The Fortified Church of Biertan (Birthälm), Sibiu County

This destination guide covers a visit to the Saxon fortified church of Biertan (Birthälm) in Sibiu County, Romania.

The road to Biertan

Having visited the Saxon fortified churches of Criț and Meșendorf, it was time to continue my road trip through Transylvania.

I would head from Brașov County into Sibiu County by taking the DN13 towards Sighișoara, from where I would head west on the DN14.

In the town of Șaroș pe Târnave I would get off the main road and drive a few miles south to the town of Biertan.

I’ve visited Biertan and its Saxon fortified church before, but as it’s such an impressive sight I didn’t mind stopping there again.

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On the road towards Biertan. ©Paliparan
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Driving through the rolling hills of Transylvania. ©Paliparan

Town centre

As you arrive at the town centre of Biertan, the hilltop Saxon fortified church can be seen towering above all the other houses.

The combination of its hilltop location, immense size, and the fortifications surrounding it make the Saxon fortified church in Biertan one of the most picturesque sights in all of Transylvania.

Biertan (called Birthälm in German by the Transylvanian Saxons) is a small but rather cute town.

Founded by Saxon settlers in the 13th century, Biertan quickly grew into an important market town that rivalled even the larger city of Mediaș nearby in importance.

Surrounding the town square are a few typical Saxon houses, as well as the general school and town hall.

The fortified church of Biertan has always been one of the most important in all of Transylvania.

Between 1572 and 1867 it even was the the seat of the Bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania.

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The Saxon fortified church of Biertan as seen from the main square. ©Paliparan
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Saxon town houses surrounding the main square. ©Paliparan
biertan town square
Biertan town square. ©Paliparan
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The local school building. ©Paliparan
main road
Main road running through town. ©Paliparan


Before I embarked on my visit of Biertan’s fortified church, I stopped for lunch at the only restaurant in town called Medieval Unglerus.

The restaurant serves some good Romanian fare for affordable prices and offers both indoor and outdoor seating.

I took a seat on the terrace and enjoyed a plate of tochitură, a delicious meat stew accompanied by polenta, an egg, sour cream, and grated cheese.

Apart from the restaurant you also find a bank, ATM and some small supermarkets in Biertan.

Enjoying some tochitură. ©Paliparan

Church fortifications

Biertan’s Saxon fortified church is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list and is open every day of the week from 10am to 5pm.

To visit the fortified church, visitors must purchase an entrance ticket that costs 15 lei (€3).

As you enter the premises you will instantly notice how impressive the fortifications are.

The Saxon fortified church in Biertan is encompassed by three layers of walls, and its fortifications include two baileys and several defensive towers.

The fortifications were built in different stages, starting with the inner ring in the 14th century, and the outer two being added in the 16th and 17th centuries.

To access the inner courtyard of the church compound, visitors must ascend a covered wooden staircase that is around 100 meters long.

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Entering the fortified chuch of Biertan. ©Paliparan
guard tower
The fortifications of the church consist of three sets of walls and several guard towers. ©Paliparan
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The covered staircase. ©Paliparan
covered staircase
Covered staircase that leads uphill to the church courtyard. ©Paliparan
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The Clock Tower and another defensive tower. ©Paliparan


Upon reaching the top of the hill and entering the church compound, I decided to first take a look at the fortifications outside before heading into the church itself.

Of the defensive towers surrounding the church, the Mausoleum Tower is perhaps the most interesting as it contains some epitaphs and grave slaps of several bishops and priests.

The Catholic Tower, situated in the southern part of the church complex, was used by the few Transylvanian Saxons of Biertan who adhered to the Catholic denomination even after the majority of their fellow citizens had converted to Lutheranism following the Reformation.

Inside the tower, visitors can admire some faded yet beautiful frescoes adorning the walls.

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The Clock Tower and the church. ©Paliparan
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Several defensive towers were built around the hilltop church. ©Paliparan
mausoleum tower
The Mausoleum Tower. ©Paliparan


From the ramparts and towers of the fortified church, you have some excellent views over the town of Biertan and the surrounding countryside.

The ramparts also serve as a great vantage point from which visitors can view the multiple layers of fortifications surrounding the church.

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From the ramparts and towers you have a great view over Biertan and the surrounding hills. ©Paliparan
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The Gate Tower down the hill. ©Paliparan
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View over the town of Biertan. ©Paliparan
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View from the ramparts of the fortified church. ©Paliparan
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Rampart view over the town and surrounding countryside. ©Paliparan

Church exterior

The fortified church of Biertan is a magnificent example of Late Gothic architecture and was constructed in the 15th century.

Biertan’s massive, three-aisled hall church was built on the site of an earlier Romanesque church.

The church’s structure appears almost like a square block due to the limited space available on the hill.

While the nave is only 26 meters long, it is 20 meters wide and 16 meters high, giving it an impressive and imposing appearance.

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The Late Gothic church of Biertan. ©Paliparan
church turrets
The church has a couple of small turrets. ©Paliparan
church entrance
Church entrance. ©Paliparan

Inside the church

The ceiling of the church features a beautiful net vault, which is an advanced form of the ribbed vault that emerged during the Late Gothic period.

Several historical flags of the guilds of Biertan, such as the Tailor’s Guild and Shoemaker’s Guild, can also be found inside the church.

As in many other Saxon churches in Transylvania, several beautiful Ottoman rugs are also displayed inside the church.

At the church altar you can find a magnificent winged altarpiece.

The central part of this altarpiece displays the crucifixion of Jesus, while the surrounding paintings portray the life of the Virgin Mary, to whom the church is dedicated.

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Biertan’s church is a hall church with three naves and a wonderful net vault. ©Paliparan
Biertan's church is a hall church with three naves and a wonderful net vault. ©Paliparan
The central nave with pulpit. ©Paliparan
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Church altar. ©Paliparan
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The magnificent altarpiece. The German text reads “Jesus Christ yesterday and today and therefore also in eternity”. ©Paliparan
View from the altar towards the back of the church. ©Paliparan
pulpit organ
Pulpit and organ. ©Paliparan
wooden benches
Wooden church benches. ©Paliparan
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Several guild flags are displayed in the church. ©Paliparan
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The sacristy of Biertan’s fortified church. ©Paliparan

Walking through Biertan

Having visited the church, I headed back downhill to walk a bit through the town.

Whether you look at it from up close or from further away, Biertan’s fortified church remains a stunning sight.

If you have the time, it’s really worth it to wander a bit around town or to hike up into the surrounding hills to admire the church from a distance.

Walking through the town of Biertan. ©Paliparan
Traditional Saxon houses in Birthälm as the town is called by German speakers. ©Paliparan
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More traditional Saxon houses in the outskirts of town. ©Paliparan
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Houses in Biertan. ©Paliparan
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The fortified church as seen from the outskirts of town. ©Paliparan
old houses
Old town houses. ©Paliparan
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Locals walking towards the fortified church of Biertan. ©Paliparan
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From a distance you can really see what a towering structure the fortified church is. ©Paliparan
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The Saxon fortified church of Biertan (Birthälm). ©Paliparan


The Saxon fortified church in the town of Biertan (called Birthälm by the German-speaking locals) is one of the most impressive in all of Transylvania.

Due to its hilltop location, three layers of fortifications and towering shape, Biertan’s church certainly makes for an impressive sight.

It’s great fun to explore the fortifications and defensive towers and to admire the fine views from the ramparts over the town.

The Late Gothic church itself is also stunning, featuring a beautiful net vault ceiling and a magnificent winged altarpiece.

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘Visiting the Saxon Fortified Churches of Transylvania‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. The Fortified Church of Harman (Honigberg), Brasov County
2. The Fortified Church of Prejmer (Tartlau), Brasov County
3. The Fortified Church of Feldioara (Marienburg), Brasov County
4. A Visit to Rupea Fortress
5. The Fortified Church of Homorod (Hamruden), Brasov County
6. Racoș: Exploring an Extinct Volcano and Abandoned Castle
7. In the Footsteps of Prince Charles: A Visit to Viscri, Romania
8. A Visit to the Fortified Church of Viscri, Brasov County
9. A Night Walk Around the Citadel and Old Town of Sighisoara
10. Review: Hotel Casa Wagner, Sighisoara, Romania
11. The Fortified Church of Saschiz (Keisd), Mureș County
12. The Fortified Church of Cloasterf (Klosdorf), Mureș County
13. The Fortified Church of Mesendorf (Meschendorf), Brasov County
14. The Fortified Church of Crit (Deutsch-Kreuz), Brasov County
15. The Fortified Church of Biertan (Birthälm), Sibiu County (current chapter)

** rest of the chapters to follow soon **


koen paliparan rhodes rodos


Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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