I have now been in Cluj-Napoca, Romania for almost a month and I have made many observations while exploring this small city. This entry into my travel blog is about my observations during my exploration of Cluj.
Cluj is located in the north central Transylvania region of Romania. It has a very long history influenced by Romans, Hungarians, Gypsies, Transylvanian German Saxons, Communists and several religious affiliations.
Cluj is a livable city of about 330,000 people. Much of the population is composed of college students from the 6 universities in the city. I like it here and have decided to return during June and July to further explore Romania in general and Transylvania in specific.
Mihai Viteazul is remembered as a Romanian hero with memorials to him in Cluj, Bucharest and elsewhere in the country. Known as “Michael the Brave,” he was the Prince of Wallachia, of Transylvania, and of Moldavia. He united the three principalities under a single rule which eventually became modern-day Romania.
Through the centuries there has been so much historic interaction between the Romanians and people from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, Germans, and others. To recount history would make my head hurt so I won’t. That said, the area in and around Cluj has a huge history and there are many remnants as reminders of the past.
For those so inclined, Cluj presents an exceptional place for historic research and learning. In this blog, however, I am going to emphasize more about my thoughts and observations with some historic notes interspersed.
I arrived in Cluj by train from Budapest in early April. The 7 hour train trip was delayed arriving by 3 hours but once I was settled, my exploration of the city began at its ancient heart, Unirii Square. In and around the square are important Roman artifacts from the 1st century and newer structures.
The newer points of interest include the imposing Saint Michael’s Catholic Church dating back to the 14th century and the massive memorial to Matthias Corvinus, a former King of Hungary and Croatia born in Cluj, Romania in 1443. Banffy Palace from the 18th century is home of the National Art Museum and was the palace for the Governor of Transylvania. It is located opposite St.Michael’s Church and a block away is Corvinus’ birthplace from the 15th century in the center of the medieval historic museum area where numerous street vendors and outdoor cafes are located.
The city is bursting with memorials. Preserved old city walls and remnants of earlier protective fortifications are found nearby. There are many memorials to historic and noteworthy individuals throughout the Central Park. And the architectures of the Dormition of the Theotokos Orthodox Cathedral and the adjacent Romanian National Opera House are beautiful. From a vantage point on Cetatuia Hill (once the location of a fortress) overlooking the city, St. Michael’s dominates the city skyline. Just outside Central Park is a monument that is dedicated to the resistance to the Communists and those who died in Cluj during the violent December 1989 revolt that ended the Romanian Communist government.
There are several museums and an attractive Botanical Garden in Cluj. These along with the places I have previously mentioned attract numerous visitors mainly from Eastern and Central Europe. Theater, opera, symphony, and cultural events are highlights within the city. There are many small cafes, hidden bistros and aromatic pastry shops that provide traditional, very flavorful Romanian and international foods and drinks.
Services to sustain the infrastructure appear to be a challenge to the city authorities. Basics such as utilities and transportation are provided well. Although it is interesting to walk back in time in the city among old structures and memorials, the buildings that look good are maintained by private investments. It is sad to see deterioration of the public buildings such as the historic Banffy Palace which is literally crumbling. Many of the residents see this as a difficult reality where spending decisions have been made to allocate revenue among many competing priorities.
Under the prior Communist regime people recall long queues for small amounts of meat and bread. One person told me that it was special at Christmas to be able to get his only orange for the year. Life today, although difficult, is better. Life outside the city is very much at a subsistence level and I will discuss that in a future blog. The massive ugly housing projects during the Communist era remain as a stark reminder of that sad time.
Almost everyone I have met is pleasant and speaks English… and often a third language in addition to Romanian. Everyone has stories that they are happy to share about themselves, their country, its history, and the world. The people are often highly educated with post-graduate degrees but many times find themselves doing service related work or jobs with lower skill requirements. Pay is low for all positions. Many Romanians go to other European countries to work in construction and agriculture. Buying fresh flowers from street vendors or the market is really big in Cluj. Everyday there are beautiful floral displaces in many places.
Cluj is a very nice Eastern European city. I like it and the surrounding area and will blog more over the next few months about my observations from my explorations throughout Romania. If you have comments, please let me know in the space provided below.