We’ve driven through the heart of Transylvania and landed in the exquisite city of Sibiu. Once the capital of the Principality of Transylvania, the city is one of the most touristed areas in Romania and has some of the best preserved historical sites in the country.
While not yet on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, it’s Historic Centre and Ensemble of Squares, which is gingerbread house-cute, made its tentative list in 2004 and surely will be given the appropriate status (most likely linking it with other inscribed Saxon Romanian Sites) at some point.
There’s no better place to start in Sibiu than the stone and brick Turnul Dulgherilor (the Tower of the Carpenters), which was constructed in the 14th century as part of the city's fortifications.
The tower is one of four located in close proximity forming part of the city’s once formidable and multi-faceted defences. The Thick (Turnul Gros), Potter’s (Turnul Olarilor) and Gunsmith’s (Turnul Harquebusier) Towers make up the others, with all four situated within a hundred metres of one another along the best preserved part of the city’s fortifications in the aptly named Fortress Street (Strada Cetății). Unfortunately, you can’t access any of the towers or reconstructed ramparts, but this doesn’t distract from the splendor of these medieval marvels.
Venturing into the Historic Centre proper, it’s hard not to think that the entire area has been gentrified soley for tourists. The main square, Piata Mare (Large Square) is home to some beautifully preserved buildings including the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church. However, it is Piata MIca (Small Square) that steals your heart after you navigate you way through and underneath the main buildings that seem to be protecting this little gem.
For some reason I never managed to get any decent photos of the cafes, restaurants and passageways that both make up and abut the square but I can truthfully atest to the barrista’s passion and coffee making skill at Nod Pub. The guy who served us our Wakey Juice not only knew his stuff, but also imparted his enthusiasm for his craft in such an unpretentious way that it gave me hope for barristas worldwide. Wellington barristas should definitely take notes!
The main touristic site just off the Small Square is the Bridge of Lies. The pedestrian bridge was built in 1859 to replace the old wooden bridge which stood for 200 years and connected the old town to the new. It was the first cast iron bridge in Romania built without pylons and as a result was called “the lying bridge” as in the laying down bridge, In German the word for “lying” (laying down) had the same meaning as the same word “lie", which resulted in the locals calling it the Bridge of Lies.
Of course, having now got a great sounding name it was necessary for some legends to be developed around it. The most famous legend says that the bridge has ears and unexplained power, so that, if a lie is said it begins to creak and all will know. For this reason, people are supposed to avoid saying untrue things and it is a great place to test the truth of something that you might be unsure of.
Crossing over the bridge takes you to what is one of the most spectacular churches in Sibiu, the Lutheran Cathedral of Saint Mary. Built in the now familiar Gothic style, the churches 73 metre tall steeple is just one feature that makes it stand out from the crowd.
Built in the 14th century on top of the location of another 12th-century church, the four turrets that surround the main steeple signified that the town supposedly had the right to sentence to death wrong-doers. Whilst that might not have boosted tourist numbers in the day, it certainly plays its part in drawing them in today.
Also worth visiting is the Holy Trinity Cathedral, which is the seat of the Romanian Orthodox Archbishop of Sibiu. This church is built in Byzantine style and inspired by Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which we are likely to see later in our travels. It is worth circling around the church as its main entrance differs significantly from the backend.
Situated opposite the main entrance to the Holy Trinity Cathedral is The Metropolitan of Ardeal - The Orthodox Archiepiscopate. Here, there are some beautiful paintings in the entranceway which are also well worth viewing.
Our Historic Centre ramblings done, it was time to take in some curated postcard ethnographic scenes at the ASTRA National Museum Complex. This highly rated outdoor museum first opened its “doors” in 1905 as a way for the Transylvanian Romanians to express their own ethnocultural identity.
Situated within the Dumbrava Sibiului Natural Park in the south of the city, it is a bit of hassle getting there as the number 13 bus deposits you at the zoo, after which it’s a 1.5 kilometre walk to the entrance. With plenty of walking in front of them at the Complex, the girls’ little legs definitely were going to get a great work out!
Europe's largest open-air ethnographic museum contains over 400 traditional homes, working buildings and churches across 96 hectares. In one convenient location, it provides a great way of viewing an historic way of life for a range of different Transylvanian ethnic groups from the past.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper learning experience without Veronica taking the opportunity to hold class.
There are over 10 kilometres of paths to explore all the exhibits in the open air museum. And if that’s not enough for your 25 lei (adult) entrance fee, there’s also an indoors museum to mull over as well. To be honest, despite the lovely walk and interesting exhibits after about 45 minutes we’d had enough. Of course, this didn’t occur until we were at the far end of the park, so we had to soldier on to get back to the entrance again. At which point, I thought it’d be a good idea to at least go around the lake, which added on further mileage!
We had heard good things about Sibiu and certainly weren’t disappointed. The Historic Centre is truly beautiful and a great place to drink in the stunning views whilst supping on coffee or something stronger at the end of the day. Three days was probably a day or two too short but it’s time to move on, as we have an upcoming date with Vlad.