Things to Do in Sibiu
Bâlea Lake (Lacul Bâlea)is a glacial lake in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains. Sitting at more than 2,000 meters high, it is one of the most popular lakes in Romania. Most visitors are drawn to the lake for the landscape and superb views on the drive there; the water is typically too cold for swimming. Two chalets are open near the lake all year round, but it is most easily accessed in the summer months. In the winter, visitors must ride the cable car from the chalet near the Balea waterfall to get there. In 2006, the first ice hotel in eastern Europe was built nearby using blocks of ice pulled from the frozen lake.
With a width of over 140 meters, Sibiu’s Piata Mare (Great Square) is aptly named and for visitors, the enormous pedestrianized square makes a strategic starting point for a tour of the city. Piata Mare, along with neighboring Piata Mica and Piata Huet, makes up the main hub of Sibiu’s Old Town and is home to some of the district’s most impressive architecture.
Almost everywhere you turn on the square, you’ll be confronted by historical landmarks. At the north end of the square stands the Turnul Statului (Council Tower), the Holy Trinity Church and the early-20th-century City Hall, next to which is the tourist information office. To the west is the Brukenthal Museum and the Romanian Art Gallery, while the south and east sides are home to notable buildings like the 15th-century Casa Generalilor and Casa Hecht; the Romanesque Casa Haller, now home to the Haller Café; and the 16th-century Casa Weidner, now a hotel.
Dating back to before the 15th-century, Piata Mare has long been the focal point of local life, hosting everything from town meetings and markets, to executions. Today, it’s a buzzing with life day and night, with a smattering of cafés and restaurants circling the square and seasonal events like a Christmas market and summer fair held there throughout the year.
With its striking pointed roofs, gothic façade and 73-meter turreted steeple looming over Piața Huet, Sibiu Lutheran Cathedral (St. Mary's Evangelical Church) is not only one of Sibiu’s most distinctive buildings, but the highest cathedral in Romania. Built in the 14th century on the site of an earlier church, the Lutheran Cathedral of Saint Mary once served as a burial site for Sibiu’s mayors, earls and aristocracy. The original tombstones now form an eerie gallery, built into the interior church walls. Most famous is that of Mihnea the Bad, son of the infamous Vlad the Impaler (better known as Dracula), who was allegedly killed on the church steps.
Additional highlights of the Lutheran Cathedral include its grand 6,000-pipe organ, a series of exquisite 15th-century frescos and its elaborate fan-vaulted ceiling. As well as being a tourist attraction in its own right, the Lutheran Cathedral remains a working church, with regular services and choir recitals taking place each week.
Framed by old-fashioned lampposts and lined with colourful flowers, the iron footbridge running between Piata Mica and Piata Huet makes for a romantic spot, looking down over Ocnei street below. But if you believe local legend, Sibiu’s landmark 'Bridge of Lies (Podul Minciunilor)' is much more than a pretty photo opportunity. First built as a wooden footbridge some 200 years ago, the bridge earned its ominous moniker thanks to local myth, which dictates that the bridge has ‘ears’ and magical powers. The bridge was said to expose liars and cheats, creaking and shuddering when lies were told in the town, and would allegedly collapse if a liar attempted to cross.
The iron bridge that stands today was built to replace its predecessor in 1859, but the legend remains and it’s often cited as an example to local kids about the importance of telling the truth. The Bridge of Lies has now become an important symbol of Sibiu and makes a popular destination for tourists, but if you plan on walking across the bridge, it’s probably best to watch what you say… just in case!
Romania’s oldest national museum, the Brukenthal National Museum is actually made up of six distinctive museums, but it’s the Brukenthal Art Gallery that takes center-stage, in prize place on the Big Square (Piața Mare). Housed in the 18th-century Baroque-style Brukenthal Palace, the permanent art collection includes over 1,200 works dating between the 15th and 18th centuries. As well as European masters like Rubens and Van Dyck, the galleries include an Anatolian rugs collection; a library of rare books and manuscripts; and a comprehensive collection of Romanian art, including an impressive selection of Transylvanian medieval art.
Also part of the Brukenthal National Museum are the Museum of History, housed in the 16th-century Altemberger House; the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Natural History. Additional collections include the fascinating Museum of Pharmacy, housed in a medieval apothecary, and the August von Spiess Museum of Hunting.
Sibiu’s huge Orthodox Cathedral, or Holy Trinity Cathedral, demands attention with its neo-Byzantine edifice, unusual striped brickwork and central dome, inspired by Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia. Ranking as one of Romania’s largest and oldest Orthodox churches, it’s still an important place of worship today, as well as a popular attraction for tourists thanks to its dazzling architecture.
Built between 1902 and 1906 by Hungarian architects, Virgil Nagy and Joseph Kamner, the cathedral is best known for its magnificent interiors, almost completely covered with bold frescos and colorful mosaics. Highlights include the gigantic gilded alter, fronted by a glittering chandelier, paintings by Ioan Köber and Anastase Demian, and the spectacular dome, painted by Octavian Smigelschi.
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