The Biertan Fortified Church
Hundreds of years ago, the Saxons left the marks of daring innovation and ahead-of-their-time thinking everywhere they went, including in the various localities established in Romania, in the Transylvanian Plateau. The Biertan fortified church is no exception to that. It is, indeed, a centuries old complex remarkable not only in its untouched ancientness, but also in the harmonious aspect of its architectural composition, the unparalleled beauty and complexity of its polyptych altarpiece, and the central role it played in establishing the moral guidelines of the community. In recognition of its value, the complex was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1993.
History of the settlement
The ancient village of Biertan is located in the middle of the Transylvanian Plateau, midway between the towns of Mediaş and Sighişoara, Sibiu County, and was one of the first German Saxon localities to be established, with the earliest official record dating from 1224.
The structure of the village
By 1397 it had attained the rank of city (meaning, at that time, a fortified town) and, in true Saxon fashion, was indeed organized as a small town: the houses were built in rows around a central square, with the impressive fortified church towering over it all.
The fortified church that can be seen today was erected between 1486 and 1524, probably to replace a much older church, dedicated to Saint Mary, which was documented as early as the XII century. The new construction is a harmonious mix of the late Gothic and the Renaissance style and is surrounded by a triple belt of fortifications. It is a monumental structure, both in terms of size and appearance, divided into three halls of equal height and equipped with three doors, one on each of the western, northern and southern façades. One particularity of this complex is the existence, in the eastern bulwark, of a “prison cell”, a small room containing only one bed and one table, destined for married couples who had decided to get a divorce. These couples were locked in that cell for two weeks, receiving food on a single plate, with only one set of cutlery and one water cup. Legend has it that, of all the couples locked in there, only one decided to go through with the divorce, and all the others got back together.
As mentioned above, this genuine stronghold also had a covered stairway, 100 m long, which led from the central square of the village to this church. On top of the stairs, near the church, there is a large boulder which was used to punish wrong-doers by forcing them to sit there, on Sundays, to be seen by the entire community. This was yet another example of the involvement of the church in maintaining a morally correct behavior within the community.
Not just the fortified church of Biertan, but the entire complex is rather striking. It was built between the XV and the XVII centuries and is currently composed of the following elements: the Evangelical church erected between 1490 and 1516; the interior fortified court, with three towers, a bulwark, and a gate tower, dating from the XV century; the middle fortified court, with a bulwark and a covered stairway, as well as a tower, dating from the XVI century; and the outer fortified court, with a tower, a gate tower, and a zwinger, dating from the XVI and XVII centuries.