Prejmer is one of the few fortifications established by the Teutonic Knights, a crusading order, founded in the Holy Land, in the city of Accra, at the end of the twelfth century. In 1212, following the expulsion of the Crusaders from the Middle East, as a result of the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land, the Teutonic Knights were invited by King Andrew II of Hungary to take possession of the Bârsa Land, in south-east of Transylvania, and fight the Cuman and Mongol pagans. The Teutons started the colonization of the Land of Bârsa, inhabited by Romanians and Pechenegs; they began to expand their holdings across the Carpathians. Between 1217 and 1221, the Teutonic knights of Bârsa took part in the Fifth Crusade in Egypt. The Teutonic Knights clashed with the Hungarian royalty because they wanted the territories they controlled to fall under the direct rule of the Pope, and not under the Hungarian king. Driven out of Bârsa in 1226, the Teutonic Knights arrived in Prussia, a territory which they ruled until 1809, when the state they created in the Middle Ages was dissolved by Napoleon Bonaparte.
However, the Teutonic legacy is still visible today in the Land of Bârsa. They created a series of fortified towns, including Brașov, Feldioara, Codlea, Râșnov and Prejmer. The fortified church of Prejmer was founded in 1218. It is the synthesis of radically different styles. The church is in the shape of a Greek cross, similar to the Byzantine churches. Each of the four arms of the cross ends with a chapel. The ensemble is dominated by an octagonal tower. However, the style of the building is Burgundy Gothic, because the church was placed under the rule of the Monastery of Citeaux, Burgundy, where the Cistercian order of monks was founded. The fortified church was dedicated to the Holy Cross.
The Dreaded Organ of Death
In the context of the increasing Ottoman threats, the Roman-German emperor, Sigismund of Luxembourg, who ordered the strengthening of the church in Prejmer. The place of worship was surrounded by an enclosure wall 3-4 metres thick and 12 metres high. The wall had a guard road, two bastions, two defence towers and a gate tower.
The defenders had firearms, including the feared organ of death. This was a device that encompassed several firearms firing simultaneously and thus it spread panic among the besiegers. According to some historians, the organ of death was a creation of local Saxon craftsmen. Subsequently, a second enceinte was built to protect the gate of the fortress-church of Prejmer. Pantries were built inside the main enclosure wall. Spreading on three and four levels, the pantries were connected by wooden stairs, and kept the supplies of the inhabitants safe. Owing to the fortifications, the use of the latest firearms and plentiful supplies, Prejmer remained one of the strongest fortifications in Central Europe for centuries, well preserved until present day.
Travel info: There are 196 kilometres between Bucharest and Prejmer, while from Cluj-Napoca to Prejmer, the distance is 283 kilometres.
Foto: Cosmin Dănilă