Founded by German craftsmen and merchants known as the Saxons of Transylvania, Sighişoara is a fine example of a small, fortified medieval town which played an important strategic and commercial role on the fringes of central Europe for several centuries.
Sighişoara, which lies in the heart of Transylvania, developed on a plateau, dominated by a hill overlooking a bend in the river Tirnava.
In the 13th century, German craftsmen and merchants, known as Saxons, were ordered by the Hungarian sovereigns to colonize Transylvania and protect the border of the Carpathians against the steppe peoples. They settled on a hill, called the City Hill, which has revealed traces of occupation going back to the Palaeolithic period.
Following incursions by the Tatars in 1241, the fortified settlement on City Hill was reinforced with walls, guarded by towers, which were extended to surround the entire plateau at the end of the 14th century. The town, which was known in 1280 as Castrum Sex, developed commercial activities thanks to the powerful guilds of craftsmen. Each guild was responsible for the construction of a tower and its defence. The importance of the town was recognized in 1367 when it obtained the title of Civitas and became the second national political entity of Transylvania (the scaun of Schässburg, the original Germanic name for Sighişoara).
Under pressure from the Turks between 1421 and 1526, the fortified city raised its walls. At the same time, a settlement grew around the Church of the Saint Anthony hospital (existence attested by documents in 1461), situated at the foot of the plateau. The core of the Lower Town, protected by walls with defensive gates, gradually expanded to the east and west, and now stretches to both banks of the Tirnava.
During the XVIIth century, the town of Sighişoara suffered from a succession of tragic events. The population was reduced by almost half as a result of two plague epidemics. In 1676, a fire destroyed three-quarters of the town (although the buildings on City Hill survived), but it was rebuilt over the old foundations. The Lower Town was also damaged by two fires (1736 and 1788) and floods (1771), and the entire town was shaken by an earthquake in 1838.
In 1840, the merchant guilds lost the monopoly granted to them in the 13th century, and they disappeared. Although Sighişoara remained somewhat on the fringe of economic development in the 19th century, it was able to safeguard its historic centre from extensive transformations. However, occasional interventions led to the loss of a few towers and a section of the wall. In 1866, when Hungary transferred the constitution of the Komitat (district) to Transylvania, Sighişoara/Schässburg became the capital of the Tirgu Mares/Neumarkt district, and the Dominican monastery was pulled down to make way for the new town hall.
In the 19th century, the upper part of Sighişoara continued to function as an administrative and cultural centre. The commercial and craft activities were moved to the Lower Town which lost its fortifications in a subsequent expansion phase.