How old this school is is a matter of conjecture. Transcripts found by the University of Vienna suggest that around 100 students from the School on the Hill followed University courses between 1402 and 1520. Official records date from 1522.
By all accounts this was a top notch school and its syllabus included, over time, theology, philosophy, classical languages (Latin and Greek), music, mathematics, and astrology. One of its most famous students was Hermann Oberth – astrophysicist and "father of German rocketry" - having subsequently relocated to Germany. A monument to Oberth can be seen in the Lower Town.
Teaching in the school is still in German with parallel classes in Romanian. The school has been and remains a guardian of Saxon culture, traditions and ethnic identity.
The school’s official name is now the Joseph Haltrich High School, named after a famous 19th century ethnologist, priest and collector of folklore who was a former rector at the school.
In 1642 a covered wooden staircase was constructed to provide drier access for students coming up to the school from the Citadel (and parishioners of the Church on the Hill). I have written a separate review on the Scholars’ staircase.
Some good views down to the Citadel and Lower Town from here.
Having made the effort to get up here you should also visit the nearby Church on the Hill and (one of my favorites sites in Sighisoara) the Saxon Cemetery.
It is generally accepted that Bram Stoker’s famous character, Dracula, was based on the historical figure Vlad Tepes (also called Vlad Dracula and Vlad the Impaler).
Vlad was born in this well to do house in Sighisoara (pictures 1 and 2) in November or December 1431.
His father, Vlad II (Vlad Dracul), claimed the Wallachian throne in 1436 by killing his Danesti rival.
Little is known about Vlad's early life, though he left Sighisoara in 1435. In 1444, at the age of thirteen, Vlad was sent to Adrianople as a hostage, to appease the Sultan. He was returned to his homeland in 1448 by the Sultan. Ignoring a short period on the throne, supported by the Turks, in 1448 he assumed total control and the Wallachian throne in 1456.
Vlad earned to title “Impaler” due to his propensity to punish his victims by impaling them on stakes and displaying them publicly as a warning to any would be transgressors against his strict moral code. He is credited with eliminating, in around six years, between 40,000 to 100,000 people in this way. In 1459, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, Vlad Dracula had thirty thousand of the merchants and boyars of the Transylvanian city of Brasov impaled. Ten thousand were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu in 1460.
While Impaling was certainly Vlad’s specialty he was quite adept at a range of tortures - nails in heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially in the case of women), scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or to wild animals, and burning alive.
The Turks forced Vlad to flee to Transylvania in 1462 and finally managed to catch and kill him near Bucharest in December 1476. His body was decapitated and his head sent to Constantinople where the Sultan had it displayed on a stake. Sweet revenge!
While all this happened over 500 years ago, Sighisoara (and indeed Romania) seems not quite sure whether to, or how to, commemorate/celebrate Vlad Tepes’ life (or rather Stoker’s Dracula) or ignore it.
Today, while Dracula certainly features in Sighisoara it is not over done. Those Dracula fans amongst my readership will be interested in:
Casa Vlad Dracula, Vlads birthplace, which now houses the Museum of Medieval Arms on the first floor and a restaurant downstairs serving such delicacies as Tepes Steak covered in blood (tomato sauce) which you can wash down with Dracula blood to the accompaniment of human screams and creepy organ sounds by way of background music.
Nearby between the Clock Tower and the Church of the Dominican Monastery is a bust of Vlad Tapes.
Should you have to urge to roam the town at night dressed as Dracula this can be catered for by a few souvenir shops where you can acquire the necessary cape and other gear. Recommended gear for a night visit to the Saxon Cemetery - go on, I dare you!
To their credit, the townsfolk of Sighisoara turned down a request to erect a massive Dracula theme park on the outskirts of the town in 2003. Without doubt any such park would detract from the medieval beauty and relative tranquility of this beautiful city.
On a walk between the citadel and the train station I came across this statue of the Capitoline wolf feeding Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. One face value the existence of this statue here appears somewhat odd.
It was given to Sighisoara by Rome to commemorate close ties between Rome and Romania – ties that were used by the communist regime against the claims of Hungary. Like the rest of Transylvania, Sighisoara was part of Hungary until WWI. Similar statues to this are to be found in other towns in the region. While Capitoline Wolf statues can be found in many countries there are certainly a disproportionately large number of them in Romania which would add weight to this rather ulterior motive for 'collecting' them.
Roman legions under the Emperor Trajan penetrated the heart of Transylvania in around 105AD and hung around for nearly two hundred years when the Emperor Aurelian, faced with rebellion on the Rhine and in Syria was forced to abandon Transylvania.
You can see this striking black and white Neo-Byzantine style Eastern Orthodox church on the northern bank of the Tarnava Mare river in Elisabeth Park from the citadel. To visit it, just head for the train station – it’s about half way from the citadel to the station – take the pedestrian bridge across the river.
Commonly, though incorrectly, referred to as a cathedral, the church, dedicated to Saint Trinity, was designed by Romanian architect, Dumitru Petrescu Gopes and completed 1937 after 4 years of construction. Permission to build the church in the centre of the lower town was declined hence its location on the river bank. It now very much dominates this part of the town.
The inside was painted by A. Demian. Unfortunately I didn’t get inside so can’t comment on it – a real shame based on my last picture of the interior of the dome – (picture courtesy of Wikipedia)
Mass is held daily except Monday.
Just be careful as beggars (harmless) tend to congregate outside the church.
A truly modern building in a town where the majority of buildings date from the 15th century and earlier, St Joseph’s was built in 1894, after the demolition of the Franciscan convent (pre 1723 its was Dominican). The Church was designed by a Sighisoara architect Letz and has an organ made by Kerl Einschenk in 1908.
The church underwent a major restoration in 1984 following a fire on 22 March 1983 and is rather plain and ordinary when compared to the other churches but it’s still certainly worth a look inside as you pass.
Beautifully illuminated at night.
Photography inside prohibited
While the weather was absolutely beautiful (though sub zero at night) when I visited, conditions can be harsh in Sighisoara, especially in winter.
In 1780 a covered walk called the Passage of the Old Ladies was constructed at the Clock Tower entrance to the Citadel to shield the elderly against rain or snow falls.
You will undoubtedly use the Clock Tower entrance to enter/exit the citadel a number of times on your visit so do stop and take it in – the stonework generally at the entrance and this passageway are quite stunning and worth a serious look. Don't forget an after dark look - no vampires here !
This was not the first covered walkway in Sighisoara. One hundred and thirty eight years earlier, in 1642 a much longer walkway – the Scholars’ Stairs - was built to provide shelter for children and parishioners making their ways, respectively, to the School and the Church on the Hill. Please see my separate tip on the Scholars’ Stairs .
Reached by means of the Scholars’s Stairs the Gothic-style Biserica din Deal – Church on the Hill, dedicated to St Nicholas, took nearly two hundred years to build on a former Roman basilica. It is arguably the most architecturally significant building in Sighisoara. Its construction started in 1345 and continued, on and off, until 1525.
The church commenced life as a Roman Catholic Church but after the 1547 Reformation it shifted to Lutherism as did the Saxons of Sighisoara.
The church is famous for its 15th century frescos and especially for their disappearing and reappearing (albeit in lower quality). I’m sure you are wondering what I am talking about. Let me explain.
In the 1500’s the church has a series of frescos on its walls. In 1776 a decision was made to paint over these frescos but only after accurate copies of them had been recorded on parchment. The parchments disappeared before the frescos were reproduced and the walls remained beige (or whatever colour was commonly applied to church interiors in those days – more probably whitewash).
In a 1934 restoration some of the old frescoes were partially uncovered and again in the 1990’s more were partially uncovered – so that which disappeared has reappeared.
Some particular things to observe (photography prohibited inside the church) include:
• a fresco in one of the archways in which the Holy Trinity is depicted as a three-faced entity, with the Holy Ghost depicted as female
• the Last Judgment fresco without any depiction of purgatory
• the crypt below the choir stall containing some thirty tombs – unique in terms of Evangelic churches in Transylvania
• a 1520 Gothic altarpiece dedicated to St Martin
• the pulpit carved in 1480
• 16th century wooden pews, carved by J Reychmut.
Opening Hours - 10am to 6pm daily.
Entrance Fee – 2 Lei
Opposite the church is the main entrance to the Saxon Cemetery (open daily 8:00am - 8:00pm).
In another tip I recommended you spend at least one night in Sighisoara.
While the town, and in particular the citadel, is small and could be “done” in half a day you would miss so much by so doing. This is a place for strolling around. Take your time wander the streets. Sit down, have a coffee or bite to eat and then wander again. Repeat process again.
One of your wanders should certainly be after dark. The buildings are lit up beautifully.
The pictures attached is a sample of what you will see and hopefully enough to entice you into spending a night here.
For the brave I have also, in a separate tip, suggested an after dark visit to the Saxon Cemetery beside the Top of the Hill Church. After that, perhaps some rare, juicy meat by candlelight in Casa Dracula, Dracula’s birthplace!
As you may have read in my general tip on Sighisoara Citadel, the Citadel dates back to the 12th century when Transylvanian Saxons, were ordered here by the King of Hungary to settle and defend the Carpathian frontier against the steppe peoples. For this and also to keep later would be intruders at bay the fortified settlement of walls and towers was constructed and enhanced over time. In all 14 towers were built. These towers were built by various craft guilds – from which they derived their names.
To-day nine towers remain.
See my individual tips on:
The Clock Tower (Turnul Cu Ceas - now, as then, the landmark tower)
Ropemakers' Tower (Turnul Franghierilor)
Four of the remaining seven towers are covered in this tip with the remaining three covered in Part 2
Blacksmiths' Tower (Turnul Fierarilor) (Picture 1)
The north-eastern part of the citadel is dominated by this tower with a rectangular plan, annexed to the old wall of the citadel in 1631 to protect the Church of the Monastery. Five shooting holes on the Lower Town facing side could be used for pouring boiled pitch on any would be assailants. A charming welcome for would be parishioners! This tower replaced the earlier Barbers Tower.
Furriers' Tower (Turnul Cojocarilor) (Picture 2)
This Tower was built in the 15th century and is a rather basic tower close to Turnul Macelarilor (the Butcher’s Tower. You can see the spire of the Butcher tower in the attached picture.
Butchers' Tower (Turnul Macelarilor) (Picture 3)
Erected in the 15th century, originally in the form of a prism with 8 sides. Later it was increased in height to 2 levels. The existing tower has 3 levels and 5 fire holes.
Cobblers' Tower (Turnul Cizmarilor) (Picture 4)
The Cobblers' Tower, located in the northeastern part of the town, was originally built in the mid 16th century but totally rebuilt in 1650. The tower bears the influence of baroque architecture and features a hexagonal base with sides of different lengths. Its roof, resembling a pointy helmet, houses a small observation tower.
As I stated in my general tip on Sighisoara Citadel, the Citadel dates back to the 12th century when Transylvanian Saxons, were ordered here by the King of Hungary to settle and defend the Carpathian frontier against the steppe peoples. For this and indeed to keep later would be intruders at bay the fortified settlement of walls and towers was constructed and enhanced over time. In all 14 towers were built. These towers were built by various craft guilds – from which they derived their names.
To-day nine towers remain.
See my individual tips on:
The Clock Tower (Turnul Cu Ceas - now, as then, the landmark tower)
Ropemakers' Tower (Turnul Franghierilor)
Three of the remaining towers are covered in this tip with the remaining four covered in Part 1
Tailors' Tower (Turnul Croitorilor) Photo 1
This imposing tower built in the 14th century by the richest guild in town. Initially as tall as the Clock Tower, its upper part was destroyed in the 1676 fire, when the town's gunpowder deposits, located here, exploded. Not only did the explosion remove half of the tower, the resultant fire devastated most of the Lower town and significantly damaged much of the Citadel. The Tailors' Tower, with its two gateways (which used to have oak gates with an iron lattice) is now the primary access point for vehicular traffic wishing to enter the citadel.
Tanners' Tower (Turnul Tabacarilor) Picture 2
Located on the south-eastern side of the Citadel’s wall, this tower is one of the oldest in the citadel and dates back to the 12th-14th centuries. It is a simple square shape with sloping room – pictured just below the Tinsmiths’ Tower in the attached photo. It is thought not to have been affected by the 1676 fire.
Tinsmiths' Tower (Turnul Cositorilor) Picture 3
A rather odd misshaped tower about which not a lot is known.
The tower, 25m (82 ft) high, starts from a square base, after which the structure takes a pentagonal shape and in the upper part becomes larger and octagonal and is topped off by a hexagonal rooftop. Evidence exists in the form of bullet and cannon balls marks that the tower was attacked at some stage – most likely the 1704 Kurut attacks.
This shop opened in spring 2012 and is run by Mark Tudose, aka The Spoonman. Mark is a carver of traditional wooden spoons and other wooden objects. In addition to his own intricate artwork, the shop offers traditionally made icons, embroidered fabrics, ceramics, and other Romanian folk art items made by Mark's colleagues.
For those looking for authentic Romanian folk art, there is no better place to go than this shop. Not only will you be able to see The Spoonman at his craft and speak with the master carver himself, but you will also be told the stories and legends behind each motif on the spoon or other object. Mark possesses a wealth of information related to Romanian traditions and is always eager to provide visitors with more than just an item - he will give them a story as well.
On top of all that, the shop is environmentally friendly and strives to provide, instead of plastic bags, simple homemade paper-and-string bags, so that the beautiful items are ready to be presented as gifts immediately upon purchase. The shop is located in the basement of the House on the Rock building, which is one of the main buildings on the main square of the citadel. Easy to locate, the building says (in English) "House on the Rock" and "International Cafe." Simply enter and go down the stairs to find the entrance to the Arts, Crafts, and Tea shop.
English and Romanian spoken.
The Church of the Dominican Monastery, dedicated to St Mary, was constructed in 1298 and formed part of a Dominican monastic settlement until 1556 when the church became the Saxons' main Lutheran church. The remaining monastery buildings were demolished in 1888 and the current town hall built in their place.
The church is of late-gothic style with an open nave separated into three by two rows of pillars holding up the roof. Like many buildings in Sighisoara, it was damaged (roof destroyed - walls remained intact) in the 1676 fire which was caused by the explosion of a large portion of the citadels gunpowder stored in the Tailors Tower. The Tower and church bell were added in the 1677 renovation.
Inside the church, you will come across a bronze font dating back to 1440, the stone doorframe carved in 1570 in Transylvanian renaissance style and built into the northern wall of the church, a collection of 16th and 17th century Oriental carpets donated by the city’s mercantile guilds and now hung around the walls, a baroque organ and a very ornate 1680 altarpiece. The organ and alterpiece were constructed by sculptor Johann Vest and painter Jeremias Stranovius.
There is a small entrance fee to enter the church.
Photography inside the church is prohibited.
Located on the main plaza in the citadel – look up to see it.
Rebuilt in the Transylvanian renaissance style in 1691 after being destroyed in the 1676 fire which destroyed a major part of Singisoara, the house takes its name from the stag skull (trophy) on the northwest corner of its façade.
In 1691 the house was owned by Michael Deli, the mayor of Sighisoara and then in the 18th century by the noble family von Sternburg Kelp and Csech von Sternheim.
Restorations in the early 2000’s revealed an external mural depicting the stag's body.
Nowadays, the building is a hotel, with a ground floor that doubles as a cellar bar/restaurant. I did not stay in the hotel nor did I eat in the restaurant so can’t comment on either.
Dating from the 13th century and standing above the pre-Saxon citadel walls, the square-based Ropemakers' Tower is one of the oldest buildings in Sighisoara. Its role was to defend - together with the Goldsmiths' Tower - the northwest corner of the hill.
Nowadays, the tower is the home of the caretaker of the Saxon cemetery, located next to the Church on the Hill. This is the only tower that is inhabited which has perhaps caused it to take on a lovely fairy-tale look with beautiful tended gardens. I certainly wouldn't mind moving in notwithstanding the comments I've made on my Saxon cemetery, tip
Do have a look while you are on top of the hill.
Accessed by the 17th century Scholars' Stairs.
The cemetery, while tidy, is overgrown with a rambling and evocative collection of tombstones which appear to be randomly scattered with many broken and falling over. Indeed the positioning of some of the tombstones clearly suggests that some of the dead have made attempts to escape. The whole place eludes an atmosphere befitting of vampires and other creatures of the night and could easily have been created as a set for a Dracula (or Rocky Horror) movie. Dare, if you will, to go in after dark! It is open till 8pm (from 8am).
Undaunted and fearless as I am, I went in for a good look around (just after 8am!).
Located across the way from the front door of the Church on the Hill and leading down along the hillside, the cemetery interchangeably called the Evangelical, German or Saxon cemetery is almost exclusively Saxon/German in terms of internments.
The cemetery dates back to the 14th century and became the final resting place of the descendants of the Transylvanian Saxons (Germans), who were ordered here by the King of Hungary to settle and defend the Carpathian frontier against the steppe peoples in the 12th century.
While the cemetery is much older, most of the now existing tomb-stones are from the 19th and 20th century (including a monument to those killed in WWI) though many still carry the marks of the trade/craft guilds to which the deceased belonged. This German association is even carried though to the entrance sign which is written in German and then Romanian.
Accessed by the 17th century Scholars’ Stairs.