Of the more than 160 fortified churches in Transylvania, Biertan Fortified Church is one of the best preserved and impressive in size.
Biertan is one of the most beautiful villages in Romania, conserving a medieval touch.
In 1993, a part of the village, the area with the old traditional houses, built in the baroque style, along the fortress-church, has been included on the list of monuments of UNESCO World Heritage.
Biertan is one of the first Transylvanian Saxons settlements in Ardeal. The village of Biertan is documentary attested in 1283, along Mediaş and Moşna.
Historically Biertan was always in a fierce competition for obtaining the administrative center of the “Two Seats”, the Seat of Seica and the Seat of Medias. A “chair” represented a union of several towns and villages, subject to the same court power. In order to get this chair, each locality intended to raise a building as impressive as possible.
In 1397 Biertan is named fair for the first time in a document. The houses were arranged around the central square, in which there was the fortified church. Biertan is one of the most powerful peasant fortresses in Transylvania.
At the beginning of the 16th century there were 19 guilds which included 25 trades. Biertan became an agricultural and wine-growing centre.
The fortress was devastated by curuți (outlaws of different ethnicities participants in the anti-Habsburg battle) in 1704. Between 1572 and 1867, Biertan was the seat of the Saxon bishopric. In 1867 after the death of the bishop Georg Paul Binder, Biertan ceases to be the episcopal residence.
Dr. Georg Paul Binder combined the theological knowledge with the science. He wrote: It is no possible to impose oneself as an evangelical clergyman, without science…The science of religion must bring light to the priests, and the religious feeling, warmth.
The first wave of immigration of the Transylvanian Saxons was in America between the 1920s and the 1930s, and then there were the deportations to Russia in 1945. In 1978 following the agreement between Germany and Romania for the redemption of the German ethnics, the immigration to Germany increase. After 1989, a large part of the Saxons immigrates to Germany. Nowadays less than 100 Transylvanian Saxons live in Biertan.
Also, Biertan is located in the destination of eco-tourism the Hills of Transylvania, a rural area with a varied biodiversity. The village of Biertan is included in the network of bike trails and hiking: the Plateau Hârtibaciu – Târnava Mare. The village was once a wine-growing centre, currently they only produce small quantities of wine, and only the terraces are reminiscent of this tradition.
A marked tourist trail ascends into the terraces located to the west of the fortress, trail that offers a remarkable view over the village and the fortress. More information about the trail you can find on the information panel located in the central square.
Sitting atop the hill, the church-fortress of Biertan was built around the year 1500 in late gothic style, on the foundations of a Roman ancient building. The Biertan fortified church, dedicated to St. Mary, underwent more extensive restorations between 1938-1943, then between 1980-1990. These were possible due to the donations made by the natives of Biertan, spread across the world. In 1991, the village makes the first written proposal for the monument to enter the UNESCO list, thing that will be done in 1993.
The Biertan fortified Church is a real fortress, with 3 rows of defensive walls (one partially), 3 bastions and 6 defence towers, built in different stages.
The first wall of the fortress has four towers and a bastion.
In the north, there is the clock tower in which there are two bells: a large one that announces every hour, and a small one that announces every quarter of an hour.
In the south, one can see the so-called catholic tower, having on the upper floor a wooden watch corridor and on the ground floor the chapel of the Catholics that did not embrace the Reform. In the north-west, there is a defense tower known as the mausoleum tower. Here were displaced in 1913 the remains of eight Lutheran bishops and two priests.
Between the mausoleum tower and the catholic tower there is the east bastion known as the matrimonial prison. Here, in a small room called the hole, the spouses who intended to separate were closed together for a period of time, having at their disposal a single plate, a single spoon, a single cup and a single bed. It is said that during the 300 years that the “matrimonial prison” existed, only one couple divorced. Currently it is a museum.
In the first building of the fortress, in the north, the belfry of wood was built in the 18th century. There are four bells.
The second wall, of 7-8 m in height, delimits two inner courtyards, where the community used to bring their animals in case of danger. In the south-west it is found the bacon tower, the tower where they kept the Saxon bacon. At the middle of the west side you can see a gate tower known as the town hall, because in case of siege it is here that the town hall found shelter.
In the third building there are the Tower of Gate, on the southern side and the Tower of the Weavers in the west.
The access inside, towards the church, is made through a 100 m long covered ladder, dating from 1795. It starts from the central square of the village, next to the guard tower. At the end of the ladder, in front of the church there lies a large stone, on which, on Sundays, those who did not comply with the rules were seated in order to be seen by the whole community.
The hall-like church was built in late gothic style, with three naves, with a vault supported by three pairs of octagonal pillars.
An inscription dated 1522, on the arch of triumph of the choir tells us that the erection of this building was done in the time of the priest Baccalaureus Johannes seconded by his nephew, the Magister Lucas.
The church has three access doors located towards three cardinal points: north, west, and south. The northern portal was intended for the priests and their families, but also for the elderly. On special occasions (weddings, baptism) it was open to all the guests. The western portal is the most spectacular, being one of the last creations of the gothic style in Transylvania. Above the portal there are the coats of arms of Ladislaus II and John Zapolya, the coat of arms of the Seat of Mediaș and a circle containing a six-pointed star and a crescent.
The main attraction is the door of the sacristy, richly decorated and having a complicated lock that works even today. The key activates four mechanisms and the crank another fifteen. The lock blocks the door in 13 points, so that the goods of the church may be kept safely in the sacristy. The lock was awarded at the World Exhibition of 1900 in Paris.
The altar of the church, one of the most imposing in Transylvania, contains 28 painted panels representing scenes from the life of Jesus and Mary. It was made by craftsmen from Vienna and Nürnberg between 1483 and 1513.
The pulpit, dating from 1523, consists of a single piece of stone having at the base an upside-down pyramid and is adorned with scenes in relief.
The wooden linden pews were made between 1514 –1523, the pews on the right were intended for those of higher rank (priests, bishops) and those to the left for the committee of the church.
The organ, which still works, dates from 1869, and has 1290 tubes, 2 manuals, a pedal and 25 registers.
Inside the church there are a few of the flags of the local guilds. You can see the flag of the wool weavers (the oldest-1691), of the tailors (1792), of the tanners (1802), of the wheelwrights, the shoemakers and the furriers.
An interesting appearance on the vault of the church is that of a harlequin that seems to support the ceiling. You will hear several legends related to its appearance inside the church.
How to get to Biertan:
– by car: from DN 14 Medias – Sighisoara (36km) there is a paved road in Şaroş pe Târnave, where you have to go another 8km on The Biertan Valley
– by bus: from the bus station in Medias daily buses go to Biertan (24 km)
– by train: the nearest station is at Dumbrăveni, at 2km from Şaroş pe Târnave
– June-August, on Sunday – Friday, from 10:00 – 13:00, 14:00 – 19:00 and Saturday 10:00 – 13:00, 14:00 – 17:00
– November-April on Tuesday – Sunday from 11 to 15
– May, September and October – daily 10:00 – 13:00, 14:00 – 17:00
During the service, the visit inside the church is not allowed.
Contact: – the Evangelical District Consistory CA Medias 0269/843483
The entrance fee is 10 lei, which includes the guide.