The center of one of the biggest domains in Transylvania, which in 1632 included 62 villages, Făgăraș fortress was, starting with the second half of the 16th century and especially in the 17th century, an important noble and princely residence.
The construction of a fortified point in Făgăraș must be linked to its strategic position – halfway between the commercial route between Sibiu and Brașov and in the vicinity of Wallachia (to whose history it is linked), the domination of the fortress being very important. Ștefan Mailat and Gașpar Becheș used it as a support piece for the throne of Transylvania, Mihai Viteazul considered it a “residence fortress”, the Prince Gabriel Bethlen granted it priority over Alba Iulia in the modernization of the fortifications, and Mihail Apafi will transform it, due to its strengthened position, in a princely residence. Here, in the Făgăraș fortress were held between 1670 and 1691 11 Diets and 18 delegations (smaller meetings), while in Alba Iulia there were 15 Diets and 3 delegations.
First documentary attestation
The first documentary news which attests to the existence of the stone fortress is from 1455 when it is mentioned a “chatelaine”, and next year, Iancu de Hunedoara, writing to the people from Brașov, reminds them of “our Făgăraș fortress”.
The archaeological researches in the fortress conducted with the occasion of the various restoration steps, revealed the existence, before this stone fortress, of a wooden fortification with an earth wall, built approximately on the site of the current fortress. The violent destruction, revealed by the archaeological researches, ended abruptly, towards the middle of the 13th century, the existence of this fortification, destruction which can be connected to the Tatar invasion in 1241. Typological, the wooden fortification falls within the general defense system practiced in Transylvania.
The walled fortress, documentary attested at the middle of the 15th century, presents an irregular quadrilateral planimetry, with the east side longer and defended by a barbican-type outpost at a distance of 20 meters from the fortress. The precincts were formed by a crenelated quadrilateral wall, interrupted by four towers – three bastion-type and a rounded dungeon-type (which is also the tallest tower of the fortress). The facing of the defense walls provided with embrasures had at the top, behind the battlements, a guard road, made from thick bars, whose traces of masonry can still be seen in some unpainted spaces.
Typological, in this phase, Făgăraș fortress can be defined as a defense fortification with a military character. As a construction style, the fortress corresponds in the 16th century, to the Occidental fortification system, introduced in Transylvania starting with the 14th century.
The 16th century brings with it the most important changes that took place in the architecture of the Făgăraș fortress, which will transform the defense fortress into a castle with a strong external fortification.
The initiator of this extensive works will be Ștefan Mailat (voivode of Transylvania between 1534-1540 and owner of the fortress between 1528-1541) which separates the castle plan (noble residence) from the fortress plan (the military construction itself). He decides to surround the fortress with a defense wall, wall which will include the barbican-type tower, having artillery slots, crenelated crowning, respecting the planimetry of the old defense walls. The interior walls are doubled with brick walls, the corridors thus created having different roles – voivode’s houses, captain’s living room, etc. Typological, all these changes transform the defense fortress into a fortified senior castle.
Gaspar Békés, the owner of Făgăraș between 1567 – 1573, creates the ditch around the fortress, the earth removed being used for strengthening the interior parts of the walls.
At the end of the 16th century, it is possible that during Ștefan Bathory (voivode of Transylvania between 1571 – 1586) and Balthazar Bathory (owner of the fortress between 1588 – 1594) has been performed the transformation of all the four sides of the old fortress in apartments and the incorporation of the four towers at their level. At the same time starts the construction of the first bastion that will bear the family name, in the southeast corner of the outdoor enclosure, but which will be completed later. Connected to Balthazar Bathory’s name is a series of important aesthetic transformations and the creation of a third level, on top of at least one of the fortress’s sides (the south side), and stone frames that keep his coat of arms.
In the 17th century, the architectural changes establish the current shape of the fortified complex in Făgăraș.
Gabriel Bethlen (Prince of Transylvania between 1613-1629), one of the most important makers of the fortress, executes, in 1623, a plan regarding the fortress’s construction and modernization works in thirty-six items, plan which stipulated among other things, the construction of three more bastions equipped with pillboxes, the execution in a year of 600,000 bricks by 1500 permanent bondsmen, organized in three shifts, bricks needed for the building of bastions. Gabriel Bethlen will rearrange the interior rooms of the castle, will create the loggias on the south side of the castle in Italian style, open towards the inner courtyard, on arches of six massive and imposing masonry piles. The windows of the inner courtyards have simple but elegant frames, the entrances from the loggia have a carved assembly in flat or relief with Renaissance motifs. The aesthetic taste of this Prince, influenced by the Italian Renaissance (he brought architects from Italy, glass artisans from Murano who will work for the princely court in Făgăraș), breathed beauty and elegance into a construction more military than utilitarian.
The modernization works continued under Gheorghe Rakóczi, Prince of Transylvania between 1631-1648, when the four bastions are paved, the guardhouse is built next to the north side of the gate tower; the ditch is also paved, which in case of an attack could triple the water volume, and the access bridges are repaired – the one on the east side, and the one on the north side.
Starting with the second half of the 17th century, the last owners no longer undertake large-scale works, but only maintenance and reparations work.
The transfer of Făgăraș to Austrian property, in 1696 and the transformation of the fortress in garrison, meant the beginning of a degradation period surprised in the inventory from 1726. Serving military purposes, the castle and the fortress in Făgăraș, lose the elegance and greatness of yesteryear.
Between 1918 and 1948 the fortress served as a garrison for the Romanian army. Between 1918 and 1923, it was a camp for white Russians, the press from that period registering the donations done by Queen Mary. In 1939, the Polish found refuge in the fortress.
Between 1948-1960, the Făgăraș fortress was transformed into a prison for political prisoners, and after 1960 it will be dilapidated, and extensive restoration works will being, works which regarded the restoration of the fortified castle aspect from the period of glory of the 17th century.
Great and imposing, Făgăraș Fortress, considered by Nicolae Iorga one of the “jewels of the country” waits quietly “acknowledging the bold deeds of the past”.