Discover Romania: Sighișoara, the Impaler’s Birthplace

A charming place in every way, Sighișoara is one of the seven citadels (or Siebenbürgen) which were populated by Transylvanian Saxons in medieval times (alongside Bistrița, Brașov, Cluj, Mediaș, Sebeș, and Sibiu). Its history starts back in the 12th century, but most of the medieval buildings still standing today are from the 16th century. To foreign visitors, Sighișoara is known first of all as the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler. But regardless if you’re a vampire fan or not, you will not be disappointed by this gem of a town.

Getting to Sighișoara

Sighișoara is well connected by train to many Romanian towns. There are 6 direct trains/day from Bucharest Gara de Nord towards Sighișoara, each taking around 5h30m, while other connections are possible from other main towns, such as Brașov or Cluj-Napoca. You can search for a convenient train on the CFR website.

By bus, two companies provide transportation from Bucharest: MementoBus (once a day, at 10:30 from Bucharest, tickets are bought online) and FANY Trans (once a day, at 2:00 from Bucharest, on the Mangalia – Cluj Napoca line – reservations by phone are necessary to secure a seat).

Why Sighișoara?

A very detailed description about Sighișoara’s main attractions, museums, history and other useful info can be found in this article. A good enough city center map is available here.

For me, the no. 1 reason to visit is the beauty of the old town. The narrow cobbled streets going up and down, with passageways opening here and there, are very charming and romantic, while the pastel colors of most old houses make for a delightful setting.

The 2nd reason would be the cultural events taking place in Sighișoara, such as medieval festivals. If you’re lucky enough to catch one of these manifestations, you might be surprised by the detailed costumes, the fine music and the general atmosphere. And even when there’s no festival, you could still catch some guy playing an instrument in the old town center, some entertainers parading around in costumes, or some local craftsmen selling their stuff in the street.

Main attractions in the citadel:

The nine towers associated to medieval trades: Blacksmiths’ Tower, Butchers’ Tower, Cobblers’ Tower, Furriers’ TowerRope-makers’ Tower, Tailors’ Tower, Tanners’ Tower, Tinsmiths’ Tower, and the Clock Tower.

The old Clock Tower rising above the other buildings is also a museum and you can climb it all the way to the top, for amazing views of the town.

The Church of the Dominican Monastery near the Clock Tower dates from the 13th century and boasts a Baroque interior, in contrast with its Gothic exterior. Great views of the town can be enjoyed from the gardens around it, while the surrounding area itself is quite beautiful.

The St. Joseph Roman Catholic Cathedral is an eclectic building from 1896, its architecture reminding of Northern Italy churches.

The covered stairway (which takes you to the Church on the Hill) was built in 1642, to serve the children who were studying at the Joseph Haltrich high school on top of the hill. Of the 300 steps, only 175 remain to this day.

The Church on the Hill, reachable by climbing a set of covered steps, was built between 1345-1525, apparently on the place of a small castle which existed before the 13th century. The surrounding garden is yet another one of Sighișoara’s great spots for a view over the town, and a great place to just relax for a bit, especially at sunset. Important: don’t miss the old Saxon cemetery (UNESCO site) right near the church. Some tombstones date from the 18th century and the place itself is very quiet and beautiful, despite its purpose.

To finish your visit at the Church on the Hill, don’t go back into town using the same stairway. Instead, take Strada Scării, a narrow, picturesque path that takes you all the way down to the old center. On this street, not far from the stairway exit, you might notice a B&B called Pivnița lui Teo. This is also a cellar selling varieties of țuică (fruit brandy), fruit liquors and wines. You can go in for a tasting and take home some delicious brandy, or just have a glass or two in the cellar that looks kind of like a pub, but decorated in traditional Romanian style. Oh, and they do have some pretty good stuff!

Some of the most interesting medieval houses in Sighișoara are:

The House of Vlad Dracul (father of Vlad the Impaler) is considered by many the house in which Vlad the Impaler was born. While evidence exists that Vlad Dracul was connected to Sighișoara, there is no solid proof that his son, the future bloodthirsty prince, was born in this 15th century house. Best case scenario, he only lived in Sighișoara for 4 years, since his birth in 1431 and until 1436, when his father would have left the citadel. Currently, there’s a restaurant inside the house, but unfortunately, there’s nothing so special about it.

The Venetian House, thus named due to its windows, was probably built at the beginning of the 17th century. Its most famous inhabitant was Stephanus Mann, one of the town’s mayors.

The Stag House is another 17th century building, famous due to its mural painting of a full size stag, with a trophy head. As many other old buildings in Sighișoara, the house is a hotel.

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The new town may not be as full of treats as the citadel, but it has its own charm and some attractions of its own. Plus, the restaurants are better in the modern side of town, since it’s not a tourist area.

Finally, if I haven’t convinced you yet, I leave you with this timelapse video that will help you make up your mind about visiting this beautiful town.

 

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