The Saxons arrived in southeastern Transylvania in the 12th and 13th centuries, in the area occupied by 2 counties Brasov and Sibiu, and a small piece of Mures County. They were invited by the Kings of Hungary to defend the eastern borders of Christian Europe against the invaders from the west. They established about 200 villages, and 7 main fortified towns/cities – hence the German name for Transylvania, Siebenbuergen.

Saxon is not a written language and sounds similar to Dutch and the low German dialects of Luxembourg. Each village has its own dialect and villagers can immediately detect the village or area where any Saxon speaker comes from.

The houses were built in the style of their 12-13th century western European origins. The villages have remained unchanged in structure and largely unchanged in size for many centuries. The villages are typically built in line, along each side of a stream.

Each house has high walls and a large gate, wide enough for a loaded hay cart. Within is a very private cobbled courtyard – a dwelling house on one side, or both, is followed in a line by cattle sheds and pig sheds, and across the courtyard, at right angles and closing off the area, is a large barn for storing hay. Behind the barn is a small (about 0.5 ha.) vegetable plot, followed by an approximately 1 ha. fruit orchard. This is usually the border of the land attached to the house, often marked by a line of walnut trees, beyond which is the common grazing land or arable land.

The spiritual and defensive centre of each village was the distinctive fortified church. At times of attack, Saxons would retreat with their livestock within the walls of the church, in which stores of food were kept, and which had a well, to allow for a siege. In fact, households kept their dried hams and fat bacon within family storerooms built into the walls of the church for use, even in peacetime. Each Sunday villagers would cut off enough for the week, and the hams remained in the cool of the thick-walled church. This custom continues in some villages.

Fundatia ADEPT Transylvania is carrying out research into the important habitats and wildlife of the area and working with farmers to protect them. See www.fundatia-adept.org

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