Citadel of Sighisoara - View from the Clock Tower

Sighisoara Citadel: 9 Interesting Facts To Know Before Your Visit

When visiting the old center of present-day Sighisoara (Schäßburg in German, and Segesvár in Hungarian), we are literally walking in a medieval citadel. Or a walled town. In fact, both, since the colorful medieval buildings are enclosed within the citadel, a complex protected by thick walls, bastions, and watchtowers.

A UNESCO Heritage site since 1999, the historic center of Sighisoara is one of a handful of inhabited medieval fortified cities in Europe.

Growing up in its vicinity, I visited Sighisoara often. On the exact half-point between my home-town, Ludus, and Brasov, the town my grandparents lived in, it was our must-stop destination when we took that trip. I’ve seen the city grow and transform, but the citadel always stayed the same. As usual when we see something regularly, I took it for granted.

I only started appreciating the city and its medieval citadel after I moved away.

The first time I brought my husband here, his excitement at seeing such an old city put things in perspective for me. As I was playing city guide for him, I started falling in love with the old medieval buildings I used to take for granted. In later years, when we had kids and brought them along, they had the same reaction as mu husband, when they first saw the tower and the surrounding old buildings.

We still pass through the town every time we visit my old country – Sighisoara sits on the main road halfway between my father’s home, and my brother’s home city, Brasov. So, the citadel is still our must-stop destination when in Romania, including during our latest visit, in the summer of 2023.

In the past several years, I noticed Sighisoara becoming not only one of the most popular destinations in Romania, but in all of Europe. So, below, I complied 9 facts curious foreigners might want to know about the citadel before visiting.

Citadel of Sighisoara - View from the Clock Tower
View of the citadel from the Clock Tower

1. The Citadel of Sighisoara Was Designed for Protection

Designed for protection from the invading Tartars, later Turks, and other nations, the citadel was built on a hill. From here, people inside had perfect views of the surrounding valley and controlled the gates to the enclosed city.

Dating from the 12th century, then extended and strengthened in the 15th, the citadel at one point had 14 towers and a few bastions. Built by the same Transylvanian Saxons, who also constructed other walled cities like Brasov, and castles and citadels in the area, like Rasnov, Rupea, or Feldioara, among others, the Citadel in Sighisoara also had a similar purpose.

The Transylvanian Saxons, invited by the Hungarian King Béla in the 12th century, built them to help protect the region from invaders.

How did German-Saxons end up in Sighisoara and Transylvania? – Legend and History

The land of Transylvania is far from Germany and the place of origin of the German-Saxons who built these citadels. Considering the distance, which seemed even longer in medieval times, people could hardly imagine how they ended up there. Cut off from the rest of their people, only a few tribes settled here, and over the centuries, they became an integral part of the landscape. But why did they come here?

Before people understood history, they tried to come up with stories to explain their presence here. Or, more likely, they told the stories themselves to their kids. And the fairy-tale version involves the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin and the Transylvanian Saxons

You probably heard the story of the Pied Piper, who lured the kids of Hamelin away from their homes with his magical flute. During one of their worst rat-infestation, the people of Hamelin hired the Pied Piper to get rid of the rodents. But after he did as was asked, they refused to pay him. Enraged, he punished them by luring their children away. When playing his magic flute to their children, they followed him far away, into a cave, never to be seen again. Most versions of the story end here.

But another version continues this story. According to it, these children lived in caves for generations, until their descendants ended up in the Carpathians. Centuries later, they emerged from a cave in the mountains of Transylvania.

The legend, passed down through generations, tries to explain the emergence of a blue-eyed, blond Germanic tribe in the area.

King Béla IV of Hungary and the Transylvanian Saxons

In reality, the explanation is simpler. In the 12th century, when Transylvania was part of Hungary, King Béla invited German-Saxons from the area of Flanders to settle here, at the edges of the country. His invitation was by no means selfless, though he offered enough incentives to make it worthwhile. He needed craftsmen, merchants, and soldiers at the frontier to protect the country from the constant threat of Ottoman invasions.

The Saxons didn’t mind settling here; they liked the beauty of Transylvania and the economic potential it offered them.

No matter how they ended up there, the Transylvanian Saxons were an asset to the land they inhabited

These Saxons built a few towns and citadels in and around Transylvania’s Southern border. Sighisoara, the town they called Schassburg, is one of seven walled cities, or fortresses in the region. Settled in the 12th century, because of its central location, it grew into one of the larger towns in the region by the 15th century.

The craftsmen and their families inhabited mainly the city. As they had a significant interest in protecting the town, their guilds built and maintained the defensive watchtowers. So, the towers became known by the names of the guilds that protected them. That’s how they ended up with names like the Blacksmiths’ Tower, the Butchers’ Tower, or the Ropemakers’ Tower.

2. 14 Towers Built By Artisan Guilds, Protected the Sighisoara Citadel

Originally, 14 towers protected the city, connected by the surrounding defensive wall. They could each act as a stand-alone fortress when needed, so even conquering one didn’t mean the enemy could enter the city.

Since the artisan guilds built and maintained them, their size and characteristics depended on how rich the respective guilds were.

The oldest one, the Ropemakers’ Tower, dating from the 13th century, still stands. Together with the Goldsmiths’ Tower, it helped defend the Northwest corner of the city.

Some of the other ones that still stand are the Cobblers’ Tower, the Butchers’ Tower, the Furriers’ Tower, the Tanner’s Tower, the Tinsmiths’ Tower, and the Tailor’s Tower.

The richest guild was the Tailors’ Guild, and consecutively, their tower was the most impressive, featuring two vaulted galleries and two huge gates with iron lattices. It also served as the second access road into the city. Although it still stands, it is no longer as impressive, since its top was destroyed in a fire.

Sometimes it’s not the outside enemy that destroys the strongest buildings. Since they stored the city’s gunpowder deposits here, when the tower caught fire in 1676, they exploded, ruining much of the building.

But the most impressive tower, the most visited building in Sighisoara, is the Clock Tower, built by the City Council, in the second half of the 14th century.

3. The Clock Tower Was Home of the City Counsel

Segesvar6 2007

Unlike all the other towers, built and defended by the Guilds, the Clock Tower was home of the city council. Built between the 13th and 14th century, it guarded the citadel’s main entrance. Originally the same height as the Tailors’ Tower, soon it became the dominant, tallest of all towers in the city. Close enough to the Tailor’s tower to get damaged by the fire of 1676, it got a new top during its renovation, in 1677.

The baroque roof with five turrets is a masterpiece of known Pilgrim architects and builders. They also added the unique clock the tower is famous for, the only one of its kind in the country.

4. The Clock Tower Is Sighisoara’s Main Attraction Today

Every time I stop in Sighisoara, especially if I bring my family, I visit the Clock Tower. I am not sure why it is still important to me, after all these years, but it is the most impressive building in the city.

It was a hot day in July in Transylvania when we drove from Brasov, back to my old home town of Ludus. Sighisoara is halfway between these two destinations, and it offers a good way to break up the drive. Though we visited the city often, we still decided to at least stop and look at the Clock Tower, the one my kids remember since they were very little.

Even the walk up to the tower is memorable, through a narrow cobblestone pedestrian-only street. Medieval buildings housing artisan shops among the homes line the street on both sides.

Sighisoara. Street with view of the Clock Tower
Walking towards the Clock Tower

After passing through the city gate, we reached the inner courtyard of the Citadel. Before exploring anything else, though, we walked in the Clock Tower.

I can’t think of many better ways to get away from the heat and sun than to enter a medieval tower. Either everyone had the same thought or the tower was indeed a huge tourist magnet in the summer months, but we were battling crowds on every level. Since we’ve seen it all multiple times in the past, we rushed through most of the exhibits, trying to find at least one where we could stop without bumping into others.

Still, as fast as we went through the exhibits, they all brought back memories of earlier times when we visited and were alone in them, with enough time to examine and read the notes in front of each.

5. The Clock Tower Is Home To A History Museum

The first floor showcases an archaeological display of local exhibits, dating back about two millennia, and a small furniture display from the 1700s.

The pharmacy museum is on the second floor, showcasing medical and surgical instruments. Looking at the ancient-looking saws and knives dispelled any romantic dreams of wishing I lived in medieval times.

The old wooden floor of the tower creaked under our feet while we were ascending higher, with barely any room to move among the other visitors. We had to wait to walk through the spiral staircase since it was too narrow to accommodate many people.

Looking around while waiting, I had trouble remembering all the times we were practically alone in the tower. Loud groups, whining toddlers, worried grandparents were all trying to either make their way higher up or down. I wasn’t sure the creaky floorboards would hold us all. But they were sturdier than they sounded, and after a large group of people came down, we finally went up into the top part of the tower.

We admired the clock on our walk but tried to stop to examine it more on our way down. Instead, we walked out onto the balcony of the tower for the perfect view of the city below.

View of Old Town Sighisoara from the tower balcony
View of Old Town Sighisoara from the tower’s balcony

Though we shared the balcony with too many visitors, with barely enough room to walk through the crowd, we still had a few opportunities to stop and admire the view on the other side.

Monastery Church in Sighisoara
View of the monastery Church in Sighisoara

6. Its Clock Is A unique Medieval Masterpiece

The clock in the tower is a masterpiece unique in the country. Featuring wooden figures, it has two sides, one looking over the citadel, the other looking out. From the inside of the citadel, we saw the figures that look out of the city, seven of them, one for each day of the week. But their symbolism goes far beyond the days.

Figures and symbols on the clock dial facing outside of the citadel

Segesvar20 2007
From the outside, only one figure is visible each day, representing the day of the week.

Pagan Gods and Goddesses represent the days. As the clock’s mechanism turns the table to the left each midnight, a new god or goddess figure becomes visible in the small window facing the town, ready for the new day.

The symbolic messages of these figures are complex. Besides the days of the week, the headdresses of these gods and goddesses also represent a chemical element.

Sunday is the day of the sun, of Helios (Sol). It might seem confusing that a female figure represents it, but in German the sun is female. She wears a blue dress and the sun as a headdress, also representing the element of gold.

The wooden figures on the clock in the tower
Behind the scenes look at the figures of the clock: the German, feminine version of the Sun.

On Mondays, Artemis (Diana) faces out, wearing a blue dress, with a bow and arrow in her hand. Her headdress, a half-moon, symbolizes silver.

Tuesday is represented by Ares (or Mars), dressed as a soldier and wearing a helmet, symbolizing iron.

The wooden figures representing Artemis, Ares and Hermes
Behind the scenes look at the clock: the figures representing Artemis, Ares, and Hermes

Wednesday is Hermes’s day, also called Mercury by the Romans. His element is mercury, symbolized by a hermaphrodite headdress, showing the double nature of this element.

Thursday is Zeus’s or Jupiter’s day. The symbol on his head represents tin, a non-corrosive metal-protector, used to create new alloys.

Friday is the day of Aphrodite or Venus, wearing the symbol for copper, the red metal symbolizing passion and love.

The Greek titan Cronos or the Roman god Saturn symbolizes Saturday. He wears the symbol of led representing stagnation.

We saw all these figures through a window on the top floor of the Clock Tower. When I turned to leave, I noticed a list on the wall, with the names and symbols of each figure.

Symbols and figures on the clock dial facing the citadel

Although the side facing the citadel, or the old town, is not visible from inside the tower, its figures are clear when you stand underneath. They had a different importance in the daily lives of the locals.

Two angels, representing morning and night, move out to mark the beginning and end of the craftsmen’s workday in medieval times, at 6 am and 6 pm, respectively. Can you imagine your workday being 12 hours? A drummer boy also comes out and beats his drum to announce the hour, both visually and vocally.

This side of the clock also features a few symbols of authority, marking the importance of the tower as a public building. The Peace Goddess is represented holding an olive branch and a trumpet. Justice and Righteousness seem the most important figures, though, both wearing blue dresses and larger than the other figurines. Justice is blindfolded and holds a sword, while righteousness holds a balance.

7. A golden globe sits on top of the highest (central) turret of the tower

A golden sphere sits on top of the highest steeple of the Clock Tower. Looking at it, so high above the ground, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have placed it there. So locals came up with a legend to explain it.

After all the work on the Clock Tower, it became their most beautiful building, but as much as they loved it, locals felt that it still needed something. They didn’t know what was missing, they just had a feeling that it was incomplete. When they heard about a giant who was making golden spheres, they realized what the tower needed. The missing piece was a golden globe, sitting on the very top of the highest – central – steeple.

So they sent for the giant, who came to town, made one for them and set it on top of the steeple. After he did, he told the townspeople that the globe would only stay on top until a man tall enough to reach it would come along. If or when that would ever happen, the people would need to give this man the globe and let him leave town with it.

It’s hard to imagine, even as a fairy-tale figure, a man tall enough to reach the top of this tower. So I think the golden globe is safe. At least for now.

View of the Clock tower from below
Hard to imagine a human tall enough to reach the top of this tower…

8. People Still Live Inside the Citadel of Sighisoara

The clock tower marked the main entrance into the citadel. Beyond it, you’ll walk into the historic center of Sighisoara, one of the few medieval citadels still inhabited in the world. The town kept its compact medieval layout, with narrow streets and homes close to each other. These homes, many of them over three centuries old, don’t show their age other than in style. Strolling around the streets, you are transported back in time.

Sighisoara - old town center with the stag house
In the old town center of Sighisoara, with the Stag House and the clock tower.

The center we walked through was the place for the market and public executions in medieval times. As annoying as the surrounding vendors and tourists can be, I was glad I was not witnessing an execution.

Segesvar 1 2007
Inside the Old Center of Sighisoara

9. The Citadel of Sighisoara Hosts A Medieval Festival Yearly

If you enjoy medieval festivals, Sighisoara is the right place to be in at the end of July. The city hosts a medieval festival in the medieval citadel yearly. The surroundings help transport you back in time, joined by knights, princesses, and even commoners in medieval clothing.

Knights show off their sword-fighting skills, princesses show off their colorful dresses, craft-workers make leather shoes and jewelry, troubadours recite love poetry, medieval musicians play their songs, and you might even witness a public witch-burning. During one of these festivals you’ll watch medieval performances of music, dance, and theatre, horse shows, take part in sword battle tournaments or in craft and cuisine workshops.

Should You Visit the Citadel of Sighisoara?

One of the prettiest and best-preserved medieval city-citadels still inhabited in Europe, Sighisoara is a must-see destination for anyone who visits Romania. Easily accessible when driving through Transylvania, it’s worth even a short visit. I stop every time I revisit my old childhood home nearby, and still never get tired of it.

Although a few hours in the city offers me a short reminder of why my family and I like the medieval city center, we still enjoy spending close to a full day there. First-time visitors will definitely enjoy a full day or even two-day stay in town.


  1. Where is the citadel of Sighisoara?

    The citadel and the town of Sighisoara are in the Transylvania region of Romania, in Mures county.

  2. When was the citadel of Sighisoara built?

    Originally built in the 12th century, the citadel and city within were expanded and strengthened in the 15th century.

  3. Who built the citadel of Sighisoara?

    Craftsmen and merchants of Saxon origin from the Northern part of Germany, built the citadel of Sighisoara and a few others in the region. Invited by the Hungarian king Bela II, they to settled in the border region of Transylvania in the 12th century. Called Transylvanian Saxons, a few still live in the area, though most left the country during communist times, after over eight centuries of living there.

  4. What is the must-see site inside the citadel?

    If you have only time for one site in Sighisoara, visit the Clock Tower and the history museum it houses. You’ll not only learn about the history of the citadel and the town but get a gorgeous view of the city from the tower’s balcony.

  5. When was is the Citadel of Sighisoara named a UNESCO Heritage Site and why?

    The historic center of Sighisoara, basically the citadel, was named a UNESCO Heritage site in 1999. It is listed valuable as an “outstanding example of a small fortified medieval town which played an important strategic and commercial role on the fringes of Central Europe for several centuries.”

  6. How to get to the citadel of Sighisoara?

    Sighisoara is on E60, the major road crossing Europe. If you flew into Bucharest and rented a car, drive North on E60. Distance from Bucharest is 4 hours 35 minutes. Once in Sighisoara, drive to the center of town, park your car and walk up to the citadel.

  7. Is Sighisoara worth a visit?

    The historic center of Sighisoara is one of the most beautiful and best preserved, still inhabited, medieval citadels in Europe. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is worth adding to everyone’s itinerary who visits Romania.

If you plan to visit Sighisoara, here are some additional resources:

Recommendations and Resources

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Read more about Sighisoara and Romania, and use guidebooks when you go:

Carrying a physical book with you might be old-fashioned, but in a world where cell service is spotty or nonexistent, it pays to do so. The Lonely Planet guide books are my go-to travel books.
You can find info about Sighisoara and the rest of Romania in their Romania and Bulgaria Travel Guide. You can also learn phrases to use when visiting Sighisoara both in Romanian and Hungarian (often heard in town), in their Eastern Europe Phrasebook & Dictionary.
***If buying a book through any of my links, you will get a 10% discount that will be automatically applied to your purchase (but if you don’t see the discount, use coupon code EMESEFROMM10)

Book your flight:

When flying anywhere, check several different sites to find the best deals. Unless you know what airline you are using use (and have a credit card with points from that airline), you could checkCheapOairandWayAwayfor deals.

Book your rental car:

To compare prices of different car rental companies,Discover Carsis a great place to start. Or,

Book your accommodations:

You can useTrivagoto compare deals on hotels and alternative accommodations. Or, book a place

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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