I think we chose the right route for our journey, each place topping the previous just a little bit. That goes for the walled cities of Brasov, Sighisoara and Sibiu at least.
At first sight, the city did not seem that special, even though I had been told numerous times how beautiful Sibiu is. The main street is for sure nice with colorful houses, but nothing exceptional compared to other pretty main streets. It was first when we walked a bit passed that, I understood what it was all about. It should not come as a surprise though, as that is usually the case.
The Councils Tower is a great place to start your exploration. Climbing the steps to the top gives you a great view of both the Large Square, the Small Square on the opposite side, and the colorful houses surrounding the Evangelical Church almost like a fort wall.
You will probably notice them quite quickly; the eyes watching you from the rooftops. Or, at least it feels like the sleepy “eyes” follow your every step around town. These eyes however, are openings made for ventilation and light.
To learn a little bit more about the city we joined a guided tour, starting in the beautiful Cetatii street, with a few of the city’s 10 remaining towers. The fortified city originally had 39 towers, built and guarded by the different guilds.
Sibiu, also known as Hermannstadt, was built by the German population in the 12th century. As there were numerous attacks, thick walls were built to protect the city. The side facing the mountains was extra strong, as the attackers usually came from that direction. Rumor has it that when the Turks tried to attack, the citizens defended themselves by toughing out different parts of pork, often burning, as the Muslims could not touch that. This bought them more time to prepare for the fight!
Sibiu is also a cultural city, often referred to as “Little Vienna”. Their yearly theater festival is very important, and there are several open-air events free of charge, so everyone has the opportunity to enjoy culture. The city has its own “Walk of Fame” with stars for popular actors and directors.
Even though there are still many ancient houses left in the old town, unfortunately many of them had to give way when the communism took over and tore them down to replace them with modern buildings. Luckily, the houses by the Large Square were saved from being demolished. These buildings used to house the rich and important persons, and the houses are still named after one of the previous owners. The most significant is the Brukenthal Palace, now housing a large collection of art. The constructions have a mix of different styles, as every owner wanted to add a new element.
Moving on to the Small Square, where the tradesmen lived, you see a change in style again. All the houses had arches with a hallway around the whole square so people could go shopping in the different stores without getting wet. I bet the publics loved that! What they probably did not appreciate, was the fact that the tradesmen had a reputation of being liars, trying to fool the buyers. Legend has it that a tradesman was standing on the bridge trying his best to make his costumers pay much more than they should, when the bridge suddenly fell down. Even the bridge could not stand his lies….
Crossing the cast iron Bridge of Lies, we continued to the Stair’s Tower by Huet Square where the Journeymen’s house is located. Ever since the middle ages, the Journeymen wandered around in Europe to get experience with different crafts to be skilled craftsmen. The tradition is still alive today, though in a much smaller scale.
The Evangelic Church’s original construction was finished in 1520, but has later undergone various changes. Since it was only the 2nd largest church after the Black Church in Brasov, they decided to make the tower the tallest. Some Journeymen were sent to Bistrita to measure the height of their tower. Measures were made by a rope, and after their mission was accomplished, they went to the pub. Problem was that they got a little bit too much to drink, so their reason for visiting was revealed. The citizens of Bistrita was not interested in losing their status having the highest church tower, so it the night they simply cut a piece of the rope without the Journeymen knowing…. End of the tale; the church tower in Sibiu was built, but ended up being lower than Bistrita.
Even though it is not the largest, nor the tallest church, it sure is impressive inside with its massive columns and the largest organ in South-Eastern Europe. In addition, the chapel has 67 tombstones, including the grave of Prince Mihnea the Bad – Vlad Tepes son. Yet another “Dracula related” place we just stumbled upon…
During the sightseeing, I had spotted a nice café selling local craft beer, so after leaving our guide Adela, we headed to Arhiva de Vafea si Ceai. Really a cozy gem, and delicious beer! The perfect ending of a great day!
Visit the official website for Sibiu for more information about the city.