Transylvania Fortress Wall Houses

Typical houses lining up the fortress wall protecting a village church in Saxon Transylvania (Harman/ Honigsberg/ Szászhermány, Brasov county), some dating from late c13th from the time of the first Tatar and Turkish raids over the  region. (©Valentin Mandache)

Saxon Transylvania is the largest rural medieval architectural region left in Europe. It has a very embattled history because of it precarious geographical location at the old frontier between Christendom and the Muslim power projected by the Ottoman Empire and their Tatar allies. The term “Saxon” is an umbrella name given to the ethnic German population, originating in what is today the principality of Luxembourg and its adjiacennt areas in France, Germany and Belgium. They settled in Southern and Eastern Transylvania beginning with c12th through royal patents issued by the medieval Hungarian kings. The devastating Tatar and Turkish raids that began after the region was first overrun during the Great Tatar Invasion of Europe that ended in 1242 (initiated by Genghis Khan and his successors), prompted the locals to build strong defences around their towns and villages. Thus, a very peculiar medieval military-civil architecture emerged in the region, with many examples still surviving today. The main fortifications were built around the village church and also the church itself was transformed in an impressive fortified building as point of last resistance. The wall enclosure had also to accommodate the village population, food and their livestock during the Tatar-Turkish raids and thus every village household had its own assigned fortress wall house and grain storage area  as in shown in the photograph above, which I took in June last year inside the citadel of Harman village (Honigsberg in German, Szászhermány in Hungarian).  There are many surviving such examples in Southern Transylvania, which would constitute an excellent restoration/ renovation project for someone with imagination and passion for medieval architecture. Unfortunately there are not many takers of that opportunity and these exceptional buildings are slowly disappearing through neglect, irretrievably damaged by ignorant locals or razed to the ground by rapacious Romanian property developers.


I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.


If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

The NEO-ROMANIAN ARCHITECTURAL STYLE: a brief guide on its origins and features

The neo-Romanian architectural style is one of the most original and strikingly beautiful orders that emerged in Europe during the intensely creative years of late Victorian-era. The Romanians of that period wanted to create a style that would reflect the glories of their medieval past in the transforming architectural landscape of their country, just as the British created decades earlier at a larger scale the better-known Victorian neo-Gothic architectural style.

It represents an interesting blend between eastern Byzantine elements together with local peasant architectural and ethnographic motifs, also particular patterns of Ottoman art and even late Italian Renaissance themes. The style began to be in vogue among the well-to-do Romanians with the first years of the 20th century in pre-WWI Romania, area known as the Old Kingdom, and spread also within Transylvania after the World War One once the province became part of Romania.

A typical neo-Romanian style property looks on lines similar with the following example,

Calea Calarasi, Bucharest
Calea Calarasi, Bucharest

Here one can clearly detect the Byzantine architectural elements (i.e. short arches, thick and short columns, etc.) and the heavy, citadel-like aspect of the building, that all together represents a Romantic architectural metaphor intended by its creators to express the heroic resistance put by Romanians during medieval times as a Christian people against the relentless advance of the Ottoman Empire.

A neo-Romanian style house today is a valuable piece of property and a restoration project would be an extremely interesting and challenging, but rewarding endeavour.

The style reached its zenith during the inter-war period, with an abrupt end after the communist takeover in Romania in 1948. It has somehow been revived during the construction boom of the last decade, but in a minimalist modernist fashion, without the eclectic motifs and grandeur characteristic of the inter-war period.

I assembled here a few images from my postcard and photography collection, which together with short explanations would hopefully help you better appreciate the origins, characteristics, importance and value in artistic and period property market terms of this sophisticated architectural style peculiar to Romania.

Romanians are at their origins a nation of peasant farmers and shepherds. Their dwellings had basic decorations that were mainly ethnographic symbols characteristic to ancient aboriginal European communities that survived in less accessible areas of the continent (for example the Romanian ethnography has many motifs strikingly similar to the Celtic Irish, Pyrenees or Caucasian mountains communities). The house usually served immediate and very practical concerns for a people having to scrap a living in a harsh environment. A typical poor peasant dwelling form the region of the southern plains looked like in the illustration bellow, taken sometime at the end of 19th century.

Ancestral type peasant dwelling
Ancestral type peasant dwelling

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