Someone just asked me what Timisoara is like.
I wanted to get there in January 1990 and kicked myself for not getting there sooner when I did go in 2003 or 2004 - now that seems a vanished world too.
I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled...
I found this, that I wrote for Vivid in 2006, about a city I had visited two years earlier.
Bargain-price city breaks have done to tourism what the tank did to warfare. Not only are far more people flying to far more places than ever before but increasingly sophisticated consumers constrained by time rather than money are taking several weekend breaks a year to supplement their annual foreign holiday. Romania is one of the few countries so far relatively little touched by cheap air rickets but all that is about to change
Nowhere are their effects further reaching than in the former Communist bloc. Eastern European cities, beautiful, until recently obscure, and for Western tourists delightfully cheap, are being transformed and with them whole economies and societies. Budget airlines have done far more to integrate East and West than any initiative from governments or Eurocrats.
and a score of others have become tourist meccas. As soon as she joins the EU
next year Cracow
too will lose her innocence. Romania
A number of Romanian cities will make popular destinations but number 1 will undoubtedly be
Air is already said to be planning flights and two Italian budget airlines
already fly there. Timisoara
and Sighisoara are not close to airports. In any case, for me, Sibiu Timisoara
is the most perfect city in .
Already it attracts more foreign visitors than any other city in the country
except the capital. Romania
A visitor to
will be struck by an utterly different atmosphere. A much higher-minded
atmosphere. For one thing, Bucharest Timisoara is capital
of the Banat which until 1918 was part of Austro-
Hungary and belongs, even
more certainly than Transylvania, to Central Europe
and not the Balkans. The baroque architecture of
has a lightness of touch that feels as much Italian as German and the city is
home to a sizeable Hungarian minority as well as smaller Serb and German
communities. Not far away there are plenty of vestiges of the Hapsburg ethnic
jumble including Czech, Slovak, Serb and Croat villages. And in the last eight
or ten years significant numbers of Italian businessmen have been draw to a
city which is closer to Timisoara Venice than to . Bucharest
For almost two hundred years, until the early eighteenth century,
like most of Hungary (but
unlike most of present-day Romania)
was directly governed by the Ottoman Empire.
But today nothing of the Moslem world remains. The city the Austrians rebuilt
in baroque after they reconquered in 1716 earnt the name ‘the Little Vienna’.
Later in the nineteenth century it was the first town on the continent to have
horse-drawn trams and the first to have electric lighting. Its most famous son
is Johnny Weissmuller, the original Tarzan.
is widely-known abroad, if at all, as the place where the Romanian revolution
of December 1989 broke out. It was the
decision by President Timisoara Nicolae
Ceausescu to use deadly force to suppress demonstrators here that was the
catalyst that led the army to defect to the side of the uprising. For several
days the attention of the world was centred on events in the city despite the
Communist government’s complete news blackout and wild stories flew around
about the numbers of people killed by the authorities. Timisoara
is proud of its role and has nominated itself ‘the first free town in .’
Everyone here believes that the revolution that was launched in Romania Timisoara
was stolen by apparatchiks and party hacks in . Bucharest
The jewel of
Timisoara is Piata Unirii, one of the loveliest
and best-proportioned squares in Europe. It
houses not one but two exquisite eighteenth century cathedrals, one Roman
Catholic and the other Serbian Orthodox, as well as a series of superb baroque
buildings. But instead of the cold grandeur of the original ,
the square has a relaxed and abandoned feeling, the slightly down-at-heel
formal garden in its centre a place where children play and adults sit and
talk. Hard to believe that the square was the scene of many horrible public
executions including that of Gheorghe Doja, leader of a peasants’ revolt in
1514, who was cooked alive, his flesh fed to his followers. Vienna
A short walk through a maze of attractive old streets leads to Piata Libertatii, another fine square, and then to Piata Victoriei. Piata Victoriei is the modern centre of the town. In architectural terms it is a rather mediocre example of the Hungarian eclectic style that flourished at the turn of the nineteenth century. Much more interestingly it was one of the focal points of the 1989 Revolution. Students of recent history can follow a trail that will lead them to the Protestant church where Pastor Tokes’s arrest sparked an unprecedented gathering on the streets of ethnic Romanians and Hungarians, Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox. After his arrest a bloodied Tokes appeared from a window urging the crowd to dissolve but his appearance had the contrary effect. The rest as they say is history.
the different communities live together pretty amicably and much more so than,
for example, in Cluj where irredentist politicians long won votes by stroking
chauvinism and distrust. And during the 2000-2004 period when the ex-Communist
party, the Social Democrats, and its ‘barons’ (local politicians who dispensed
patronage and were accused of widespread corruption) were in power in local
authorities throughout the land Timisoara remained a redoubt of the opposition.
The city looks out and forward while other cities seem to look backward and
inward. It is way ahead of any other provincial city in Timisoara
in the number of international companies that have factories or offices here
and will soon have a flourishing tourist industry. EU accession will open the
borders of a multicultural city that is at the crossroads of Romania Europe
and the city is assured of a prosperous and exciting future. But for many of
as a whole, it will never be nearly as charming again as it is now before it
has been discovered. Go (or go back) quickly. Romania