Historical Monument presentation:
The historical centre of Sibiu
In the city of Sibiu the historical centre was formed as a compact entity, easy to discern in the city’s structure. It developed on two terraces, one in the flood-meadow of River Cibin (the Lower City) and part of it on a diluvial terrace (the Upper City).
In the historical centre there are four defence walls whose shape and trajectory explains the city’s structure - defence wall I, the initial fortress; defence wall II, the extension of the initial fortress; defence wall III, the Upper City; defence wall IV, the Lower City.
Each defence wall had three gates. As the defended surface increased, some gates became articulation points between the different urban areas. At its maximum extension Sibiu had a total of four gates towards the exterior, whose location was connected to the pre-existent trajectory of former transit roads: the Tower’s Gate (Sagtor) in the Lower City, The Salt Mine’s Gate (Burgertor) in the Upper City, the Lizzard’s Gate (Elisabethtor) in the Lower City and the Cisnădie Gate (Heltauertor) in the Upper City.
The centre of the initial settlement was discovered in the Lower City and was made up of several different spaces. In time, the settlement’s centre moved to the Upper City, where gradually an ensemble of markets developed and formed what now is known as the historical centre. Made up of several large spaces connected through multiple gangways, they form a continuous and unique space.
The ensemble of the central markets is of major importance for the city’s configuration, as the latter appeared as architecturally developed spaces in the first half of the 13th c., even though their current form was finalized much later.
The oldest of these spaces is Piaţa Huet (Huet Square). It was formed inside defence wall I, a pentagonal precinct around the present day Evanghelical parish church. In the first half of the 13th c. it was surrounded by rather poor defences made of wood and earth but, after the Mongol invasion of 1241/1242 it was reconstructed using more solid materials. Apart from the central church, which was raised and developed in several successive stages, there existed in the square several chapels, one of which a Romanic rotunda (demolished in the 17th c.) and two or three Gothic chapels, one of which is partially preserved even today. Another part of this complex is the building of the National College Samuel von Brukenthal (built in the second half of the 18th c., remarkable through its internal staircase and monumental aula), the Parish House (whose main body was built starting with the 14th c. up to 1502) and other buildings of lesser importance. All these are found in the square’s perimeter. There also is a statue of Bishop Georg Daniel Teutsch (bishop and historian), created at the end of the 19th c. and located in an almost central position, in front of the church’s main portal. After a short period, a cast iron fence was raised around the church, which delimits today the free-walking space.
Soon after being completed, the church was delimited by a second precinct (defence wall II) located near it: the present day Small Square, which tried to increase the usable surface and, at the same time, to keep a configuration easy to defend, thereby adopting a crescent’s shape. On this trajectory were raised defence walls and towers in the 13th c. At the beginning of the next century baileys were added by the duplication of the above mentioned wall. At the same time, inside the precinct a first building was raised – the city’s Town Hall. Since the 14th c. other buildings were added inside this space – especially guild halls. As the precinct became the city’s main market place and an architectural complex itself, the problem of regularizing it appeared naturally. In order to achieve it a central wing was built in the 15th c., which separated the complex into two distinct spaces, one of which was further divided by the construction of a fountain. Finally, in the 19th c. these two parts were reunited by the dismantling of the central wing and the fountain.
The third monumental public space is the Great Square. The latter appeared as a “transversal” market by partially allotting an intra muros marsh near the city fortifications (defence wall II). Thus, these fortifications formed one the market’s sides for a long time, determining its general shape up to a point. Initially, in the first half of the 13th c., only the opposite front was made up of houses, but during the next hundred years the lateral sides also appeared. An important change in the space’s configuration was made in the 15th c. by the construction of several, mostly public buildings along the city’s fortifications. Over them was raised, starting with 1727, a catholic church and a Jesuit college, thus modifying the ratio in the importance of the buildings on the different sides of the square. The destruction of temporary buildings, the replacement of the medieval statue of Roland with one of St. Nepomuk, the construction of a fence around an older fountain moved there from another location, as well as the construction of the Brukenthal Palace gave the square a baroque air.
Apart from these large squares, smaller ones appeared at street junctions, the most interesting of which is Goldsmiths’ Square. Forming nodal points of the urban structure, they suffered modifications as the territory inside the city was gradually built upon – for example in the area near the old hospital (which formed the square at the junction of Turnului and Dragoner streets) –, as well as by the construction and demolition of the fortifications between the two parts of the city (the Goldsmiths’ Square and the square in front of the Ursuline Monastery).
In order to ease the traffic and ensure the defence requirements, the connections between the Upper and Lower Cities were changed repeatedly, as some staircases and bridges were built and others were taken down. These numerous changes did not damage though the aesthetic qualities of these connections.
Some of them are spectacular. At the end of Turnului street, the difference of level was eliminated by a ramp that reaches Huet Square, passing under the gate tower of the first defence wall; towards the south the Staircases’ Passage (Pempflingergasse) is formed, which makes the connection downhill to the Old Town Hall. Its sides are flanked to the east by the tall defence wall I, and to the west by a row of modest houses, the two fronts connected by arches. In the first half of the 20th c. this passageway’s upper part was transformed in a staircase that ends, as before, in the gate tower of defence wall III, which makes the connection to the Upper City.
The connection between Ocnei street and the Small Square is made through a ramp delimited by two high support walls, tied by a iron cast bridge, named the Bridge of Lies – today one of the city’s symbols.
The organic shapes of the central squares complex – practically a result of the city’s planimetry –, as well as the connections between these squares that, in spite of the differences in the terrain’s level, form a highly coherent ensemble, illustrate in a paradigmatic manner the evolution of medieval urban structures in Central Europe’s south-east.