It was the most powerful fortification in Transylvania. Its thick walls used to stand proud in the center of Prejmer, once a dominating town, strategically placed at the crossroad between the most important access roads. Controlling the commerce from the east, it developed quickly. But this also meant that it would have to suffer many attacks.
The area surrounding Braşov was once known as the Bârsa Country. The name comes from the river Bârsa which springs from the Făgăraş Mountains and crosses plains between mountains and hills until it flows into the Olt River. A long time ago, in 1211, these places were let in the care of the Teutonic Knights. Their goal here was to convert the population to Catholicism. During their stay, the Bârsa Country was first mentioned in documents. They also began to build churches. But soon after, they were banished and instead came the Saxons, who, together with the locals, fought against their common enemies and built fortifications to protect themselves.
The Prejmer Citadel is massive. It takes a while to go around it. We enter through a vaulted gallery. At its end we find ourselves surrounded by high walls. It’s so quiet. Just a slight echo. We almost forgot where we came from. Everything’s old. Time stopped. There’s no more connection to the outside world. The first gate takes us into the Town Hall Yard. Next to it there’s the Bakers’ Yard. These two are newer additions to the citadel. We move forward, pass through another gallery and arrive in front of the church, which is proudly standing in the middle of a lively garden. It’s not big and it’s very intimate. Walls all around and above them, the light blue spring sun. They don’t intimidate as they did on the exterior, with their shades of gray. There are rooms, pantries and granaries, more than 270 of them, on two, three or four levels, all around, from top to bottom. Small doors, windows, stairs, balconies, made of dark wood are blending so well with the bright white of the background. Up we go on the steep steps and we begin to explore. Some rooms are empty, some are closed, but some make it all worth the search. Small museums, such as the “The Old School” show mural paintings and valuable old furniture. The first teachers are documented to have worked here in the 15th century. We also visited a blacksmith’s workshop and some stores keeping various tools used in agriculture and crafts. But the best surprise was yet to come. Some stone stairs inside the walls take us to a higher level where we find ourselves walking down the parapet. The little light we see comes only from the embrasures and shooting holes. We describe a circle and return to where we started from. And then we go on once again, because we loved it so much, and also because we didn’t want to miss anything, such as the other hidden ways of going back down.
We return to the garden. It’s time to visit the church. This is the oldest one in the Bârsa Country and one of the best preserved in Eastern Europe. It seems that before they left, the Teutonic Knights began to build a church here in the shape of a Latin cross. Its fortification also started in the 13th century. We enter. The old arcades have been kept. We notice the old ground stone. The altar is a bit different from what we are used to. It’s a large, three part piece of painted wood, a Gothic Triptych, painted on both sides. So simple and so beautiful. We found that it is the oldest altar in Romania, worked between 1450-1460. The organ is at its usual place, above the chairs. This is also an old valuable piece, brought here in 1803.
Also known by its German name, the Tartlau Citadel we see today was finished in 1427 and its purpose was to protect locals from the Ottoman threat. It soon became the most powerful fortified church in Transylvania. Other elements were added, such as the two smaller yards at the entrance. Its 5 to 6m thick walls were 14m high. Out of the four towers, only two remain to this day. Another protection line was built around it, only 4m high. Its remains can be seen outside. It was also guarded by a deep ditch, once filled with water.
During its five centuries of thriving existence, Prejmer Citadel was incinerated 50 times. And yet, it is still standing in front of us today.