Retro: Biertan, Romania

Fortified Churches.  Makes sense, when you think about it.

Biertan is another one of those “little stops” you can find along the way on the Transylvanian route in Romania. At one point, its population spiked to a haughty 5000, as it established itself as an important trading town, though it later fell in importance to the other major towns in the region, with ones like Sighisoara and Sibiu gaining power.  Waves of migration shrunk the town, with only 1500 people living there today, maybe a thousand more than that if you factor in the surrounding area.  This becomes kind of obvious when you look at the previously mentioned towns, who have developed into wonderful little nexuses, while Biertan is mostly a one-trick pony.

Now, that said, it’s a nice little trick.  Biertan’s main sight is its fortified church, which was built at some point in the 15th or 16th century (earliest date is 1468).  Biertan was originally a Saxon village.  If you go through the region, you’ll find many towns that had fully built-up fortifications to hold off various waves of Ottomans and Tatars.  Those towns that couldn’t get all their fortifications together focused their fortifications around the church.  Biertan had one of those churches.

Visually, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a fortified church would look like.  Surrounded by a cute and unassuming town, the church is not so ornate on the outside, with a fortified tower taking the visual focus off of what would be a steeple.  The church allowed people to store the town’s most valuable goods and withstand sieges, and some small walls are noticeable when you approach it from a distance.

Inside, the church is fairly austere, though it did have two notable features.  One, there was a room with a giant inflatable Buddha.  Probably not a regular part of the display, but nice to see some extra-religious art being put on display, for variety if nothing else.  There was also the “divorce room”, which featured an award-winning lock (PARIS 1900 BABY!!!) that was actually 19 locks in 1.  According to our guide, if a couple was thinking of a divorce, they’d be locked in the room until the figured it out, or for two weeks.  I imagine many marriages were saved just for the sake of convenience.

Biertan definitely qualifies as a neat stop, and if you’re going to check out one fortified church in Transylvania, might as well check out the best-regarded one.  If you like catching sight of some sheep and stork nests as well, then this is the place.  You can get here from from Brasov, but Sibiu and Sighisoara (our next stop) are both closer, and any of the three are probably better accommodation bets.

Speaking of Sighisoara…

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