Transylvania, or ”the land beyond the forest”, is a region in Romania that has always had an aura of mystery and magic surrounding it. Its land, dotted with magnificent villages and castles, forests and lakes, is shaped by myth and legend, globally renowned for the story of Dracula. Today, however, people around the world have dared to break the myth and explore this vast region of outstanding diversity and beauty – for there is more to this place than vampires.
Located in the central part of the area and also known as the ”treasure city”, Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania, is one of the historical capitals of this region. Dating back to the 2nd century A.D., one can easily imagine the multitude of historical events this city has witnessed.
An important regional centre in Roman times, Napoca was a wealthy city due to its favorable position in Dacia. After the Romans moved south, the city’s history was subject to uncertainty until the 9th century when the Hungarians occupied the area, quickly followed by German settlers. The settlement was granted the status of civitas (city) in 1316 and numerous fortifications were built for protections against Tatar and Ottoman invasions. In 1699, the city became part of the Austrian Empire under Habsburg Rule, and in 1867 it became part of Hungary. After World War I, the entire region along with the city of Cluj-Napoca became part of Romania.
Today, Cluj-Napoca is a city with numerous narrow streets and beautiful old buildings, offering many examples of fine Late Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Everyone who visits Cluj-Napoca must see the House of Matthias Corvinus, allegedly the birthplace of the 15th century Hungarian Ruler, which was at the time one of the town’s inns. Currently, the building is owned by the Academy of Arts, but it remains open to public.
It is impossible to miss the Cluj-Napoca’s main square or ”Piața Unirii” (Union’s Square), where Roman ruins are still visible underneath the ground and where Saint Michael’s Church dominates the entire area. The church is one of the city’s most important landmarks dating back to the 14th century and its tower, built later in Neo-Gothic style, is said to be the highest in the country. Hidden inside, the curious eye can find murals from the 15th century, as well as magnificent gothic architectural details.
A few meters away from the church one can find the beautiful Baroque palace once owned by the noble Bánffy family. Since its completion in 1785, it has been considered one of the most beautiful palaces in Transylvania and is known to have hosted the visit of Emperor Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire and his consort Caroline Augusta of Bavaria. The palace’s impressive façade is decorated with six statues of Roman Gods and the coat of arms of the Bánffy family.
Narrow streets and beautiful houses steal the eye as one walks around the city centre. “Piața Muzeului” or the Museum Square is a fun area to spend time in; there, a vast number of cafe shops and restaurants offer a variety of fine food and beverage. It’s a place where people come to relax. The square is also dominated by another landmark of the city – the old Franciscan church.
Near the centre of the city there is small hill, known as Cetățuia, that offers a wonderful panorama over the city. Originally an Austrian stronghold and jail, Cetățuia is now a romantic place for a walk and a splendid sunset spot, being easily accessible by foot.
The area surrounding the city does not fail to impress one who is in search of beautiful mountain scenery, quiet villages and abandoned fortresses. Just 35 km away, in the village of Bonțida, there is another relic of the Bánffy family, a Baroque monument that was neglected by the Communist regime and is now being restored to revive its past splendor.
My experience with Cluj-Napoca has always been positive. Its vivid modern life combined with its rich history have continuously been a source of inspiration for me, proving what a powerful and vibrant and modern city it is – a gemstone of Transylvania.