Timișoara 2023 event promises future prosperity
This year, together with Veszprém-Balaton in Hungary and Eleusis in Greece, this delightful metropolis in Western Romania is also featuring in the spotlight as a European Capital of Culture. Since the official opening of events on 17th February and for the remainder of 2023, the welcoming city 300 kilometres south of Budapest is presenting hundreds of programmes and events that aim to both welcome guests from near and far as well as bring together local people. The municipality is receiving international attention that offers promotional gains for the business and tourism sectors alike, showcasing Timișoara’s cultural attributes and its potential for arts, plus a general openness to all sorts of future ventures.
All this and more amounts to much to see and do in the up-and-coming European Union city until its official closing events on 16-18 December. It was my pleasure to accept a press trip invitation and to see this and more when there this May.
It is a delightful city, and the cheerful Timișorans have much European identity, with various cultural identities being found among the Romanian majority, for instance Germans, Hungarians, Slovaks, Serbians, Croatians, Italians, Spaniards and Bulgarians, to name some.
The main highlights and principles of the Timișoara 2023 event
The Timișoara 2023 European Capital of Culture Association was founded in 2011 by 63 individuals and public and independent cultural personalities, academics, journalists, business representatives, opinion leaders and citizens alike. This organisation is non-governmental, non-profit, non-political and retains an independence for cultural and educational intuition before all else.
From this year onwards, the association will focus on supporting and developing cultural projects to benefit local communities and also to work with future sustainabilities. The Timișoara 2023 association aims to leave a positive impression on the people, the local environment and so forth, and will still continue to work and maintain connections with the city after this year’s event. The most valuable bequest will be the result of public inspiration for the spirit of European culture and education, as Timișoara has much cultural flair and promise for the future. Open communications for national and international peers for both the Timișoara 2023 program and the city are of paramount importance to everyone there.
But to inspire further, it is not just about promoting the arts and music festivals, and the need for all behind the scenes administration staff to welcome guests to the city is a continual process. The need for obvious training for new recruits and volunteers also had to be carried out. Then there have been the monumental tasks of improving roads and local infrastructure, essential to facilitate exhibitions and local hospitality from this time onwards.
Sponsorships, fundraising strategies and improving various tourism-related facilities have also been required. These and other obvious challenges may still require more time to develop and prosper, but all will be achieved diligently for sure by the duty-bound citizens in time to come. Not only for the sake of today’s tourism and business ventures, but for themselves too. Also, the requirement to make way for a more responsible and sustainable future with modern-day entrepreneurial inspirations and newfound technological advances that must be implemented and give definite assurances of success, not just for now but for the sake of better environmental prospects.
Where to begin
Timișoara is conveniently at a crossroads with the Budapest, Belgrade and Bucharest main through roads, as well as the mainline Budapest to Bucharest train service. There is also a small airport. So it was an easy matter for me personally to travel there at short notice and step off the train five hours later at the Gara du Nord station.
From there the city centre is relatively near via either a 20-plus-minute walk or public transport into town. The best way to orientate oneself beyond this point is to look out and proceed directly towards the city’s main landmark, known as the Metropolitan Cathedral, with its ever-so-pretty coned rooftops that overlook much of the immediate area while resembling a most eloquent and defining fairy-tale structure.
When in obvious line of sight, this distinct and unmissable place of worship is the towering Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedrala Ortodoxa Mitropolitana) at the south side of Victory Square (Piata Victoriei). Built starting in 1936 and completed 10 years later, its exquisite green, yellow and red roof tiles are arranged in an eclectic mosaic of enchanting geometrical patterns. When familiar with this 83-metres-tall structure, finding much else close by becomes far simpler. When passing through the splendid Victory-Boulevard and pedestrianised square, with its prominent fountain and various shops, cafes and restaurants, some of the city’s most impressive architectural sites are seen. Various elegant baroque buildings throughout this main Piata Victoriei area stretch from the cathedral to the equally unmissable National Theatre.
At the far end of the most graceful and captivating Victory Square, one will immediately notice this imposing whitewashed structure that has delivered shows since the 19th century and continues to do so today. Adjacent is the standout Lloyd Palace and close by the commendable Lloyd restaurant. On the other side is the Strada Alba Iulia pedestrian lane, a fanciful thoroughfare lined with colourful umbrellas suspended high above for all to see regardless of rain or shine. Along the long line of outdoor bars and takeaways, I was delighted to see there is also a German and Hungarian theatre on this very same promenade. All then leads on to the open Piața Libertății, the Liberty Square. This immediate area is the city’s party zone where street food and music prevail in abundance day and night.
A little further on is the beautifully restored, far quieter, very refined and spacious Unirii Square, Union Square, lined with blue, amber and blazing-red buildings within the heart of the old town. The main attraction is the distinct Catedrala Sfântul Gheorghe, St. Georges Cathedral, a Baroque 1754 Roman Catholic Cathedral, standing with the various upmarket hotels, bookshops, museums, tea-rooms and so forth within this vicinity.
Feast your eyes and fill your senses on the displays of very luxuriant buildings such as the Palatul Brück, The Brück House. Sit outside under the parasols and enjoy imperial architecture and regal refinement at their best.
Here also is the splendid Baroque Timișoara Art Museum, which at time of writing had an exhibition by the surrealist Victor Brauner among its permanent exhibits of local works.
Overlooking the grass-laden walkway and alongside further eloquent eating places, the focus is then set on the Casa Comunității Sârbești, the Serbian Community House. This classicist-style structure also provides a Balkan Bistro then leads full circle around this immediate area and rounds off with the Banca de Scont, a delightful icing-sugaresque Art Nouveau wonder to complete this fast-paced tour. Beyond this point are more museums, the university, the parklands and the general local scene.
I could not achieve seeing everything as I had hoped, but my brief sortie covered more than these three essential areas. Beyond capturing what was essential, hospitality awaited our beamish press group, which mainly consisted of local Romanians but also some scribes from neighbouring countries. Led by the most attentive Anca Spiridon, we gathered at the Leul de Aur restaurant for delicious local fayre. Needless to say, this cheerful event went well into the night.
In addition to various museums, press conferences and art encounters, we journalists enjoyed a drinks ensemble at the French Institute, joined by Timișoara politicians. All rounded off that evening with a live show by Koseen, a Brit electric band who played to a lively outdoor audience at Victoria Square.
The next day was a press breakfast with Dominic Samuel Fritz, who is originally from Germany and who has been serving as the Mayor of Timișoara since 2020. Remarkably, he is the only mayor in Romania without Romanian citizenship.
This very forward-thinking mayor touched on many main points of life in Timișoara and Romania today. Much was discussed, with all things relating to the Schengen treaty and why is Romania still out of this? Why must many still endure lengthy waits at the borders? Mayor Fritz is resolutely hopeful that the Timișoara 2023 event will not only be a success but will lead the way to further prosperity for the city afterwards.
Finally, he expressed many thanks to Hungarian priest László Tőkés, the “Father of the Romanian Revolution”. In the moments before the 1989 revolution, the communist government accused Tőkés of spreading lies and false accusations against the system, and wanted him ousted. But Timisorans, both Romanian and Hungarian, surrounded his house to protect him from the Securitate, the oppressive secret police of that time. What followed next was legendary, as highlighted at the commendable Memorialul Revolutiei, the 1989 Revolution Memorial Museum, which also makes essential seeing. For this and more, click www.memorialulrevolutiei.ro
But Timișoara is not just about “the revolution”, as some outsiders continue to assume. The city nowadays is respectfully the opposite and has a much more restful atmosphere, rather than a heated political one. Remarkably, it is sometimes dubbed “Little Vienna”, a tourist cliché perhaps but compelling enough to make a point, as there are aesthetically some Viennese influences, most notably at Union Square. But probably more to the point, Timișoara is often known as the “City of Flowers”, and it’s easy to see why with many fine, well-tended gardens and parks close by, especially alongside the River Bega.
At the end of this busy schedule my time was up and I had to leave. Knowing how impressed I was with everything there I know I will return anytime soon and hopefully will do my best to see the various museums I missed out on, such as the Communist Consumer Museum, not to mention the Huniade Castle, the occasional backstreet galleries and more. It would be great to see the Banat Village Museum nearby and discover more folklore within the Banat flatlands area. Timișoara has much to offer and provides all comforts and needs for every budget.
I had an additional wish to pursue when in Timișoara. I was also there to pursue any landmarks of “forgotten” Hollywood star Béla Lugosi (1882–1956). With so little to go on, I managed to find out he performed at the National Theatre during the early 20th century. This was obviously long before he performed as Dracula in Hollywood. There is also a suburban street named after him, the Strada Béla Lugosi, which I went out to see. But it turned out there was nothing identifiable, not even a street sign post! So I really hope the 2023 Culture Committee will at least do something to bring back this lost local legend. But the good news, there may be a Béla Lugosi “Dracula Festival” happening in Lugoj, which is a small town that he originally came from, 50 kilometres eastwards. There are no confirmed dates yet.
Then most unexpectedly I also discovered that Hollywood’s most famous Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller (1904-84), was born to a German family in Timișoara. He is probably the city’s most famous son, with 12 Tarzan films to his name, but his family left his home town for the US in 1907 and there seems no evidence that Weissmuller ever swung back to his roots and neither did Lugosi. There are no established landmarks to be found for either of them, so it would be great to work on these two projects anytime soon too.
Thank you, Timișoara and its Timișorans for the chance to attend this historic event. I wish you all the best with both 2023 and onwards.