Rasnov Citadel

Rasnov Citadel: History and Legends of Transylvania

Standing on top of a hill in the Carpathians, Rasnov Citadel is one of the best-known castles of Transylvania. A popular side-trip from Brasov, and part of a whole tourist experience, including a dinosaur park, it was the most crowded site I visited during my latest trip. Unlike Rupea and Feldioara, this castle wasn’t new for me. I explored it years before, even with my children. But this time, the experience was different.

A new, Hollywood-style sign advertises the castle now, visible from the main road.

Rasnov Citadel - view from the road
Rasnov Citadel – view from the road

To me, the sign took away some of the magic of seeing the castle from afar on top of the hill. But we live in the age of over-advertising and mass tourism. We all need to deal with it if we want to visit or revisit certain sites. I’ve seen worse…

Visiting Rasnov Citadel

By the time we got to the parking lot for Rasnov Castle, it was so crowded we had trouble finding a spot. My brother warned me we would encounter tourists. I understood now why he wanted us to leave earlier.

“The Castle is more popular than you remember,” he said, “but it’s not the biggest issue. The new Dinosaur Park, opened up near the citadel, attracts more crowds.”

He was right; a tractor-pulled train labeled Dino-Park left the parking lot filled with people. I breathed a sigh of relief; they were not going to our destination.

We walked up the hill instead of riding another train to the castle. Since cars were not allowed on this road, we took a pleasant stroll in the forest. It became quieter after we passed the entrance to the Dino-Park, though a different train, noisy with chatting and yelling people, passed us, heading towards the castle.

Higher up, as we turned a bend, I saw the castle. And a whole lot of people around it.

Rasnov is a popular destination
Rasnov was more popular than I remembered.

Last time we visited, we had the place for ourselves. I remembered walking through the structures, my kids, much younger, running around them, with no one else around. Only locals knew about the castle then. When did it get so popular? Even after my brother told me, I couldn’t imagine it being so busy.

I realized it would be a different experience now. However, the structure is still the same…

Rasnov Citadel
Rasnov Citadel – view from the trail

If I ever go back, I’ll try to get there just before closing time, or right when they open. But for now, we had to deal with a few people. A few more than I expected or felt comfortable with.

Although the crowds took a bit from the experience, we found that, as usual, if we stayed in one place long enough, we had a few minutes for ourselves. Besides, people watching added another dimension to the experience.

Inside The Castle

As we walked through the castle’s main gate, we entered the outer courtyard, surrounded by high walls. We walked through without stopping much, hoping to get to a less crowded spot. No such luck, but we entered the inner courtyard, surrounded by smaller buildings, once homes to people searching refuge in the citadel, now tourist shops. Times change…

But the roses remain. I love the roses creeping up on the ancient walls, surrounding the buildings. Why do I mention roses, you wonder? First, because I like the way they add a splash of color to the inner citadel. But also because there is a story there.

Roses in Rosenau

Roses at the Rasnov citadel
Roses creeping up on the walls of the citadel of Rasnov

The citadel’s name in German is Rosenau, meaning rose-park; in Hungarian, Rozsnyó, also seems to come from the word rózsa = rose. The coat of arms of the citadel features three roses on one stem.

Flag of Rasnov Castle
The flag of Rasnov Castle with its coat of arms, featuring the three roses.

The reason for the three roses is symbolic. According to Orbán Balázs, they represented three villages that belonged to the castle and the town of Rosenau in medieval times. But to represent villages by roses, they had to have roses in and around the castle bounds. The coat of arms and the name both point to the existence of an abundance of roses in and around the castle in medieval times. Just like we see them today.

More roses in the central courtyard gave it a friendlier look. Walking around here, it didn’t take long to imagine people living within the citadel’s walls, tending to their rose gardens, working in the workshops surrounding the main plaza.

Rozsnyo 4

On the Castle Grounds

We were walking through a medieval village now, a burg, with narrow streets and neighborhoods, within the castle walls. The reconstructed medieval homes housed gift shops and exhibits. One of them was set up as a museum or an exhibit, showcasing medieval tools and household objects.

Medieval tools on the wall
Medieval tools on the wall of this building

We walked towards the far end of the plaza, to the entrance to one of the towers.

on the Rozsnyo - Rasnov Castle grounds
The Castle Grounds – inner courtyard

In the Tower

After climbing a few stairs, we walked through a corridor where old tools were hanging on the wall. I recognized a few of them, others not so much, but with no description, it was guesswork. Still, it all added to the feeling of being in a medieval burg, village inside a citadel.

Old tools hanging on the wall in the Rasnov citadel tower
Old tools hanging on the wall in the Rasnov citadel tower

Though a lot of people came in and out of the tower, not many stopped, so in the farthest points we had a few minutes almost alone, with only one or two quieter tourists who came and soon left. I stayed behind even after the rest of my family moved on, to enjoy the quiet of the room and the views of the countryside from the windows.

Rasnov citadel - View from the tower
View from the tower

Following the medieval road higher up the hill

After leaving the tower, we followed the street uphill towards the highest part of the citadel.

Rozsnyo 3 1

The views from here were different, showcasing the valley and rolling hills with the higher mountains in the distance.

View from the highest points of Rasnov citadel
View from the highest points of Rasnov citadel

A Bit of History

It is an accepted historical fact that the German-Saxon Teutonic Knights built a few of the citadels in Southern Transylvania in the 13th century. Rasnov, along with Rupea, were among them. Originally, most of those citadels were built of wood. More evidence suggests that the wooden fortress built by these knights was replaced by those still standing, sometimes in the late 14th century.

The first time Rasnov citadel was mentioned in historical documents was in 1335, as one of only two citadels still standing after a Tatar attack that ravaged most of the Burzenland (Southern part of Transylvania).

Although its origins are shrouded in fog, the Citadel of Rasnov has more written history available than most others in the area. Built to protect Transylvania and the Western world from the constant attacks from either Cumins, Tatars, and Turks over the centuries, its immediate purpose was to protect the surrounding villages. From all enemies. Sometimes this included their own king or ruler.

Rozsnyó (Rasnov) and its citadel - drawing dated from the 1850s
Rozsnyó (Rasnov) and its citadel – drawing dated from the 1850s, published in Orbán’s book

Conquering the Citadel

Defending its villages and the Transylvanian border for centuries, the citadel was conquered only once, in 1621. Even then, not by outside enemies, but by its own ruler, Báthory Gábor.

The Saxons living in the area rebelled against Báthory Gábor, ruler of Transylvania. Thinking he had no other options, Báthory came with troops against them. The Saxons retreated into the citadel, thinking it would give them a safe negotiating point. After all, the citadel never fell up to that point.

Báthory, however, defeated them, but not because the citadel fell. He would not destroy his own citadel, after all. Instead, he cut off its water supply. The castle’s only water supply was from outside, through a stream. With locals who knew the area well on his side, Báthory had no trouble temporarily damming the stream. With no water available, the Saxons had no choice but give up.

Báthory returned the castle to the Saxons, who learned a valuable lesson from the incident. They knew they needed their own water supply inside the citadel.

The Well Inside the Citadel

So by 1621, they decided to dig a well within the castle’s walls. But since the citadel sat on extremely hard rock, on top of a hill, they had to dig deep into this rock. They didn’t have the manpower or modern tools to do that, so, as it was the habit in all citadels, they got prisoners to dig it. And since they only had two Turkish prisoners, that’s who they used, promising them freedom after the work was done.

Historical fact or legend, no one knows, but as the story goes, the two prisoners started digging the well in 1623, and it took them seventeen years to finish it. While working, they wrote verses of the Koran on the sides of the walls to help motivate them. Though I haven’t heard of anyone ever checking the walls to see if indeed the verses were there; it sounds as believable as the rest of the story.

Regardless of who dug it or how, the well was completed and used for about two centuries, until it broke, around 1850.

Rozsnyo kut

Wondering about the fate of the prisoners? According to most stories, they walked away, free, after their hard work. They deserved it, and I have no reason to believe otherwise – if indeed, any part of the story is true. But since the well still sits in the castle, someone had to dig it at some point. So even if it’s a legend, it must have some truth to it.

Speaking of legends of the well, some say that a treasure sits at its bottom. Of course, according to the same story, the well is “bottomless”. Go figure. I would imagine that over so many centuries, by now someone would have confirmed both the existence of the treasure at the bottom and the Koran verses on the sides. Then again, don’t we all love a good mystery?

Legends of the Castle: A Love Story

I am always a sucker for legends, and most of the citadels and castles in Transylvania have at least a few. Inevitably, at least one is going to be a love story. Rasnov is no exception.

I read this one in the Description of Seklerland by Orbán Balázs, who liked to include everything he learned about the places he visited, history, geography, people, and legends.

Rozsnyo (Rasnov) - view of the citadel. drawing dated from the 1850s.
Rozsnyo (Rasnov) – view of the citadel from the east. Drawing dated from the 1850s, published in Orbán’s book, Description of Seklerland.

As this story goes, Emma, the beautiful daughter of the castle Lord and one of her father’s soldiers, Lőrinc, were deeply in love. They were about to get married when the groom had to leave for battle. He didn’t return with the others, and Emma had no idea what happened to him. Thinking of him dead, Emma was about to die of grief herself.

But Lőrinc didn’t die; he was taken prisoner by Tököli, the ruler of North-Hungary. Tököli was a fair ruler who treated his prisoners humanely. So, when Lőrinc told him he missed his home and wanted to visit, he gave him permission. All he asked was the soldier’s word of honor that he would return to complete his prison years.

At home, Emma recovered when she saw her love safe at home, and they had a few days of happiness together. However, it was short-lived since Lőrinc intended to keep his word and return to prison. But Emma wasn’t about to let him out of her sight this time. Dressed as a boy, she accompanied him, where Lőrinc introduced her as his younger brother. Of course, Tököli eventually found out about them, and he was so moved by their love that he released Lőrinc and sent them both home.

Back in Rasnov, they married and lived happily ever after.

Back to Reality – and the Present

After spending time inside the citadel, we walked up on a trail leading around it. We were walking under the castle, behind it.

The citadel's walls from the outside.
The citadel’s walls from the outside.

We reached a smaller gate, but since it was closed, we turned around and made our way back, and down the hill, leaving the citadel for its next visitors.


  1. Where is Rasnov Citadel?

    Rasnov Citadel is a historical site in the southeastern part of Transylvania, present-day Romania, about 19 km (11 miles) northeast of Brasov.

  2. When was Rasnov Citadel built?

    Rasnov Citadel dates from the 13th century, being one of the medieval citadels built to protect Transylvania’s southern and southeastern borders.

  3. How to get to the Rasnov Citadel?

    You can take a bus or train from Brasov to the town of Rasnov. Once in town, you either walk up the hill to the citadel, or take a cable car. You can also walk to the lower parking lot and take a tractor-pulled tourist train up the hill.
    If you are driving, from Brasov, follow E68 towards Sibiu for about 5 km, then take the exit towards Tg Mures, and follow the road, DN73 to Rasnov. Once in town, follow the signs to “Cetate”, Citadel.

  4. What are some other places to visit in the area?

    The largest town nearby is Brasov, worth a visit. You can also use it as gateway city to not only Rasnov, but many of the attractions in the area, including Bran Castle, the citadels and castles of Fagaras, Rupea, Feldioara, and the Bear Sanctuary of Zarnesti.

Travel Planning Resources to Get To Transylvania (Romania)

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        About the Author

        Emese grew up in Transylvania, near the now-world-renowned Sighisoara, and spent several years living in Brasov. Though she now lives in the US, she still revisits the places of her childhood often, with her American family. This gives her several perspectives when writing about places in her former homeland. She can understand them from a local perspective, while also appreciating and noticing things that make these places unique for first-time visitors.

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