I had a wonderful time in Timişoara. I didn’t go to many museums, but I spent a good deal of time sitting in cafes when I wasn’t computer hunting. The city is beautiful, with a number of historic squares lined with lovely old buildings and churches. I had some street-art finds, and I even managed to find Indian food! How can I complain?
Timişoara’s also a pretty significant city in terms of recent Romanian history – it was here that the revolution that ousted Ceauçescu and Communism began, almost accidentally. As a result of this, half the streets in the city seem to be named for prominent figures in the revolution or important dates. There’s a map that shows all the revolutionary monuments around Timişoara, and they have a lot. I’d never even heard of Timişoara before coming to Romania, and I was amazed and inspired by the story of the start of the revolution there. So, here’s a brief outline.
A very popular pastor in Timişoara, László Tőkés [Hungarian Reformed Church of Romania], was to be removed from his parish and his residence and sent to a small and isolated parish in Mineu. Tőkés was a repeated critic of Ceauçescu and the regime in Romania, and was very influential in Timişoara. Eviction orders were given for 15 December 1989, and as the day approached his parishioners crowded around his flat, forming a human chain to prevent the Securitate from removing him. Several hundred remained overnight, and the next day the Mayor tried to negotiate with Tőkés to have the crown dispersed; despite Tőkés’ pleas with the crowds [who the authorities threatened with water cannons], they refused. The crowd rapidly grew, including Romanians as well as Hungarians, with people from all ethnic and religious groups; Tőkés was highly regarded by the Orthodox community as well as his own. Arms linked, the crowd sang hymns and patriotic songs in support of the priest. Groups of students joined them, and someone started shouting ‘Down with Ceauçescu’ and ‘Down with Communism’, and from then on the protest became more politicized and led to violent conflict with the militia and the Securitate. The army were sent in to control and crush the protests the next day, 17 December, firing shots into the crowd. Factory workers called a strike on 18 December, joining the protest, and by 20 December the city was in insurrection, the citizens declaring Timişoara the first Free Town. Hundreds of people were killed and more injured, with the authorities attempting to cover up the evidence by refusing to release the bodies of the deceased to the families; instead they were sent to Bucharest or burned. That wasn’t the end of course, but clearly I’m not so crash-hot at being brief.
There’s a small museum – no entry fee, but donations are expected – about the revolution in Timişoara. It has a room full of pictures drawn by children, as well as a shrine dedicated to the martyrs of the revolution. It also has a room where a half-hour film with English subtitles is shown. The film, telling the story of the revolution using actual footage, was heartbreaking as well as inspirational. The film clearly shows the huge crowd in Piaţa Victorieii, and then the crowd dispersing as shots are fired, and contains much more equally confronting footage. At the same time as being terribly depressing and shocking, it was inspirational to see and hear the determination of the people in demanding a better life and a better Romania.
On the positive side, most of the city has completely recovered [at least in terms of the buildings etc] and it’s a pleasure to explore the side streets and smaller squares, with green lawns and trees or fountains. I was impressed as always by the vibrant colours of the old eighteenth and nineteenth century houses and churches and shops.
The main square in the centre of town, Piaţa Victorieii, was less than five minutes from the hostel I stayed at, and it was beautiful at night – lit up with warm golden street lamps, with the fountain splashing and the paths and gardens leading up to the church at one end and the opera house at the other.
I really liked Piaţa Unirii. It’s a huge square, with a tall plague column and spacious lawns. In summer it’s apparently the centre of life in Timişoara, with all the cafés spilling out onto the street and continuous activity, from festivals to live music. I was clearly there at the wrong time, as summer was over and mostly the square was bereft of people. There were still plenty of pigeons, however, and I do like pigeons. There’s something inherently funny about the way they move in such a ridiculously disjointed fashion.
I hope you will enjoy a few photos of Timişoara – I think that’s the best way for me to show you how beautiful the city is!