Sighisoara, UNESCO World Heritage
Sighisoara (pronounced like siggy-shwa-rah) is one of the most interesting medieval cities in Romania. It lies in the heart of Transylvania and it is best known for being the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the Romanian ruler who sparked the Dracula legends. The center of this amazing city fascinates tourist mostly with its historical aura kept deep between the medieval walls. Sighisoara is part of UNESCO World Heritage.
As UNESCO specialists have determined, “Sighisoara is an outstanding testimony to the culture of the Transylvanian Saxons, a culture that is coming to a close after 850 years and will continue to exist only through its architectural and urban monuments. Also, Sighisoara is an outstanding 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. The apparently unstoppable process of emigration by the Saxons, the social stratum which had formed and upheld the cultural traditions of the region, threatens the survival of their architectural heritage as well”.
Sighisoara, a medieval town
Strolling along the narrow streets, through the medieval city of Sighisoara, can be really relaxing. As I was walking up and down Sighisoara’s historical center I was surprised by the little shops hidden all around the this old city. Some have very interesting souvenirs other sell kitsch, but all hide small surprises. You can find very interesting objects here, from small tin soldiers, to funny hats or helmets, traditional drinks or even Dracula themed little nothings.
Another plus here are the fancy historical themed restaurants which welcome their guests with great wine collections and food, traditional or, sometimes, Dracula inspired. Many of the waiters know english and are prepared to deal with tourists. There is in fact a restaurant located in the house where it is said that Vlad the Impaler was born. People all over the world come here to enjoy a great dinner in a house full of historical heritage.
Every summer, in Sighisoara, there is an awesome medieval fair – usually it takes place in last weekend of July. It is a very entertaining event with concerts, costumes, contests, parades and many many tourists buzzing around up and down the stone stairs. It is the best time to visit the city, although, as you would imagine, the prices tend to rise in this period.
The Clock Tower of Sighisoara
The most impressive monument in Sighisoara is the Clock Tower. It is the most solid among the nine towers of defense of the old stronghold. In medieval times, there were 14 towers but only nine can be seen today. Of the original fourteen towers and five artillery bastions, nine towers and two bastions have survived the test of time.
The monument measures 64 meters high and it is visible from any point of the historical center. It was built in the 14th century to protect the main gate. From the top of the Clock Tower, tourists can see intact 16th century Saxon houses lining the narrow cobblestone streets. Today, merchants and craftsmen still go about their business, as they did centuries ago. You can still spot the Blacksmiths’ Tower , Butchers’ Tower, Cobblers’ Tower, Furriers’ Tower , Ropemakers’ Tower, Tailors’ Tower , Tanners’ Tower and Tinsmiths’ Tower. All towers were named after the guild they represented. From my point of view, the feeling of this place is similar to the one I encountered in Salzburg, Austria or the in the historical center of Prague.
The Torture Chamber and other sites in Sighisoara
Somewhere along the old streets, you can visit the torture chamber, a mini museum which shows some torture instruments that were used in these parts of the country in medieval times. This small but interesting museum is housed at the foot of the Clock Tower in the same room where prisoners were tortured and confessions were extorted during the Middle Ages.
Also, it is important to know that somewhere in the center of the historical area, in medieval times, criminals were tried or even executed in public. There is also a similar museum named the Weapon Chamber. On the first floor of the building where Vlad the Impaler was born there is a museum of medieval weapons, showcasing the development of weapons used in and around the town throughout the ages.
Another really interesting site to see in the area are the ‘scholars stairs’. It is actually a set of stairs covered in a wooden tunnel built in 1642 so that the pupils from the medieval city could get easier access, in winter, to the school on the hill. If you choose to climb all the 176 stairs you will also reach a very nice church built between 1345 and 1525. Inside, you can see sculptures from 1480. Under the chorus place there is the only crypt in Transylvania with tombs from the 16th century and the 18th century.
In front of the church you can also see a vast cemetery (open daily 8:00am – 8:00pm). We visited it. We strolled in silence among the old tombstones. It is an awesome felling to get by the burial grounds of people who lived so long ago. Some tombstones here can be really interesting.
When, where, how much
Sighisoara city lies right in the center of Romania, in Transylvania region. The closest airport is the one in Targu Mures city. Then, at about 86 kilometers distance, there is Sibiu airport and at a distance of 144 kilometers there is the airport of Cluj city. If we look at train schedule, there are direct connections from and to Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Arad, Brasov or Sibiu a few times a day. International direct links exist from Vienna, and Budapest daily. From further away, it’s possible to catch a train from Prague, and Warsaw with at least a stop over and transfer at Budapest.
Also, you can arrive in Sighisoara by car. As I went there from Bucharest I had the chance to see a beautiful road with amazing landscapes.
I would recommend you not to visit Sighisoara in a one day trip. To truly feel its historical aura it is best to stay here for a couple of days, see all the museums, have dinner and lunch in thematic restaurants, stroll along the narrow streets, feel the medieval vibe. You can find accommodation right in the historical city. If you need something less expensive you can choose to stay in the new city, outside the stronghold’s walls.
This article was submitted by Arina from Tourist in Romania – your guide to traveling in Romania.
Photos by Daria Butnaru