Berethalom (Biertan, Birthälm) is a Saxon fortified church in Transylvania, 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 Mongolian 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, and there were seven kinds of guilds in it at that time.
Between 1387 and 1518 44 students from Berethalom visited schools abroad, mostly in Vienna. The place belonged to the administrative district of Kétszék until 1553. Then, its judicial privilege was reinforced and received further rights. You can read more about the German Saxons of Transylvania on my page:
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 (Medias). Indeed, more people lived there in the 1500s as Berethalom paid taxes after more houses than in the city of Medgyes. Its school was first mentioned in 1532. As for the importance of the settlement, even a Diet was held there in 1540. It soon became the center of the Saxon Evangelic church in 1572 and all Evangelic bishops of Transylvania came from Berethalom for 300 years. Both Prince Rákóczi I György and Prince Rákóczi II György have visited it, too. As for Prince Bethlen Gábor, he received the Voivodes of Wallachia and Moldova in Berethalom in 1626.
In the 17th century, there was a great epidemic when half of its people died. The fortified church was taken in 1704 by the “Kuruc” rebels and four towers were damaged at that time along with some precious parts of the interior. The army of Forgách Ferenc (16,000 Kuruc soldiers) had been staying in its area for six weeks in 1705. Only ten houses were 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 World Heritage.
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