Most historic Romanian cities go by many names and this city is no exception. Called Hermannstadt in German and Nagyszeben in Hungarian, it is nowadays known as Sibiu, as it is the capital of the Sibiu County. Located deep in Transylvanian territory, Sibiu is a city of great historical significance as it used to be the capital of the Principality of Transylvania between 1692 and 1791 and then for a shorter period of time, between 1849 and 1845. Many stunning landmarks can be found throughout the city, as the memories of brick and stone celebrating this ancient prestige.
Divided between the Upper and the Lower Town, Sibiu is home to a great many Baroque and Gothic churches as well as Art Nouveau building. It is also a lovely maze of narrow staircases, inviting cobbled streets and even more inviting laid-back coffee houses and colorful mansions, whose peculiarly shaped windows make them look almost human, and at times cyclopean.
Yet, Sibiu isn’t just another city frozen in time, longing for a long-lost glorious past. It was designed the European Capital of Culture in 2007 and was voted Europe’s 8th most idyllic place to live by Forbes in 2008. Since then, the city could have rested on its laurels but instead, it continued expanding on its appeal and popularity. Its Christmas Market was ranked as one of the 15 most beautiful markets in the world in 2013 while in 2019 the city hosted the European Gastronomic capital. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Sibiu is now one of the most dynamic and eventful cities in Romania, as a reminiscence to a time when major composers such as Strauss and Liszt regularly graced the city with their presence.
To top it all off, Sibiu’s ideal location at the heartland of Transylvania makes it the perfect stop on a road-trip in this legendary region, rich in enticing cities, authentic countryside and majestic mountains. Small enough to be discovered on foot but big enough not to get bored, close enough to nature to allow for a day trip to some picturesque villages, Sibiu well deserves a few days of exploring. Here is our top picks to get a taste of the city and its surroundings.
The Piata Mare
Every city has its own meeting point, a place where locals gather and tourists congregate to start their sightseeing spree. In Sibiu, the Piata Mare, otherwise known as the Big Squares, takes on that role. Being one of the largest squares in Transylvania, it has been the centre of the city since the 15th century and as such, accounts for many of the city’s most beautiful buildings and façades.
Among them, the Brukenthal Palace stands out as one of the most beautiful Baroque monuments in the city. Home to a major art collection comprising paintings, books and engravings, it also stands as the oldest museum in Romania while the nearby Museum of History is considered a gem of Gothic architecture. On the north side of the square stands the Jesuit Church and its remarkable Baroque architecture, which is well worth stepping inside.
The Council Tower
Located along the Piata Mare, this pristine white tower is one of the city’s most iconic symbols. Formerly a fortification tower dating back from the Middle Ages, the tower now connects the Big Square to its smaller-sized counterpart, the Piata Mica, through a covered passage.
However, it was used as an observation point, which remains its main asset to this day as climbing up its stairs offers a sweeping view on the city and especially on both squares lying down its feet. Through the climb, you can enjoy art exhibitions that may or may not be creepy...
No matter since the real deal is on top of the tower with a view that allows to get a grasp of the magnitude of the city and its diverse range of architecture, not to mention its iconic houses with eyes.
The Bridge of Lies
If you’re a compulsive liar, be warned and stay away from that bridge. That is, only if you believe in tales and legends. Apart from being the first cats iron bridge in Romania, legend indeed has it that the place holds certain powers. It is said to have ears that can pierce through the lies, ears so powerful that every lie makes the bridge crack and the boldest lies can even make it collapse right under your feet.
Nowadays though, this delightful bridge is most beloved by lovers on the lookout for a romantic place to take selfies together. There’s no lying to the camera, right? The bridge also offers a pretty vantage point onto the Lower Town and its peculiar houses, which cannot prove that the Bridge of Lies has ears but definitely prove that Sibiu’s houses have all eyes opened.
It also connects the Lesser Square of Piata Mica to the stunning Gothic Lutheran Cathedral, recognizable from afar thanks to its vivid glazed roof tiles.
The Holy Trinity Cathedral
As far as legends go, there’s not much to Sibiu’s Orthodox Cathedral. Liars might not be welcome in such a holy place but the building won’t collapse onto them in any case. However, this Orthodox Cathedral embodies a very famous saying that urges not to judge a book by its cover. From the outside, the building sure looks hefty but quite plain. All it takes is to take a step inside to turn that deceiving impression on its head.
From the walls to the ceiling, the whole Cathedral is covered in dramatic Neo-Byzantine paintings, glowing in bright colours that complement the golden iconostasis and kliros. The details of the paintings are so eye-catching and the paintings are so massive that it takes a few minutes to get accustomed to their profusion. You could even get dizzy, keeping your head up for too long! At the time of our visit, we felt the Cathedral hadn’t become a noisy tourist magnet and remained a place of peace and quiet, all in all a welcome respite in a lively city.
Located twenty minutes away from Sibiu, Sibiel is everything you’d expect from a Transylvanian village. Despite their similar names, there's not much comparison between both places, except in terms of charm and quaint appeal. Sibiel's pastoral landscape offers a sense of what countryside life can be about in Romania, as well as its many well preserved traditional wooden houses.
This village of a mere 400 souls also boasts an unusual museum, the Zosim Oancea Museum of the Icons on Glass. Even more unusual, the museum hosts the largest exhibition of its kind in Romania and displays almost 600 masterpieces, painted through an old tradition dating back from the annexation of Transylvania to the Habsburg Empire in the late 17th-century.
Right next to the museum stands a closed church that can be opened on request and showcases intricate frescoes and paintings. Contrary to the museum, photos are free within the building.
If you're planning on visiting Transylvania, don't think twice and put Sibiu on your travel list. You won't regret spending some time wandering in its pretty streets or roaming the countryside in a quest for some unexpected gems.
[//]:# ( d3scr)