The fortress of Rupea nowadays covers an area of approximately 11 ha (~27 acres) together with its walls, towers and inner courtyards. Because of its dominant position near the European route E60, to the north, and on the right of the city, it is a remarkable presence from a great distance. Despite some speculations made by certain authors, it is certain that its current area was inhabited during prehistoric times, but not in Antiquity, by Dacians or Romans. Another certain fact is that it represents a medieval creation, a major architectural complex, with functional levels ranging across five centuries.
While it was first attested in 1324, the fortress wasn`t built at that precise moment, but must have been realized at least a few decades earlier. When it began to function, it was always connected with the public authorities that were organized in typical medieval form: king – voivode – castellan – seat and seat authorities. The relationship between them changed only in the sense of eliminating the intermediate parties, so as to have, in the end, a centre of the Seat of Rupea and a recognized authority in the Principality of Transylvania, often mediated only by the “University” of the Saxons (autonomously organized), with its centre at Sibiu.
The components of the fortress are better understood if we follow a sectoring based on the dominant hill, where we have: “The Upper Fortress” (the first precinct), “The Middle Fortress” (the second and third ones), and “The Lower Fortress” (the fourth and last precinct). Each of them is identified by a distinct curtain wall, corresponding to different eras, marked by the evolution of warfare or by the development of the settlement and of the seat, upon which it depended financially. At the same time, each tower has an identity pointed out by its own name, which, partially, betrays their particularities (often functional ones), resulted from their historical development. These elements have various sizes and architectural traits – the oldest had battlements positioned in rectangular zigzags, while the most recent ones, still preserve half-round merlons, mainly for decorative purposes. Its embrasures took the shape of simple slits, and the ones destined for fire arms were realized with special firing angles, towards the base of the walls, fitted in preeminent niches and with pyramidal arrangements. Behind the walls, the brick thickness betrays the bases of the watch roads, sometimes even on two levels.
On the right segment of the entrance curtain wall (the fourth precinct), right of the “Gate Tower”, we have the “Servants` Tower”, and on its left side, the “Bacon Tower” (first called the “New Tower”, but later being used as a storage place for preserving the meat and bacon for the community, hence the new name). On the next front side (the one of the “Middle Fortress”), range, from right to left: the “Tower of Ungra” (mostly consisting of archaeological remains), the “Pentagonal Tower” and the “Clerk`s Tower” (probably destined for the preservation of the Seat`s archives). Moving on, the towers are easily identified on the western curtain wall, where lie the “Scouts` Tower”, the “Chapel`s Tower”, and other two bordering the access lane, but poorly preserved: the “Thick Tower” and the “Ammunition Tower” (at the entrance of the “Upper Fortress”). The most spectacular one is the “Pentagonal Tower”, whose “peers” are present in the military architecture of entire Transylvania, since the second half of the sixteenth century, being influenced by the Italian artisans of the late Renaissance.
Other ancient elements are still noticeable in the ensemble or they are known from written documents. This is how we conclude that the access was made through carriage gates, but also through pedestrian ones. Both lower curtains` walls were penetrated by gates that probably closed using elevating installations, the first one certainly having a so-called “wolf`s mouth”. The pulley holes from the first gate are remarkably preserved. The last time its elevating bridge was repaired was in 1731-1732, vanishing afterwards. The front side of the same tower had a niche in which the lords inscribed a construction date in a proudly manner. Also, on the middle gate, someone could have read once an inscription from 1659, when the royal judge (George Celliones), the city judge (Peter Roth), and the Seat judge (Mark Falk) ordered a restoration of the building. The access to the “Upper Fortress” was pedestrian and narrow, but with a well preserved vaulted arch, and a vertical sliding ditch for a grill. In comparison, it is shown that today`s most spectacular pedestrian gate is the one from the city, between the “Bacon`s Tower” and the “Clerk`s Tower”, fitted with metallic bands, out of which one contains an inscription with the year 1621. The scouts also had a secret gate, which was closed with brickwork at a certain time.
The fortress` walls are austere on the exterior, lacking the former “dowry” which must have been made mainly out of wood. But, fortunately, in the “Clerk`s Tower” a fifteenth century wooden framing, and traces of the latrines or stove chimneys can also be found in other places. Other well preserved relics belong to the “Upper Fortress” – they surpassed degradation and were restored in different stages until they`ve reached the current state. For the one located highest, a small house, references occur starting with 1664. But, archaeological interventions, unveiled traces of the tens of houses that have populated the fortress near the curtain walls of the first and second precincts – they were small and ingeniously placed, cramped and adapted to interior traffic. Many of them obviously had two levels and typical archaeological materials (stove tiles, pieces of window glass, ironware and common tableware). At the end of the eighteenth century, they were owned by individuals or communal property, but some began to go into ruin and, thus, were abandoned for good. The primary sources mention other spaces with precise functionality (“the chambers” or, more exactly, the housings of the royal and the seat judges). To get an idea on the number, it must be said that, towards the end of the eighteenth century, 17 public building still functioned.
Also on the inside, what is now called a “Chapel” is an ample building (the last known restoration occurring in 1718), with multiple roles, inside which it a soberly decorated (as the cult required) Lutheran chapel must have been arranged. Below, in the first precinct, the fountain can be seen, as it is the only source of water certainly identified inside the fortress, although in ancient times, at least a reservoir must have existed. It had an inscription (known from a 1777 copy) which specified the fact that the fountain was made in 1623, after a few months of labour, in the time of Prince Gabriel Bethlen, royal judge David Weirauch, city judge Jacob Fabricius, seat judge Icail Sol, and other officials. In the fourth precinct, two roofed buildings (the military warehouse – possibly in the same place of the old carriage barn, and the guardian`s cottage) are the newest constructions from the complex (dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries).
It is obvious that, unlike many other Transylvanian fortresses, Rupea had the advantage of an exceptional preservation. In the first half of the eighteenth century, since the first reliable documentation drawings date (made by the military), the degradations were always connected with the disappearance of the rooftops and the rapid collapse of some masonry left unprotected.
The first historical record of the fortress was marked by a battle fought between rebels from the Saxon elite against the henchmen of Transylvania`s voivode (1324). Afterwards, it can be speculated that it was abandoned by the representatives of the voivodeship after the Turkish invasion from 1421. Fact is that the fortress was given over, around that time, to the Seat of Rupea. The very stingy information directly concerning it, are due to this affiliation and to the fact that the local archives have been preserved only since the middle of the seventeenth century. In the sixteenth century, a significant segment of the privileged local Saxon community permanently moved inside the fortress. Then, the fortress must have looked like a miniature city, where a few hundred people constantly lived.
Intensely populated before the year 1621, the fortress gained the entire planimetry that we encounter today. Its inhabitants had all the facilities they required: housings, locations for the community and Seat administration, a chapel, a parish, a place for carriages, a warehouse (for documents, supplies and weapons), a fountain, and a marketplace (in the “Lower Fortress”). The architectural climax was probably reached during the seventeenth century, ever since we hold most of the construction/repairing inscriptions (the majority of which unfortunately lost). Then, at the dawn of the century, the Hapsburg army used the fortress as quartering and campaign training base.
The settlement had a market town status, and its rediscovered material culture proves that the architectural ensemble was never a “peasant fortress”. Its connection with some peasants was made later, drifting away from the conceptions of the bourgeois democracy, and then consolidated because of the Marxist historiography, by association with fortified churches. The local rulers, however, have only referred to their ensemble with the terms “cetate” (English: “fortress”; German: “Burg”) or “castel” (English: “castle”; German: “Schloss”).
Due to the fortifications and the wisdom of its managers, Rupea was never attacked, conquered or plundered. It was gradually abandoned, since the first half of the eighteenth century, after the political insurance guaranteed by the army of the Hapsburg Empire. On one single occasion, the refuge inside the fortress was registered, in 1789, due to the panic caused by a probable Turkish invasion. That was truly the last time when the fortress was required for defence purposes. Life moved on at the base of the fortress hill, surrounding the placement of the evangelical parish church (former catholic). But, a special fund for the maintenance of the fortress was created by the city hall in 1838. The funds and donations existed throughout the nineteenth century only for the purpose of maintaining the complex, already referred to as “monument”. Moreover, a permanent guardian, with his residence and family, was maintained in the fortress (in a house probably remade in the 1850`s).
A proto-museum collection existed in the fortress for a long time. In 1792, among other items, there were 53 firearms, cannonballs, and moulds for casting bullets. Also from that year, armour parts were mentioned, as well as helmets and chain mail armours. It is also known that in 1812, one cannon of the fortress, dated 1613, was melted, part of the inventory was scattered during the 1848-49 Revolution, but, by the end of the century, other weapon items belonging to the old arsenal (that every great Transylvanian fortress had) were still to be found.
The most radical change of the fortress was made during the restoration program from 2010-2012, when it recovered and renewed most of its original “dowry”, that had been for a long time in a state of oblivion.