When I decided to travel to Romania this May, there was one main thing drawing me to the country – Transylvania. For many people, this region and its fictional inhabitant Dracula are all they know about the large and diverse country of Romania. I wasn’t much better and I was intrigued by the mystical, gothic allure that the region seemed to hold. In my mind, typical Transylvania was a small secluded town with an old-world feeling, in wooded hill lands. In visiting the city of Sighisoara, I think I came as close as I possibly could to that fantasy.
Sighisoara, one of the original Siebenburgen that I keep harping on about, is today a city with a wonderfully preserved medieval old town. The old town is situated in the hilltop citadel and is loaded with sights and gothic character. Walking – or more likely stumbling – along its lumpy cobblestone streets you can take in the entire town well within a day and there’s no need to rush.
Given my earlier mentioning of Dracula, it is only fitting that Sighisoara is in fact the birthplace of Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Compared with the Dracula-hype surrounding Bran Castle, the link between the city and Vlad is fairly downplayed. The only sign you will find of him in Sighisoara is a plaque on a townhouse claiming to be the house of his birth, which also just happens to be a restaurant.
Other sights in town are generally found at or near School hill, the highest point of the citadel. To reach the top of the hill visitors have several choices to walk up, including taking the covered wooden stairway known as the Scholar’s Stairs. While less direct, taking the path through the cemetery offers a more gentle and pretty approach. Upon reaching the top of the hill you come to the appropriately named Church on the Hill, a dignified Lutheran Church with some murals dating back to the 15th century.
One of the best ways to get a feel for Sighisoara is to visit one of its main landmarks, the Clocktower and climb to the top. From the top, you’ll be rewarded with views not only of the citadel, but of the lower town below.
Another nice thing to do is to walk around the edge of the citadel so you can admire the towers along the walls and the sudden burst of nature found on the other side. There are paths on both sides of the walls, so you can explore them from either side. There are also many small stairways that lead up to the walls of the citadel, passing through pleasant and occasionally untamed nature.
While roaming the citadel’s streets at day is wholly pleasant, the old town takes on a more spooky tone at night. The groups of day trippers disappear to their next destination; the people staying in town depart for restaurants outside the citadel; and the streets become empty and quiet. You’ll notice that many of these photos are of similar spots to those above, but with a very different feel to them.
The streets in the centre of the citadel are relatively well-lit, but the side streets are a very different story. Walking around the fringes, the streets are awash with a harsh – almost sinister – orange glow that fails to properly illuminate the area. Barking dogs somehow feel more menacing and you can’t help but remember that this is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, an inspiration for ghoulish nightmares.
So there you have it, the two sides of Sighisoara; both a splendidly medieval and yet spookily, gothic Transylvanian town. Despite its size, there is plenty to see and do in this charming city, certainly one of the region’s finest.
Have you visited Sighisoara, the beautiful medieval town and birthplace of Vlad the Impaler? What were your thoughts on this quaint town? Please share in the comments below.
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