Vlad the Impaler, the notorious prince of Wallachia of the 15th Century CE, was born in one of the historic houses in the very centre of medieval Sighișoara.
How did Vlad the Impaler gain his rather gruesome moniker?
It isn’t a play on words.
Vlad liked to impale the bodies of his enemies on spikes.
He impaled prisoners of war, he impaled priests and villagers, he impaled envoys of the Ottoman sultan, he even impaled mothers and their suckling babes together on the same spike (if you can believe the reports). The armies of the Ottomans spoke of encountering forests of the impaled during their military engagements with the prince.
News of his cruelty spread throughout Europe.
It’s how the legend of Vlad the Impaler – known as Vlad Țepeș in Romania, and Vlad Dracula elsewhere – began.
It was this notoriety that, centuries later, led to his character becoming the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s gothic classic Dracula.
The founding of Sighișoara
In the 12th Century CE Transylvania was part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and situated at the frontier of Central Europe. Decades of devastating raids by Tatars and various nomadic groups of Central Asia incited the kings of Hungary to invite German Saxon merchants to populate (and thus help defend) their lands.
Sighișoara (in case you are wondering, it’s pronounced sigischwara) fared well in the hands of the industrious German merchants. The settlement grew to become one of the biggest and most important cities in Transylvania.
The guild towers of Sighișoara
By the 16th Century CE Sighișoara had at least 14 guilds operating in the city. Each guild had a defensive bastion to their name.
The guilds included (but weren’t limited to) the Bootmakers, the Tinsmiths, the Furriers, the Tanners, the Ropemakers, and the Ironsmiths.
Nine of the guild towers are still standing today.
Sighișoara Clock Tower
The most evocative building in the city is undoubtedly the Clock Tower, which played a significant role in the town’s defences in medieval times, as well as being a means of determining the time.
The Clock Tower was (and still is) the entrance to the old city. It also functioned as the town hall until 1556.
Construction of the tower began at the end of the 13th Century. A relatively simple structure at first, the tower was added to over the centuries, becoming the 64-metre-tall edifice you see today during the mid-17th Century.
The Clock Tower has a 2.3 metre diameter clock on both its outer and inner faces. The clock on the outer face (seen in the picture above) sits beside a metal drum that contains 7 figures representing the 7 days of the week (the figures rotate once a day).
Sunday is represented by a sun figure, who is also the god Sol or Helios. Monday is represented by a moon figure, who is also the god Artemis (Roman) or Diana (Greek). Tuesday is represented by a warrior figure, who is also the god Ares (Greek) or Mars (Roman). And so on.
The Church on the Hill
The Church on the Hill sits high above the old city (it sits on the far lefthand side of the very first photo in this post). Construction of the Church on the Hill began in 1429, and was completed a half century later. It is the third largest church in Transylvania.
The Scholars’ Stairs
The Scholars’ Stairs were built to provide year-round access to the Church on the Hill as well as the adjacent school. While the distance between the church and town centre isn’t significant, Sighișoara does receive its fair share of snow during the winter.
Stag House, Sighișoara
Sighișoara is one of the best-preserved medieval citadels in Europe. The town centre is filled with charismatic medieval structures, such as Stag House (the white building on the righthand side of photo above), called so because of the stag’s horns, and the bizarre painting of a double-bodied stag, that embellish the corner of the building.
Vlad Dracul House, Sighișoara
Vlad Dracul House (the yellow building in the centre of the photo above) was the home of Vlad Dracul (i.e the father of Vlad the Impaler) between 1431 and 1435. It was during this time that Sighișoara’s most famous resident, little baby Vlad the Impaler, was born.
The building currently functions as a restaurant.
Practical information and how to reach Sighișoara:
There are regular train services running between Bucharest (trip time 5.5 hours), Brasov (trip time 3 hours), and Sighișoara. More transport info here.
Read more on the Historic Centre of Sighișoara in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.