On the footsteps of the Teutonic Knights & Saxon trails in Transylvania
People have lived in the Carpathian basin in eastern Europe for millennia. Stone age peoples left traces, as have more recent inhabitants such as Gepid, Goth, Avars, etc. It was part of the Roman province of Dacia before being abandoned again to the “barbarians”. Germans settled first the lands drained by the Mures and Tarnava Rivers (Central Transylvania). The Olt River and Hartibaciului lands were settled next and then the Burzenland (Tara Barsei) on the upper Olt with the help of the Teutonic Knights. North Transylvania (or Nösnerland), in the Somes and Bistrita River valleys, also received settlers. Although known as “Saxons”, these German settlers came from many parts of western Europe. The majority must have been from the lower Rhine because of the similarity between the Transylvanian Saxon dialects to Luxembourg. Pestilence and invasion were constant threats to the growing population. Transylvanian villages are distinctive for their fortified churches (“Kirchenburgen“). In 1211 the region was given to the Teutonic Knights by King Andrew II of Hungary in return for guarding the south-eastern border of the Kingdom of Hungary against the Cumans. While the king retained his right to mint currency and claims on gold or silver deposits that would be uncovered, he granted the Teutonic Order the right to establish markets and administer justice. The crusaders were also free from taxes and tolls.The Teutonic Knights began building wood-and-earth forts in the area and they had constructed five castles (quinque castra fortia):Feldioara (Marienburg), Codlea (Schwarzenburg), Rasnov (Rossenau), Prejmer (Kreuzburg) Brasov (Kronstadt) some of which were made of stone. The military order was successful in reducing the threat of the nomadic Cumans.
So let’s discover their trails!
Day 1 Bucuresti – Sinaia
Meet the guide. From here we travel to Sinaia resort where we’ll have our first visit – Sinaia Monastery. Situated in the Pravova Valley, the Monastery has given its name to the dwellings nearby. Those few houses have turned into the town of Sinaia, in Prahova County, Romania. The monastery consists of two courtyards surrounded by low buildings. In the centre of each courtyard there is a small church built in the Byzantine style. One of them – “Biserica Veche” (The Old Church) – dates from 1695, while the more recent “Biserica Mare” (The Big Church) was built in 1846. The monks possess a library that constitutes a repository for valuable jewels belonging to the Cantacuzino family, as well as the earliest Romanian translation of the Bible, dated 1668. Here is buried Take Ionescu, former Prime Minister of Romania. From here our next stop will be to Peles Palace the former Royal Summer Residence. Castelul Peleş is a Neo-Renaissance construction placed in an idyllic setting in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia, on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia, built between 1873 and 1914; its palatial inauguration was held in 1883.
ACCOMMODATION: a 4* hotel in Sinaia.
Day 2 Sinaia – Harman – Prejmer – Bod – Codlea – Bran
After breakfast we’ll start our journey towards the Saxon Area heading north. Our first visit will be at Prejmer founded by Teutonic Knights – 1212 – 1213. Prejmer is noted for its fortified church, one of the best preserved of its kind in Eastern Europe and a UNESCO Monument. The church is modelled after churches of Jerusalem, as well as built in the style of Late Gothic churches from the Rhineland. In the 15th century, it was surrounded by a wall 12m (aprox. 38 ft) high, forming a quadrilateral with rounded corners. The wall was reinforced by four horseshoe-shaped towers, two of which have since disappeared. The defensive structure is strengthened by embrasures and bartizans, while the covered way is surrounded by a parapet. The granaries and rooms that accommodated the villagers are arranged on four levels above the cellars. 5 km far from Prejmer is Harman village that hosts in interesting fortified church. The Harman fortress is located 8 km north-east of Brasov. It dates back to the 13th century when the Saxons built the original church in a Romanesque style which was restored in a Gothic style. Conceived in the architectural style of the time, the church has a 50 m (aprox 150 ft) high tower surrounded by four small towers. The local population added new parts to the original church in order to make it more useful to their needs. The chorus was built in square shape with a vault looking like a cross. It was surrounded by two chapels, indicating thou the influence of the Cistercian’s style. Following the road to the west we’ll pass through some Saxon villages where one can note the old Saxon architecture. Reached to Codlea we stop for a new visit. Codlea was mentioned as a burg as early as in 1265. A second Fortress, which has been preserved to the day, was built by the craftsmen of several guilds starting from 1432. Fortified walls surround a Church built in the 13th century in the Romanesque style. Only the lower part of the western curtain wall of this edifice has withstood the lapse of time; it exhibits a beautiful Romanesque portal. It is interesting to note that the church has no steeple. The day’s final visit will be at Bran Castle, known as Dracula Castle. In 1212 the Teutonic Knights built the wooden castle of Dietrichstein as a fortified position in the Burzeland at the entrance to a mountain valley through which traders had travelled for more than a millennium, although it was destroyed in 1242 by the Mongols. The first document mentioning of Bran Castle is the act issued by Louis I of Hungary on November 19, 1377, giving the Saxon of Kronstadt (Brasov) the privilege to build the stone citadel on their own expense and labour force; the settlement of Bran began to develop nearby. The castle was first used in 1378 in defence against the Ottoman Empire, and later became a customs post on the mountain pass between Transylvania and Wallachia. The castle briefly belonged to Mircea cel Batran of Wallachia. While Vlad III Tepes Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) did not actually live in the Bran Castle, it is believed he spent two days locked in the dungeon while the Ottomans controlled Transylvania. End of the day in Bran. Accommodation on a 4 star hotel.
Day 3 Bran – Rasnov – Fagaras – Carta – Sibiu
Breakfast. From the hotel we’ll start our visit at Rasnov Fortress located 10 km from our hotel. In Rasnov a citadel was built around the year 1215 by the Teutonic Knights and it was mentioned for the first time in 1331. The citadel was conquered only once in its history, around the year 1600 by Gabriel Bathory. The village name is derived from Slavic “zrunovy“, meaning (village or valley) “of the mill”. In 14th century, German documents used the name Rasnov, but the modern German name, Rosenau, is based on a popular etymology, being influenced by the German word “Rose”. From here following the Olt River valley we’ll reach Fagaras Town. Built in 15 century by Transylvania princes, is one of the most well preserved medieval castles in Romania. The castle has 80 rooms, and is surrounded by a deep and wide moat. The citadel was ranked among the strongest in Transylvania, standing up to Turkish and Tartar invasions. Access is made through a bridge over the defence moat. At the centre of the citadel stands the castle. It has three levels (basement, ground floor, first floor) and five towers (the Red Tower, the Black Tower, the Prison’s Tower, Tomori Tower and the Motley Tower). Inside is the Museum of Fagaras Country; comprised of an archaeology section, which render the evolution of the Fagaras borough (Burg); history section, which display Roman artefacts and a collection of medieval weapons, and ethnographic section, which focus on artistic and folk crafts in the area. The Cistercian Order settled nearby influenced some of the Saxon architecture in the end of 13th century (i.e – Prejmer Fortified Church). Near the edge of the town in the middle of flowering fields stands ‘Transylvania’s most beautiful ruin’ – Kerz Church . In 1202 the Cistercians founded the order’s most easterly monastery in Europe here. The nave has collapsed, but the choir is still used today by the Protestant church for their church services. The monastery did not last as a monastery for long. Several times it was destroyed by the Turks and rebuilt, but under the Viennese Abbot Baerenfuss (‘Bear’s foot’) moral standards became very lax and in 1474 King Matthew Corvinus dissolved the monastery and handed it over to the church in Hermannstadt (Sibiu). After thiis visit we shall stop for a visit to a trout farm, located on the bank of a wonderful stream. In the evening we’ll reach Sibiu, the former European Capital of Culture for the year 2007, together with Luxembourg. ACCOMMODATION at a 4* Hotel and dinner at Sibiu.
Day 4 Sibiu – Cisnadie – Cisnadioara – Sibiel – Sibiu
After the breakfast we’ll start to visit the first Saxon settlement. The first official record referring to the Sibiu area comes from 1191, when Pope Celestine III confirmed the existence of the free prepositure of the of the German settlers in Transylvania, the prepositure having its headquarters in Sibiu, named Cibinium at that time. It was probably built near a Roman settlement, one that would be known during the early Middle Ages as Caedonia. Wandering the Large Square and The Lesser one, passing over The Liar’s Bridge, visiting the Evangelical Church, the Council Tower are only few of the highlights of this old city. Today we’ll explore some of the villages that still preserves beautiful traditions. Cisnadie was mentioned for the first time in a document from the year 1204 under the name “Rivetel“. In the 12th century Saxon colonists settled here, and in 1323 the German name Heltau is mentioned. The town flourished, particularly the guilds of blacksmiths and wool weavers (weaving remained the traditional occupation of the town population until the 20th century, when large textile factories were built). The most important architectural sight of Cisnadie is the fortified complex located in the town centre originally built in the 12th century as a Romanesque basilica. Just 2 kilometers far from Cisnadie is Cisnadioara Village. Initially, it was listed as one of the ten possessions of the Cistercian Abbey at Carta (Kerz). The fortified church, built entirely of stone, was first referred to in a document dated November 20, 1223, which mentioned its donation to the abbey. The oldest Romanesque style church in Romania, it stands atop a 100-meter high hill, surrounded by circular fortifications, with a defensive turret above the entrance. Some of the original walls have been preserved to this day. The layout of the church, composed of a small basilica with three naves, as well as the decoration of the carved western entrance portal, dating from 1260, attest to the strong influence of Rhineland architecture. From here heading west we’ll pass through beautiful villages – Poplaca, Orlat – and we stop to visit The Icon on Glass Museum from Sibiel. Because they built their houses on the former Austrian-Hungarian border, in southern Transylvania, where hills and mountains meet, people whose ancient traditions are still alive are called “MARGINENI”, a necklace of Romanian villages that fully enjoyed the spirit of the Saxon civilization make what is called for centuries “Marginimea” (The Edge). The painting of icons on glass was spread throughout various regions of Transylvania – Nicula and its surrounding districts (southern Transylvania), the Mures Valley, the region of Fagaras, the region of Brasov, the Valley of Sebes – Alba Iulia, Sibiu and its surroundings – each characterized by specific stylistic motifs. These regions are all well represented in the Zosim Oancea Museum where, among the almost 600 icons which make up the collection, are also several which come from the Bukovina and the Banat, as well as a few probably of Austrian origin. Back to Sibiu for leisure and dinner. ACCOMMODATION: a 4* hotel at Sibiu
Day 5 Sibiu – Medias – Biertan – Mosna – Sighisoara
After the breakfast we’ll continue our journey to Medias one of the 7 Saxon Cities (Siebenburgen). Medias has one of the best preserved historical centres in Romania and also some well preserved medieval fortifications. One of the most impressive symbols of the town is the Tower of the Buglers or the Trumpeters Tower, which is about 70 meters tall. Its construction started in the 13th century. In the 15th century it was raised to 5 tiers. The St. Margaret Church was finished at about the same time. Later, 3 more tiers were added in only 2 months. The roof consists of colored vitrified tiles, and 4 turrets were built. The tower had a guard, who would sound his bugle whenever an enemy approached. Therefore the tower has this name. The tower has in its South-Western corner (between the clocks) a small wooden man who rings a bell, thus announcing in advance when the clock will ring on the hour. The heavy pressure of the tower on the sandy soil is the reason why the tower is slightly tilted to the North. From here heading south – east we reach Mosna Village. The fortress is situated in the centre of the village. The first church an Early-Gothic basilica, was erected at the beginning of the 13th century. The present church is the result of Andrea Lapicida‘s work. Lapicida, a stone mason from Sibiu, worked in Mosna at the end of the 15th century. He was the creator of, among other parts of the church, the ribbed vault of the nave, choir, and vestry; the exceptional stone masonry work like that found in the south and vestry doorways; the windows frames, the tabernacle and sedilia. Our next stop will be at Biertan one of the first settlements in Transylvania (1283) listed on UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE LIST. The Gothic three naves hall church in the heart of the fortress was built in 1500 and shelters a lot of precious objects. Between 1572 and 1867 Biertan was the seat of the bishops of the Transylvanian Saxon Evangelic church. In the end, drive over Saros pe Tarnave towards the main road and from here to Sighisoara. Before dinner a plum brandy (TSUICA) tasting. ACCOMMODATION: a 4* Hotel at Sighisoara
Day 6 Sighisoara – Viscri – Brasov
The Sighisoara Citadel is the old historic centre of the town of Sighisoara, built in the 12th century by Saxon colonists under the Latin name Castrum Sex. It is an inhabited medieval citadel that, in 1999, was designated a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE for its 850-year-old testament to the history and culture of the Transylvanian Saxons. Birthplace of Vlad III the Impaler, also known as Dracula, Sighisoara marks the upper boundary of the Land of Sachsen. Like its bigger brothers, Sibiu (Hermannstadt – The European Cultural Capital in 2007) and Brasov (Kronstadt), Sighişoara exhibits architecture typical of medieval Germany.
Southern Transylvania offers wonderful landscapes for the travellers. Our next stop we’ll be at Viscri 50 km (32 miles) from Sighisoara. This village, solitary situated next to the big road which links Brasov to Sighisoara, hosts one of the most spectacular fortified church. This church is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. The fortified church is considered to be oldest church in Transylvania and also very well preserved. It has been built in the beginning of the 13th century. The women keeping the museum and fortress key is a Saxon herself, one of the last 25 in the village; you can ask her about Saxon culture and history. She will be happy to tell you. From here passing Bogata forest we’ll reach Brasov. ACCOMMODATION on a 4 star hotel at Brasov. After check in we’ll start the Old City tour where one can discover some of the beauties of this city: the Black Church, the Council Square, the White and Black Towers, Ekaterina’s Gate and many more.
Day 7 Brasov – Bucuresti / Airport
According with your departure we can visit the First Romanian School, site located few minutes away from the centre. The tour ends at the airport / hotel in Bucharest.
- Accommodation on as specified on double occupancy basis
- Breakfast except the day of arrival
- Transportation by car or minivan
- Entrance fees as specified
- Guide / driver English language, formal talks about Dracula, Gypsy community
- Local taxes, parking fees and fuel
- Personal insurance
- Photo fees at visited sites
- Other personal expenses
- Lunch and dinner
- The tour is available all year
- Quotation on requests
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