Berethalom (Biertan, Birthälm) is a Saxon fortified church in Transylvania, now Romania. It is located on a hill that is higher than 388 meters.
“Bert” stands for a German name and “holm” might come from the German or Hungarian word for “pile”, in Hungarian, it is “halom”. The place was inhabited by Saxons even before the Tatar invasion of 1241.
There were about 50 houses around it before 1300. (Note: a “house” was the name used for the building of an extended family, the contemporary tax collectors were collecting taxes after “houses”.)
It was first mentioned as an “oppidum” in 1397 but it is a “civitas” in 1418. The settlement had its own court that had been in authority until 1883. The heydays of the settlement were in the first part of the 16th century. It was an agricultural town and in 1500 it had 230 inhabitants. There were 345 families in 1532. There were seven kinds of guilds in it at that time.
Between 1387 and 1518 there were 44 students from Berethalom who visited schools abroad. The place belonged to the administrative district of Kétszék until 1553. Then, its judicial privilege was reinforced and received further rights.
The heydays of the small town took place in the 16th century, it was almost as rich as the local center of Kétszék district, the agricultural town of Medgyes. Indeed, more people lived there in the 1500s as Berethalom paid taxes after more houses than Medgyes. Its school was first mentioned in 1532. Altogether, we know about 44 students from Berethalom between 1387-1518 who had the chance of attending a foreign university, mainly in Vienna.
As for the importance of the settlement, even a Diet was held there in 1540.
It became the center of the Saxon Evangelic church in 1572 and all Evangelic bishops of Transylvania came from Berethalom for 300 years. Both Prince György I Rákóczi and Prince György II Rákóczi have visited it, too.
Prince Bethlen Gábor received the Voivodes of Wallachia and Moldova in Berethalom in 1626.
In the 17th century, there was a great epidemic and half of its people died.
The fortified church was taken in 1704 by the “kuruc” rebels and four towers were damaged at that time and some precious parts of the interior, too. The army of Forgách Ferenc (16,000 kuruc soldiers) had been staying in its area for six weeks in 1705. There were only ten houses standing in normal conditions in 1741 while there were 346 “barren” estates and 104 ruined houses.
Today, it is protected by UNESCO and part of the World Heritage.
Many thanks to the people who had taken the pictures below, mostly I owe thanks to www.varak.hu as always: