The region of Transylvania (Central Romania) brings to minds of many the legend of Count Dracula.
While the legend is certainly intriguing, the region has much more to offer. Some of Europe's best-preserved medieval towns, most notably Sighisoara, Brasov and Sibiu, are located in Transylvania.
Visitors can marvel at Transylvania's unique architectural treasures, such as castles, fortified churches and centuries-old houses, while exploring sites where more than 900 years ago Saxon craftsmen and merchants established powerful and rich citadels.
During the middle of the 12th century Saxon settlers came to the area from the Luxembourg, Lorraine, Moselle, Rhine and Wallonia regions of northwestern Europe. They called their new home 'Siebenburgen' (Septem Castra in Latin) after the seven major walled towns they built here: Bistrița (Bistritz), Sebeș (Mühlbach), Brașov (Kronstadt), Sibiu (Hermannstadt), Cluj Napoca (Klausenburg), Sighișoara (Schassburg), Mediaș (Mediasch).
Fringed by the peaks of the Carpathian Mountains and resplendent with gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture, as well as a wealth of historical attractions, Brasov Old Town, located less than three hours north of Bucharest, provides a great introduction to Transylvania region. Among Brasov's best know attractions are the Council Square, the beautiful St. Nicholas Church, the Black Church – the largest Gothic church east of Vienna – so named because of its dark walls which survived a devastating fire in 1689, and Brasov Fortress. In close proximity to Brasov are the fortified churches Harman, with its massive 13th century defending towers, and Prejmer, the biggest fortified church in Southeastern Europe. Visit Brasov's many historic sites before heading west to Sibiu.
Designated European Capital of Culture in 2007, Sibiu retains the grandeur of its earlier days when rich and powerful guilds dominated regional trade. Explore the old city center with its upper town, home to most of Sibiu's historic sites, and lower town, lined with colorful houses on cobblestone streets and bounded by imposing city walls and defense towers overlooking the river Cibin. Sibiu makes an ideal base for the exploration of the nearby countryside and villages. Located at the foothills of the Cindrel Mountains, a half-hour drive from Sibiu, is Marginimea Sibiului - a string of 18 villages, rich in architecture, history and heritage.
Transylvania is also home to the charming town of Sighisoara, a perfectly intact 15th century gem with nine towers, narrow passageways and cobbled streets, burgher houses and ornate churches. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sighisoara is also the birthplace of Vlad Draculea, nicknamed Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes), ruler of Walachia - southern Romania - from 1456 to 1462. It was Vlad who inspired Bram Stoker's fictional creation, Count Dracula. His house is just one of many attractions here. Others include: the Church on the Hill, with its 500-year-old frescoes; the Church of the Dominican Monastery, known for its Transylvanian Renaissance carved altarpiece, baroque painted pulpit, Oriental carpets and 17th century organ; and the Venetian House, built in the 13th century. In the nearby countryside, another UNESCO World Heritage town, 13th century Biertan , stands high on a hill as one of the largest and most impressive medieval strongholds in Transylvania.
The largest city in Transylvania, Cluj Napoca, tracing its origin back to the Dacian settlement of Napoca in 2nd century A.D., is today a vibrant cultural and university center. The main square, resplendent with 18th and 19th century buildings, is dominated by the 15th century St. Michael's Church, one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Romania. The square is also home to the 18th century baroque Banffy Palace, housing the weaponry and Romanian painting collections of the Art Museum. Visitors who want to learn more about the region should check out the open-air section of the Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania, a true display of folk architecture. Spend an enjoyable evening at the Opera or attend a classical concert offered by the Cluj State Philharmonic.
Located at the foot of the Bargau Mountains, not far away from Borgo Pass which connects Transylvania to Bucovina, the town of Bistrita is one of the oldest in the region. Saxon colonists, who settled in the area in 1206, helped develop the town into a flourishing medieval trading post. The old town's quaint 15th and 16th century merchant houses, the remains of the 13th century fortress walls, and the city's unhurried pace have preserved some of Bistrita's once-thriving medieval atmosphere. Not to be missed attractions include: the 14th century Saxon Evangelical Church; the arcaded Sugatele row; the Silversmith's House; Coopers' Tower; and the County History Museum.
The medieval centre of the ancient settlement of Medias has a particular charm, with narrow winding lanes, centuries-old houses and a large pedestrian square. The fortified St. Margaret Evangelical Church, erected in the 15th century on the ruins of a Roman basilica, dominates the old town. The church, enclosed by two rows of walls and several defense towers (one of which served as prison cell for Vlad the Impaler in 1467), features three superb Gothic altarpieces, a colorful Baroque organ and some early 15th century frescoes.
During the middle ages, Sebes was a flourishing economic and political centre. Like all Saxon medieval citadels, the town was renowned for its crafts and trade, serving from 16th to 18th century as a seat for the Transylvanian Diet. Main attractions include: the 12th century Evangelical Church; the 14th century Fortress and the 15th century Zapolya House.