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Villages with Fortified Churches in Transylvania
These Transylvanian villages with their fortified churchesprovide a vivid picture of the cultural landscape ofsouthern Transylvania. The seven villagesinscribed, founded by the Transylvanian Saxons, arecharacterized by a specific land-use system, settlementpattern and organization of the family farmstead that havebeen preserved since the late Middle Ages. They aredominated by their fortified churches, which illustratebuilding styles from the 13th to the 16th century. Prejmer church
The seven churches are:Biertan: Late Gothic hall-type building, completed around 1522-23, on a lowhill, with two lines of walls, at the foot of the hill, built at the same time as thechurch.Câlnic: Based on a mid-13th-century dwelling tower, a chapel and an ovalenceinte; presented in 1430 to the village community, which raised the wallsfitted with two towers and transformed the dwelling tower into one fordefensive purposes.Prejmer: Early Gothic Church of the Holy Cross, in the shape of a cross;walled in the 15th century.Viscri: Romanesque chapel enlarged in the early 16th century to form asingle-nave church, with a fortified storey resting on semicircular archessupported by massive buttresses; walls strengthened in the 17th century.Dârjiu: Late Gothic church fortified towards 1520, decorated with murals goingback to 1419; rectangular enceinte restructured in the 17th century.Saschiz: Romanesque church and its enceinte replaced by a late Gothicchurch (1493-1525); defensive storey gives the church the appearance of ahigh bastion.Valea Viilor: Church transformed into late Gothic style and fortified in the early16th century; defensive storeys built above the choir, nave andtower, communicating with each other; porches of the northern and southernentrances protected by small towers with portcullises.
In the 13th century the Kings of Hungary encouraged thecolonization of the Sub-Carpathian region of Transylvania(Erdely) by a German-speaking population ofartisans, farmers, and merchants, mainly from the Rhineland.Known as the Transylvanian Saxons, they enjoyed specialprivileges granted by the Hungarian Crown, especially in theperiod preceding the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Despite living in a country where the majority of the populationconsisted of ethnic Hungarians or Romanians, theTransylvanian Saxons were able to preserve their languageand their customs intact throughout the centuries. Theirformidable ethnic solidarity is vividly illustrated by theirsettlements, which remained resistant to external influences.This is explained partly by their privileged status and partly bythe fact that they were cut off from their German contactsduring the period of Ottoman rule over the Middle Danube inthe 16th and 17th centuries.
Their geographical location in the foothills of the Carpathiansexposed the Transylvanian Saxon communities to danger whenthe Ottoman Empire began to menace the Austro-HungarianEmpire. Their reaction was to build defensive works withinwhich they could take shelter from the invaders. Lacking theresources of the European nobility and rich merchants, whowere able to fortify entire towns, the Transylvanian Saxonschose to create fortresses round their churches, enclosingstorehouses within the enceintes to enable them to withstandlong sieges.
The first documentary reference to Biertan dates from 1283.In 1397 it was raised to the status of oppidum (fortified town)and twenty years later the Hungarian King granted it theright of droit de lépée (jus gladii) - ie the right to bear arms.From 1572 to 1867 Biertan was the see of the Evangelical(Lutheran) Bishop of Transylvania, and as such played amajor role in the cultural and religious life of theconsiderable German population of the region.