In the Upper Citadel of Rupea

Rupea Citadel: Discover the History and Myths of Medieval Transylvania

The citadel of Rupea, clearly visible from the main road between Sighisoara and Brasov, was one of the major fortresses of Transylvania.

Unlike Fagaras, another major fortress in the area, Rupea had no need for a moat. Perched on top of a hill above the town, this fortress had a better vantage point and defense system.

Visible form miles from every direction, Rupea Citadel stands high above the surrounding area.

Built to defend the surrounding villages, and deserted when no longer needed, the citadel sat in ruins for a few centuries, until 2013, when, reconstructed it opened its gates for visitors as a relic from the past.

After watching its ruins from afar for over 50 years, I finally visited the Citadel of Rupea in 2019

I’ve known about the castle sitting on the hill above the town of Kőhalom (Rupea) my whole life. We saw its barely discernible ruins from the road leading to Brasov from my home town of Ludus. It was a landmark that told us we were getting close to Brasov.

We drove the route often, to visit our grandparents, and as kids in the back seat, we always asked the inevitable question “Are we there yet?”

Over the years, we learned that when we saw the ruins of the Rupea Castle on the hill, we were “almost there” (in Brasov), close enough to count.

We talked about driving up to the ruins often.

Once, we even attempted it. We never got to it though, never found a road leading all the way up. It might have been closed or maybe there was no road to it at all.

Besides, the citadel was a pile of rocks by then. It fit its Hungarian name, Kőhalom, which literally means “rock pile”.

(As fitting as it was, the name didn’t originate there. Before the castle existed in Kőhalom, an even older ruin sat on the top of the hill.)

However, the Citadel of Rupea is a historical site open to visitors now.

After the fall of Communism in 1989, local authorities recognized its value and asked for EU funds to reconstruct it. They got some grants and added some of their own funds in 2009 for the rehabilitation and expansion of tourism in and around Rupea.

They reconstructed the rock pile into the citadel it once was, and opened it for visitors in 2013.

After watching its ruins from afar for most of my life, I finally visited the Citadel of Rupea in 2019, on a trip to my home country.

The Citadel of Rupea – History

First Documented in Medieval Times

Though built at least a century earlier, the first written mention of the Citadel of Rupea dates from 1324. It appeared in a chronicle under the name of castrum Kuholm in a story of a revolt of the Transylvanian Saxons against the Hungarian King Károly I. The Saxons used the citadel as a hideout during this time.

The Fortress existed before as the center of the medieval Seat of Rupea in Transylvania. Its main purpose was to defend the surrounding population from the attacks of the Ottoman Empire.

Turk invasions were common at the time in Transylvania since the area stood between the Western countries and the Ottoman Empire. Out of necessity, just about every settlement built at least a fortified church for protection, while larger areas had fortresses and citadels.

The citadel of Kuholm was one of them. Called Kőhalom by Hungarians, Reps Burg by the German-Saxons, it stood as protection for the town on the bottom of the hill.

Built by the Transylvanian Saxons, it defended not only the town surrounding the hill but also a larger area.

The Saxons, a German ethnic group, settled in Southern Transylvania starting in 1150 – 1300, invited by Hungarian kings to help defend the borders against the Turks. Ironically, the same Saxons who built the citadel to defend the Hungarian Kingdom also used it against it during one of their revolts.

Looking at the Citadel perched upon a hill with its high, seemingly impenetrable walls, one would assume it impossible to conquer. Yet, the Turks attacked and robbed it a few times between 1432 and 1437.

Between Fire and Storm

The centuries of fighting didn’t ruin the citadel, though. It was a devastating fire, in 1643, responsible for turning it into ruins.

For the rest of the century, the citadel lay abandoned, not much more than a pile of rocks, deserving its Hungarian name, “Kőhalom” (literally meaning rock pile).

By the end of the century, the Saxons returned to the ruins for a short time. However, when the Hapsburg army marched in, they handed it over with no resistance.

Though still standing, no one used or cared for the old citadel at that point, anyway.

But it wasn’t the end of the story.

The Rupea Citadel proved to be of value again in 1716. During that time the plague decimated the area, and the citadel, far and cut off from town, offered shelter to those not afflicted by the disease. They were safe inside the strong walls, away from the sick population.

Later, in 1788, the Rupea Citadel once again offered refuge from another Turkish invasion.

Even as people used the citadel on occasion, they never fully renovated it after the fire from 1643.

So, when a severe thunderstorm raged in the area in 1790, it further demolished it, taking out its roof. And, since no one needed the citadel at the time, locals didn’t bother rebuilding it.

Left in Ruins in the Communist Times

During the Communist era, most Transylvanian Saxons (Germans, really) left the country. Germany paid the Romanian government a fee for each person who could prove that they were of German descent to leave and settle in (West) Germany.

We all thought they were lucky. The rest of us couldn’t leave communist Romania to even visit a foreign country, let alone settle there.

In reality, they had to leave their lives, their homes behind, everything they ever worked for. Sure, it was for a better life and it was their choice. But still…

The whole town of Rupea changed, with the old Saxon homes losing their original owners.

No one even thought of the Citadel in ruins. We all knew of its existence, but with no road we could find to lead there, no one bothered to to visit it.

At some point, the government planned to demolish it to mine the basalt ridge underneath. But it all seemed too much work, and the pile of rocks stood undisturbed decades past the fall of communism in Romania.

Reconstructed, the Citadel turned into a Tourist Attraction

A few years after the fall of communism, local authorities voted on restoring the citadel. So, they asked for EU Funds for the rehabilitation project besides their local investments.

By 2009 they got enough funds and started work on reconstructing the citadel the following year.

They worked on it between 2010 and 2013, when they did a lot of restoration, then opened it to the public.

When I visited, in 2019, I walked through all three levels, explored the courtyards and towers. The walls, interior courtyards, and the towers all look like they did in Medieval times (at least that’s the idea).

The Rupea Citadel is now listed as one of the historical monuments in Brasov County.

The Citadel of Rupea - reconstructed
The reconstructed Citadel of Rupea

Legends of Transylvania and the Rupea Citadel

Most castles and citadels, at least the ones in Transylvania, have a legend or two connected to them, and Rupea is no exception.

Retold by Balázs Orbán in his monumental work, Description of Szeklerland from a Historical, Archaeological, Natural History and Ethnographic Point of View, the Legend of Hedvig (also known as Veres) is one of them. Orbán heard it around the middle of the 1800s when he revisited part of Transylvania also known as Szeklerland, his birth-home.

Though he heard the legend from locals, he later also found a written version of it in the Volkskalender of 1834 (a Folk-Calendar the Saxon-Germans published at the time).

Image of Rupea town and citadel dated from around the 1860s
Image from Orbán’s book, depicting the center of town of Rupea and the citadel above. Dated around the 1860s.

The Legend of Lord Hedvig and his Magical Homecoming

During the time when the Turks were constantly attacking Transylvania, and Kuholm, one of the Lords of the Castle, Lord Hedvig led a battle against them. Though they won the battle, the enemy caught him and took him prisoner.

Incarcerated in Istambul, he spent his days in the dark prison room. Sad and homesick, he took his walks outside, in an enclosed courtyard, when allowed.

During one of his walks, he noticed Menenges, one of his soldiers from his castle.

Glad to see a friendly face, Hedvig started talking to his soldier daily. Though assuming they both fell prisoners at at the same time during the siege, he wondered how he didn’t notice him before.

One day, soon after they met, Menenges offered to take him home, any time he wished.

At first, Hedvig dismissed the offer, understanding that it was impossible. They were thousands of miles from their home.

But Meneges insisted that he could do it.

When he repeated his offer a third time, Lord Hedvig recalled rumors about his soldier being a magician. So, he didn’t hesitate any longer, and agreed.

The only thing Menenges asked him was to sit on his cape next to him and not open his eyes until he tells him to.

As soon as Lord Hedvig closed his eyes, he heard Menenges murmur a few unintelligible words, then felt the cape rising and flying with them. By nightfall, when his soldier told him to open his eyes, he found himself in the courtyard of his castle, among his loved ones.

A variation of a wizard story or flying carpet story; either way, it is a legend that survived centuries.

Walls of the Citadel
The Walls of the Citadel

Visiting the Citadel of Rupea

We drove to Rupea from Brasov, after stopping at a few other sites in the vicinity. As we drove up the hill, my brother and I talked about old times when our parents tried taking us to see the citadel, but could not find a road leading up to it.

It took us a few decades after those first attempts, but we were finally making our way to the Rupea Citadel up the hill in my brother’s brand new Dacia.

A few cars and a tourist bus sat in the parking lot when we arrived. Still, given the size of the area, it looked quiet, without the expected crowds.

Inside the Citadel of Rupea

We made our way through the main gate, and walked through all three levels of the citadel, exploring the inside of different rooms and towers.

Some of the rooms even had furniture, at least large tables and chairs in them, and we were able to sit by them.

No ropes to keep us from entering anything or keeping us out from any of the rooms. This made our visit more enjoyable, adding to the feeling that we were visiting a castle, not a museum.

A peasant citadel, like many others in Transylvania, the Citadel of Rupea comprises three different areas, reinforced by polygonal defense towers.

The path between these levels took us around the hill, in a circular fashion. It felt like walking around a snail, protected by its outer shell, and leading to its center.

The Lower Citadel

We entered the Lower Citadel through the gate by one of the towers. Also called Pre-Castle (Elővár), it served as the first defense, with high walls, and a few towers.

In he Inner Court of the Lower Citadel
In he Inner Court of the Lower Citadel

A major feature of the Lower Citadel is the fountain, the only source of water in the citadel as far as we know. They built the deep fountain during the reign of Transylvanian prince Bethlen Gábor, in 1623.

Art Exhibits in the Towers of the Lower Citadel

In 2023, when I returned once again to the visit the site, I found that both towers of the Lower Citadel housed art exhibits, featuring both pottery and paintings, from traditional arts and craft pieces to modern, contemporary paintings and drawings.

Painted tiles featured in the art exhibit in the Tower of the Lower Citadel of Rupea.
Painted tiles featured in the art exhibit in the Tower of the Lower Citadel of Rupea.

After exploring the Lower Citadel, and enjoying the exhibits in its towers, we followed the path to the higher levels and entered the Middle Citadel.

The Middle Citadel

The first thing we did as we entered the Middle Citadel was to explore a room, with the entrance partially underground.

Entrance to a room in the Middle Citadel
Entrance to a room in the Middle Citadel

It was dark as we entered, so I automatically reached for a switch. To my surprise, I found one.

A modern switch that worked and turned lights on. Modern lights in a citadel that was supposedly a few centuries old

It took away a bit from the authenticity of the place, but added the convenience to see where we stepped.

Slightly disappointed, I wondered how much of the reconstructed castle is true to the original.

But other than this little add-on the citadel as a whole had an authentic feel to it. And after reading Orbán’s description who visited the citadel in the 1860s, I believe they kept it true to the original.

View from the Middle Citadel
View from the Middle Citadel

Either way, the visit through the Middle Citadel was fun as we walked through a few towers, entered rooms, and made our way, following a circular path, towards the best part, the Upper Citadel.

Walkway between th Midldle and Upper Citaded
We followed the path, climbing towards the Upper Citadel

As we got closer, the walkway narrowed.

A few hidden stairways lead through an area where we could only walk single file.

I understood how hard it would’ve been for the enemy soldiers to get even this far. But if they made it, the narrow passageway made it necessary for them to walk single file, so the defenders had an easier time fighting one-on-one.

Narrow stairway leading to the Upper Citadel
Narrow stairway leading to the Upper Citadel

The Upper Citadel

The oldest and most interesting part of the Fortress, the Upper Citadel dates from the 10th – 13th centuries. This part, perched on the very top of the hill, showcases rooms, towers, narrow pathways, and a small inner courtyard.

We spent the most of our time here, not as much for the structures, but to enjoy the views. We walked through each tower and enjoyed the solitude – no other visitors were up at this level.

Looking out from the Upper Citadel of Rupea
Looking out from the Upper Citadel

The Towers of Rupea Citadel

The Citadel of Rupea has ten towers altogether. Some smaller, others larger, some square, others pentagonal.

One of the square towers of the Rupea Citadel
One of the square towers of the Citadel

The Rupea Citadel is known for its pentagonal towers, fairly common in Transylvania, but unique in the rest of Europe.

The Bacon Tower was intriguing.

I had to read the name a few times, both in Romanian and in the English translation before realizing that I understood it right. I found it hard to believe, but in fact they called it the Bacon Tower, as in the fat of the pig.

When I understood what they used the tower for, I realized the name makes perfect sense.

In medieval times most German or Saxon citadels had a Bacon Tower. Before refrigeration, their most important source of protein was bacon, and this was the best place to store enough for the whole village. I’m sure it came in handy during a siege.

But my favorite tower, the one I spent the most time in, was the Scribe’s Tower.

Not necessarily because it was different from any other tower, but I was hoping to get some inspiration there. After all, the scribes, the writers of the Castle, spent most of their time there.

Maybe the muses lived there, or the tower had some magical inspirational properties.

The views were certainly spectacular, from every window, but other than that I couldn’t tell if they had any other help for inspiration.

View from the Scribes Tower
View from the Scribes Tower – the main gate and beyond…

Although, considering they had a whole tower to live in, and the best views from the castle, these scribes wrote surprisingly little about life in and around the Castle.

I guess the tower didn’t have any magical inspirational powers, the muses didn’t live there. Or, maybe the scribes did write a lot, but their work all disappeared in time.

Either way, the views were spectacular, and with no one else in the tower, I had a great time exploring it.

View from the Upper Citadel of Rupea
View from the Upper Citadel

Leaving Rupea

Now that I finally saw it after half a century, I don’t know if I will ever feel the need to return to the Citadel of Rupea.

Part of me still wishes I saw it before they reconstructed it. I always enjoy exploring old ruins surrounded by mystery and trying to guess the original purpose of each ruined structure.

But I enjoyed exploring it as it stands now.

It gave me a better idea of how people lived in and around the citadels of Transylvania centuries before I was born. Walking through the towers and rooms, it was easy to imagine myself living in another century.

In a nutshell: Things To Know about the Rupea Citadel

  1. Where is Rupea Citadel? In What European country can you find it?

    The Citadel of Rupea is in Transylvania, Romania; in the town of Rupea.

    The town’s and citadel’s original name was Kuholm, its Hungarian name is called Kőhalom, while the German Saxons call it Reps Burg. It is roughly midway between Sighisoara and Brasov; 52 km from Sighisoara and 67 km from Brasov.

  2. When was the Rupea Citadel built?

    First mentioned in 1324, the Rupea Citadel was built sometime in the 13th century.

  3. Who built the Rupea Citadel?

    According to the most accepted versions of history of this region, the German-Saxons who settled in this area of Transylvania between 1100 and 1300 built the citadel of Rupea, along with many others in the region.

  4. Is it worth visiting the Rupea Citadel?

    Anyone who enjoys medieval castles and citadels will have a great time visiting the Citadel of Rupea. Reconstructed between 2010-2013, the citadel showcases its old towers, a few rooms, and its old well. Visitors can enter the towers and the rooms.

  5. How long does it take to visit the Rupea Citadel?

    Visiting the Rupea Citadel can take anywhere from an hour to an afternoon, depending on how much time you want to spend there. Visiting it involves a bit of walking, mostly uphill, including climbing a few stairs. If you want to walk inside the towers, this also involves a few stairs. Nothing too strenuous though, especially if you take your time.

  6. How to get to the Rupea Citadel?

    You can get to the Citadel of Rupea by traveling the major road E60 through Transylvania, Romania.

    The closest cities are Sighisoara on the north and Brasov on the south.

    Once you are in the town of Rupea, follow the brown signs towards “Cetate”, the Romanian word for citadel/castle. You’ll drive on Strada Republicii, then turn onto Strada Cetatii.

Travel Planning Resources to Get To Transylvania (Romania)

Affiliate Disclosure note: The links below are affiliate links, which means that if you book by clicking on the links, I may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Please read my full disclosure for reference. Thank you!

  • Book your flight with CheapOAir to fly into Bucharest or Sibiu, the closest international airports to the castle.
  • Rent a car using Discover Cars, a great site for comparing car prices so you can find the best deal. They work with car rentals in Romania.
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  • Book your accommodations with Booking.com, my favorite booking search engine for hotels and short-term rentals in Romania.
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3 thoughts on “Rupea Citadel: Discover the History and Myths of Medieval Transylvania”

  1. You have a very interesting story about the history of the citadel. I was surprised to hear that Germany had to pay for each person of German descent to leave the area after communism took over. I guess that is one of those political settlements that keeps wars from re-igniting.

  2. I love old stone citadels like this. The curved walls and winding steps are intriguing. Just imagine all that went on here through the centuries!

  3. The mixing of citizens of different countries, cultures, & political affiliations in your story of the Citadel is very interesting. The annexation of German descent citizens by Communist Romania with fee required for repatriation is enlightening. Why did the modern USA military choose the word ‘Citadel’ for a military academy?

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