If the big city life of Sibiu becomes too much for you then don’t despair, just a short drive down the road is the town of Cisnădie. However, let’s face it, that simply isn’t going to happen, despite Sibiu seeming surprisingly large as you arrive, once you’ve settled in it still has that small town feel that makes Transylvania so appealing. That’s not to say you shouldn’t explore nearby Cisnădie, you definitely should.
A simple 20-minute drive (12km) from Sibiu you’ll find yourself arriving at a small inviting town which at the time of visiting (March) had a quite lively feel and plenty of people going about their business on the streets. And right there, on the side of what feels like the main road sits its main attraction, Cisnădie Fortified Church.
Originally built in the 12th Century, this church was fortified in the 15th Century to protect the local people from the almost continuous Ottoman raids. Fortified churches are a common sight in this part of the world and you’ll no doubt have a chance to see many if you’re staying in Romania for a decent amount of time.
Right on the main road – Cisnădie Fortified Church
We entered the church grounds by a large closed roadside door which thankfully, on this cold Friday morning, was unlocked. After a few minutes of reading the signs while trying to make as much noise as possible, we realised that no one was coming to greet us. Despite knocking on the ticket kiosk door, showing ourselves around the small communism museum and trying the locked gate to the fortified area we still found ourselves alone.
Not until we went up some stairs to what looked like a restricted area and someone’s home did we manage to find someone. After ringing the bell we were quickly shooed away back downstairs before a very irritated looking older gentlemen appeared a minute later, reluctantly greeting us in German. With a lot of grunting, he opened the ticket kiosk, took our money and in returned handed us a small paper ticket. Fiddling his way through a large set of keys, we were led through the main gate.
Entrance to the church and its protective wall.
Inside we were walked to churches main entrance, another large key opened the door and our excellent host quickly shuffled off back to the other side of the wall without a word. While the church and its fortifications were interesting, we found ourselves at a loss after 15 minutes, we’d read good things about climbing the church tower and were keen to do so, however, the only steps were marked with a very clear no entry sign. Had we timed our visit poorly and the tower was closed?
By now a few more visitors had arrived at the church, something I’m sure our friend with the keys blamed us for, and we were ready to move on. On the off chance, we decided to quickly ask about the tower on our way out. With another expression of pure annoyance, we received a brief nod as he once again began sorting through his large bunch of keys. A slow walk back into the church grounds was followed by the opening of another smaller door, then once again he was gone without a word.
View over Cisnădie.
After a few minutes climbing some creaking steps, some new steps and some ‘should be replaced’ steps we were greeted by the church bells and a view over Cisnădie. Being close to noon, we decided to take our time admiring the bells and wait for the hammers to strike, while admittedly being a little unsure whether it would be the last thing we’d ever hear, how loud are church bells?
Hearing intact, we enjoyed the humming of the large bells long after the ringing had stopped while looking over the town and the snow covered hills in the distance. Climbing another level higher we gained an even better view, before a step coming dislodged as we attempted to climb the final ladder convinced us we’d gone high enough.
The church bells.
We probably spent a good 30 minutes in the tower and during that time only one other couple made the climb. Given the impressive church bells and fine views, it’s crazy to think that we almost didn’t see it. I wonder how many other people who visit the church are not shown that extra door leading up there, it should be the first thing on any visitors list and I can’t understand why it wasn’t opened when we first arrived. Perhaps someone has been working at this particular church a little too long?
Even with the less than welcoming attendant this fortified church is well worth a visit, just make sure you get to climb the tower as it really is the highlight of a visit to Cisnădie. You can also combine this with a visit to Cetatea Cisnadioara which is just a little further down the same road.