Segesvár (Sighișoara, Schäsbrich) is a fortified Saxon town in Transylvania, it is in Romania. It is a wonderful Saxon-Hungarian city that is now after the Saxons have gone, rather dominated by Romanian inhabitants.
During the 12th century, German craftsmen and merchants known as the Transylvanian Saxons were invited to Transylvania by the King of Hungary, Géza I (1141 – 1162), to settle and defend the frontier of his realm. You can read more about the German Saxons’ history here:
Although the Mongolian Tatar invasion of 1241-42 also wreaked havoc here, it was populated by newer immigrants shortly after the disaster. By the end of the 13th century, it had become a larger place. It is mentioned in 1280 as “Castrum Sex” – Saxon Castle, which probably meant the Upper Town, which was already surrounded by rudimentary defenses by Saxon citizens.
By 1337 Segesvár had become a royal center for the kings, who awarded the settlement urban status in 1367 as the Civitas de Segusvar. The town’s wall that we can see now, was built in this period. The famous 64-meter-tall Clock Tower was built in the 14th century, too. It was Johann Kirschel (in 1648) who created the famous figures that go around the clock.
During the reign of the Anjou kings, the Saxon population was engaged in trade, handicrafts, and agriculture, accumulating a significant fortune and wealth. However, it was first struck in 1438 when the Turkish army looting in Transylvania ravaged it but it was restored in the 16th century. During the tax reform of King Matthias Hunyadi, Segesvár also joined the uprising of the Transylvanian Voivode Szentgyörgyi János, but after the fall of the movement, the ruler graciously forgave them. (Please, not that I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
The Wallachian Voivode Vlad Dracul lived in exile in the town, he had coins minted in the city (otherwise coinage was the monopoly of the Hungarian kings in the Kingdom of Hungary) and issued the first document listing the city’s Romanian name, Sighișoara. The Romanian name is first attested in 1435, and derives from the Hungarian Segesvár, where “vár” stands for “fort”.
The historically important Union of the Székelys, Hungarians, and Saxons was reinforced in 1506 in the city, they were the so-called “three nations”, the rule of the Transylvanian princes based on this Union in the future. The Wallachians (Romanians) of Transylvania who were mostly of the Orthodox faith, were not part of this Union. At that time, they were not organized and strong enough yet to demonstrate adequate power.
In 1513, Jagiellonian King Ulászló II, to increase the town’s population, rewarded those who moved to the city with a tax exemption for seven years. After the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the kingdom fell into the wars of the Dual Kingship when King Habsburg Ferdinand and King Szapolyai János were fighting for power. Szapolyai used to be the Voivode of Transylvania and three years after his coronation, in 1529, his troops appeared at Segesvár to force the Saxons to pay fealty to him.
The town became Protestant in 1544. In 1562, the leader of the overthrown Székely uprising was executed in the city market, and the Diet made the decision in the town and ruled that the Hungarian Székely commoners should be regarded as serfs, thus depriving them of their privileges.
Segesvár was taken by Voivode Michael in 1600. In August 1601, the Imperial troops of General Basta attacked the Saxon inhabitants of Segesvár, and in December of this year, the men of Prince Báthory Zsigmond captured it with a trick. Unfortunately, his Cossack mercenaries plundered the Hegyi church (it was built in 1350) and took away the silver statues of the 12 Disciplines.
The usurper Székely Mózes was besieging it in 1603 with Turkish-Crimean Tatar soldiers and the town had to open its gates before them. Prince Bocskai István did the same in 1605, this time it was taken without Ottoman aid.
Segesvár was considered an important town so several Transylvanian princes were elected there. Prince Rákóczi György was elected to be a prince here in 1630, just like Rhédey Ferenc in 1657 and Barcsay Ákos in 1658.
Prince Kemény János was siding with the Habsburgs and he besieged Segesvár in 1662 in order to chase away Apafi Mihály, the Ottomans’ choice. However, shortly after this, the army of Kemény János was defeated in the Battle of Nagyszőlős by the troops of Pasha Kücsük. Kemény was slain in the fight.
There was a plague in 1646 and a huge fire burned Segesvár down in 1676. In the inferno, many churches turned into ash, along with 624 houses and 120 farmsteads, including large sections of the town’s fortification.
The city played an important strategic and commercial role at the edges of Central Europe for several centuries. Segesvár became one of the most important cities of Transylvania, with artisans from throughout the Holy Roman Empire visiting the settlement. The German artisans and craftsmen dominated the urban economy, as well as building the fortifications protecting it. It is estimated that during the 16th and 17th centuries Segesvár had as many as 15 guilds and 20 handicraft branches. The Baroque sculptor Elias Nicolai lived in the city.
The city was the setting for Rákóczi György’s election as Prince of Transylvania and King of Hungary in 1631. Segesvár suffered military occupation, fires, and plagues during the 17th and 18th centuries. An important source for the history of 17th-century Transylvania, for the period of 1606-1666, is the records of Georg Kraus, the town’s notary.
The military role of Segesvár ceased to exist in 1706 when it was taken by General Pekri Lőrinc, during the War of Independence of Prince Rákóczi Ferenc. In order to prevent the Saxon burghers to support the Habsburgs in the future, Pekri had most of the town’s fortifications exploded.
Still, this fabulous town is full of medieval wonders: bastions and walls can be seen and you can see a winged altar made in 1523 in the Hegyi church as well as the steep Students’ Stairs that has 172 wooden steps that were built in 1642.
In 2001-2003 the construction of a Dracula theme park in the ‘Breite’ nature preserve near Segesvár was considered but ultimately rejected, owing to the strong opposition of local civil society groups and national and international media as well as politically influential persons, as the theme park would have detracted from the medieval style of the city and would have destroyed the nature preserve. I feel glad about it.
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