Prejmer Fortified Church

Prejmer Fortified Church

Prejmer Fortified Church is one of a series of UNESCO-listed historic churches in Romania, and is known for being the largest church of its kind in south eastern Europe.

Built from 1212, Prejmer Fortified Church was a construction of the Roman Catholic Teutonic knights. With its thick circular walls rising 40 feet, advanced weaponry and underground passageways, the church was heavily defended, demonstrating the turbulent nature of the region at the time.

Prejmer Fortified Church history

King Andrew II of Hungary gave the Teutonic knights permission to settler around Prejmer where in 1218 they began construction on a Gothic style church in a unique Greek cross plan then unseen in Romania. The Catholic order of the Cistercians took over Prejmer Fortified Church in 1240, finishing the building project.

The fortifications happened in several stages: 13th century 3 metre-thick walls were later heightened to 12 metres and gained a wall walk. Defence towers were built outside with a moat and accompanied by a 32 metre-long passageway with a portcullis. Prejmer Fortified Church could also host up to 1,600 villagers within rooms lining the inner circle of the defensive walls encasing the church itself.

However, the monks were chased away leaving the church to the local Saxon community who strengthened the church against attacks from the Turks and Tatars during the 15th and 16th centuries. The fortress was subject to 50 sieges – only one of which resulted in its capture in 1611, when the church was taken over by the Prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Báthori.

Prejmer Fortified Church today

Today, the perfectly-preserved church located in the heart of Transylvania provides a unique glimpse into how a medieval community fortified themselves against attack. Visitors can climb the many stairs to see some of the wall rooms, walking the corridors linking them to reach the battlements outside.

With entry only 15 RON, do not miss a chance to freely wander this incredible innovative site dotted with informative boards. Nearby you can also visit the fortified church of Harman.

Getting to Prejmer Fortified Church

Within the town of Prejmer, the church is just off the 112D road between Harman and Teliu. There is space for parking. On the Brasov – Bretcu and R train lines, the stop Ilieni is only a 18 minute walk from Prejmer Fortified Church. The regular Brasov – Prejmer bus also stops along Strada Mare, just minutes from the church.

7 UNESCO Villages In Romania With Fortified Churches

Romania is a wonderfully diverse country with many historical and natural treasures waiting to be discovered. The best way to get to know Romania and its charms is by visiting some of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered across the country. Among them, Transylvania’s seven villages with fortified churches definitely stand out for their fascinating history and architectural value alike.

The stunning region of Transylvania is one of the best places to visit in Romania. Its gorgeous countryside, picturesque towns, and unique architecture render Transylvania one of the most fascinating destinations in Europe.

A road trip across Transylvania is by far the optimal way to explore the region. Nothing beats driving on some of Europe’s most scenic roads and knowing that you are free to stop whenever and wherever you want. Moreover, driving is the easiest way to visit each and every one of Transylvania’s 7 UNESCO villages with fortified churches.

The Fortified Church of Hărman

Only 10 km away from Prejmer, on the road back to Brașov, you must also stop to Hărman village and visit its Fortified Church. Although smaller in size than the first one, it was built in the 13th century also and you’ll find this place just as interesting. A distinctive note here comes from the many defense towers.

Practical Info: opened daily to visits, there is a free parking place outside and the ticket is still only 2.5 EUR(10 LEI).

At the entrance, the person selling the tickets was really nice and explained to us a lot about the place. He lives here and he is always available for any question you have.

Here the walls are not too high, disposed on two floors only but more rooms than at Prejmer were transformed in museums of the popular Transylvanian culture.

The church in the middle is beautiful, with paintings dating way back to 13th century, old wooden benches and colorful pillows. I personally liked it more that the one in Prejmer. Also, you get to climb to the big tower where you have a round a’clock view of the village. The bell rings every 15 minutes, and as the place-keeper man told us: “It is up to you if you want to be up there, close to it, when is ringing”. We avoided the ring because we wanted to get back home with a good hearing still.

In one of the rooms, they have a souvenirs shop and I took this cool spoon, hand carved and hand painted and I’m still looking for the best spot to display it inside the house :).

Biertan Fortified Church

Biertan Fortified Church is located in the village of Biertan. Originally known in German as Birthälm, the church here is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is decorated in a Late Gothic style. Interestingly, it was one of the last fortified churches built in Transylvania, between 1486 and 1524.

Biertan church itself is built of stone and brick, and has three naves, beautiful rib-vaulted ceilings, and plenty of interesting decorations. But surrounding the church are the bristling fortifications – three layers of defensive walls with nine separate towers.

Biertan Fortified Church (R), with its clock and guard towers

The outer-most wall is mostly square, with four of the towers, and it actually pre-dates the current church. Although the battlement inside the wall has since disappeared, you can still see the arrow slits located high up on the walls.

The centre wall was built concurrently with the church, and is oval in shape. It has multiple guard towers, and it’s also reinforced with arched stone buttresses on the inside.

Biertan Church, with two wall layers visible

The inner-most third wall was built much later, in the 16th and 17th centuries. Here you’ll find multiple towers, plus the four-storey high clock tower, armed with parapets and battlements. It commands an excellent view of the the church, the village, and the surrounding area.

Overall, it’s a very impressive sight. The church and fortifications sit on a hill in the centre of Biertan village, and absolutely dominate the area. In addition to the tall clock tower, there’s also the Gate Tower, the Bell Tower, the Prison Tower, and the oddly-named Bacon Tower. Their red square-pyramid spires shining in the sun is just a magnificent sight.

Unusually, the Prison Tower often served a “marital counselling” role! Couples wishing to divorce were locked in the tower for two weeks, to either solve their issues, or confirm their decision.

Towers at Biertan Fortified Church

Know Before You Go – Biertan Fortified Church

Admission to Biertan church costs 10 Lei (approx $2.50 USD). It’s open 10am – 1pm and 2pm – 7pm, Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays and public holidays). Note that the gates are often locked during the winter months. You’ll need to ask for help at the adjacent restaurant, and they should be able to find the person with the keys.

If you’re interested to see more Gothic architecture, check out World Heritage Alternatives to Notre-Dame.

Axente Sever Fortified Church, Sibiu County

Axente Sever is located north of Sibiu and it’s a really small community (about 3500 inhabitants), but it has its own fortified church! This church has been here for over 700 years and you can see the wear and tear on the walls and the tower. The building went under refurbishment in 2009 and now holds a museum with traditional Saxon objects and also has a few rooms that you can rent.

The sad truth though is that neither the villagers, nor the Romanian government had anything to do with the restoration, the museum or the gathering of the traditional objects. This was the work of the passionate dutch Antoine van Rijen. Out of respect for history and because of the similarities between the Saxon and the Flemish cultures he gathered the necessary resources and started the restoration process.

The courtyard is very nicely arranged, with a few medieval weapons on display like battling rams and catapults. The museum holds a lot of traditional objects and you can actually spend a few nights here in the rustic rooms. In the summer you can also rent a bike and explore the area. The price for this? About 10€/night.


Background and church [ edit ]

Around 1211, King Andrew II of Hungary permitted the knights to settle around Prejmer, where they began constructing a church Ώ] in 1218, ΐ] in Gothic style. Α] They were responsible for the Greek cross plan, the only one of its kind in Transylvania, but found in a few churches in northeast Germany. Ώ] Following their expulsion in 1225, the Cistercians, who took over in 1240, finished the church. ΐ] Α]

The triptych altarpiece, the oldest in the province, dates to around 1450 the main panel is joined to side panels painted on both faces, on two levels. The entire piece depicts scenes from the Passion of Christ. The Crucifixion is the central subject, Ώ] four times the size of the other panels, over half this panel is gilt. The front side panels show the Washing of the Feet, the Last Supper, the Flagellation and the Judgement of Caiaphas the rear has the Weeping Women, the Entombment, the Resurrection and the Myrrhbearers. The figures are simple and reduced to their essentials, their movements restrained or even statuesque, their clothing unruffled. The backgrounds are cursory, with the interiors showing only slight attention to geometric perspective. The colors are vivid, with the reds given a particular glow by the gilt background. Β] The artist is unknown but was presumably trained in the Viennese school. Ώ] A bell tower was added above the center of the church in 1461. The Greek cross shape was modified between 1512 and 1515: two side naves of unequal size were added while the main one was extended. The interior is simple and does not have traces of frescoes, while 19th century paintings were removed during restoration. ΐ]

Fortifications and recognition [ edit ]

When Ottoman forces or other invaders would break through the Buzău Pass, Prejmer was the first place they encountered Ώ] the village was destroyed over 50 times between the 13th and 17th centuries, while the church was only rarely captured. ΐ] Due to this strategic position, the church was strongly fortified ΐ] in the 15th-16th centuries. Α] After Sigismund of Luxemburg ordered defensive systems to be built in the Burzenland, high, strong walls were built and surrounded with a water-filled moat. It seems that a tunnel linked the church to the exterior. The circular walls are up to 5 m thick and reach nearly 12 m in height. The circular walls surround the church, while a second and smaller wall sits atop the arched passage at the entrance gate. Ώ] Other defensive features include five towers and a battlement. On the interior side of the wall, there are four levels containing rooms and storage space and backed by the battlement. The over 270 rooms could offer shelter to some 1600 villagers in case of attack. Entry into the complex is made through a 30 m long tunnel protected by a portcullis with wooden grilles strengthened by iron and powerful oak doors. ΐ] To the right of the entrance stands a large barbican. Α]

Frequently damaged or altered, Ώ] with the last stage of extensions and modifications happening in the 18th century, Α] Prejmer was restored to its original form following a restoration between 1960 and 1970. Ώ] The site is now a museum, visitors can see some of the wall rooms, climbing the many stairs and walking the corridors that join them along the wall, eventually reaching the battlements on the outside. ΐ] In 1999, Prejmer, together with five other places, was added to the already-listed Biertan to form the villages with fortified churches in Transylvania UNESCO World Heritage Site. Γ] Additionally, the church is listed as a historic monument by Romania's Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs, with the following being listed as separate entries: the inner wall and rooms, the outer wall, the barbican, the battlement and the arched gallery. Δ]

Prejmer Fortified Church, Romania

Prejmer Fortified Church is one of the 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Romania.

The church was founded by the Germanic Teutonic Knights

The circular walls are up to 5 m thick and reach nearly 12 m in height.

272 rooms were built on the inner side of the walls, where locals hide in case of an enemy attack. Also, some rooms were used to store supplies during the attacks. In the church was also a school.

Historical records attest that in its 500 years of existence, the fortress was besieged 50 times.

However, it was only captured once by Gabriel Báthori, Prince of Transylvania. The fighters defending the fortress have surrendered after they remain without drinking water.

The defense walls have special wholes called fire holeswhich were used to position weapons and they pitched pitch, boiling water or hot oil.

The Prejemer Fortress also had a secret: the Death Organ. A set of firing weapons that all fired at the same time causing huge damage in the enemy lines.

Prejmer is the largest fortified church in southeastern Europe and one of the oldest in Transylvania.

In February do not miss the Pancake Festival.

Biertan is home to the best known of all the Saxon fortified churches, high on a hill within two-and-a-half rings of walls. Completed in 1524, Biertan Fortified Church is now on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Here was the headquarters of the Lutheran bishops from 1572 to 1867. The interior is a late Gothic hall church with an altarpiece comprising no less than 28 panels the extraordinary sacristy door, with no fewer than nineteen locks, and a room where couples wanting to divorce were supposedly locked up together for two weeks.

Sighisoara is an unusual concentration of medieval architecture in a relatively narrow space, located on Citadel’s Hill. Now it stands as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval fortress in S-E of Europe. Mentioned in a document for the first time in 1298, Sighisoara is actually a burg, a walled town. The wall was built in the 14th century, with a height of between 4 and 14 meters, having in place defensive towers belonging to various handcraft guilds. Of the 14 towers originally built today only 9 remain, the most important is the Clock Tower, with 7 figurines representing the days of the week, is today the symbol of Sighisoara.

Few cities in the world have preserved valuable ancient architectural core like Sighisoara, this is one of the reasons why is strongly recommended to visit this magnificent destination in Romania.

Prejmer village is situated in the Burzenland (Țara Bârsei) in a flat marshy area at approx. 18 km from Brasov. Primary colonization settlement, documented in 1213, Prejmer founded, by tradition, by the Order of the Teutonic Knights. Following the chase of the Knights from Burzenland in 1225 by the Hungarian King Andrew II, the town passed under the patronage of the Cistercian monks of Cârţa (Kerz).

Prejmer had an early right to hold a fair, possessing “jus gladi” witch means ”the right of sward” translated into death penalty but just under the control of magistrates from Brasov also people from Prejmer had the right to choose their free representatives.

The village was divided into districts on ethnic grounds, this division being respected until the beginning of the massive emigration of the Saxons.

The center of gravity of the settlements is the market, with the most important construction, the Evangelical Church. Surrounded by a powerful oval-shaped defensive wall with five cracked towers, doubled by a defense wall and moat. The enclosure includes commission rooms, parochial house, school, fountains, cemetery. Prejmer became the strongest stronghold in the southeastern rural environment Europe.

Nowadays an UNESCO World Heritage monument, Prejmer Fortified Church has the oldest triptych altar in Transylvania, dating from 1450. This fortified church was never conquered by the enemies, today it has the gates wide open for tourists an I would be glad to show you this well preserved fortified church.

On request different location pick-up point

(e.g. your hotel in Bucharest)

The Fortified Churches of Transylvania, Romania

The courtyard between the church and the wall at the Prejmer church. Notice the wall has lots of doors. These were apartments, storerooms, workshops, and even a school for the villagers when they were shut in the fortress.

If you're looking for pure beauty, as we often are when we go out of our way to see churches, the so-called Fortified Churches of Transylvania are probably not it. The Unesco World Heritage designation is not for their beauty, it's for their history. And, as in most of Romania, there's plenty of that.

Reconstructed apartment in the exterior wall at the Prejmer Fortified Church.

The basic story is that Romania has always been sort of a crossroads that the various European and Asian powers have passed through and their paths of conquest. So, the village people of the 13th through 16 Centuries, who'd already built the churches, just added a wall around them. The new wall, plus the thick walls of the churches themselves provided protection. When the enemies showed up, the villagers just moved into the fortified church, which was usually well stocked with provisions.

Pulpit in the Prejmer church. Note, the inscriptions are in German. This was a Saxon area within Romania for centuries. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, many German settlers in Romania have moved back to Germany.

We visited three of these churches. There are over 150 villages in the area which have fortified churches, and seven of those are on the Unesco World Heritage list. Of the seven, we got to Prejmer, Viscri, and Biertan.

The interior of the fortifications at the Prejmer church. Lots of openings to shoot at the enemy.

The Prejmer Church was open. Indeed, it was actually set up for tourism with a ticket booth and everything. The other two, not so much.

The graveyard at the Fortified Church of Viscri. Lots of dead around. No living. The only living being we saw at Viscri was this cow, who stuck her head through the gate, and then wandered into the churchyard for lunch.

We did not get into the Viscri church at all, although we did get a walk around it. The email and phone address on the door, which promised entry if you called, did not work. The phone went nowhere, and the email bounced back. Oh well.

Our fifth, who joined us so we could get into the Biertan church. I wrote his name down, then promptly lost it. We gave him a few dollars, and he still didn't smile. Ever.

In Biertan, though, we ran into some luck. Just as we'd given up hope of getting in because the sign said the caretaker would only open the church for groups of five or more, we met a Romanian couple who also wanted to see the church. The man called the number and offered to pay for five if the caretaker would let us in. But she refused. Rules are rules. Then we had the idea of recruiting a fifth from the group of boys who were riding their bikes nearby. One of them agreed, and voila, we were in.

The Fortified Churches of Transylvania are, collectively, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Click the link to see all the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Romania.

To see a list of other UNESCO World Heritage sites we've visited, click this link.

A tour of the fortified churches in Transylvania

Transylvanian villages with their fortified churches offer a very lively picture of the cultural life in the south of Transylvania. All these villages are characterized by a specific agricultural system and a specific pattern used to arrange the placement of rural households that was preserved to this day from the medieval period. The main attractions in these villages are the fortified churches that illustrate various periods of time a building’s history, starting with the 13 th century. Some of these churches are included in UNESCO’s heritage list, churches that can be found in Biertan, Calnic, Darjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Viilor and Viscri.

These are the churches included in UNESCO’s list, but there are also other fortified churches worth visiting, considering their beautiful architecture, paintings and preserved objects. Let’s find out more about some of the fortified churches inTransylvania.

The fortified church in Biertan

This church is a Lutheran church, built by the Saxon community during a period of time when the area belonged to the Kingdomof Hungary, in the 15 th century. At that time Biertan was allowed to organize a market, which made it a competition for other nearby areas, such as Medias and Mosna. From 1572 to 1867, the village was a see of theSaxonLutheranChurch, which explains why the church was so elaborate. The church is made out of a hall church with three naves and it was the last church with this “design” built inTransylvania. The altarpiece has 28 panels painted between 1482 and 1513 by an unknown painter, most likely trained atVienna orNuremberg. The stone pulpit, which shows various scenes carved in relief, dates back to 1523. The intarsia doors, with elaborate decorations have a complex lock that was displayed in 1889 atParis World’s Fair. This complex system block the door in 13 points, ensuring the safety of all valuable objects kept in the sacristy.

One of the most interesting facts about this church can be found on the grounds, where there is a “matrimonial prison”. During medieval times, if couples wanted to divorce, they were confined in this “prison” during a period of 14 days, to make sure they truly wanted to separate. They had to share a bed, a plate and a spoon. The matrimonial prison worked, as during three centuries of this unusual practice, only one couple divorced.

The fortified church in Darjiu

This is a Unitarian church, located in HarghitaCounty. It was first built in a Romanesque style in the 14 th century, but it was later transformed into a Gothic one, in the second half of the 15 th century. The fortifications were erected in 1400 and reached their final form in 1530. The oldest element of these fortifications is the tower located to the south of the church. The gate tower maintains its original form, with opening used to fire guns, which were closed with wooden shutters.

In the church several mural paintings date from the 15 th century, influenced by Gothic and Italian Renaissance works. Paul of Ung executed them in 1419. Unfortunately, the murals were partly destroyed during the 18 th century, while building the arches that were added to the construction.

The fortified church in Prejmer

This is a Lutheran church, located inBrasovCounty. It was founded by the Teutonic Knights and taken over by Saxons. The construction began around 1211, when the Teutonic Knights executed the Greek cross plan. The church in Prejmer is the only one of this kind in Transylvania and it was inspired by other churches from the northeast ofGermany. The knights were expulsed in 1225, but the Cistercians took over the construction and finished it in 1240.

The triptych altarpiece is the oldest in the region and it dates back to 1450. The paintings, quite well preserved were executed by an unknown artist, also most likely trained in Vienna.

Although the Prejmer village was destroyed over 50 times during the 13 th and the 17 th centuries, invaders rarely captured the church. The church was strongly fortified during the 15 th and 16 th century by Sigismund of Luxemburg. Other defensive features, including five towers and a battlement were built to create an entire fortified complex, which could shelter 1600 villagers in case of attacks.

The site surrounding the church is now a museum, open for visitors.

The fortified church in Saschiz

The construction of this church began in 1439, on the site of a small Romanesque basilica. The main structure was completed in 1496, revealing one of the most beautiful Gothic churches inTransylvania. The interior décor is mainly Baroque, with only the choir pulpit being Gothic. Some inscription fragments survived on the exterior walls.

On a hill near the church, the ruins of a citadel dating from the 14 th century are still visible today. Both the churches’ fortifications and the citadel were places for villages to find shelter during attacks. It is said that a childless woman who wanted to offer it as a gift to the villagers built the citadel. The hill has also an interesting legend that says that a protective giant who emits strange sounds each year on a specific night haunts it.

The fortified church in Viscri

The inhabitants of this village knew the church as “the white church”, as it was originally a chapel built prior to the Saxons’ arrival between 1141 and 1162. Coins and earrings were found in graves both outside and inside of the chapel and the oldest item dates from the late reign of Geza II.

The building of fortifications around the chapel began in the 12 th century, and Saxons built other additions to the chapel, such as a Romanesque hall church and an apse, during the 13 th century. The church was fully fortified around 1500.

There are just some of the facts that you can expect to learn more of when visiting the fortified churches in Transylvania, but each church is also an invaluable piece of history that unfold right before your eyes. Therefore, a Transylvania tour of the fortified churches is one of the most exciting trips that you could embark on. If you want to find out everything there is to know about the history of these churches, make sure to take a private tour with a guide that can offer you all the information.

Watch the video: Prejmer Fortified Church - A UNESCO Heritage Site