Sibiu is an important city in Transylvania, Romania. It straddles the Cibin River, a tributary of the river Olt. It is the capital of Sibiu County and is located some 282 km NW of Bucharest. Between 1692—1791 it was the capital of the Principality of Transylvania.
It is one of the most important cultural and religious centres in Romania as well a major transportation hub in central Romania. The city used to be the centre of the Transylvanian Saxons until World War II. Sibiu was designated European Capital of Culture for the year 2007, together with Luxembourg. It is ranked as "Europe 8th most most idyllic place to live" by Forbes.
Sibiu is situated near the geographical center of Romania. Set in the Cibin Depression, the city is about 20 km from the Făgăraş Mountains, 12 km from the Cibin Mountains, and about 15 km from the Lotrului Mountains, which border the depression in its southwestern section. The northern and eastern limits of Sibiu are formed by the Târnavelor Plateau, which descends to the Cibin Valley through Guşteriţei Hill.
The Cibin river as well as some smaller streams runs through Sibiu. The geographical position of Sibiu makes it one of the most important transportation hubs in Romania with important roads and railway lines passing through it.
Sibiu's climate is temperate-continental with average temperatures of 8 to 9°C. The multi-annual average of rainfall is 662 l/mp, and there are about 120 days of hard frost annually.
The first official record referring to the Sibiu area comes from 1191, when Pope Celestine III confirmed the existence of the free prepositure of the German settlers in Transylvania, the prepositure having its headquarters in Sibiu, named Cibinium at that time. It was probably built near a Roman settlement, one that would be known during the early Middle Ages as Caedonia.
In the 14th century, it was already an important trade center. In 1376, the craftsmen were divided in 19 guilds. Sibiu became the most important ethnic German city among the seven cities that gave Transylvania its German name Siebenbürgen (literally seven cities), and it was home to the Universitas Saxorum, the assembly of Germans in Transylvania. Common opinion in the 17th century ascribed Sibiu the quality of being the easternmost city to be part of the European sphere; it was also the eastern terminus of postal routes.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the city became the second and later the first most important center of Transylvanian Romanian ethnics. The first Romanian-owned bank had its headquarters here (The Albina Bank), as did the ASTRA (Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and Romanian's People Culture). After the Romanian Orthodox Church was granted status in the Habsburg Empire from the 1860s onwards, Sibiu became the Metropolitan seat, and the city is still regarded as the third most important center of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Between the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and 1867 (the year of the Ausgleich), Sibiu was the meeting-place of the Transylvanian Diet, which had taken its most representative form after the Empire agreed to extend voting rights in the region.
After World War I, when Austria-Hungary was dissolved, Sibiu became part of Romania; the majority of its population was still ethnic German (until 1941) and counted large Romanian and Hungarian communities. Starting from the 1950s and until after 1990, most of the city's ethnic Germans emigrated to Germany.
The city features in the famous novel "The Reader" (Der Vorleser) by German law professor and judge Bernhard Schlink, upon which an Oscar-winning film was based.
Much of the city's aspect is due to its position, easily defensible, but allowing horizontal development. The old city of Sibiu lies on the right bank of the Cibin River, on a hill situated at about 200 m from the river. It consists of two distinct entities: the Upper Town and the Lower Town. Traditionally, the Upper Town was the wealthier part and commercial outlet, while the Lower Town served as the manufacturing area.
The Lower Town (Romanian: Oraşul de jos) comprises the area between the river and the hill, and it developed around the earliest fortifications. The streets are long and quite wide for medieval city standards, with small city squares at places. The architecture is rather rustic: typically two-storey houses with tall roofs and gates opening passages to inner courts. Most of the exterior fortifications were lost to industrial development and modern urban planning in the late 19th century; only one or two towers still exist. A building associated with newer urbanism of the period is the Independenţa Highschool. This area has the oldest church in the city, dating back to 1292.
The Upper Town (Romanian: Oraşul de sus) is organised around three city squares and a set of streets along the line of the hill. As the main area for burgher activities, the area contains most points of interest in Sibiu.
- Grand Square (Romanian: Piaţa Mare, German: Großer Ring) is, as its name suggests, the largest square of the city, and has been the center of the city since the 16th century. 142 m long and 93 m wide, it is one of the largest ones in Transylvania.
- Brukenthal Palace, one of the most important Baroque monuments in Romania, lies on the north-western corner of the square. It was erected between 1777 and 1787 as the main residence for the Governor of Transylvania Samuel von Brukenthal. It houses the main part of the National Brukenthal Museum, opened in 1817. Next to the palace is the Blue House, an 18th century Baroque house bearing the old coat of arms of Sibiu on its façade.
- On the north side is the Jesuit Church, along with its dependencies, the former residence of the Jesuits in Sibiu. Also on the north side, at the beginning of the 20th century an Art Nouveau building was constructed on the west part, now it houses the mayor's office.
Next to the Jesuit Church on the north side is the Council Tower, one of the city's symbols. This former fortification tower from the 14th century has been successively rebuilt over the years. The building nearby used to be the City Council's meetingplace; beneath it lies an access way between the Grand Square and the Lesser Square.
On the south and east sides are two- or three-storey houses, having tall attics with small windows known as the city's eyes. Most of these houses are dated 15th to 19th centuries, and most of them are Baroque in style.
As its name says, the Piaţă Mică (Small Square) is smaller in size, being rather longer than wide. Its north-west side has a curved shape, unlike the Grand Square, which has an approximately rectangular shape. Accordingly, Piaţă Mică plays a smaller part in the city's present-day life. The square is connected to the other two squares and to other streets by small, narrow passages. The main access from the Lower City is through Ocnei Street, which divides the square in two. The street passes under the Liar's Bridge - the first bridge in Romania to have been cast in iron (1859).
To the right of the bridge is another symbol of the city, The House of the Arts, an arched building formerly belonging to the Butchers' Guild. On the left side of the bridge is the Luxemburg House, a Baroque four-storey building, former seat of the Goldsmiths' Guild.
Huet Square is the third of the three main squares of Sibiu. Its most notable feature is the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral in its center. It is the place where the earliest fortifications have been built. The buildings around this square are mainly Gothic. On the west side lies the Brukenthal Highschool, in place of a former 14th century school.
The fortifications. The city of Sibiu was one of the most important fortified cities in Central Europe. Multiple rings were built around the city, most of them out of clay bricks. The south-eastern fortifications are the best kept, and all three parallel lines are still visible. The first is an exterior earth mound, the second is a 10-meter-tall red brick wall, and the third line comprises towers linked by another 10-meter-tall wall. All structures are connected via a labyrinth of tunnels and passageways, designed to ensure transport between the city and lines of defense. In the 16th century more modern elements were added to the fortifications, mainly leaf-shaped bastions. Two of these survived to this day, as the Haller Bastion (all the way down Coposu Boulevard) and "Soldisch Bastion".
The steep Passage of the Stairs leads down to the lower section of Sibiu. It descends along some fortifications under the support arches. It is the most picturesque of the several passages linking the two sides of the city.