Sibiu is about two and half hours away from Brasov. Sibiu is one of the most important cultural and historical centers in Transylvania and was designated the European Capital of Culture in 2007. Of the seven walled citadels built in the 12th century by the German settlers or Transylvanian Saxons, Sibiu was the largest and the wealthiest. Like other medieval walled cities, Sibiu doesn’t lack in open squares, cobblestone streets, centuries old churches, and buildings dating back to its beginnings in the 12th century. It has a distinct Germanic feel and is divided into the Upper and Lower Towns which are linked by staircases. Traditionally, the wealthier Saxons lived in the city center of the Upper Town, while the Romanian peasants lived down in the colorful houses in the Lower Town.
The historical center in the Upper Town includes Piata Mare or Great Square, Huet Square, and Piata Mica or Small Square. Piata Mare is the large main square in the Upper Town and has been Sibiu’s center since the 15th century. Other than the many restaurants that line the square, you will also find the Brukenthal National Museum, the Blue House, and the Catholic Basilica. Between Piata Mare and Piata Mica is the Council Tower where you can go up for views of the city. The Council Tower was built in the 13th century and was originally used as the entrance gate to the old town. It had also served as a temporary prison, a grain storehouse, and a fire watchtower. Piata Mica or the Small Square used to be home to the most prestigious master craftsmen. Nowadays, like its fellow Piata Mare, it has its fair share of cafes and shops. The third square, Huet Square, is dominated by the Evangelical Cathedral built in 1520.
If you look at the houses on the squares, they appear to have eyes which are actually ventilation windows to let air out of the attics. These eyes appear to always be open and starring and the story goes that these “eyes” were created by the German occupiers so that locals who didn’t follow their rules would feel like they were being watched constantly. I somehow imagine these houses to appear in the recent TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale” which portrays a future dystopia where everyone’s freedom and duties are dictated.
Near Piata Mica is a small pedestrian iron bridge called the Bridge of Lies. Legend has it that the bridge knows when someone crossing it has been untruthful and will creak and groan to expose the liar. Other stories mention dishonest merchants being thrown from the bridge or young girls who claim they are virgins but are not being exposed and again thrown off the bridge. Nowadays, young lovers like to come here to profess their eternal love.
From the Bridge of Lies, you will come upon the Stairs Passage, built in the 13th century, linking the Upper Town to the Lower Town. At one end of the passage is the oldest building in Sibiu and now home to The Golden Barrel which is the oldest restaurant in Romania.
Of the 39 original defensive towers, 3 (Harquebusiers’ Tower, Carpenters’ Tower, and Potters’ Tower) have withstood the test of time and are part of the best maintained section on the southeastern side. You will notice that in all the Transylvanian walled citadels, the towers were named after guilds of artisans. The Saxons who built these citadels were artisans and they were organized into guilds making shoes, pottery, clothes, etc. Their workshops were inside these defensive towers where they would protect the citadel in times of war and make goods to sell in times of peace.
I enjoyed exploring these walled citadels tremendously and wished I had more time to visit the other ones. Perhaps next time!
From Transylvania, we continue our road trip towards Moldovia. Stay tuned!
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