Fortified Churches in Transylvania

Prázsmár (Tartlau, Prejmer)
On my page, I am trying to describe a few of these magnificent and charming structures, so far you can find 32 of them under the menu of “Castles in Transylvania”. I would like to describe all of them on my page in the English language to make the world aware of their value.
Kelnek (Calnic) Photo: Levente Nuber
There are three categories: there are a few lucky ones, those which are listed by UNESCO and nicely renovated. Secondly, there are the hiding beauties that are still standing. There are about 200 of them, they are not much known. Finally, there are the unlucky ones, the ones that have collapsed recently due to human neglect. More will collapse if we do not make the world aware of this unique cultural heritage of German Saxons and Hungarians that is now part of Romania’s cultural heritage as well.
Fortified churches in Transylvania, source:

Let me say a few words about fortified churches in general:

The Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania served as very good natural borders but they also separated the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic world. In Europe, there are many such churches but the greatest number of fortified churches can be found in Transylvania. The German Saxons built about 300 of them after the 12th century.
The Hungarian Székelys also built fortified churches, they learned it from their Saxon neighbors. Their task was to defend the Southern and Eastern borders of the Hungarian Kingdom. You can read more about the German Saxons of Transylvania here:
These fortifications were very useful because the pressure from the Ottoman Empire and Wallachia was strong and later many Crimean Tatars and Cossacks raided Transylvania, too. 
A fortified church is more than a church surrounded by a wall. There are three kinds of fortified churches in the Carpathian Basin, mainly in Transylvania but we can find several of them in the northern part of Hungary:
1. In the first category, the churches were surrounded by thick castle walls with corner bastions where the inhabitants of the village or town could take shelter. They had proper storage places in the walls and in the bastions to store their food and animals, not only in case of war. During peaceful times, the peasants were allowed to enter and refresh their supplies every second week.
Mese (Mesendorf)
2. The second class of fortified churches had just a protective wall and a tower and/or a strong bastion at the gate.
3. The third kind of group was just a church where mainly the tower was reinforced. Inside the church, ramparts were going around, and loopholes were cut in the wall.
Guraszáda (Photo: Imre Lánczi)
There are more than 150 fortified churches in Transylvania, and only a few of them are in mint condition. After the Exodus of the German Saxons, only some old people visited these churches or nobody.
It is just a question of time that the traces of German Saxons disappear from Transylvania unless somebody finally takes the responsibility of preserving these unique buildings. As for the Székely fortified churches, there are still around one million Hungarian Székelys who can cherish the built heritage. Here is more about the Hungarian Székely community:
Here, we must remark the help of Prince Charles of Wales, the funds from the Romanian and Hungarian states, as well as the money coming from Germany and the European Union, are very promising. As for Prince Charles, every year he visits his estate in Transylvania because he is related to the Hungarian Rhédey family. Despite their efforts, we are quite late, and not much time seems to have been left to complete the preservation. 

I have talked about the few lucky restored fortified churches and I mentioned some examples of the hiding ones that are less known by people. Now, let us see a few unlucky ones that have suffered sorrowful damage during the past years. When there isn’t a supporting community, the built heritage will perish. Due to the Exodus of the Saxon people in the 20th century, these wonderful 800-year-old buildings cannot be sustained by the remaining old people alone.

Inside Doborka before 2017 (Photo: Ferenczi Z. Samuel)

For example, there were 50 elderly German Saxons living in Doborka (Dobârca, Dobring) in 2011. Its church was built in the 13th century, and it was fortified in the Gothic style. The building was destroyed twice by the Turks in 1479, and it was also destroyed in 1599 by the troops of Voivode Mihai Viteazul. It burned down also in 1658 when Transylvania was punished by the Crimean Tatars. Now, only two towers out of the four are left. It was still looking intact in 2006 but in 2012, all the benches were broken already. In the empty church, cows and horses were kept until 2017.

Alcina (Photo: Imre Lánczi)

Alcina (Alzen, Comuna Alțâna) is the next one, there were 69 Saxons living in 2002. The settlement was first mentioned in 1291, and we know that it suffered because of the Turks in 1493 but the biggest damage was done in 2020 when the ceiling collapsed.

Alcina (Photo: Rosemarie Müller)

Szászveresmart ( Rotbav, Rothbach) is the next fortified church to speak of, it was first mentioned as Werizmorth in 1337. It was damaged in 1599 and 1600 by fire, and the troops of General Basta ruined it in 1603, led by Rácz György, it was attacked in 1611 by the soldiers of Radu Serban, too. Yet, they could not wipe it off the surface of the Earth. Sadly, it collapsed due to human neglect in 2016.

Szászveresmart (Photo: Zsolt Deák)
Szászveresmart now

The fortified church of Rádos (Roadeș, Radenthal) was built in the 15th century, its bell tower and a large section of the wall fell in 2016 but miraculously enough, the roof survived the tragic event.


Magyargyerőmonostor ( Mănăstireni, Ungarisch Klosterdorf/Deutsch Klosterdorf) was mentioned first in 1332, it is among those fortified churches that are on the fringe of collapse. In 2017, there was a storm that damaged the pine trees around it so the trees had to be cut off. Unfortunately, the wall has been weakened so much that it can fall every minute.

Magyargyerőmonostor Photo: Lovas Andrea

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