Some 150km from Brasov lies the little town of Biertan. With less than 3000 inhabitants and 15km away from the nearest village, it is a town that seems to be of minor significance.
Remarkably enough, it is the location of a UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Biertan Fortified Church.
Fortified churches are a common sight in Transylvania, but nearly non-existent elsewhere in the world. The churches have huge, thick walls surrounding them, complete with watchtowers and reinforced gates.
The origin of these fortified churches dates back to the Transylvanian Saxons, otherwise known as Germans, who established a lot of these settlements in Transylvania in the 14-15th century.
Churches had a very central function in the general way of life. Not only did people come there to pray, but also to trade, store and socialise. In times of conflict, when the Ottoman Empire tried to invade Transylvania, villagers could hide in these churches together with their livestock, food supplies and valuables. In case of a siege, the church could hold up to 2000 people for a few days. Other, albeit less tangible dangers the inhabitants faced were savages who raided farms and villages from time to time.
When we arrived in Biertan, we couldn’t believe that this was a UNESCO World Heritage site. The villagers looked at us as if we were some alien species coming to invade their village with laser guns and mind-bending abilities. Obviously, only the former is true 😉
Once they opened the door, we felt as if we entered a medieval world, untouched by the hands of time. A wooden staircase took us to the top of the hill, where a green yard with majestic old trees surrounded the main building. A little statue of Virgin Mary, to whom the church is dedicated, watched over the garden like she had been doing for the past 500 years. Walking further, we could look down on the three (!) layers of fortifications underneath.
The church houses two very peculiar things. The first one is a little house, named ‘The House of Divorcing Couples’. In Biertan tradition, couples who wanted to divorce were forced to stay in this house together for two straight weeks. Inside, they had one small bed, one table, one spoon and one plate. Rational? Probably not. Effective? For sure! In those 300 years the bishops practiced this technique, only one couple divorced. Nowadays, the house is a museum, although it doesn’t really deserve that title given it’s size of a mere couple of square meters.
The second object of interest is a door, particularly its lock. Inside the main building, a side door leads to the sacristy, where the church stored it’s most valuable artifacts. The lock consists of no less than 13 seperate locks, to ensure no-one steals the valuables held inside. This lock is unique in its kind and was displayed at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889. It’s needless to say that, especially given its age, it’s a remarkable piece of engineering work!
Sadly, no tower was accessible to climb. We walked around the church and found how massive the complex actually is. There were stables, houses, roofed archways and gardens all within its walls. Aside of their architectural beauty and military importance, what do those archways call for? PHOTOSHOOTS! What wouldn’t you do for some extra Instagram likes, right?
90s kids confirmed. Note: our coats weren’t thick, but I’m telling you that was solely for aesthetic purposes in these pictures 😉 It was freezing!
Biertan was only a stop on our way from Brasov to Cluj-Napoca, so we only stayed for two hours. After this, we hungrily drove to Sighisoara, where our little adventure in this incredible region continued.