Villages with fortified churches in Transylvania

UNESCO World Heritage Site
Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List

Biertan village and fortified church

Location Romania
Type Cultural
Criteria iv
Reference 596
UNESCO region Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1993 (17th Session)
Extensions 1999

With its more than 150 well preserved fortified churches of a great variety of architectural styles (out of an original 300 fortified churches), south-eastern Transylvania region in Romania currently has one of the highest numbers of existing fortified churches from the 13th to 16th centuries.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania are seven villages (six Saxon and one Székely) founded by the Transylvanian Saxons. They are dominated by fortified churches and characterized by a specific settlement pattern that has been preserved since the late Middle Ages.[1]

The list

The seven villages listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site:

Romanian name Image County German name Hungarian name Main attractions
Biertan Sibiu Birthälm Berethalom Biertan fortified church
Câlnic Alba Kelling Kelnek Câlnic Citadel
Dârjiu Harghita Ders Székelyderzs Dârjiu fortified church
Prejmer Brașov Tartlau Prázsmár Prejmer fortified church
Saschiz Mureș Keisd Szászkézd Saschiz fortified church
Saschiz peasant citadel
Valea Viilor Sibiu Wurmloch Nagybaromlak Valea Viilor fortified church
Viscri Brașov Weißkirch Fehéregyháza Viscri fortified church


The Saxon villages of Transylvania appeared in the twelfth century when the Kings of Hungary settled German colonists in the area. They had a special status among nations in the province and their civilisation managed to survive and thrive, forming a very strong community of farmers, artisans and merchants. Being situated in a region constantly under the threat of the Ottoman and Tatar invasions, they built fortifications of different sizes. The most important towns were fully fortified, and the smaller communities created fortifications centered on the church, where they added defensive towers and storehouses to keep their most valuable goods and to help them withstand long sieges.



The topography in Southern Transylvania is that of a plateau, cut by wide valleys of various small rivers that flow into larger ones, namely the Olt River, Mureş River, Târnava Mare River and Târnava Mică River. The villages follow the topography closely and try to make the best of it; thus villages situated in a valley developed around a central street and possibly some secondary ones, while those situated on a flatter spot follow a looser, radial pattern. Due to security reasons and the traditions of the Saxon inhabitants, the villages are compact.

The main element is the church, always situated in the middle of the town. Different types of fortifications can be found: a small enceinte around the church, a row of fortifications around the church or a real fortress with multiple fortification walls centered on the church. The churches have been adapted to include defensive functions; all of them are either Romanesque basilicas or single-nave churches of the late Gothic period. The churches often include many additions, ranging in age from the original period in which the churches were built Late Middle Ages to the sixteenth century. Many churches also include baroque elements from that period, as the baroque style was very popular in the region.

In almost all cases, the church is situated in an easily defendable position, generally on a hilltop. Elements of fortifications found in the main cities in the area have been adapted here, and they are a testimony of the building techniques used along the years by the Saxon community. Some fortifications had observation towers, some of them being church towers adapted to the needs of a fortress. The materials are the traditional ones, stone and red bricks, with a red clay tiled roof, a typical feature of the area.

Close to the church there is the main square of the village or Tanzplaz (Dance Square) to which social life gravitated. The only buildings situated next to the fortifications are those of communal use: the school or the village hall. The parish house, along with the houses of the most wealthy villagers, were situated around this square. Also in most sites, barns for grain storage are situated close to the centre of the village.

See also


  1. Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania. UNESCO World Heritage Centre 1992-2010
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