One thing I like about wandering my own country is that we often end up in utterly surprising places. On our latest escape to Sibiu we decided to make a pit stop in the little town of Medias. We went there only knowing that it has a strong German heritage and it’s one of the best preserved citadels in the country. Little did we guess what we were about to discover.
The settlement is mentioned for the first time in 1146 but the official dating of the borough is the 3rd of June 1267. During the 12th and 13th centuries, Hungarian rulers colonized Transylvania with Germans in order to strengthen their Eastern borders. In exchange for their services they were granted special rights that, in time, encouraged the development of a large number of guilds.
In 1438 the Ottoman Empire invaded Transylvania, event that triggered a downfall period for Medias. To be able to protect the town from other possible attacks, a first set of defense walls were built around Saint Margaret Church. The second string of fortification was built between 1490 and 1534 and consisted of 7 m high defense walls, numerous towers and bulwarks.
Looking a bit into the town’s history we see: several Ottoman invasions, two major fires in the 15th century, four sieges followed by devastation between the 16th and 18th centuries, four plague epidemics until the 18th century and two major floods in 1970 and 1975. We are quite lucky it’s still standing and that its people are stubborn enough to rebuild over and over again.
First thing we saw, to our complete surprise, was a synagogue. In the 19th century, Medias had a rather strong Jewish community but since their number shrunk dramatically the temple has not been used in the last 17 years.
We entered through one of the side gates, as believe it or not, we couldn’t find the main gates, and one positive aspect pops up: traffic is limited. Cars can still be seen on the streets but their presence is not annoying.
Walking slowly, heading to the main square the citadel unfolds itself. I haven’t heard of another town in the country, the size of Medias, with such a complicated net of masonic symbols, legends and mysteries.
The main square, Ferdinand I, now the host of a lovely park, restaurants and summer terraces was once the place where witches were burnt at stake. For about 200 years any woman who was seen near black cats or roosters, crows and toads were brought to trial. The last execution took place in 1700.
This is in contradiction to the overwhelming display of feminine adoration. Medias looks like an open air museum dedicated to womanhood: muses, young girls, feminine angels, wise women. The focal point of this feminine cult is the Spinster. She can be found in the center of the fortress where the sun shines over her every morning. The locals hold her in great respect for she spins the thread of life and controls the destiny of every soul in the citadel.
Moving on with our visit we pass the first fortified walls and arrive in front of St. Margaret Church and the Trumpeters Tower-the crown jewel of Medias. The tower is 68m high with a deviation of 2,28 m from its axis which places it in the top 10 leaning buildings in the world. It was meant to be a rival to the tower of St. Stephan Cathedral in Vienna and it is, to the present day, the tallest church tower in Transylvania.
The name of the tower comes from the fact that a trumpeter was stationed in the observation point and his job was to play the trumpet in case of danger. If the alarm proved to be fake he was thrown over from the tower for his mistake. The four small towers on its top show that the citadel had a court of law able to pass death sentences.
As to why the tower is not straight, there are several possible answers. The first one is that the stonemasons guild wanted to build the tower taller than the one in Vienna so they added three extra floors that got the tower to 68 m. The unstable terrain could not hold the construction causing the tower to lean.
A second version tells that the master builders realized the tower was inclined only upon finishing it. Wonder-struck by their own blunder, they decided that this situation had only one possible solution. As if the tower were made out of modeling clay, they tied it up with ropes and started to pull the other way to straighten it.
Alas, the devil meddled with their plans! One of the men got distracted by a lady who was passing by. Totally bewildered by her beauty, he forgot to stop pulling the ropes so the tower bent too much in the opposite way.
A third story, and probably the most popular of them, speaks of the stonemasons ambition to build a tower high enough for them to reach the sky. The divinity, discontent with their pride, inclined the tower to teach them a lesson.
With 8 standing towers, the Trumpeters could not be the only one with an interesting story. Placed too inside the first line of walls is Maria’s Tower. This one was used as a chapel during one of the plague epidemics and later on served as a chamber of torture. Since we are in Transylvania, Dracula made an appearance in Medias as well. He is said to have been imprisoned in Maria’s Tower for a brief period on his way to Budapest, Hungary.
We continue the series of odd story-lines with the elegant tower built by the rope makers guild, next to the Roth house. After another outburst of plague, the rope makers guild disappeared giving the opportunity to the belt makers guild to claim the tower in 1604. Two hundred years later the tower became the bacon tower, the place where the locals kept their smoked bacon. Now the tower serves a noble purpose as the archive of St. Margaret Church.
Medias received its title of Fortress of Light due to the massive presence of masonic elements scattered all over the old centre. The history of the fortification is closely bound to the stonemasons guild. It is said that they designed the old fortress in the shape of a human skull facing East with streets that overlap the routes they used for their initiation rituals. One can trace their steps by following the rich selection of symbols: columns, roses, octagons, eye pyramids, the chrysalis, ivy and many more.
Going deeper into the mason stories we discover that the Stephan Ludwig Roth Highschool has a lot of similarities with the Temple of Solomon. Just like the temple, the highschool has a great hall with two columns that end on the roof with two globes: one solar and one lunar. On the facade of the building we spot three key symbols: the twins-that rose from the North to bring light, the compass and the square and the golden grapes-the symbol of Medias that appears often on walls, doors, facades, fences, etc.
The golden grapes have an intriguing tale on their own. The white wine from Medias is legendary and has been cherished since ancient times. Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula had white wine from Medias at his wedding. Sometime during the Medieval Ages the knights of Medias asked the goldsmiths guild to make three golden grapes as a token of prosperity. The knights hid them in the secret tunnels under the fortress and brought them to light only on special celebrations.
In time their location was lost but the elders whisper that the fortress has the map engraved in its walls. For the one skilled and brave the symbols will fall together to show the path to the treasure. Treasure hunt, anyone?
Leaving aside the swirl of symbols and mysteries, Medias is the typical small town where everybody knows everybody and time passes at a slower pace. It’s ideally set in the heart of the so-called “land of wine” and it’s the clash point for three cultures: Romanian, Saxon and Hungarian. The food and wine are good, the people are laid back and the craziness of the modern age does not seem to pass the thick walls. Medias grows on you as a superb option for a getaway.
Medias is reachable by train or by car with nearest towns being Sibiu (56 kms) and Sighisoara (38kms).
- The train station does not have a baggage drop off.
- We were told that the best place to eat is at Traube
- The Trumpeters Tower can be visited from the 15th of June to the 15th of September from 10am to 7pm and from the 16th of September to the 14th of June from 10am to 3 pm. Please call +40 269 841 962 to inform about your visit.
- The tourist info point is next to the Town Hall, Corneliu Coposu Square no.3 in the new part of the town. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- It can be the starting point to various trips, by car or by bike, to the famous fortified monasteries of Transylvania