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The History of Sighisoara
[dropcap style="one" color="blue" text="A" /]s it is known, the Dacians are conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century AD. In 271 the Aurelian retreat takes place, leaving the territory for different migrating tribes, among them the Hungarians who later will have in important influence over Transylvania. The Hungarians, a Finish-Ugric nation, migrated toward west from middle Asia somewhere around the 1st century AD to reach Pannonia at the end of the 9thcentury.
Gradually, the Magyars manage to conquer the territory of Transylvania, after 1200 passing even beyond the Carpathians’ ridges. Just the Tartar invasion since 1241 stopped temporary the expansionist tendency of the Hungarian kingdom. Initially the Szeklers, eastern warriors, probably old allies of the Magyars, were sent to colonize the eastern borders of Transylvania and to protect the borders of the region against the incursions of the migrating tribes. Due to the vast area they had conquered, the Hungarian kings will colonize the territory with populations outside of the kingdom.
The Hungarian kings prepared Transylvania’s colonization because they wanted to count on a loyal population who would set up urban and industrial centers which would generate new incomings. In this way the local Romanian population is quickly enclosed by the new incomers.
Not many details can be given about the colonization because most of the documents related to this process were destroyed by the Tartar invasion since 1241. The fact that the first Germans came during the reign of Gesa II (1141-1162) is indubitable. Other Germans came during the reigns of Bela III and Andrew II (1205-1235), their privileges being reaffirmed each time. It is believed that the origins of the colonists would have being in Flandra or a region close to the North Sea. Others would have been originated around the middle region of Rhine River and especially from Luxemburg. Last group who arrived in Transylvania located itself in the north-eastern part of the province, around the area of the mines from Rodna and Bistrita.
The new incomers, named by the documents of the time as king’s guest (hospites regis), have been settled in a compact area of 150km long and 40km wide, between Orastie (west) and Drauseni (east) and between Tarnava Mare River (north) and Olt River (south). The Germans started to build new towns, having a large freedom mentioned by the “Golden Diploma”.
Initially, the colonized province was formed by “Seven Seats”, Sighisoara appearing as a Seat starting with 1137.
The Saxon Comitatus, initially a high nobleman of Magyar origins who was living most of his time at the court from Buda, was the province’s leader representing king’s interests. Each and every Seat of the province was under the authority of a royal judge, representing king’s interests, of a local judge and mayor.
The Seat of Sighisoara is part of the second German colonization wave and consists of 3 stages:
- Superior Seat: 1200-1224 with its center at Saschiz.
- Middle Seat: 1241-1264 with localities on the Valley of Saes, Sighisoara being among them.
- Lower Seat: western colonization.
At the beginning, Saschiz was the capital of the Seat but later, in the 13th century, the capital was moved to Sighisoara, becoming the new administrative and judicial center.
According to the Saxons, the foundation of Sighisoara took place before 1200, even though it is not documentary certified. One of the citadel’s scriveners was writing in the 13th that the year of 1191 would represent the moment of the town’s foundation while other chroniclers mentioned the year of 1198. All these affirmations are apocryphal because the area of Sighisoara had being already colonized by the Szeklers around 1100. The Germans appeared after the Tartar’s invasions since 1241, establishing themselves at the base of the hill where they have found a fortress of the Szeklers.
The Etymology of Sighisoara
[dropcap style="one" color="blue" text="T" /]here are more speculations regarding the citadel name’s origins but two of them are more important. The assumption of the Magyar origin claims that “seg” means hill or knob, while “var” means citadel, reaching in this way the Hungarian name of Segesvar. The German origin would explain both German name, as well the Hungarian one. Segesvar and Schespurch(later Schasburg) would originate in the German roots “Segg” and “Sech” which mean swamps. Therefore, the name of the locality can be translated as “citadel among swamps”, which is perfectly understandable if we take in consideration the geography of this place back then. The Romanian name of Sighisoara has its roots in the Hungarian name’s origins.
[dropcap style="one" color="blue" text="I" /]t is believed that the Szeklers built a fortress on the citadel’s hill. Unfortunately, the constructions made on the top of the hill have destroyed the archeological evidences. In the first part of the 13thcentury, right after the Szeklers had been moved, the Germans colonized this region. It is presumed the citadel’s center would have been at the base of the covered staircase.
The first documentary attestation of the locality dates back as far as 1298 when Pope Boniface the VIIIth mentions the Dominican monastery of Sighisoara. In this time the locality was already having an urban appearance. In 1337 Sighisoara becomes the capital of the Seat and an important economical center. In the same time the defensive system is finished. The end of the 14th century marks the importance of the town among the Saxon towns, being under the authority of a Council or Magistrate run by a Mayor, all these structures being elected by the free German citizens.
The 14th – 16th Centuries
[dropcap style="one" color="blue" text="I" /]n this period of time, Hungary becomes one of the most important actors on the stage of Europe, reaching the pinnacle of its power. The Hungarian Kingdom, as the main south-eastern power will be involved for almost 200 years in a long fight against the Ottoman Empire. This fight will end tragically for Magyars. The 15thcentury will bring for Transylvania a series of general destructions caused by the Turks incursions. This will generate a decline of the social and economical life in south-eastern Transylvania, half of the German inhabitants disappearing.
In the end, in 1526 the Magyars will lose at Mohacs the fight against the Ottomans. After the death of King Louis II, killed on the battlefield of Mohacs, two aspirants for the empty throne will fight each other. The first one, supported by the Magyars, was John Zapolya, while the second one, supported by the Austrians, was Ferdinand I. In the end, in 1538, after 12 years of civil war, John Zapolya, by the help of armies and supported by the ruler of Moldavia will win the throne of Hungary. The Saxon towns, which cooperated with the Austrians during the civil war, were besieged. Sighisoara was among them, in 1528 succeeding to beat back the attack of Voievod Stefan Bathory sent by Zapolya, although it suffered due to the fires set at the outskirts of the citadel. In 1530, the citadel will recognize the authority of Zapolya, the last one reaffirming the Saxon’s privileges according to which no other citizen beside the Germans was not allowed to own properties on the area of Sighisoara Seat.
In 1541 the Ottomans transformed Hungary in Turkish territory while Transylvania becomes an autonomous principality under the Turkish suzerainty.
[dropcap style="one" color="blue" text="A" /]lthough the Germans at the beginning of Transylvania’s colonization were Catholic believers, later they have changed their religious believes.
At the beginning of the 16th century Martin Luther enounces his ideas regarding the new religion, much more simplified, with a lower function of the church and based mainly on the personal studying of Bible. These ideas have been quickly embraced by the locals of Transylvania, being brought here by the Saxon students on their return from Germany after the educational years. This movement happened especially after 1526 when Hungary couldn’t support the official church of Transylvania and when the Germans from this region realized the benefits of an independent church from the one of Rome. Honterus is the one who put the bases of Lutheranism in Transylvania, publishing in 1543 “The Small Book of Reformation”. Starting with 1550 the Reformation will be proclaimed compulsory all over the Seat of Sighisoara, the Evangelical Church of Transylvania being founded in the same time. Starting with 1550 the wealth of Dominican Church are passed in the property of the town, the church of the monastery becoming the main Lutheran Church.
As a result of the reformation, the religious landscape of Transylvania is modified greatly, 4 religions being recognize know: Catholic religion and other 3 reformed religions – Lutheran, Calvin, Unitarian. The Orthodox religion continues to be just tolerated.
The 16th and 17th centuries
[dropcap style="one" color="blue" text="D" /]uring the Ottoman control the Germans from Transylvania had in general a pro Austrian policy. In the same time starts the long fight of the Germans in order to defend their old rights. Starting with Stephan Bathory, the princes of Transylvania will try to restrict the Saxons’ rights.
During the reign of Michael the Brave, the people of Sighisoara supported his policy and they have been even glad when Michael conquered Moldavia. Later, due to his fiscal policy the Saxons withdrew their support for Michael who in the end is killed at Turda. Unfortunately, a disaster came upon Sighisoara which was under the control of the Szeklers and Cossacks since December 1601 till July 1602. The damages were very important, the conquerors leaving only when they had nothing to steal.
If the first part of the 17th century was marked by the fight between the Austrians and Turks to impose their prince of Transylvania, the rest of the century was marked by the Ottoman control of Transylvania. Finally, the last Turkish domination over Sighisoara will end in 1663.
The second part of the 17th century was marked by two events: the revolt of Saschiz and the great fire since 1676.
The inhabitants of Saschiz, unhappy for being lowered at the merchant status and by the fiscal policy imposed by the Seat, started a revolt in 1673 and refused to recognize the authority of Sighisoara. In the end they are defeated in 1678. From that moment Saschiz was under a complete subordination to Sighisoara.
On April 30th, 1676 a fire started in the lower town, burning down a wooden house with a roof made of hays. This big fire expanded quickly, reaching the citadel in the end. During the fire, according to the documents, 20 people lost their lives, the whole citadel being destroyed. The fire was inflamed by gun powder stored in the watching towers. In total, 7 watching towers, the Clock Tower being among them, all the grain provisions and all the houses burned, not even a small piece of roof resisting against the fire. Among the few buildings that resisted against fire were the Church on the Hill, the schools, the Town Hall and 5 towers of the butchers, rope makers, goldsmiths, tinsmiths and barbers. In total 624 houses were affected by the fire.
After the fire, the inhabitants of Sighisoara hoped they will receive aids and tax remissions but in exchange of these they have received just promises. Though they have tried to leave from the town, even this thing was forbidden for them by Prince Apafi.
The year of 1683 represents a great change in the life of Europe. After the siege of Vienna, the Ottoman Empire lost important territories in favor of Austria which in 1687 conquers Hungary, ending the Turkish control of Buda. Leopold Diploma since 1691 recognize the old arrangements from Transylvania which were maintaining the three privileged nations, the Romanians continuing to be excluded from the administrative life of the principality. The Orthodox religion was just tolerated.
Raising the fiscal policy led to a war which broke out in Hungary and later in Transylvania. The largest part of the Saxons stayed on the Austrian side, this policy attracting the attack of many German towns from Transylvania, Sighisoara being besieged twice. In 1706, the Kuruts, Hungarian rebels against the Habsburgs and their policy, caused important damages of the citadel by destroying a bastion and a large part of the wall which was linking the Goldsmiths Tower to the Rope makers Tower. From this moment Sighisoara lost its strategic importance.
The 18th – 19th centuries
[dropcap style="one" color="blue" text="S" /]tarting with the 18thcentury, Transylvania enters a stage of great reforms. The Austrians found that here the medieval institutions are still very powerful and initiated a series of reforms. The first one who took a decision of this kind was Maria Theresa who dissolves Transylvanian Assembly in 1762, the province being under the authority of a governor, baron von Brukenthal (1777-1787) being the first one.
The reforms will be applied even more during the reign of Emperor Joseph II (1780-1790). The administrative territory was reorganized by dividing it into 10 committees, the free population of these regions becoming equal in rights. In this way the system of the old nations is nullified. But the Saxons received the toughest loss because of an edict adopted in 1781 which was stipulating the eliminations of the whole Saxon privileges reaffirmed during the centuries.
In 1783 the emperor abolished the serfdom. This aspect will irritate the noblemen who will be completely against this reform. Due to this a peasant revolt broke out in Transylvania. Led by Horea, Closca and Crisan, this revolt will be defeated.
In the end, an emperor in bad health will find himself constrained to nullify a large part of his reforms, the edict since 1781 being among them. After the emperor’s death the Magyars will introduce the Hungarian language as an official language of Transylvania, although the Romanians were representing 63.5% of the total population.
Regarding the town of Sighisoara, the 18th century represented a period of economical decline generated by the wars of the last century and by the billeting of the Austrian army which was claiming a series of gifts from the locals. On the religious plan, the new Catholic administration will start the counterreformation by asking the retrocession of the fromer Catholic churches.
The 19th century is known especially due to the 1848 revolution. The Magyars wanted to annex Transylvania to Hungarian territory, realizing in this way the Great Hungary. In this way the Transylvanian society is divided in two parts, on one side are the nobles and Szeklers, while on the other side are the Saxons and Romanians, allies of the Austrian Emperor. In the end the Magyar revolution is defeated by the help of Russia, the Principality of Transylvania being founded again while the serfdom is abolished in 1850. The right of the Romanians of being equal with the Saxons was recognized since 1848 while the Romanian language, along the German and Hungarian, was used in the civil administration since 1865.
Unfortunately, this status won’t last long because Austria suffers important defeats in the war against Prussia and is forced to offer important privileges to the Hungarians. Since 1867 Hungary will have the suzerainty right over Transylvania and will abolish all the reformed laws regarding the Romanian society. In the same time, the Saxon autonomy will be abolished, the Saxon seats being replaced by committees. Sighisoara becomes the capital of Tarnava Mare committee. The new founded institution needed an imposing headquarter. In order to make room for the new Palace of the Committee, buildings of the Dominican monastery and Coopers’ Tower were demolished. In the same period of time it is decided that the old fortifications are no longer helpful, therefore a part of them are demolished, the lower town remaining in this way without gates and watching towers. In the citadel, a series of towers are demolished while the gate grates are removed. The citadel had been paved before 1867when starts to be illuminated during the nights with petrol lamps.
The road which links Sighisoara to Brasov was built between 1850 and 1860, later this road being transited by a stagecoach in 12 hours.
Among other achievements of this time are the first newspaper (1869) and the first printing press in Sighisoara (1864). It is to be mentioned a colonial shop which was the first company from Transylvania with fixed prices. At the end of the 19th century, Sighisoara had two hotels: Stern Hotel and Frank Hotel.
Since 1873 Sighisoara is linked to the rest of Europe through Brasov-Arad railway. Through this railway the Saxon world will be changed radically, marking the end of the medieval life. The houses become wider, the people are taking in consideration much more their aspect, western cloths are replacing the old ones, the custom of coffee appears and so on.
In 1866 Sighisoara was recording 8354 inhabitants, 5077 of them or Germans, 2299 Romanians and 872 Hungarians.
The 20th century
[dropcap style="one" color="blue" text="T" /]he end of the WWI makes possible the unification of Transylvania with Romania, the Saxons declaring their adherence to this unification. In the inter-war period Sighisoara will continue its economical development, the Germans maintaining their monopoly in this field. However, after 1918 the Romanians will notice an improvement of their economical and culture life, the year of 1936 bringing the first Romanian mayor of Sighisoara.
Unfortunately, the very long history of the Germans from Transylvania is shooked dramatically in 1945 when about 70 000 Germans are deported to Siberia by the order received from Moscow. Sighisoara was also affected when during “The Black Sunday” of January 14th, 1945 a number of 464 Saxons was taken far away from Sighisoara. A last wish of them was to listen for the last time the bell’s sound of the Church on the Hill.
During the communist period, the most important part of the Germans emigrated in the original country of the 12th century colonists. The last census made after the revolution of 1989 recorded only about 600 inhabitants of German origins.
At the commencement of the 21st century Sighisoara is an important tourist destination of Romania, captivating a large number of visitors through its legends, cobblestone streets, medieval houses or through the famous medieval festival held annually.