In 1123 Hungarian King Géza II invited Saxons – mainly from the Franken region in western Germany – to settle here. In the 15th and 16th centuries, following the increased threat of Turkish attacks on their towns, the settlements were strengthened with bulky city walls and fortified churches. Defensive towers in the churches served as observation posts. Town entrances were guarded with a portcullis that could be quickly lowered.
Transylvania's Saxons began to leave for Germany and Austria after WWII. Many more departed after the 1990 revolution, leaving pretty villages ghostly and untended. Many were swiftly inhabited by Roma people.
Subsequent inhabitants felt little connection to the region's Saxon heritage. The Mihai Eminescu Trust (www.mihaieminescutrust.org) is attempting to bridge the gap and instil a sense of pride in regional history, with restoration projects and tourism initiatives that involve local people.