Home > Places > Transylvania > Fortresses and fortified Churches > Cisnadioara




In the Sibiu county, bordered on its south-eastern side by the Cibinului mountains, lies the parish of Cisnadioara (Michelsberg). It is crossed by the Cisnadioara river.

Access is made from Sibiu, which is only 6 km away, through Cisnadie, on a county road.

Cisnadioara boasts the oldest architectural monument built in a genuinely Romanesque style in Transylvania, namely the Saint Michael Church.

boasts the oldest architectural monument built in a genuinely Romanesque style in Transylvania, namely the

Initially, the Fortified Church belonged to the Saxon prepositure in Sibiu set up in 1188-1191, which contributed to the construction of such edifices.

The prepositure of Sibiu presented the estate to the Hungarian king Andrew the 2nd, who, in his turn, transferred it to one of his high officials, Magister Gocelinus. He was the one who donated it to the Cistercian friars (1223) who kept it until 1454, when the Cistercian abbacy was suppressed. The general aspect of the Church has remained unchanged from 1223 to the day.

The Saint Michael Church is typical of the Saxon basilicas built in the vicinity of Sibiu. The Church at Cisnadioara has one of the few Saxon fortifications built prior to the Tartar raids in 1241. It was erected on a 70 m high rocky spur, i.e. St. Michael Mountain, from which the name of the parish actually derived. The Fortress served the villagers to defend their community from the Tartars' and the Turks' raids. The fortification was made of an unsophisticated, crenellated precinct with a wall-walk that would be used by harquebusiers and archers. A few defence towers (partially preserved) alongside the loop-holes of the fortification can still be seen today. The main entrance of the Fortress, with a stone vault, is to be found on its southern side. Over it, there used to be a residence tower which collapsed a long time ago, as is the case of the "extramuros" tower situated on the eastern side of the Fortress.

The Church is made of a central nave flanked by aisles, of a square chancel, as well as of the main and side apses. On its western fa├žade, which holds a portal with a richly decorated embrasure, were to be two towers, but they were never completed.

The St. Michael Church was raised in three stages. The first to be built was the chancel, which has kept its original plaster to the day. In a second stage, it was the naves that were built. Made of hard rocks, they were not plastered. As the plateau of the hill on which the Church was raised is rather narrow in its east-western direction, the bell-tower, usually placed on the western side of the Saxon basilicas, was skipped. The last stage in the architectural evolution of the edifice regards the cross vaulting of the lower storey with the southern tower, and the raising by one floor with the northern tower.

One can step up the massive stone stairs to the tower through an access gallery, placed near the main portal. One of the entrances, set beneath the roof of one aisle, allowed access to the northern tower by means of a ladder that would ensure a better defence. From the central nave, which formerly had a flat ceiling, two semicircular arches open towards the aisle. These arches are supported by an unjointed pier with a rectangular section. A triumphal arch, right in the centre of the Church, isolates the central nave from the rectangular section chancel. The latter is covered by a cross vault with no ribs, and ends with a semicircular apse protected by a spherical dome in its eastern part. The pier aisles end up to the east with apses chapels which testifies to the fact that the Church at Cisnadioara is one of the oldest Transylvanian basilicas.

The main decoration of the basilica has to do with the main portal, unique in Transylvania because of its structure. Its embrasure, disposed in four retreats, is flanked by two blind arches. The cubic caps, typical of the Romanesque style, have their lower sides hollowed out, and are supported by four pillars with a cylindrical shaft, except for the couple of inner pillars of an octagonal section, which are erected on Ionic bases. The caps are covered with decorations in a flat relief, shaped as crossed strips ended in volutes, among which one can see masks placed here and there. These caps are carved in limestone, unlike the other elements, moulded in grit stone. The portion towards the shaft of the column is beautifully adorned with nervure leaves.

Over the caps, a cornice shaped as a Corinthian abacus supports the archvault. The plaster of the archvault still preserves traces of colour; the chromatic decorations resemble the ones found on the inside of the Church of St. Severus of Boppard on the Rhine, built between 1225-1235. The overlays of the oak tree grooves of the western portal, made of horizontal blades, and ended in semicircular strips, prove the fact that the basilica belonged to the Cistercian friars for over two centuries.

The oak tree lintel cut as a tympanum, and placed over the entrance of the southern wall of the chancel, has been treated chromatically, being protected by a narrow wooden roof, which reproduces the shape of the tympanum.

The inner walls of the Romanesque Church were once covered with murals. The triumphal arch was adorned with inset saints' likenesses. On its northern pillar one can still see today two saints placed under a canopy in a double pointed arch.

Inside the Church, the slabs of several German, Austrian and Hungarian soldiers who fell in the fights at Sibiu during WW I are to be found.

In the Church yard one can still see huge cannon balls made of stone, that weigh up to 100 kg; traditionally, the young grooms would have to carry them up on the mountain to the Church yard, either by themselves or helped by their friends. The cannon balls were stored up there, and thrown down in the valley upon the enemy, in case of siege. That was the way, the groom would prove his strength and assure the maid's parents that he was able to support a family.

The Evangelical Church is a construction in the baroque style (1746) that preserves the western tower of a former Gothic church. Especially valuable are its pews painted in the 17th-18th centuries. In the Church yard there is a monument dedicated to the Austro-Hungarian soldiers who died in WW I.

The font with Christ's monogram within the Church is a valuable piece of art. Its lower part, which resembles a chalice, is made of a circular base, of a tronconical leg provided with a plaited belt, and a knot decorated with grooves. The chalice proper is made of three vessels and a lid which looks as a castle's tower, since it has got a high roof surrounded by small towers. The windows of the tower are decorated with fretwork, and have Gothic outlines; the manner of execution is absolutely remarkable. The Church holds also a beautiful ciborium, whose decorative simplicity is compensated by the elegance of its shape. Its lower part is conceived as a chalice. Over it, there is a hexagonal prismatic vessel provided with a lid of a pyramidal shape.

The Statue of the Holy Virgin with Child, carved in wood, renders her in a noble posture, and richly dressed, being a sample of the beautiful Madonnas accomplished in the Gothic sculpture by the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century. The statue is held today by the Brukenthal Museum in Sibiu.

The Village Museum at Cisnadioara exhibits pottery, tissues and wood, as well as Saxon painted furniture that illustrate folk art styles in the south of Transylvania.

boasts the oldest architectural monument built in a genuinely Romanesque style in Transylvania, namely the