Travel

It Might Be Time to Consider Timisoara


Families stroll and savor gelato cones as bike couriers whiz by. Pensioners relax on benches near manicured flower beds while earbud-wearing hipsters walk dogs and children chase pigeons by a fountain laden with bronze fish. The scene in Victory Square in Timisoara, Romania, is quintessentially European — modern meets Old World.

Scanning the imposing Art Nouveau palaces lining the grand plaza — larger than three American football fields and bookended by the National Opera House and Metropolitan Orthodox Cathedral — I wonder how Timisoara remains a travel sleeper, the most noteworthy city you’ve probably never heard of.

Romanians and history buffs know Timisoara for its leading role in the bloody Romanian revolution in December 1989, when local protests set off a nationwide wave that toppled dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. (The country is still struggling with the unresolved legacy of that revolution.) As I gaze at vibrant Victory Square, it’s hard to envision 100,000 anti-Communist protesters crammed together during those fateful days.

Other claims to fame include being the first city in Europe — second worldwide after New York — with electric street lighting (1884) and being called Little Vienna for its abundant Secession and Baroque architecture, an indelible mark of Hapsburg rule, which began in 1716 after 164 years under the Ottoman Empire. Liberated from the Turks, Timisoara flourished in the ensuing two centuries under Hungarian and Austrian control and the dual-monarchy Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Vienna moniker is a stretch, although the architecture, trams and green spaces do evoke the Austrian capital.

Timisoara is largely unknown to tourists — and relatively undiscovered — despite being just a few hours from Budapest. As close to Vienna as to the Romanian capital, Bucharest (both about 340 miles), and even closer to five other European capitals, Timisoara is also accessible by a small but expanding airport that connects it to cities across Europe.

Timisoara’s historic core, which has the most popular sights, is compact, walkable and centered on three car-free squares — Victory, Freedom and Union. Along the way, a mélange of bold architecture abounds.

Elsewhere in the square, it’s worth admiring the early-20th-century palaces still identified by the names of the original owners, then the city’s wealthiest families, including Neuhausz, Weiss, Dauerbach, Löffler and Széchenyi. On one side, two Modernist Communist-era apartment blocks discombobulate the design continuity, but mostly the buildings are superb examples of Art Nouveau, specifically, Viennese Secession with colorful, even playful Hungarian and eclectic elements — legacies of a building boom when the city was under Austro-Hungarian rule. Restoration work continues, but several facades were recently returned to their original grandeur that rivals any in Europe.

The celebrated artist spent most of his career in Paris, and this is the largest exhibition of his work in Romania in 50 years.

Timisoara is one of three European Capitals of Culture in 2023. A full slate of art exhibitions, concerts, music festivals, theater and dance extends through December.



Sahred From Source link Travel

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