Formerly the centre of the Transylvanian Saxons, the old city of Sibiu was ranked as “Europe’s 8th-most idyllic place to live” by Forbes in 2008.
Sibiu was founded in the 12th century, perhaps even earlier. It is first documented as existing in 1192 and it was for much of the medieval period, and beyond, the easternmost ethnic German city in Europe, and also the largest of the seven Transylvanian cities that became known as Siebenbürgen (literally “seven cities“).
Sibiu is one of the most important cultural centres of Romania and was designated the European Capital of Culture for the year 2007, along with the city of Luxembourg. Sibiu retained a large German community until the revolution of 1989 (in which Sibiu played an active role), since when most Germans have emigrated. Among the roughly 2,000 who have remained is Klaus Johannis, mayor of the city from 2000 until 2014, when he became president of Romania.
While walking around Sibiu, you’ll start to notice something a bit odd. You may even get the sense that someone—or something—is watching you. While you gaze at the city’s architecture, you’ll start to realize the houses are staring back.
Many of the houses on the south and east sides of the city look as though they have eyes peering from their roofs. These cartoonish features give the impression that the buildings (much like Sibiu’s notorious party crowd) never sleep. Though the eyes may look like some sort of sinister Big Brother surveillance program, they’re actually just oddly shaped windows. Houses use them as a cooling system for their attics. Most of the “eyes” were built between the 15th and 19th centuries.
Sibiu (Hermannstadt) is first documented as existing in 1192, but there had probably been a settlement here for many decades, even centuries before. By the end of the 14th century the city had become an important trading centre, and there were 19 trade guilds listed in a register dating from 1376, more than 40 by the end of the 1500s.
The city shot to real stardom however when it was made the capital of Transylvania after the principality formally became a part of the Habsburg Empire in 1692. While the King of Hungary was the nominal Prince (and ruler) of Transylvania, he ruled via a Governor who was based in Sibiu. Perhaps surprisingly, it was during this period that the ethnic Romanian population of the city began to grow, and during the latter part of the 18th century and much of the 19th, the city became a key centre in the struggle to define a Romanian national consciousness. The first Romanian-owned bank had its headquarters here, as did ASTRA (Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and Romanian’s People Culture). After the Romanian Orthodox Church was granted full legal status within the Habsburg Empire from the 1860s onwards, Sibiu became the seat of the church in Transylvania, and the city is still regarded as the third most important centre of the Romanian Orthodox Church, after Bucharest and Iasi. Between the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and 1867, Sibiu was the meeting-place of the Transylvanian Diet.
The city of Sibiu and its surroundings are one of the most visited areas in Romania. It holds one of the best preserved historical sites in the country, many of its medieval fortifications having been kept in excellent state. Its old center has begun the process for becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. Sibiu also has 12 museums housing art collections, paintings and exhibits, including a Steam Locomotives Museum sheltering around 40 locomotives, two of which are functional.
The city lies close to the Făgăraș Mountains – a popular trekking destination, to the Păltiniș and Arena Platos ski resorts – both winter holiday destinations, and it is at the heart of the former Saxon communities in Transylvania, renowned for its fortified churches.
The ASTRA National Museum Complex is a must-see. Focusing on ethnography, it consists of a Traditional Folk Civilisation Museum – a 96-hectare open-air museum located in Dumbrava Forest, a Universal Ethnography Museum, a Museum of Transylvanian Civilisation and a Museum of Saxon Ethnography and Folk Art. The Dumbrava Sibiului Natural Park stretches over 960 hectares and it is situated 4 km away from the center of the city, along the road towards Răşinari. Also, you can find the Zoological Garden here.