Located at the foot of the Bârgau Mountains, not far from the Borgo Pass (Pasul Tihuţa in Romanian) which connects Transylvania region to the Bucovina one, the town of Bistriţa is one of the oldest around. Archeological findings indicate that the area has been inhabited since the Neolithic age, long before Bram Stoker chose it as the setting of his fictional Dracula’s castle.
Saxon colonists, who settled here in 1206, helped develop the town into a flourishing medieval trading post. First mentioned in 1264 as Villa Bistiche, the name was later changed to Civitas Bysterce. Soon enough, Bistritz, as it was known to its German inhabitants, became one of Transylvania’s most important Saxon citadels.
The greatest attraction of Bistriţa's Main Square is the Evangelical Church built by Transylvanian Saxons centuries ago. Under the present church were found the foundations of an older worship house raised by the Saxon settlers. The first mentioned parish in official documents was Johannis plebanus de Bystricia, noted in the papal tax registers of 1332-1333. Construction of the Gothic church with Renaissance elements (i.e. the pews) began in 1470 and was completed almost 100 years later by Petrus Italus de Lugano, who added renaissance elements to the structure. A 76.5 m high steeple (Saxons' Tower) overlooking the city was added later, making it the highest stone church tower in Romania.
The building of the new church, in the second half of XIV century, led to the lifting of a Roman basilica with three naves, having a polygonal choir and two towers flanking the main entrance of the northern wall of the choir, which will be expanded in mid 16th century. In a second step, the church was rebuilt as a Gothic basilica, with naves separated by octagonal pillars, which were taken when the church was restored in the 16th century, and ceiling was made semi cylindrical. Inside the church and the cemetery perimeter were raised several altars and chapels mentioned in documents of the time. An example is a shrine for the holy apostles Peter and Paul which was built in the church in 1499.
A third phase of construction started in 1475 and ended in 1520, when it became a Gothic-style hall church. In start 1487 started the building of a defense tower, included later in the church body after the demolition of the northern tower and the lifting of a turret with spiral staircase that ensure independent access to the new tower. Between them were kept two windows of the old facade (10th century). The tower was built in several stages: in 1487 it reached the middle of the second floor, according to the inscription carved on the northern outer wall, then the year 1509 is carved on the upper edge of the northern wall of the third floor, 1513 on the fourth and the 1519 on the fifth floor, although the works were completed in 1544 (according the accounts of the City Hall). Simultaneously it was mounted a watch which was under repair in 1521, and in 1570 was covered with gold better visibility. In 1857 the top of the tower burned, then was then rebuilt and in 1861 was installed the clock in use today. The Saxon Evangelical Church was restored several times, in 1897, 1901 and 1927.
Completed in 1563, as recorded in the inscription on the western portal, the works of the Swiss master have incorporated also elements of the new Renaissance visual language. On this occasion, the western façade changes fundamentally by building a impressive masonry pillar with correspondence in Polish space - hence the name of Polish attic.
Unfortunately, in 2008 a fire ruined the steeple and the damages have been assessed at more than 1 million Euro. The restoration works would take at least until 2010.
Inside the church one can admire a collection of 23 flags which belonged to the town’s former craft guilds, valuable renaissance-style pews designed by Johannes Begler in 1516, and a 500-year old organ. The statues decorating the belfry (St. Nicholas, the Holy Virgin with Child and Knight Roland) are representative of 15th century Transylvanian art and are similar to those found in the Black Church in Braşov and the Church on the Hill in Sighişoara.
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