- Category: Destinations
- Author: Francis Tran
Beautiful Sibiu: A Medieval Transylvanian Experience
The Romanian city of Sibiu has taken centre stage for centuries in the tumultuous history of Transylvania. Since it was settled by the Germans, the walled town was sacked by the Mongols, an economic hub in the Hungarian Kingdom, taken as a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, reclaimed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and finally became part of Romania.
Although less than a century ago the population was dominated by ethnic Germans, today Romanians make up most of the city’s dwellers. Thanks to its diverse historical architecture, Sibiu is often referred to as Romania’s most beautiful city. If you want proof, take a look at the images at this photo blog.
Named as the European Capital of Culture, in 2007, the city has spent much much time and effort to revitalize its tourism industry. (See also this post on Marseille, which gained the title in 2013.) As part of this effort, the government has up a great website, complete with suggestions for accommodation and sightseeing, as well as historical facts.
The main tourist area in the city’s Upper Town is defined by three public squares. The largest of these, Piaţa Mare, features the beautiful neo-Renaissance City Hall and the city’s Catholic Church. This website provides live webcams of the square that is Sibiu’s most prominent tourist area.
Connecting the two remaining squares, Piaţa Mica and Piaţa Huet, the Bridge of Lies is one of the town’s most impressive structures. Lined with flowers, the country’s oldest cast-iron bridge also features the Saxon symbol of two crossed golden swords emblazoned onto its main frame. An old legend claims that the bridge will collapse when a lie is told by someone standing on it. So couples often come here to exchange love vows, ensuring that they shall remain true to each other.
In Huet Square you will also find the city’s impressive gothic-style Evangelical Cathedral, with a high, soaring steeple that is unique in Transylvania.
The Brukenthal Museum is another must-see destination in Sibil. Samuel von Brukenthal was a governor of Transylvania in the 18th century and was also known for his impressive collection of artworks. His grand palace residence currently houses the Brukenthal Art Gallery and Library. One of the largest and oldest institutions of its kind, the Brukenthal is comprised of six separate museums in nine different buildings, each with its own specialty. The art section offers a range of European masterworks, which are often sent on tour to great acclaim. Check out the New York Times’ Globespotters review of the Brukenthal collection in Paris to see why this museum has its place of pride in Sibiu.
If you take a day trip to Cisnădie, a town only six miles away, you will see its famous, fortified Romanesque church, complete with raised corridors and towered turrets. Lighting has destroyed the tall clock tower several times throughout the building’s history, leading to the installation of a lightning rod in the late 18th century, the first ever east of Vienna.
Traditional local fare offers a mix of Saxon, Hungarian and Romanian influences – fantastic meat-based dishes with a healthy helping of cabbage. The most beloved holiday dish in Romania is the cabbage roll, made of minced pork and beef, simmered in tomato sauce and served with smetana, an Eastern European variation of sour cream. Also on the must-eat list are he region’s meatballs, often served at room temperature, seasoned with a delicious assortment of local spices. If you go to Sibiu in cold weather, heat yourself from the inside out with hearty goulash. Originating in Hungary, the dish is a great slow-cooked stew of beef or pork, flavored with paprika, that tastes even better when reheated the second day.