Hidden amidst orchard covered hills, at the foot of the Oriental Carpathians, Bistriţa is the northernmost Saxon fortification in Transylvania. It presents itself as an architectural gem anchored in its medieval history.
This fascinating city, which is a relatively new tourist destination, impresses with its historic centre filled with colourful buildings, mysterious passageways, rich galleries (like the Şugălete complex) and also with its grand symbol: the Evangelical Church. The medieval feel of the city is amplified by its pedestrian streets filled with greenery, and its stylish cafes and restaurants where you can freely relax.
No voyage into Transylvania is complete without visiting its seventh medieval city, Bistriţa.
Located on the Bistriţa Ardeleană river and current capital of Bistriţa-Năsăud county, Bistriţa was originally founded in the 12th – 13th century by Saxon settlers. During the middle ages this settlement was transformed into one of the seven most important medieval cities of Transylvania, also known as the „Siebenbürgen’’, Bistriţa being situated furthest up north. First mentioned in 1264, the city constantly evolved thanks to intensive trading, and by the 13th and 14th century it had over 30 active guilds.
The citadel of Bistriţa, fortified in the 14th century, quickly became the strongest in northern Transylvania, with no less than 18 towers and bastions. Because it was not part of the first line of defence, the fortifications and architectural ensemble inside the citadel were well preserved for a long time until, in the 19th century, part of it was demolished when major urban development took place. Today only the Cooper Tower is still standing as a testimony to the citadel’s imposing past. Still, the city today maintains a cosmopolitan aspect full of charm and is an interesting destination for those who want to journey into the past.
Once here, you will be impressed with the concentration of architectural monuments in such a relatively small space. To better understand and enjoy the medieval ensemble of Bistriţa today, the best place to start your journey is in the Central Square. These days is a quiet place, but you can easily imagine the bustle of commerce that used to be here in the good old days. The best example of those days is the Şugălete complex, made up of a group of 13 medieval buildings, and connected by lovely passages with gothic arcades. But the most representative of all of the old city’s buildings has always been the Evangelical Church, with its 75 meter high tower, the tallest in Transylvania. Next to it, you can admire houses just as old with interesting facades and gates. The House of Silver, formerly the home of a great jeweller is counted as one of these. Some can be visited such as the House with the Lions for example, which houses a traditional art centre. The House of Ion Zidaru, a gothic gem with renaissance elements dating from the 16th century or the “Andrei Mureşanu” Memorial House, commemorating the author of the national anthem can also be visited. Another symbolic building is the 35 meter high Cooper’s Tower currently hosting a medieval doll and mask exposition. You can have an unforgettable experience discovering these attractions while strolling down the small winding streets of the city centre.
The many religious edifices (be it of Orthodox, Catholic or Jewish confession) are a testament to the cultural diversity of Bistriţa. Some of these include the Synagogue with its gothic, romantic and oriental elements, the Roman Catholic Holy Trimity church or the gothic Orthodox Church.
An attraction of its own is the pedestrian street Liviu Rebreanu, a very green and animated place, where locals and tourists mingle in its 19th century ambiance.
Bistriţa is not wanting for interesting museums either. The Contemporary Art Museum has many original paintings and sculptures you can admire. In the Ethnographic Museum you can discover the beauty of Bistriţa’s countryside lifestyle.
- To climb the tower of the Evangelical Church, and then visit the Cooper’s Tower and the House with the Lions. The entry ticket is valid for all three venues.
- Bistriţa is transited by route E576 and the train station can be found at 2 Gării Street.
- The closest airport is in Cluj-Napoca (120 km away).
- The Tourist Information Center can be found at 6 Piaţa Centrală (Central Square).
- The Central Post Office is at 9 Ştefan cel Mare Street. Schedule: Monday-Friday 8:00-19:00, Saturday 9:00-13:00.
- The Evangelical Church has recently been renovated, after in 2008 the roof and tower were greatly affected by a fire. Presently the tower can be climbed using an elevator (visiting hours: Monday closed, Tuesday-Sunday 12:00-16:00).