Why an issue dedicated to Oradea?


text: Ileana TUREANU

Coperta Revistei Arhitectura nr.4/2019

In the European Year of Cultural Heritage, two sections of the National Architecture Biennial –”Inclusive Public Space” and”Restoration. Consolidation. Buildings Returned to Communities” – took place in Oradea, as a sign of appreciation for the efficiency of the policy aimed at valorizing built heritage, which rendered the initial brilliance to many architectural monuments. It was also a way to show our admiration for the professionalism, competence and abnegation of Oradea’s architects, who had been involved in extensive restoration operations and difficult building sites, as well as for the efficient cooperation programs between administration and citizens.

Located on the Western border of Romania, only 490 km away from Vienna, Oradea has been breathing the influence of the West since the earliest moments of its long history.

Oradea was an important city for all the empires that ruled over it: the Habsburg, the Ottoman or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a considerably old city that integrates unique architectural visions, situated in a vast and complex period of time.

Oradea’s good fortune of being a European multi-cultural city, located at the crossroad of Central and Western European culture, and an example of European multi-ethnic agglomeration where cultural heritage blends harmoniously for the benefit of the whole community, is valorized through special dynamics of development and programs on short, medium or long term, which are aiming not only to bring the city in the elite of European cities, but also to keep it there.

What is remarkable and inspirational about Oradea is that it is never overwhelmed by the historic heritage it contains. Moreover, it continues its tradition while developing, extending, modernizing and reinvigorating, thus complying with the exigencies and standards of contemporary European cities. Oradea tries to become more popular, to promote and valorize its history, and also to develop its own personality, individuality and European uniqueness.


”Living together”

Oradea, the “bridge-city”, connects two worlds, two cultural “tectonic plates”: the Western and the Easter one. At different historical moments, Oradea was close to the Hungarian royalty and the Viennese Court, under the Turkish rule, and finally joined Greater Romania, in flourishing or totalitarian times. Nevertheless, it has always tried to progress and develop economically, culturally and commercially. Oradea is a possible reply to the theme “Living together”, which is extremely relevant and topical in the European context.  

Oradea’s destiny of being a multi-ethnical, multi-confessional and multi-cultural European city is not recent, but dates back to many centuries. In difficult times for Europe, as the ones we are living today, Romania can offer an example and a model which has been verified and tested along centuries of coexistence and urban agglomeration, where multinational cultural heritage intermingles and complements each other harmoniously, for the benefit of the whole community. Oradea, which is perhaps the most cosmopolite city of Romania, is the model that Europe could multiply due to its tolerant spirit, creative effervescence, cross-border cooperation, and also its capacity of revitalization, reinvention, assimilation and evocation.

Oradea is also the access gate of the Western spirit to the Central-European civilization and the fascinating Balkan area.

The territory crossed by the Crișul Repede River, which lies from the foot of the Apuseni Mountains to the Pannonia Plane, with all its richness of civilization and culture, has been inhabited by Hungarians, Romanians, Jews, Italians, Germans, Slovakians and Roma for almost a millennium. It has been growing steadily, in terms of continuity and an enviable cultural, economic and confessional wealth.


Architecture preserve

Architecture represents the personality and one of the most important attractions of the city, be it medieval, Renaissance, classical, eclectic, 1900 Art, modern and contemporary.

Oradea’s Fortress remains its undeniable mark in the hierarchy of medieval European cities. It is the only military architectural complex in East Europe which is fortified with old Italian-style bastions and is kept in relatively good condition. Oradea’s Fortress, one of the most beautiful late Renaissance monuments in this European area, was built in two successive stages, during the second half of the 16th century (1569-1598, the wall of the bastion fortification) and the first half of the 17th century (1618-1648, the Prince’s Palace or the interior courtyard). Prince Gabriel Bethlen has the merit of having associated his name with the construction of a large and fancy palace, in late Renaissance style, built within the military fortress. It has a perfectly regular pentagonal shape, each of its sides running parallel to those of the fortress.

He intended the palace to become a temporary dwelling place of the prince, the residence of the captain of the fortress, as well as the headquarters of the garrison’s officers and soldiers. During the reign of King Charles Robert of Anjou (1308-1342) and of his son Louis I of Hungary (1342-1382), the taste for refinement appeared in this area due to the Italians, as Oradea was the first centre of humanism in Transylvania. As it was also the seat of the Catholic Bishopric, the city had a thriving period as an important cultural-historic centre.

During the Renaissance, when one of the most outstanding personalities of Central Europe was the Hungarian bishop of Croatian origin John Vitez of Sredna, Oradea became a very important cultural and commercial centre. It was here that the first European astronomical observatory was built, and the meridian of Oradea was used as the prime meridian.

Oradea’s flourishing economic life was based on the non-agricultural activity branches, crafts and trade, the merchants being the most active social category in town.

The Romanian factor began to have an impact since the 18th century, through the constant work for the development of the education infrastructure dedicated to the mostly rural Romanian population and to the book printing as well.

The economic and commercial prosperity was mostly provided by the Jewish population, who was allowed to start a business in any area of the city only in the early 19th century and to live anywhere in the city only since 1835. It was not earlier than the beginning of the 20th century that the Jews advanced in the social stratification and were proportionally represented in the Local Council.

The clear evidence of the confessional tolerance that characterized the city along history is the existence of the three churches situated in Unirii Square: a Roman-Catholic, a Greek-Catholic and an Orthodox church. Nevertheless, the community was not spared from ethnic tragedies, which had serious consequences and caused irrecoverable losses. The Museum of Jewish History in the Orthodox Synagogue, included in the current issue, bears witness, presenting the history of Oradea’s Jewish community, based on historical documents. 

The baroque style is represented by the Baroque Palace (dating from the 18th century), which is the former and current Roman-Catholic bishop’s palace. Along with the Roman-Catholic Basilica and the Canon’s Row, it forms the Baroque Complex, the largest complex of structures built in this architectural style from Romania. The Orthodox Moon Church (with its tower mechanism showing precisely the phases of the moon) is also specific to this style.  

The eclectic architecture is illustrated by the State Theatre, the Palace of Greek-Catholic Bishopric with neo-Gothic influences, the City-Hall, the Rimanóczy Senior Palace, which reproduces the Venetian Ca d’Oro Palace, the Rimanóczy Junior Palace, with neo-Gothic elements, etc.

At the beginning of the 20th century, some of the most important architects from Budapest worked in Oradea, the trend inspired by Lechner’s style being represented by Marcell Komor and Dezső Jakab, Zoltán Bálint and Lajos Jámbor. The young architects’ generation, called ”The Youth” group, also working in Oradea,  was represented by Valér Mende and Frigyes Spiegel, the latter being initially influenced by the Western Art Nouveau trend. Pre-modern architecture, with Viennese influences, is illustrated by the works of brothers László and József Vágó.  The mark of Viennese architecture can be also seen at Ullmann Palace, built by Franz Löbl. The flagship building of Viennese Secession architectural style is Vulturul Negru (The Black Eagle) Palace, with the pedestrian passageway. Although born in Oradea, architects Ferenc Sztarill, Kálmán Rimanóczy Jr., László and József Vágó, Franz Löbl, as well as other Hungarian, Austrian and Slovakian architects who worked in Oradea, are less known and mentioned in the specialized literature.

The current issue of Arhitectura magazine is intended to emphasize the important names of Oradea’s architecture and to bring their work to the forefront, trying to supplement this information.

During the interwar period, Oradea remained a major industrial and commercial centre and, as it happened in many other large cities of Western Transylvania, all efforts were dedicated to its transformation into an important Romanian cultural centre.

Oradea’s history during the years of Communist dictatorship was marked by all the evolution’s stages of this regime at national level. The Stalinist model dominated the political, socio-economic and cultural life during the years 1948-1960, while the period 1960-1965 marked a relative detachment from Moscow. The Ceausescu regime (1965-1989), which practiced a certain relaxation and liberalization in the first years (1965-1971), gradually established a dictatorial regime. 

Tourism was the main concern for the authorities of the time. Therefore, Băile Felix and Băile 1 Mai spa resorts were updated to the existing standards, as their thermal waters with curative effects had made them famous since antiquity, but especially since the 16th century.

A large amount of projects  

Today, being connected to the European mechanisms and the European leaders’ preoccupations, worries and experiments, Oradea is able to access funds which enable it to develop economically and socially, but also to be known, at international level, for its own special individuality. It is customary for the municipal administration to get connected to the international context and to play a major role in driving forward and managing the city’s development. The municipality of Oradea was the first to organize its metropolitan territory. For many years now, a lot of Romanian cities have been experiencing a stagnation period, a time of standstill and a state of”place where nothing happens”. Nevertheless, Oradea belongs to a group of cities which are an exception, as they are determined to overcome their economic and financial obstacles, to draw up development strategies, to think about the structure of the future population and to find means of fostering the economic growth. Moreover, Oradea is firmly decided to remain “the gateway to the West” of the country.

The local companies are familiar with the mechanisms of economic development and, as such, they export more than they import, they revive well-established activities and adjust to the new market requirements. Therefore, large shares in the export structure are represented by the sectors of electrical machines, appliances and equipment, sound and image recording and playback devices, optical instruments and equipment, leather goods, furs and footwear, clothing, knitwear, hats, umbrellas etc. Thus, the GDP per capita is around 150% of the average rate per country and the unemployment rate in Oradea is lower than the national average rate.

Oradea represents Romania, through the IT Qubiz Company, in the European competition entitled „The Workplace and People Development Award”. Oradea has a dynamic administration which understands that the city’s development depends on investments and also on the inhabitants’ steady participation. The current issue presents some of the steps taken in this regard.

Oradea is also the green city which has small and large parks, as well as green areas in the residential districts of the city. Moreover, there are promenade areas in the old and central neighbourhoods. Although the first parks are related to the wide areas without buildings which surrounded the Fortress, other parks were also created in the 19th and 20th century. The current issue presents the latest landscape design projects and the conception which generated them.

Oradea is, at the same time, one of the main educational centres in the country, due to the State University and its private universities which are continuously extended, modernized and brought to the highest quality standards.

The city also lives through the cultural events organized all year round. They start in spring, when the Festum Varadinum Festival takes place; they go on in summertime, with the Fair of Folk Craftsmen and the Festival of Oradea Fortress and they finish in autumn, with the Oradea Autumn Festival and the Short Theatre Week. Moreover, Oradea hosts every year: the International Theatre Festival, the European Music Open, the Day After Tomorrow Festival, the Infinite Dance Festival, the International Folk Festival, the Szigligeti Summer Evenings Festival, the Light Festival and the Colours Festival.

All these projects, activities and initiatives are reflected in Oradea’s first place among the most attractive cities in terms of the average cost of living in Romania – access to public health facilities, environmental quality, cleanliness and noise of the urban environment, green areas, situation of public transport or access to educational institutions. Moreover, it is the safest city in the country.

Instead of drawing a conclusion, it is worth noting that, in a depressed and skeptical world like the one we are now living in, Oradea ranks first in Reader’s Digest magazine in terms of happy people!  

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