Located 15 km southwest of Brasov and 15 km from Bran Castle, the fortress of Rasnov was founded around 1300 by German Teutonic Knights on the base of an old Roman citadel named Cumidava, on a rocky hilltop 200 m above the town of Rasnov. The impressive fortress – it really does look the part, although the kitsch, Hollywood-style Rasnov sign in front of it somewhat dampens its dramatic impact – was built to protect the people of Rasnov and surrounding villages from the numerous invasions happening at the time. During periods of war, the townsfolk would pick up their cattle and retreat into the fortress who could house in those times around 20.000 people. The fortress is on the Bran Pass, a trade route connecting Wallachia with Transylvania. The view from the top of the castle hill is spectacular.
Saxons first settled in Transylvania in the 11th century, and the Saxon town of Rasnov was founded in 1225. Following the first Tartar invasion of 1241, a series of fortresses were constructed by the Teutonic Knights to defend the people. Rasnov Fortress is one of these peasant fortresses. This castle differs from some in that it was meant to be a place of refuge for the commoners from sieges over extended periods of time. As such it had at least 30 houses, a school, a chapel, and other buildings more commonly associated with a village.
The first written record for the fortress is from 1331, and when the Tartars invaded in 1335, Rasnov Fortress was already strong enough to offer resistance. The castle has an upper and lower section, with polygonal perimeter walls reaching an average height of 5m. The east side is the most heavily fortified, and the walls on both that side as well as the northwest side are doubled. The defenses include 9 towers, 2 bastions, and a drawbridge. As Turkey and Austria battled over Transylvania, arms were stockpiled in the defense corridors at the walls.
In March of 1612 Rasnov Fortress was besieged by Gabriel Bathory (a Prince of Transylvania), and surrendered in April after the secret route to their water supply was found. Bathory’s forces settled into the fortress and held off two attempts to win it back by joint forces from the towns of Rasnov and Brasov. The following year a ransom was paid, and Bathory and his forces left.
With the location of their water supply no longer a secret, the need for a well inside the fortress became more evident. With the castle atop a calcareous mountain, however, it meant digging down 146 m through solid rock. Work on the well began in 1623 and took 17 years to complete. The work was done by two Turkish prisoners who were promised their freedom once it was finished. The well provided extra security as it meant the people didn’t have to go outside the gates at all during a siege. It was in use until 1850 when the wheel broke.
The last siege of Rasnov Fortress took place in 1690 during the last Turkish invasion of Transylvania. It was damaged by fire in 1718 and rebuilt the following year. The next major damage occurred as the result of an earthquake in 1802. The fortress was last used as a place of refuge during the revolutions of 1821 and 1848, and was abandoned after that. Reconstruction is currently being undertaken at the fortress.
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