Darjiu fortified church. Fortifications in Transylvania

Darjiu fortified church, situated in Darjiu village in Harghita county, is one of the six fortified churches in Transylvania included in 1999 in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The others are Calnic, Prejmer, Bunesti, Saschiz, Biertan and Valea Viilor.

This church represents one of the most important Szekler fortified churches in the country, thanks to its interior wall paintings but also for the outside wall’s architecture.

The actual building was built in the 14th century and the fortifications were erected in the 16th century, composing of five bastions, church bell towers and defensive walls made from rock.

Darjiu Church Interior Paintings

One of the most valuable remnants of the Darjiu fortified church are the mural paintings, depicting Ladislaus I of Hungary, showed here near a Cuman warrior. The painted scenes are known to illustrate to infamous Battle of Kerles, from 1068, which was a major engagement between an army of invaders and the troops of King Solomon of Hungary and his cousins, Dukes Géza and Ladislaus. Medieval chronicles wrote that the invaders were Cumans or Pechenegs, or Cumans and Vlachs (or Romanians). Modern historians identify the invaders as Pechenegs, or Pechenegs and Ouzes. The Pechenegs had been the dominant power of the westernmost regions of the Eurasian steppes since around 895. However, large Pecheneg groups moved to the Balkan Peninsula, not independently of the westward migration of the Ouzes and Cumans in the 1040s. The first recorded Pecheneg invasion of Transylvania occurred during the reign of Stephen I of Hungary (r. 997–1038). In 1068, the invaders broke into Transylvania through the passes of the Carpathian Mountains. Archaeological finds suggest that they destroyed at least three fortresses made of earth and timber, including the ones at Doboka (now Dăbâca in Romania) and Sajósárvár (present-day Șirioara). They also made a plundering raid in the Nyírség region, to the west of Transylvania. After taking much booty, they planned to leave Hungary, but the Hungarians ambushed and annihilated them at a hill near Doboka. According to a popular legend, a “Cuman” warrior tried to escape from the battlefield, taking a Hungarian girl, but Duke Ladislaus defeated and killed him.

Darjiu Church Interior altar

The fortifications’ oldest element, the tower, is to the south of the church. The gate tower can be still found in its original form, with openings for firing guns that can be closed with wooden shutters. Modifications in 1788 included the creation of storage spaces where the villagers are still keeping their crops and home made bacon (slănină).

Exterior view of Darjiu fortified church