22 Jul TIMISOARA: IT’S ALL ABOUT ARCHITECTURE
Maybe you have never heard about this city, or in case you did, your idea is probably vague. Or maybe you work as a guide there. Anyway, Leo and I travelled to this beautiful place in western Romania from Belgrade, during our Eastern holidays, and no one of us had a big expectation. We didn’t know much more of Timisoara than the fact that it was considered “the Balkan Vienna”… and since the first minute in the city, we realized this epithet is completely appropriated for a city full of huge parks and great architecture. However, the poverty that affected the country during decades is also evident on the damages of the buildings that one day were extremely sumptuous and modern.
In 2021 Timisoara will be the Cultural Capital in Europe. As the government is receiving some funds for it, people expects to be able to make an exhaustive restoration of the city, with the aim of attracting more tourism. But if you can go before this event, you won’t regret: the shortage of tourism maintains the essence of this once magnificent city, which has kept a very special charm.
We could say the most important building in the city is the Orthodox Cathedral, located right in the central square or Piaţa Victoriei. In front of this temple the revolution that shot down the Communist government of Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989 was started. Actually, you can still today see on the surrounding buildings some bullet holes made by the shots of the Securitate on their attempt to suppress the riots.
We spent the Easter eve in Timisoara, and we could experience the orthodox celebration, the most important of their religious calendar. Everybody in town moved to the cathedral before the celebration at 10PM, carrying a lighted candle. The rites itself is quite long, but it’s a very impressive experience attending the observance, as you realize how deep are their beliefs.
The square itself is a sample of the mentioned eclecticism of the city: on the opposite side of the Catedrala Mitropolitană there is the Romanian National Opera, a neoclassical building built during 20th century, presided by a huge balcony commissioned by Ceaușescu himself to give his speeches to the city.
At both sides of the square there are very interesting constructions that proof the glittering past of the city in the pre-communist era, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (note that Timisoara was the second city in the world having electrical street lighting, only after New York!): the Lloyd Palace, built between 1910-1912 in an eclectic style with secession influences, which still today hosts the Lloyd Café. Having a schnitzel and a beer in and being served by its elegant waiters it will transport you to the splendorous period of the city. Since 1948 this building has become the seat of the rector’s office of the Polytechnic University from Timisoara. Next to Lloyd, there is the Dauerbach Palace (1913), a truly jewel of Art Nouveau. On the other side of the square, there is another elegant building, the Löffler Palace (1912), built for a rich family who made fortune in cereal trade. In one of the façades, the bullet holes before mentioned are still visible. Cohabitating with these buildings we also can find a couple of residential blocks dating of the Communist period, which with its simplicity and geometry contrast with the opulent constructions.
Following with a walk around the Citate or old quarter, there are two building I found very special. The first is Cetate Synagogue (1863 – 1865) is one of the most distinctive and original buildings in the city, built in historicist eclectic style, with a Moorish appearance not usual in a Jewish temple. The second one is former headquarters of the Discount Bank, located in Piata Unirii, which was built between 1906 and 1908, according to the plans of two architects, Marcel Komor and Dezső Jakab, students of Ödön Lechner, with a clear influence by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, which is super evident in curved lines and ceramic ornaments. Its degradation is however pretty evident…
Few meters from one of the façades of the building, there is a great ice-cream shop, Moritz Eis, which was closed for Easter holidays when we stayed in the city, despite we had already enjoyed its super good flavors in Belgrade 🙂
Piata Unirii is actually another of the city landmarks. It hosts a large amount of Baroque architecture: two other cathedrals, the Roman Catholic cathedral and the Serbian Orthodox, as well as the Baroque Palace and the Trinity Monument. While in the city, you can realize Romania is nowadays a deeply religious country, maybe as a reaction against the ban during communist period. This square is a perfect spot to have breakfast in one of the cafés facing the square, crowded by locals during weekends.
In one of the sides of the square is located one of the most beautiful buildings in Timisoara (and it’s hard to say!), the Brück House, recently renovated by a foreigner who felt in love with the city and especially with this construction.
Outside the Citate, another focus of 19th century architecture is Iosefin district (also named Jewish quarter), which used to be the richest area in the city during second half of 19th century, due to its proximity both with fluvial port and railway station. Nowadays, most of the former palaces present an abandoned aspect, and it’s evident its lack of maintenance. Crossing the main bridge of the Timiş river, one can easily see the richly decorated and eclectic Franz Marschall Palace, which even includes neo gothic décor, facing with Timiş-Bega Hydro-Improvement Society Palace, with more contained forms (fortunately under reconstruction), both dating from the first years of 20th century. Walking around this neighbourhood won’t let you look stare at the floor at any moment. And in Iosefin there is even a bridge (arguably) attributed to Gustave Eiffel…
On the suburbs there are also interesting spots: The Old Slaughterhouse, a red-brick building built in 1905 by the well-known architect László Székely. Initially it was a complex formed by 11 buildings, but some of them have been demolished. Fortunately, there is a plan to restore this amazing ensemble, which will probably host a commercial and cultural area.
On another side, the most representative example of modern architecture (I saw) is Constantin Jude Hall (former Sala Olimpia), an indoor stadium in brutalist style (so great!). Unfortunately, I couldn’t take pictures of both them, as that day I had no battery in my phone…
Where to stay and where to eat:
We stayed in super cosy apartment Garden House Timisoara, outside the city centre but easily reachable by tram, by taxi (my favourite option: it was very cheap and chatting with drivers was so fun!) or even on foot with a 40-minute walk. Recently renovated, its owners, who live in the hose next door, are super nice and helpful.
As I had no time because of my PhD, I did not really plan the trip to Timisoara that much. This is not usual for me, but sometimes I am a bit forced to it 🙂 So, tip number one: if you go to Romania during Eastern time, you have to consider that everything will be closed for at least four days (all long we stayed in the city…).
It’s because of this that I cannot give you many tips about restaurants and cafés in the city (we ate twice at McDonalds…). BUT I did some research and if go back to Timisoara (I will probably do) I will definitely eat in Merlot, Homemade, Caruso, Locanda del Corso or Casa Bunici. All of them seem very appealing!
Take a Free Tour:
We like taking free tours when visiting less touristic cities, as it’s a very good experience both to have an overview of the city and to know a local with whom sometimes you can go to have a drink. In Timisoara we had a great experience, as we were the only tourists in the tour. Faris with his bike took us to an evening/night tour, and we really appreciate his explanations and his charm. Despite being a foreigner, he knows and loves the city, and knows how to transmit it. Don’t hesitate to contact him, and say hello from both us us 🙂
Finally, don’t miss the rural area around the city if you have the chance (or a car). If it’s sunny, you will surely enjoy its colors.