The square is not, however, where Sibiu began. The first market square in the city was in fact around the corner in Piata Huet. Yet by the end of the 15th century, Piata Mare (or Grosse Ring, as its Saxon inhabitants called it) was very much the centre of Sibiu, hosting markets, public meetings and - often - executions.
A walk around the square should probably begin at its - and old Sibiu’s - dominating feature: the Turnul Sfatului, or Council Tower. The symbol of the city, the tower was built during the late 13th century (no two historians agree on one set of exact dates) to protect an entrance to the building next door, which until the late 1490s was Sibiu’s Town Hall. The tower is open to visitors (10:00-20:00), and you can climb its steep steps to admire both the view of the city from the top, as well as the inner workings of the tower's clock on the way back down.
The bright yellow house next door, which possesses the enviable address of Piata Mare 1, dates from around 1650 and today hosts the La Turn restaurant, something of a Sibiu legend. In front of the building is a statue of Gheorghe Lazar, the son of peasants from nearby Avrig who was adopted by Samuel Brukenthal and who would go on in later life to found the first Romanian-language school in Bucharest. The fine green building behind Lazar is one of the square’s later constructions, a teaching and boarding house for would-be Roman-Catholic priests. It was built in the 1720s on the site of what had been the town’s tanners’ workshop.
Piata Mare’s elegant baroque Catholic church was opened in 1733, although the tower was not completed until a decade later. It’s worth taking a look inside to admire the magnificent Viennese organ, installed in the 1860s.
The newest building in Piata Mare is the former bank that today plays host to the Town Hall. It was built in an eclectic, highly decorative style in 1900 and the city’s main Tourist Information Centre can be found on the ground floor.
The Brukenthal Palace, today the Brukenthal Museum, was built in the late 1700s, a century after the blue house next door (a house which is known, unsurprisingly as the Casa Albastra: Blue House). It too hosts part of the Brukenthal collection and forms part of the museum. A run of smaller houses from the 19th century (one of which contains the best ice cream parlour in Sibiu) completes the western side of the square.
Having been the home for more than a century (until 1904) to the High Command of Hapsburg forces in Romania, it’s no surprise that the splendid house on the next corner of Piata Mare is known as the Casa Generalilor (The Generals’ House). The house was built in the 15th century, the passageway in the middle (which leads through to Strada Arhivelor - which is itself worth a quick look) being added later. For many people, the charming Casa Hecht next door (first built in the 1450s but given a neo-renaissance makeover many centuries later) is their favourite on the square. We will let you make your own mind up. The Casa Haller two houses along (with the lovely Haller Cafe on the ground floor) is named for its one-time owner, Petrus Haller, a Hungarian businessman who made his money from mining and construction the these parts. Note how its Romanesque portal is somewhat oversized, as if it really wants to be part of the big neo-classical house at the end of the terrace: a church property from 1802 known as the Casa Filek.
Opposite, the Casa Lutsch is the only other house on Piata Mare to boast a balcony, while - after walking past a couple of cafes, you will come to the last great house on the square, the Casa Weidner, built in the 1570s and today one of the most elegant hotels in Sibiu.