What do we actually know about the fortified churches in Transylvania? Located mainly in the southeastern part of this historical region (along the borders with Wallachia and Moldavia), they had both a religious and a military purpose and were erected in 300 Saxon and Székely villages. Transylvanian Saxon villages appeared in the twelfth century, when the King of Hungary settled German colonists in the area. The most important and probably strategically located villages became fortified constructions, developed around a church, with sturdy walls and storage space for the goods and the people in case of military threats.
|Interior of the church|
If you have the opportunity to visit some of these Transylvanian fortified churches, you will discover a unity in purpose, yet a differentiation in architectural styles and vibes and you will conclude that every establishment has its own personality and charm.
The fortified complex in Sânpetru (Petersberg), located 8 km from Braşov, dates back to the thirteenth century. A Cistercian monastery is said to have been established here. The church found in the centre of the complex was built in its current form in 1798, following several fires and earthquakes that had previously resulted in the destruction of the bell tower. This is now built facing East, in order to prevent the destruction of the altar should it ever collapse again. The basilica is built in Romanesque style and impresses by the classic and simple lines of its interior; it still operates 3 out of 4 Sundays a month for the Saxon community of Sânpetru.
The church is surrounded by small enclosures. In the past, villagers would pay a fee to use these spaces for storage and as dwellings in times of peril.
Although historical sources claim that the fortified church in Prejmer (UNESCO Heritage Site, Braşov County) is the only fortified church in the region that did not fall during the Ottoman raids due to the height and massiveness of its walls, it is said that neither this one could be captured by the Turks.
|Paintings in the chapel|
A unique feature of this fortified complex is its chapel, decorated with impressive Gothic-style frescoes, whose exact execution period could not be determined. The colours and the technique used are closer, in my opinion, to those of the fifteenth than of the fourteenth century (as initially considered) and resemble those of the painted churches of Bucovina and Moldavia – possibly another evidence to support the uniformity of the Romanian states in a period when their union was not envisaged.
If you are in Sânpetru,
|Beautiful view from Lempeş Hill|
- Ring the bell at the house of the complex keeper, located near the entrance to the fortified church. Mr. Ciprian is a great guide and will provide interesting information on the region. No admission fees; donations are welcome. Opening times: 11:00am-4:00pm (Tue-Sun, in winter); 11:00am-5:00pm (Tue-Sun, in summer)
- Climb Lempeş Hill nearby (turn left after ‘Bielmann’ Hotel) for a gorgeous view over Sânpetru fortified church and a breath of fresh air. On clear days, you can also see Hărman fortified church.