IN the cobbled old town of Sibiu, an ancient Transylvania city in the hearts of Romania, a small market is in full swing, with the sweet scent of mulled wine filling the air and a tall spruce, a tiny ice rink and children's attractions spreading the holiday spirit.

While Germany's Christmas markets - and its spinoffs across Europe - are favorite destinations among travelers, a newer less-well known market has helped shine a light on the Romanian city, where a small German-speaking community has made its mark since the Middle Ages.

With its brightly painted houses, the medieval old town in Sibiu was reborn after decades of neglect when the city shared the title of European Capital of Culture with Luxembourg in 2007.

After winning the designation, Sibiu invested heavily in renovating the facades of dozens of buildings and redesigning the old town to make it more walkable.

Cultural programs held throughout 2007 helped raise Sibiu's international profile. The first Christmas market, in an old town long known for its Germanic architecture, was part of that rich offering.

The number of visitors to Sibiu increased to more than 400,000 in 2018 from  180,000 in 2007, according to Sibiu's town hall.

In warm weather, outdoor dining and exploring charming nearby villages have always been a big draw, said Andrei Dragan Radulet, the Christmas market organizer, but the city developed as a winter destination only in recent years.

As a pocket of  German-speaking culture in Transylvania, Sibiu has for centuries followed fashions and traditions from what is now Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium.

Settlers from those regions first came to Transylvania in the 12th century, answering a call from the medieval kingdom of Hungary to guard the entire eastern borders and work the sparsely populated land.

The Transylvanian Saxons, as they came to be known, built towns and villages that still dominate the landscape today.

The old town of Sibiu, known to Saxons as Hermannstadt, has the look and a feel of a German town.

Visitors may be surprised to encounter fluent German speakings in shops, restaurants and museums. Saxons are prominent in the city's leadership, including one notable example, Klaus Iohannis, who was the city's mayor for 14 years before his election as Romania's president.

Still, very few of the native Saxons remain. After World War II, their numbers fell dramatically in several waves of mass emigration, most recently after the fall of Romania's Communist regime in 1989, which swung the borders open towards the rest of Europe.

The Saxons may now make-up just one percent of the city's population of 170,000, but they retain a strong affinity with German culture and economic ties with German-speaking countries in Western Europe, helped by daily flights from the city's airports

The honor and serving of  great travel destinations with history and cities in Transylvania, continues. The World Students Society thanks author, Palko Karasz.


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