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The Prejmer Fortified Church

 

As is the case with many other fortified churches of Transylvania, it's somewhat hard to tell whether the Evangelical church of Prejmer is actually a place of worship or a war-time stronghold. Given the troubled history of Transylvania, it stands to reason that it should be both. Furthermore, the location of this settlement, in what is today Brașov County, rather close to the mountain pass of Buzău, made it the first to be targeted by invaders. Which is why it now stands as the strongest and most inexpugnable medieval fortified church of Eastern Europe.
In fact, this impressive white fortress is an architectural complex of such magnitude and importance that it was established as a national historical monument, which includes everything from the church to the defensive structures, whereas the church was separately listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Fortified Church of Tartlau (Prejmer) (copyright: creative commons)

Fortified Church of Tartlau (Prejmer) (copyright: creative commons)

 

About

A knightly tale 
The lands that currently host the village of Prejmer were once the shared property of Teuton knights, who erected the church towards the end of the XIII century, applying the early Gothic style that had been introduced earlier by Cistercian monks at Cârța.

Not just a church 
The court of the church is impressive not just in terms of size and complexity, but also with regards to what it includes. Specifically, a so-called Baker's Court, separated from the rest by a high wall, and, more importantly, a school building, which seems to have functioned as early as 1460, according to the first official records. The museum is a more recent addition, but still worth visiting.

One of the innovations that the Teuton knights introduced when they erected this church, dedicated to the Holy Cross, was the layout set around a Greek-cross plan, which makes this church unique in Transylvania, even though it does have a few counterparts in Germany. This structure consisted of building four equal arms laid out around a square centered on an octagonal tower. However, this initial layout suffered significant changes with the various works that were carried out successively beginning with the XVI century. Inside, the most ancient and definitely most striking element is the polyptych altar, dating from about the middle of the XV century and dedicated to the Passions of Christ.

 

Must see

In their great wisdom, and possibly based on past military experience, the knights who erected the church knew that fortifying it against the enemy was an absolute must. The defensive system of the stronghold included massive surrounding walls, measuring between 12 and 14 m in height and up to 5 m in width, a defense road, two towers, two bulwarks, iron gates and drawbridges. However, the most ingenious defensive device – and arguably the most important attraction today– remained the ”organ of death”, a contraption that reunited several firing weapons in one place, allowing them to all fire at the same time, causing significant damage to the enemy. The system was so cleverly designed that it allowed for the next round of ammunition to be recharged even while the previous one was being used, which made the weapon all the more lethal to the enemy.