A Brief History Of Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Transylvania, Romania

Sibiu (or Hermannstadt as it is known in standard German/Hochdeutsch as well as Härmeschtat or Hermestatt in the Transylvanian Saxon dialect) has been and is one of the most important historical towns in Transylvania and in Romania in general, a noteworthy urban centre in cultural, historical, and ecclesiastical/religious regards for both the Transylvanian Romanians and the Transylvanian Saxons (who are not actually Saxons per se but more of a mixture of Luxembourgers, Flemings, Walloons, and Germans from the Rhineland-Moselle river valley who initially settled southern, south-eastern, and north-eastern Transylvania beginning in the 12th century or throughout the High Middle Ages if you will; therefore one could better refer to them as Transylvanian Luxembourgers instead, pun intended here, naturally) the eldest historical German-speaking minority in Romania, who were colonised starting in the time of King Géza II of Hungary in the mid 12th century.

The German name of the town literally means Hermann’s town and has evolved from Hermannsdorf, i.e. Hermann’s village. Legend has it that it was naturally founded by a certain Hermann, quite possibly a shoemaker, though there are competing theories/legends with more than one Hermann. Alongside the neighbouring medieval town of Mediaș/Mediasch situated in the north of Sibiu County (Județul Sibiu/Kreis Hermannstadt), Sibiu/Hermannstadt is one of the two most important historical Transylvanian Saxon cities you should definitely visit in Transylvania!

The Council Tower of Sibiu/Hermannstadt (Hermannstädter Ratsturm as it is known in standard German/Hochdeutsch as well as Turnul Sfatului as it is known in Romanian) which is part of the medieval fortifications of the town and of the town centre. Image source: www.pixabay.com

When the first wave of Transylvanian Saxon settlers arrived on the territory of what would later become the medieval fortified town of Sibiu/Hermannstadt between the 1140s and 1150s, they stumbled upon a marshland, as it was later on emblematised on the coat of arms of both the town and county of Sibiu/Hermannstadt with lotus flowers. After these Western European predominantly German-speaking colonists arrived and settled in the region of Sibiu/Hermannstadt as well as in other parts of Transylvania, they started building fortified settlements, both rural and urban ones so as to defend the then borders of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary against Asian foreign invaders such as Cumans, Pechenegs, or Tatars (as well as later on the Ottoman Turks).

Picturesque buildings in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, Transylvania, central Romania. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

Regarding its tremendous cultural, religious, administrative, and economic importance for the Transylvanian Saxons, it can be said that Sibiu/Hermannstadt has been the most important medieval fortified urban settlement of the Saxons in Transylvania since the High Middle Ages onwards given the fact that all other Saxon seats (sedes in Latin or stühlen in standard German/Hochdeutsch) were coordinated or under the higher administration of the main Saxon seat (or high seat) in Sibiu/Hermannstadt (known in standard German/Hochdeutsch as Hermannstädter Hauptstuhl).

Medieval fortifications in Sibiu/Hermannstadt. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

During the Late Middle Ages and Modern Age, Sibiu/Hermannstadt was a wealthy and important commercial hub both within Transylvania and with the neighbouring Romanian principality of Wallachia with which it frequently traded.

Sibiu/Hermannstadt during the 18th century. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

In addition, Sibiu/Hermannstadt was also the seat of the Transylvanian Saxon University (which was not a university per se but rather an administrative/legal body of the Transylvanian Saxons) starting in 1821 when the its seat was moved to the Hecht house situated in the historical centre of the town. The town centre of Sibiu/Hermannstadt is a picturesque well-preserved medieval one, with strong and durable fortifications such as keeps and walls (e.g. Turnul Scărilor/Sagturm/Stairs’ Tower, Potters’ Tower, The Gate Tower, or The Council Tower, the latter being, perhaps, the most iconic and well known of its kind).

The Small Plaza in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, with the Council Tower in the background. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Until 1918, along with the rest of Transylvania, the town of Sibiu/Hermannstadt belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary and was inhabited by a majority of ethnic Germans (i.e. Transylvanian Saxons). After 1918, along with the rest of Transylvania, the town of Sibiu/Hermannstadt became part of the Kingdom of Romania, the unification of Transylvania with the Kingdom of Romania being supported by the Transylvanian Saxons as well.

During the dark, harsh and authoritarian times of communism, many Transylvanian Saxons either fled to West Germany (officially the Federal Republic of Germany, known in standard German/Hochdeutsch as Bundesrepublik Deutschland) or were literally bought by the West German government against a certain sum of German marks. Unfortunately, this immigration trend continued and even intensified after the Romanian Revolution in December 1989, the Fall of Iron Curtain, and throughout the 1990s respectively.

Fast forward during the 21st century, the town of Sibiu/Hermannstadt reached the status of European Capital of Culture (Kulturhauptstadt Europas/Capitală culturală europeană) in 2007 alongside Luxembourg City, the capital of Luxembourg (which achieved this particular status twice and the second time back then, the first time being in 1995). In 2019, the town became a European gastronomic region.

The picturesque Christmas market in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, one of the most beautiful of its kind in Europe. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

Sibiu/Hermannstadt – European gastronomic region in 2019. The town and the county of Sibiu/Hermannstadt always had excellent food (and that’s not only my taste we’re talkin’ about)! Image source: Commons Wikimedia

The Luxembourg house in Sibiu/Hermannstadt. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

Piața Mare or Der Grosse Ring or The Grand Square in Sibiu/Hermannstadt in winter in 1928. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

A very interesting landmark of Sibiu/Hermannstadt is the so-called bridge of lies (known in German as Lügenbrücke), alternatively referred to as the lied down bridge (Liegenbrücke in Hochdeutsch), if you will (well, originally in Romanian: Podul culcat), because, well once again, it’s bending a bit towards being still or literally lying down… quite possibly for a nap, if that makes sense (pun intended of course). Regardless of the actual meaning or meanings behind the name of this very interesting landmark of the town (which was finished in 1860), legend has it that if one lies beneath the bridge (in the sense of actually deceiving someone else or not speaking the truth not actually taking a nap which, in all fairness, isn’t something to be blamed, naturally) then it will crumble down on him or her. Funnily enough, I asked one of my all time best friends (whom I’ve known for a long time since early childhood, very much fortunately I should add) about this rather peculiar legend and whether he had actually lied beneath the bridge (and what happened next, evidently). To my utmost surprise, he said yes. And then I asked him (in a rather innocent manner): and did it crumble or fall down? And then he naturally replied, in a very relaxed manner: no. Well, that was quite a short humorous story to be shared indeed… But I am not willing to find out for myself if the legend is true or not. Some things in life are better to remain a mystery, I presume…

Hereby the so-called bridge of lies in central Sibiu/Hermannstadt, with the coat of arms of the town depicted on both ends of the bridge. On a more serious note, I’d dearly want to see a politician holding a press conference beneath the bridge and then see for myself if his statements would make the legend ultimately hold true. I presume I will never find that out… but, at least, there remained the tiniest bit of hope in that regard. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

The bridge of lies from central Sibiu/Hermannstadt, as seen in a black and white photograph from the early 20th century (needless to mention the fact that the historical town centre looked very beautiful, well kept, and picturesque back then as well, naturally). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

At the same time, other interesting arhitectural elements of Sibiu/Hermannstadt that I would like to briefly describe are the so-called eyes of Sibiu which can be seen on the roof tops of the historical buildings situated in the town center. Below you can see what I am actually referring to:

The so-called eyes of Sibiu/Hermannstadt, as seen on the roof top of the Haller house in the historical town centre. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Below you can also watch a brief but informative short documentary on the Transylvanian Saxons on YouTube, created and published by Metis (I intend to create one myself as soon as possible):

Additionally, you can watch the following short documentary in Romanian on the history and settlement of the Saxons in Transylvania:

Documentation sources and external links:

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