Prejmer fortified church
The beginnings of the Holy Cross Church in Prejmer, the powerful peasant fortification in medieval monuments in Transylvania, relate to the rule of the Teutonic Knights in Bârsa Country (1211-1225). The Teutonic Knights started to build it in 1218. It has the eastern-style floor plan of a Greek cross with the apses ending in hexagons.
After the Order was banished by King Andrew II, the Church was extended in Early Gothic, an architectural style the Cistercian monks brought to Transylvania in the 13th century. In 1240 the village of Prejmer (Tartlau in German) passed to the patronage of the Cistercian abbey of Carta (Kerz). The ceilings of the square apses still have the typical vaulting of the time, in six parts, with consoles and capitals, pointed vaulting details, pointed twin windows, rose windows under the entablature of grooves and leaf buds, all characteristic of the Cistercian Gothic.
Erected in the 13th century in early Gothic style, the church is a Latin cross-plan building with an octagon tower rising over the nave, ogival vaults and side chapels that flank the polygonal-shaped main apse. On the outside, reflecting Cistercian Gothic-style influences from the abbey in Cârţa, are windows with quatrefoil tracery and a console frieze beneath the cornice. Between 1512 and 1515, the church was transformed by enlarging western wing and covering it with a ribbed vault. Inside the church, a valuable polyptych altar depicting the “Passion of the Christ” dating from the mid 15th century has been preserved.
But the real builders of this fortified church are the Saxon peasants and craftsmen. They settled in Burzenland (Tara Barsei) during the 12th century. Burzenland is a part of Transylvania, situated at the Eastern border and the Saxon colonists were meant to be defenders against the invasions coming from East and also an economic factor of development.
The construction of the fortress began in the 13th century. The second construction stage can be dated to the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The consolidation of the fortress began in 1421 after the first invasion of the Turks into Transylvania. It has the most fortified walls of any of the fortified churches of Transylvania. In their current form, the height of the ring walls is between 12 and 14 meters with thickness of up to 5 meters at the base. Inside the fortress there are over 270 rooms for refuge and storage of provisions, distributed on two to four levels.
The double-fortified inner ward forms an ellipse with four horseshoe towers completed by a barbican, and was fit with one of the most advanced systems of provision chambers that can be seen in a Transylvanian fortified church. Inside the walls, the village community had all the supplies needed to resist to a prolonged siege.
Two rooms of the southern part are called “Old school”. One of them is till preserving traces of old paintings on the walls. There is also a defensive gallery along the inside of the wall, at the height of ten meters and about 800 meters long. It has a large number of fire-halls and spouts for pouring boiling pitch onto the attackers. A special attraction of the fortifications is the “death organ” a thick rotating wooden board on an iron axle carrying five barrels mounted on each side. The barrels on one side could be loaded with metal projectiles while the other was being fired at the enemy and so, by rotating the board rapidly, continuous fire could be achieved!
Today the fortified church of Prejmer is one of the seven fortified Saxon churches (Biertan, Calnic, Darjiu, Prejmer, Saschiz, Valea Viilor, and Viscri) that were designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.