If you love to visit places where you can step back into time then such a fascinating place is Sighisoara in Mures County, Romania. I have long been interested in the historic region of Transylvania. Many of you will recognize this name especially if you are a fan of Dracula movies. Lovely Sighisoara counts as one of the best preserved inhabited citadels in Europe and is on the UNESCO list as a World Heritage Site. It is the home of the notorious Vlad the Impaler, who inspired Bram Stoker to write his novel “Dracula”. Be not afraid but lose yourself in the thrill and the romance of this citadel where you roam among ancient towers and narrow cobblestone streets. Where you get lost in another world and there is something fascinating to see all around.
Back in time during the 14th to 16th centuries Saxon and Magyar craft guilds needed to protect the town from Turkish raids and build tall towers around the citadel walls. These towers were built on two to four levels and they stored ammunition and food supplies. The towers also had firing windows for shells, arrows and cannons. Today visitors can still see nine towers of the original fourteen and two bastions which have survived the centuries.
A quaint and small square – Citadel Square lies in the very heart of the citadel. At one time this was the place where street markets sold wares, craft fairs were common and public executions and witch trails were held. From this square visitors can easily get to other attractions.
One of the sites which attracts the most attention in Sighisoara is the Clock Tower also called the Council Tower. It was built in the 14th century and expanded in the 16th. On top of the tower are four small corner turrets which symbolize the judicial autonomy of the Town Council. Back in 1676 a tragedy occurred when due to gunpowder deposits stored there the Tailor’s Tower exploded. Afterwards Austrian artists rebuilt the tower roof in Baroque style and colorful tiles were added in 1894. The most interesting feature was added in the 17th century when a two-plate clock with figurines that were carved from linden wood was set right at the top of the tower. One dial overlooks the Lower Town and the other faces the citadel. The clock mechanism moves the figurines. On the citadel side you can see Peace holding an olive branch while a drummer beats the hours on a bronze drum; above them is Justice holding a set of scales and Law with a sword. They are accompanied by two angels who represent Day and Night. The start of day is marked by the angel representing Day at 6 AM and at 6 PM the angel representing Night appears carrying two burning candles. The dial that overlooks the Lower Town has seven figurines representing the pagan gods who stood for the days of the week – Diane (Monday), Mars (Tuesday), Mercury (Wednesday), Jupiter (Thursday), Venus (Friday), Saturn (Saturday)and the Sun (Sunday). Up on the very top the tower spire has a small golden sphere with a meteorological cock that moves with air currents and forecasts the weather. This amazing clock has been in working order since the Middle Ages. Visitors can climb to the top of this tower to see the citadel from a bird’s eye view.
Close by is the Church of the Dominican Monastery dating back to 1298. In 1556 this became the Saxon’s main Lutheran church. The church was built in Gothic style and has two naves and two rows of pillars. It has been restored several times. Inside visitors can see valuable art objects like the bronze font that dates back to 1440 and. the stone doorframe that was carved in 1570 in Transylvanian renaissance style. There is a collection of 16th and 17th century Oriental carpets, a Baroque organ and an altarpiece dating back to 1680. People come here to listen to classical and baroque concerts.
On the north side of the Clock Tower is the Church on the Hill so called because of its location on the School Hill. It was first documented in 1345 and constructed over 200 years. At one time it was a Catholic church but when the Saxons came it became a Lutheran church. Inside the church you can see murals datin from 1483 – 1488 and furniture in Renaissance style. The gothic altarpiece was dedicated to St. Martin and painted by Johann Stoss. In the anterooms of the side naves are three wood-carved coats of arms once belonging to Mathias Corvin and his wife, Beatrix, the Transylvanian Prince Stephen Bathory of Nyir (1479-1493) and the King of Poland and Hungary, Wladislaw the 3rd. This lovely church can be reached by a covered wooden staircase known as the Scholars’ Stairs. A Saxon cemetery can be found opposite the church.
The Scholars’ Stairs are an amazing piece of medieval architecture. They were built in 1642 and covered in order to protect schoolchildren and church goers during the climb in the wintertime. At one time there were 300 steps but after 1849 they were reduced to 175.
In Citadel Square not far from the Clock Tower is the Vlad Dracul House. This ocher-colored house is the birthplace of Vlad Tepes the inspiration for Dracula. He was born in 1431 and lived here with his father Vlad Dracul until 1435 at which time they moved to Targoviste. Above the entrance you can see a wrought-iron dragon. In English the Romanian word dracul stands for both dragon and devil. On the ground floor is a restaurant and on the first floor you’ll find the Museum of Weapons. In the museum you can see medieval weapons. On display is also an oil portrait of Michael Freiherr von Melas who was born in Sighisoara. He became a general of the Austrian mounted troops and at Marenga in 1880 fought against Napoleon Bonaparte’s army.
There is a lot more to see and explore in Sighisoara but no visit to this area would be complete without taking a trip to the mysterious and legendary Bran Castle. It stands high atop of a 200-foot rock and yes, it looks like what you see in a Dracula movie. This is why so many tourists are attracted to this castle. It dates back to 1377. Since the Irish author Bram Stoker never went to Transylvania he used his imagination to make the surrounding area dark and brooding a perfect place of mystery for his character Count Dracula and when you visit here you will feel as if you are going to bump into the Count himself. As the story goes the setting is in the Carpathian Mountains. Once it was a royal residence from 1920 to 1957 given as a gift to Queen Marie of Romania from the residents of Brasov. Inside the castle is a museum which displays the art and furniture that the Queen collected. Just imagine walking the narrow winding stairways which lead through about 60 timbered rooms, a lot of them connected by underground passages that now display collections of furniture, weapons and armor from the 14th to the 19th century. No, I cannot tell you which was the Count’s bedroom but if you have a vivid imagination I’m sure it will be playing tricks on you in this castle.
Take the time to stroll through the picturesque village of Bran where you can visit an open-air Ethnographic Museum displaying village houses with furniture, household objects and costumes.