in a country where the majority of the population was ethnic Hungarians or Romanians, the Transylvanian Saxons were able to preserve their language and their customs intact throughout the centuries. Their ethnic solidarity is vividly illustrated by their settlements, which remained resistant to external influences
Their geographical location in the foothills of the Carpathians exposed the Transylvanian Saxon communities to danger when the Ottoman Empire began to menace the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their reaction was to build defensive works within which they could take shelter from the invaders. Lacking the resources of the European nobility and rich merchants, who were able to fortify entire towns, the Transylvanian Saxons chose to create fortresses round their churches, enclosing storehouses within the enceintes to enable them to withstand long sieges. The first documentary reference to Biertan dates from 1283. In 1397 it was raised to the status of Oppidum (fortified town) and twenty years later the Hungarian King granted it droit de l’épée (jus gladii ), i.e. the right to bear arms. From 1572 to 1867 Biertan was the See of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Bishop of Transylvania, and as such played a major role in the cultural and religious life of the considerable German population of the region.
The seven churches included to Unesco list are:
Biertan: Late Gothic hall-type building, completed around 1522-23, on a low hill, with two lines of walls, at the foot of the hill, built at the same time as the church.
Câlnic: Based on a mid-13th-century dwelling tower, a chapel and an oval enceinte; presented in 1430 to the village community, which raised the walls fitted with two towers and transformed the dwelling tower into one for defensive purposes.
Prejmer: Early Gothic Church of the Holy Cross, in the shape of a cross; walled in the 15th century.
Viscri: Romanesque chapel enlarged in the early 16th century to form a single-nave church, with a fortified storey resting on semicircular arches supported by massive buttresses; walls strengthened in the 17th century.
Dârjiu: Late Gothic church fortified towards 1520, decorated with murals going back to 1419; rectangular enceinte restructured in the 17th century.
Saschiz: Romanesque church and its enceinte replaced by a late Gothic church (1493-1525); defensive storey gives the church the appearance of a high bastion.
Valea Viilor: Church transformed into late Gothic style and fortified in the early 16th century; defensive storeys built above the choir, nave and tower, communicating with each other; porches of the northern and southern entrances protected by small towers with portcullises.