Sighișoara

Sighisoara is an outstanding example of a small fortified city in the border region between the Latin-oriented central Europe and the Byzantine-Orthodox culture of south-eastern Europe. Castle walls enclose a steep plateau hill overlooking a bend in the Tirnava river (traces of occupation trace back to the Paleolithic period). Sighisoara was built in the 12th century by German craftsmen and merchants who were ordered by Hungarian rulers to colonize Transylvania to protect the Carpathian border against the Mongols. These Saxon settlers occupied City Hill; the town grew as a regional trading center, defensive outpost and transportation hub. Following the Mongolian invasion of 1241, the fortified settlement was reinforced with stone walls and guard towers surrounding the entire plateau. The town, known in 1280 as Castrum Sex, developed commercial activities thanks to the powerful guilds of craftsmen. Each guild was responsible for the construction of a tower and its defense. The town obtained the title ‘Civitas’ in 1367 and became an important trading and defensive center in Transylvania. Sighisoara heightened its walls between 1421 and 1526 in response to threatened Turkish invasions. During the 17th century, the population was reduced by almost half from two plague epidemics. Fires damaged the lower town in 1676, 1736 and 1788, floods in 1771, and an earthquake in 1838. Despite this, the area within the castle walls has rebuilt and kept its original medieval architecture, with narrow cobbled streets lined with rows of houses. Three main streets run roughly north-south, crossed by passages and alleyways. Houses are mostly two or three stories, the simple homes of craftsmen, built from stone or brick, covered in colored stucco, roofed with tiles, with a narrow facade along the street and an L- or U-shaped layout. Wandering the cobbled streets between medieval houses gave me a sense of what it would be like to live in a fortified castle. Sighisoara Historic Center was listed in 1999 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is accessible at all times with no entry fee.

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