A German Time Capsule in Romania

06/08/2016 01:08 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2017

The "fortified churches of Transylvania" were built by Romania's German minority. They are just one of many fascinating dimensions of exploring this country. Here's how we explained them in our TV script:

Some of Romania's most memorable fortresses aren't castles at all -- they're actually churches. While big towns were well-protected, smaller German villages were vulnerable to invaders. So what did the industrious German settlers do? They fortified their churches.

Dozens of fortified German churches -- mostly built in the 13th and 14th centuries -- are scattered across Transylvania. Like medieval fortresses, they have beefy bastions, stout lookout towers, and narrow slits for archers.

Entire communities could take refuge inside -- within these wraparound defensive galleries. This church had a room for each family and, when under attack, each family had a defensive responsibility.

Stepping inside these churches feels like stepping into medieval Germany. Decoration is humble, pews are simple benches, Bible quotes are in German, and, to this day, the services are Lutheran.

Today most of Romania's ethnic Germans are gone -- having emigrated in the late 19th century or fled to Germany after WWII. Those who remain speak a time-capsule version of German and work hard to keep their unique cultural heritage alive.

By the way, our scripts are part "voice over (VO)" -- me reading the script while we show interesting things -- and part "on camera (OC)" -- when I talk directly to the camera. The VO stuff is what's obvious to "cover" with our camera, and the OC bits are material that is more difficult to cover. All but one of these paragraphs are easy to cover -- and therefore VO. I bet you can tell which one we did OC.


This is Day 56 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I'm reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.

(This post originally appeared at blog.ricksteves.com/blog/romania-fortified-churches.)