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City Center Tour

Timişoara’s center today is a descendant of the Austrian military fortress built in the eighteenth century. But the Cetate district in Timişoara offers the visitor more than military artifacts, as it is a coherent urban ensemble, in which the valuable monuments display European historical connections.

Looking at a current map of Timişoara, the center’s well-rounded appearance can be seen. Circular boulevards surround a “core” made of the streets dating back to the eighteenth century, most intersections being at right angle. The circular boulevards set out the city’s former walls and the narrow streets in the middle are actually Timişoara’s “inner city”.

We start the tour of the city from the Tourist Information Center on Alba Iulia Street. The houses on the right side of the street are built on the walls of Timişoara’s first fortress, “Castrum de Tymes” (Timiş fortress), built by the Hungarian Crown somewhere around the 11th to 12th centuries.

tm-traseu cetate-smWe then reach 1 Libertăţii Square. It is now time to talk about the second fortress of Timişoara, which only came into existence between 1732 and 1761. After the court from Vienna examined for several years various plans to build a new city, the new fortifications are built to replace the medieval ones, adequate to the last defensive techniques of the time. Inside the walls, the new city area appears, according to a completely new street formation. Libertăţii Square is the center of this modern fortress, much larger than the old one.

By the eighteenth century, most of the buildings in the square emerged, but the complete closing of this area took place only in 1859, when the building which served as the Army Corps Command was built (today the first building on the square’s left front, on the vest side).

The middle of the square is dominated by 2 the Mary-Nepomuk Monument, typical of Viennese Baroque creation, which was brought from Vienna in 1756 by water. The sculpture was started by the famous Rapahel Donner, but because of the artist’s death most of the masterpiece was done by Wasserburger and Blimm.

The military administration of Timişoara and the entire Banat had its seat in Libertăţii Square and, therefore, it was for a long time called “Paradeplatz” (The Parade Square). Thus, on the southern side of the square (on the right, as we came from Alba Iulia Street) is the building that housed 3 the Timişoara Garrison Command (“the New Generalate” –1727). On the left side of the square the elegant building, specific to the late Baroque with rococo influences, dominates, namely 4 the Military Casino (“the Commander’s House”).

On the northern side of Libertăţii square stands 5 the Old City Hall. Built as the “German community city hall” in 1731, its façade was rebuilt several times until it received its nowadays eclectic appearance, in 1853. The architectural “trend” was constantly changing, and therefore many buildings in Timişoara have changed over time according to these trends. The large room upstairs was famous in the eighteenth century, being the most famous ballroom in the city. Every Saturday, the chairs and tables were put aside, and the austere Council Room turned into a ballroom corresponding to the Baroque charm of the time, which praised lavish parties. A plate mounted on the right side of the building’s entrance takes us to a completely different world, it being an inscription in old Turkish, written in Arabic letters. This is a last relic of Turkish Timişoara, the fortress that Prince Eugen of Savoy had conquered.

Our path takes us to the right on Coriolan Brediceanu Street. At the intersection with Mărăşeşti Street we can see the building of  6 the old Public Hospital (today a Clinic). Built between 1744 and 1757, it is said that it was the first public hospital in the Habsburg Empire (older than the Allgemeines Krankenhaus in Vienna). Continuing the walk, we arrive at  7 the former Church of Misericordian Monks (1748 to 1753; today it is Greek-Catholic), and behind it the Misericordian hospital is adjoined. The Misericordians worked in this first hospital of Timişoara, built as early as 1735 to 1737. Also called the „dark priests” because of their clothes, four of the six monks paid with their lives nursing the plague infested patients. In the hospital’s courtyard (today an ophthalmology hospital) there is a portion of the wall of the Timişoara’s fortress, we being on the western end of the former fortress.

We go back to C. Brediceanu Street towards the center. We can now see on the left the building of a third hospital, the Military Hospital. This one is more austere than the others, but much larger. We turn left to Mărăşeşti Street, besides the hospital. On the opposite side, the front of the houses is dominated by 8 the Cetate Synagogue, built between 1863 and 1865, in the so-called “Moorish architecture” that then prevailed in the building of Mosaic temples in the empire. We go on, passing near “Prince Eugen of Savoy House”. He has never lived here, but this is the place where stood the gate through which he came into the fortress that had just surrendered. Behind a glass box above the gate, we can distinguish a painting with that gate. The next large building still belongs to the Hebrew community. Nearby there is also the first synagogue in Timişoara, common to the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi Jewish people.

We keep walking on Gh. Lazăr Street, turning to the right. We soon notice an eclectic historicist building. It is 9 Nikolaus Lenau High School, with instruction in German. It was built exactly on the foundations of the „Rascian City Hall” (i.e. .the Orthodox community city hall, Romanian and Serbian), which later on sheltered the city’s first theater. Timişoara is home to the largest German community in Romania (over 7,000 people), but quite few young Germans still study here.

Also on Gh. Lazăr Street, the last building (on the right) draws our attention with its fluid curved forms, and its decorative ceramic tiles that indicate the Hungarian Secession (Szeceszió):  10 the former Discount Bank, also called Steiner Miksa House, after its owner’s name. On its façade, around the corner on Alecsandri Street, we can see the elegant frontispiece, semi-round and with discreet lobes, on which the emblem of the bee hive can be observed (a common motif for bank emblems).

On the other side we can see two other important buildings, belonging to the Serbian Community - 11 the Serbian Cathedral (1744 to 1748), which until 1865 also served the Romanian Orthodox Community. The exterior bears the imprint of the Baroque and Neoclassicism (as all Orthodox churches in Banat were built in the same way), but the inside is impressive. The altar painted by Constantin Daniel in a style reminiscent of Biedermayer is perfectly complemented by the warm tones of the decorative painting on the walls. In the same courtyard there is also 12 the Episcopal Palace (today the Serbian Vicariate Palace), with highly elaborated ornaments, made in the Art Nouveau style, but interpreted in a special manner - „Slavic”. These can be seen mainly on the primary side, facing Unirii Square, but also on the side facing Gheorghe Lazăr Street.

We are in Unirii Square and continue our tour toward Piaţa Mărăşti. Nearby we can visit the 13 the “Revolution Memorial” Museum. Here, documentary materials about the events that took place in December 1989, not only in Timişoara, but throughout the country, are archived. You can also follow a documentary film about the Romanian anticommunist Revolution from December 1989, which started in Timisoara.

After this visit we turn back to a main place in Timisoara - the 14 Unirii Square. The intention of setting up this large square with an impressive appearance was a real vision and fantasy exercise of the Viennese court, the empire’s splendor having to be visible from its borders. Unirii Square was characterized by the poet Franz Liebhardt as “Timişoara’s Baroque treasury”. We can notice some Baroque style masterpieces.
Firstly, 15 the Holy Trinity Monument (1740), known in Timişoara as the “plague statue”. The name is related to grim plague that haunted Timişoara during 1738 to 1739. Out of the 6,000 inhabitants of the city, around 1,000 died. Most were settlers coming from Western Europe (Austrians and Germans) who had arrived in Banat not long before. The “pestilent air” coming from the Banat marshes was blamed for most diseases. This monument was brought from Vienna, too, and is the most outstanding Baroque plastic monument in the city.

On the northern side of the square several one-storey buildings can be seen, typical of old Timişoara. Thus, on the left the “House with lions” is seen, with a tower on the corner, followed on the right by Nikolaus Lenau High School. This building has housed for a long time one of the most famous inns in Timişoara, 16  “La cei Şapte Principi Electori” (“The Seven Electors”). Next we see a series of four Classicist houses – they are 17 the Canons’ Houses (18th century).

The pièce de résistance, however, of Unirii Square is 18 the Dome (the Episcopal Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Banat Diocese). As a matter of fact, the square has long been called “Domplatz” (the Dome Square). This is an imperial foundation; work began under Carol VI in 1736 and continued under Maria Theresia, ending only in 1774, several years before the Empress’ death. Allegedly its construction involved famous architects from Vienna, like Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, but also local engineers established in Timişoara. Many Baroque works of art can be admired inside, among which we mention the main altar’s painting, signed by Michael Angelo Unterberger.

Another large building draws our attention on the square’s southern side, the one called by the people of Timişoara 19 “The Baroque Palace”. Partially built in 1752, it already operated as an establishment for the “Landespresident” (the Banat Governor). Today it houses the Art Museum. It was the most luxurious building in the city. When visiting the Banat, the Habsburg emperors used to spend the night here (Franz Joseph lodged here several times). The highest level visits were received in this place. Among the guests there are also Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms and George Enescu. Therefore the Art Museum is worth visiting, because you can admire, among other collections, also the painter Baba’s collection and recently restored eighteenth-century interiors. In the vicinity there is a much newer building than the rest in the square, but having its own charm:  20 Brück House (1911), one of the Secession creations of architect Székely.

We are moving eastward to Palanca Street. In front of us stands an enormous building:  21 the Dicasterial Palace. Its dimensions are representative for administrative buildings preferred by the neoabsolutist system introduced after 1849. This palace with about 400 windows (“one for each day of the year”) was made in the style of the the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence.

Passing the Dicasterial Palace, turning left next to the “House with Iron Axis” (visible right on the corner house edge), we get to 22 the Evangelical or Lutheran Church (1837 to 1839, a Classicist structure). The Lutheran community of Timişoara is made of Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks and Romanians, and the religious service is held in all these languages.

We reach the eastern edge of the old city. In front of us there is a part of the circular boulevard that surrounds the Cetate district and the “Cardinal Points Fountain” roundabout with the road leading to the airport. On the right we can see 23 the Theresia Bastion. Today is known simply as the “Bastion”, but until the 1892 demolishing of fortifications decision it was only one of nine bastions of the city. This kind of bastion-like fortress was typical in eighteenth century Europe. Timişoara Fortress had a triple wall and between them there were water channels. The system was very efficient and it has withstood the 103 days siege of the Hungarian revolutionaries in 1849, but it occupied a great lot of space. The military land (triple wall plus esplanade, a grassy area, without any trees or buildings) used to form a belt around the city, its width being nearly 1.5 kilometers. Basically, although massive and impressive, the present-day bastion is but a tiny remnant of the once complicated defensive system. The best way to see the bastion and its walls’ structure is by circumventing it on the left, then passing through the arched corridor (where the double opening for the passage of motor vehicles is) in the bastion’s courtyard.

From the Bastion, you can choose to go to Victoriei Square. This would be a shorter version, thus starting with 30 Deschan Palace, or you can choose an excursion into the district east of the actual Cetate. On the land cleared of the massive walls hundreds of new buildings emerged after 1900. Even during socialism buildings were built on the open land resulted from defortification.

Our tour starts with 24 the National Bank, the first building to appear in this new neighborhood. It is a Secession building with some elements belonging to classical orders (Ionic columns on two levels), the lion heads symbolizing wealth and power. The next building following the intersection with Cicio Pop Street is 25  the Post Office Palace (“The Main Post Office”, 1911-1913). It has a more sober styling, typical to the geometrized Secession, with more discreet decorations. We go on Revoluţiei 1989 Boulevard. We can see buildings in different styles; some have only appeared in the 1930s and belong to Cubism. During the time when these newer buildings hadn’t emerge, on the empty lots between the existing buildings corn was grown, which aroused the Bucharest philosopher and politician Nicolae Iorga’s ironic remarks, who visited Timişoara in the early ‘20s. We can soon notice  26 the  Prefecture building on the other side. It was built in 1938, during the days of royal dictatorship, and is typical for that period. It had to command respect. This aspect was also used after the war, there being the “judeţeana de partid” (“the party’s county branch”) of the Romanian Communist Party (and, having this function, it was the target of the December 1989 revolutionaries).

We leave Revoluţiei Boulevard and go to C.D. Loga Boulevard. Apart from the numerous elegant villas (1920s to 1930s), 27 Carmen Sylva High School stands out, built in the Secession style, with outstanding neo-Roman and neo-Gothic elements. We return past the Post Office at the intersection near the Continental Hotel.

On the other side we can see a very well done ensemble with four 1900s-style palaces / Secession, the most interesting being 28 Ciobanu Palace. The Continental Hotel, just like 29 the Civic Park behind it, emerged after the 1960s demolition of Transilvania Casern – a building that was not less than 480 meters long; the only thing that has remained out of it is the military riding school, that is now functioning as a theater room. Therefore, this park, too – like many others in Timişoara – emerged after the demolition of obsolete military objectives. On the other side we can see 30  Deschan Palace; the Classicist fronton appeared between 1802 and 1810, but when entering the courtyard we can see the older part, a simple province Baroque with many arches, built around 1735. Further from the house with the guilds’ tree (tied to a known legend which circulated throughout Central Europe) and 31 Roman-Catholic Episcopacy Palace (1748), with richly decorated Baroque portals we arrive in 32 St. Gheorghe Square. The name comes from a church dedicated to St. Gheorghe which existed here in the past. Today, in the square there is the monument of St. Gheorghe fighting the dragon; this monument is part of a series built-up by the Revolution Memorial Association (on the alleys here, bloody street fighting occurred in December 1989). The square is flanked by the buildings of old banking institutions.

Continuing on Lucian Blaga Street we can deviate left on Bolyai Street to visit 33 the Roman Catholic parish church from the Cetate district (initially, the church belonged to the lower Salvatorian Franciscans). Further, on the building at no. 1 a plaque reminds us that, while living in Timisoara, János Bolyai discovered in 1823 the fundamental formula of the first non-Euclidean geometry.

At the end of the L. Blaga Street we can spot 34 the Huniade Castle on the site of the oldest building in town. The original castle was built as a royal residence for Carol Robert of Anjou, and was then enlarged by Ioan Huniade. The building however suffered during time after every attack, and had to be constantly rebuilt. The nowadays appearance dates from 1856. This venerable building now houses the Banat Museum – with the history, archeology and natural sciences departments (now it is closed for renovation). In the courtyard you can see the tower foundations of the first castle of Timişoara, uncovered by archeologists.

We are entering 36 Victoriei Square. This interesting ensemble, of a very generous size, appeared after the demolition of the fortress walls – the three imposing fortification rings, which started in front of the theater building. Between 1910 and 1914, beautiful Secession palaces emerge that give Timişoara’s center its distinct charm. In the middle of the square there is the 35 “Lupa Capitolina” monument (the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus), a gift from the municipality of Rome in 1926.

A very imposing building is 37 the Palace of Culture. Today, the Palace of Culture hosts four cultural institutions of Timişoara – the Romanian Opera House in Timişoara, “Mihai Eminescu” National Theater, the German State Theater and the Hungarian State Theater “Csiky Gergely”. Initially built in 1873 by Viennese architects Fellner and Helmer, it went through a major fire in 1920. With the restoration of the façade an interesting change was introduced: the balcony is closed with a large triumphal arch supported on three Byzantine columns. This balcony earned some unexpected facets during the December 1989 Revolution. The building’s foundation, based on 1,600 oak pillars, is remarkable – we must not forget that the entire Cetate district is built on the site of former marshes, and the soft soil could not withstand such weights.

We take a look now at the Secession palaces bordering Victoriei Square’s sides: the one on the right (west) was completely built in 1914 and received the name of Corso, and the one on the left was called Surogat; this side was closed only in 1963. On Surogat we can see in the foreground, richly ornate,  38 the Löffler Palace (1912-1913, architect Leopold Löffler). The façade facing the theater is “decorated” not only with many statues, but with ... some bullets traces from the 1989 revolution, which are still visible on the triangular fronton. On the other side, on the Corso, is 39 Lloyd Palace, originally famous because the Agricultural Stock Exchange was housed here – after 1948 it hosts mainly offices belonging to the Technical University (Politehnica); the staircase is very neatly decorated (and excellently renovated).

Next are other palaces in the Secession style: Neuhausz, Merbl, Dauerbach, Hilt Palace, and finally Szechenyi Palace. Excepting Merbl (whose owner was a prominent architect) and Lloyd Palace, the others are made by László Székely, chief architect of the city during that time, and a fervent promoter of the Budapest influence Secession.

At the southern end, the square is closed by 40 the Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral. In the interwar period, many Romanians settled down in Timişoara. Erected between 1936 and 1946, it was soon seen as one of the emblematic buildings of Timişoara. One could write a lot of books about the Cathedral, but we limit ourselves to some technical data: the total capacity is of about 5,000 people, it has 11 towers, the highest one reaches 83 meters; being only 32 meters wide, this explains the building‘s elongated silhouette.

Both the memorial plaques next to the entry and the triptychs and the modern monument called “Crucifixion” from across the street remind of the tragic moments from December, 17 and 18, 1989.

North-west of the cathedral is 41 the Piarist Complex, consisting of the monastery church and a school, both created by architect Szekely (together with A. Baumgarten), in the Secession style; their roofs have undulations typical of this style. The school was returned in 2006 to the Catholic Diocese of Banat.

On the other side of the cathedral (towards the east) we can see two important buildings of the interwar period: 42 the Philharmonic (the Capitol Hall) and 43 the City Hall (“the new City Hall”); the new building of city hall was conceived and began before the First World War.

Behind the park runs the 44 Bega River, by-passing on the southern side, in a broad circle arc, the Cetate district. 300 years ago the area would have been unrecognizable: Bega together with the Timiş river would regularly flood the low plain in which Timişoara lay, thereby maintaining a lot of unhealthy marshes. Since 1728, the Austrians begin to drain the marshes (excluding the floodable land around the fortress, which had a defensive role) and to draw the Tisa-Danube navigable channel. The city was thus linked to Central Europe via water and, at the same time, created the preconditions for a healthy, fertile area for the Banat plain. Much of Timişoara’s history is related to this river, which is today crossing its center.









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