The Eyes of Sibiu – a Cluster of Anthropomorphic Buildings

One of several buildings in Sibiu that feature eye-like windows

photography by: Dan Lundberg/ Flickr

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In a world where surveillance cameras are as numerous as the stars in the night sky, it appears as though we are constantly being watched. For the Romanian city of Sibiu, however, this feeling extends far beyond the technological sphere. Across town one can find dozens of houses whose tiled roofs are dotted with eye-shaped dormers, aptly nicknamed the Eyes of Sibiu for their illusory sense of vision.

Visitors who amble through the picturesque streets of Sibiu won’t be blamed for thinking as if they are under the watchful gaze of Big Brother. Surprisingly though, this unsettling impression doesn’t derive from security cameras, but the surrounding architecture.

 

A large number of buildings in the city’s historic heart have a rather bizarre feature – mansard windows that bear an uncanny resemblance to eyes, hence their moniker – “Eyes of Sibiu”, or Ochii Sibiului. It is for this reason that Sibiu is often dubbed as “the City with Eyes”, a reference to its literally eye-catching architectural style.

 

Founded in the 12th century by Saxon settlers as Hermannstadt, the Transylvanian town served as the cultural and political capital of the region’s German minority for hundreds of years. It was during the 15th century that the first slanted-eyed houses were built, albeit the vast majority were constructed throughout the 1800’s.

 

According to the lore, these trapezoidal dormers were intentionally built by the Germans to cast fear among the city’s other ethnic groups. Whether this fable is true or not, these oddly-shaped rooftops were first and foremost designed to serve a functional purpose. As behind the roof shingles lied an attic, the openings were used to circulate air in and out of the otherwise windowless space, where a plethora of food items were often stored.

 

Regardless of the well-established facts about their origins, some people still attribute malevolent intentions to those slits. In fact, in 2017, following a controversial legislation which sought to legalize certain types of corruption, the city’s eyes turned into a nationwide symbol. Under the slogan “Vă vedem din Sibiu” (English: We see you from Sibiu), tens of thousands of activists in the ensuing rallies across Romania embraced the eyes as their logo, reviving the centuries-old urban legend once again.