A great day trip from Braşov is visiting the fortified churches in Harman and Prejmer, towns that still retain their Saxon roots. We visited these churches as we left Braşov before heading to Sighişoara. The easiest way to visit these towns is by rental car, but it’s also possible by train or bus. Hărman is not open Monday and Prejmer is not open Sunday, so if you want to do both, you’ll need to visit Tuesday—Saturday. For a map of sites visited in Romania click here.
Fortified churches are a unique feature of Transylvania, and there are 280 in Transylvania. Each one has its own different style, but common features include high surrounding walls (sometimes several concentric rings) usually with towers, a church in the center of the fortifications, often with its own tower, and rooms for provisions in case of attack and sometimes boarding rooms for the villagers inside the walls—these fortifications often look like a combination of a castle and church. A whole trip could be spent just visiting these wonderful sights, and maps are available that show driving tours of these churches, which are often in little villages. The two listed here are close to Braşov and close together. Their purpose during medieval times was to provide safety to the villagers in times of attack, often from the Ottomans as they sought to expand their empire westward.
The church at Hărman dates back to 1240, the belfry tower was added in the 14thcentury, and the walls were constructed in the 15th century.
In addition to the church, the fortifications retain part of the interior living and storage rooms along the walls, giving a feel to what the internal fortifications looked like.
You can visit some of the rooms and dark walkway around the wall which haven’t changed much from their original state. In the church, women would sit in the center pews and the men on the side pews, in case of attack the women would be in the center protected by the men surrounding them.
It would have been quite a life to constantly worry about your village being attacked by the Ottomans. The walls originally had a moat around them, and part of it is still visible.
The caretakers of this church are German, descendants of the Saxons who settled this town. The entry fee was 4 lei per person (about $3.25).
The village of Prejmer is more rustic than Hărman, with dirt roads in some parts of the village.
The fortified church has very high walls (12-14 meters high), and given its size, it’s difficult to appreciate from the outside.
Prejmer was the most powerful peasant fortress in Transylvania. The main entrance feels like a step back in time, just like walking into a medieval village. This fortification also had a moat, which has since been filled in.
Beyond the initial entrance, there is another entrance into the interior courtyard where the church is located and surrounded by little rooms (272 of them) on four levels attached to the defensive circular walls.
These rooms are well-preserved, and from the courtyard the ring of rooms almost looks like a hotel, with numbers on each door. Each room was assigned to a village family. Many of the rooms are open, and they also provide access to a dark walkway running the length of the walls at the top, where guards and lookouts could be posted.
Some rooms were also dedicated to specific purposes–such as a school, for storage, weaving, etc. The entry fee was 8 lei per person.
As with many sites we visited in Romania, we pretty much had these places to ourselves.
References: Lonely Planet – Romania & Information at the sites.