Surrounded by wonderful landscapes and a bucolic countryside, the city is a magnet for visitors from all over the world who come to walk on its cobbled streets, admire its colourful buildings and Baroque squares, and discover the traditional architecture in the ASTRA Folk Museum. However, Sibiu is not only defined by what you see today but also by its captivating history. Here are some interesting facts about the city’s old days.
Transylvania is a multicultural region where Romanians, Hungarians and German settlers, called Saxons, lived together for centuries. The Saxons, invited by the Hungarian kings to settle in Transylvania in the 12th and 13th centuries, to protect the southern border of that time’s kingdom, erected seven citadels and around 300 fortified churches scattered in the Transylvanian villages. Sibiu or Hermannstadt, how it was called in those times, was one of the citadels that gave Transylvania its German name, Siebenburger (the seven citadels). Strong walls and monumental towers were built to protect the city face from foreign invaders and some can be seen even today.
In medieval and modern times, Sibiu has flourished as a trade centre thanks to its talented craftsmen. The first guild was attested in 1367 and it was Tanner’s guild. But the guilds didn’t only have the role of manufacturing products, they were also protecting the city. Each guild developed its activity in one of the citadel’s towers, which is why each tower bore the name of a guild. In times of war, the guild’s members had to protect the citadel from the invaders. Today, there a few towers still standing, like the Harquebusier’s Tower, the Carpenter’s Tower and the Potter’s Tower. Nonetheless, in the villages around Sibiu, craftsmanship is kept alive by the locals: wood, leather, glass and vegetal fibres processing, as well as painting and ceramics are still practised.
In 1494, the first pharmacy on Romania’s territory was opened in Sibiu. While in the centuries that followed, other pharmacies were opened or moved from one building to another, there is one that travellers can visit today. In the house where the third pharmacy of Sibiu was opened in 1600, today lies the Pharmacy Museum. The 6,600 pieces of the museum reveal more than three centuries of evolution of pharmaceutical techniques and remedies. The museum is divided between an Oficina and a laboratory, while a third room exhibits medical kits and includes a homeopathy sector.
The first typography of Transylvania was opened in Sibiu in 1525. A few years later, in 1530, the first book printed in German was released, Treaty about the Plague. But for the Romanian’s history, there’s another very important historical event that took place in Sibiu: the first book in the Romanian language was printed in 1544. Called The Lutheran Catechism, the book was printed by Filip Moldoveanul and written with Cyrillic letters.
At the end of the 17th-century, when the Habsburgs defeated the Ottomans and created the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Transylvania became a great principality and part of the Empire. The capital was in Sibiu and, starting with 1688, the Military Commander of Transylvania had its headquarters in the city until 1918. From 1692 to 1791 and from 1850 to 1867, Sibiu was also the centre of Transylvania’s governor. One of the most illustrious personalities is the baron Samuel von Brukenthal, who left a valuable heritage to the city.
The Brukenthal National Museum housed in the palace built for the Baron Samuel von Brukenthal, was the first museum opened on today’s territory of Romania. The building, erected in a fabulous Baroque style, used to be the residence of Transylvania’s governor. Passionate by art, books and numismatics, the nobleman gathered an impressive collection of art objects that are displayed in the museum, founded in 1790 by the governor himself and opened in 1817 to the public. Today, the museum displays different art forms from the European space, including a very rich collection of Transylvanian art.
Resembling a carriage, the omnibus was introduced in Sibiu in 1904. Brought from Budapest, the ancestor of the trolleybus had wooden wheels but an electric motor. Sibiu is the first city in the country where such transport was used. Unfortunately, being very unstable and provoking several accidents, the transport was removed from circulation after being used several months.
Starting with 1496, for a period of over 300 years, the Evangelical Church served as a resting place for the city’s mayors, nobles or other personalities. In 1796 the burials in the church were forbidden and the only exception was the one of Samuel von Brukenthal, which was buried in the crypt next to the pulpit. In 1853, 67 funerary stones were exposed in the church, forming a unique gallery.
Near Sibiu, in Dumbrava Sibiului, lays the ASTRA Museum of Folk Civilisation, the second biggest open-air museum in the world. Spread over 96 acres, the museum showcases 300 houses and buildings like watermills, windmills, gigantic presses of wine, fruits and oil, representing the traditional architectural styles of Romania and the country’s technological legacy.
In 2007, Sibiu shared the European Capital of Culture title with Luxembourg. While Romania became part of the European Union in the same year, the city won the title in 2004, becoming the first city not part of a European Union country, to have triumphed. Under the slogan ‘A city of culture. A city of cultures’, Sibiu showed its multiculturality and effervescent artistic scene through more than 2,000 events organized all-year long.