Timișoara is a city in the west of Romania and worth a visit not only because of its multicultural character and its turbulent history. There is a lot to see and do in the city. Here we look at the history of Timișoara, introduce you to the most beautiful Timișoara sights and show you what to do in Timișoara. Let’s go!
This is Timisoara
Timișoara, the prospective European Capital of Culture 2023 (due to the Corona pandemic, the Capital of Culture year originally scheduled for 2021 will be held later) is the historical heart of the Banat region. This region, which is divided between Hungary, Serbia and Romania, now forms the westernmost part of the country on the Romanian side and can also be considered Romania’s gateway to the West because of the city’s importance. With its approximately 320,000 inhabitants, Timișoara is today the third largest city in the country after Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca.
The history of Timișoara
The region around Timișoara was already settled in ancient times. In the Middle Ages, the area was ruled by various tribes and principalities, Avars were followed by Pechenegs, Cumans, Bulgarians, Wallachians and finally Hungarians. It is not known exactly when the city was founded, but for the High Middle Ages a fortress is already documented, which was located in the area of today’s Victory Square.
Between 1316 and 1323, Timișoara was briefly the seat of government of the Hungarian king Charles Robert I, who had the city further developed. Then, in the 16th century, Timișoara was captured by Ottoman troops, who ruled here for over 150 years. After the conquest of the region by Austria, Timișoara was developed into a fortress city, which can still be seen today in the Maria Theresa Bastion.
Under Hungarian rule
Timișoara, which was home to a large number of Danube Swabians, experienced its greatest prosperity in the 19th century. After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, the city was annexed to the Hungarian half of the empire and subsequently developed magnificently. At that time, the wild Bega River was also canalized, which still characterizes the face of Timișoara today.
Timișoara as part of Romania
After the First World War, Timişoara fell to Romania. During World War II, parts of the city were destroyed in Allied air raids. After Romania switched sides and was now no longer fighting together with Germany, German troops made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to take Timişoara. The Communist takeover was also accompanied by the expulsion of a large part of the German population.
Starting point of the revolution
Timişoara was then of nationwide importance in the late 1980s. The Romanian Revolution, which ultimately cost Nicolae Ceaușescu his life, began here. The trigger for the outbreak of the long fermenting discontent among the population was the punitive transfer of a local priest. In what is now called Victory Square, demonstrations led to a massacre of the civilian population; the exact number of victims is still unknown. Later, however, the demonstrators gained control of the city, the beginning of the end of the communist regime had taken place.
Meanwhile, Timişoara has shed the gray veil of the communist past and presents itself as a modern European city, in which in recent years numerous buildings have been restored to their former glory. There is something to discover in almost every corner of the center, which is why we would like to introduce you to the most beautiful and interesting places in the city.
Piața Victoriei is not only one of the most popular meeting places in the city, but also something like the promenade of Timişoara. The long, rectangular square was once an avenue, which was transformed into a magnificent boulevard at the beginning of the 20th century. Later, several green areas were added, which still characterize the face of the square today. Even before the fall of communism, streetcars and cars were banned from the square, so that today the square is a pure pedestrian zone. Architecturally, in addition to the Orthodox Cathedral and the National Theater, numerous other buildings are interesting. Art Nouveau and Classicism dominate here, but one or the other building sin from the communist era can also be found.
During the Romanian Revolution, the square played an important role as about 40,000 people gathered here on Dec. 20th, 1989 to protest against the government. Several leaders were able to make speeches and address the people from the balcony of the theater described below, an important milestone on Romania’s road to democracy.
The Cathedral of the Holy Three Hierarchs, often called Metropolitan Cathedral, is one of the most significant landmarks of Timişoara. As if on a vanishing point, the elongated Piața Victoriei runs precisely towards this church. With its exotic-looking roofs and filigree shape, it is perhaps the most significant place of worship in the city. It was completed only during the Second World War and was a gift of King Michael I to the city. Stylistically it represents a mixture of Byzantine and Moldavian elements, echoes of monasteries in the north of the country are unmistakable. Inside, the exterior splendor continues, mosaic floors, a gilded iconostasis with an area of over 130 m² and valuable wall paintings are just some of the highlights that await you here.
The massive and geographical counterpoint to the Metropolitan Cathedral is the National Theater on the opposite front side of Piața Victoriei. Destroyed several times by fire, it was completed in its present form in the 1920s, retaining the neo-Renaissance facade. Echoes of the Italian Renaissance are indeed unmistakable, and yet the building looks very modern and in no way older than the Cathedral of the Holy Three Hierarchs. You can get an idea of the interior with its ornate galleries and balconies and the huge ceiling painting by attending a performance.
Three squares characterize the face of the center of Timișoara, the Piața Unirii, the Piața Libertății and the Piața Victoriei: but the most beautiful of them is probably the Piața Unirii. The oldest square of the city has long become a kind of visiting cards of Timișoara. Formerly called simply “Main Square”, after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise it bore the name of István Losonczy, who defended the city against the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Today, the square is a synthesis of baroque, art nouveau and classicist buildings grouped around a green area with a plague column. However, the Catholic Cathedral, the Baroque Palace and the Serbian Cathedral attract the most attention, and we would like to introduce them to you below.
Catedrala Sfântul Gheorghe
Timişoara is rich in magnificent Baroque houses of worship and is characterized by its multicultural heritage. In the middle of the 18th century, the German and Hungarian population had the privilege to enjoy this church, which today is the second largest Baroque church in Southeastern Europe after the cathedral in Oradea. The church is the seat of the bishop of Timişoara and a feast for the eyes. Inside you will find so much gold and marble that you will wonder how such a project could have been completed in a time when Austrians and Turks were constantly fighting over this region and actually the construction of military facilities would have had priority. Also worth seeing is the crypt with the bones of numerous bishops.
Muzeul de Artă (Palatul Baroc)
The Muzeul de Artă (Museum of Art) at Piața Unirii is the most important such institution in the region. And as befits such an important collection, the exhibition is presented in a very special setting. The museum is located in the so-called Baroque Palace (Palatul Baroc). In addition to over 90 paintings by the Craiova-born portrait painter Corneliu Baba, contemporary Romanian, Banat and Western European (especially Italian) art is shown here, and temporary exhibitions are also held here from time to time. The palace was built in the 18th century and used to be the seat of the imperial and royal governor and later served as the residence of the commander of the Soviet troops stationed here, among others.
The baroque Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Timişoara is an absolute eye-catcher on the Piața Unirii. The church was built in the middle of the 18th century, and the two filigree towers were added at the end of the 18th century. In the past, the proportion of Serbs in the city was much higher than today, so there are no less than three Serbian Orthodox churches in Timişoara. In total, seven Serbian bishops found their final resting place here at the Piața Unirii. Not only the magnificent interior of the cathedral with its gilded iconostasis is a real eye-catcher; the back of the building in combination with the neighboring vicarage, which was built at the same time, provides a beautiful photo motif.
Besides Piața Unirii and Piața Victoriei, Piața Libertății is the third important square of Timisoara. Formerly known as the parade ground, marches of Austrian troops took place here. After the unification of the Romanian territories in Alba Iulia, it was given the name Piața Libertății (Freedom Square). Besides the city hall described below, the most eye-catching feature is the imposing military casino and the neighboring military command, built on the remains of an Ottoman bazaar. In 2015, the square was completely redesigned, with several trees and green areas having to give way. You can see the result in the picture. The new circular pattern around the Nepomuk monument looks chic, but many residents still don’t like it because of the removal of the trees.
The most prominent building in the square is the Primăria Veche, the Old Town Hall. It was built on the remains of an old hammam and was designed in the mid-18th century by the Italian master builder Pietro del Bronzo as the “German Town Hall”, as the German settlers claimed their own town hall. Over time, the building underwent several reconstructions, so that today it presents itself as a colorful mix of Renaissance and Baroque elements. Today, it is home to the university’s music faculty, among others. From there, students have a beautiful view of the square and the statue of Nepomuk, which is located directly in front of the Old Town Hall. The baroque masterpiece shows not only Nepomuk, the patron saint of the Banat people, but also Mary with a wreath and commemorates the victims of a plague epidemic.
Bastionul Maria Terezia
The eastern end of the old town is formed by the bastion named after Empress Maria Theresa. The Austrians maintained nine bastions in the city, which together formed the fortress of Timisoara. Thus, the city had a similar function to Karlsburg. The bastion was built in the middle of the 18th century. However, with advancing weapons development, especially increasingly powerful artillery, such fortifications quickly became obsolete. In addition, the city was already bursting at the seams about a hundred years after the fortress was built. It was therefore decided to demolish the complex, leaving only a few smaller parts of Timișoara Fortress besides the Maria Theresa Bastion.
The communists originally wanted to demolish the Maria Theresa Bastion, but then decided to integrate it into the cityscape. Today, a multi-lane road runs through the middle of the complex, while the casemates have been renovated. Part of the Banat National Museum (see below) is now housed here, but a court, several restaurants and clubs, and an art gallery are also based here today. So there is a lot to discover!
Muzeul Național al Banatului
The Banat National Museum is a complex that includes several exhibitions. The roots of the museum date back to the late 19th century and was originally focused on archaeology. Since 1948, the museum has been located in the Hunyadi Castle, which has been under renovation for ten years now. In addition to exhibitions on history and archaeology, there will probably be natural science exhibits and much more on display again by the end of 2021. On the outskirts of the city, the museum also maintains a branch, the Village Museum. Here you can visit more than 50 historical buildings and get an impression of life in the region in earlier times. Another branch is the art museum described above.
On 16.12.1989 about 1000 demonstrators gathered in the center of Timișoara. But what had happened? The reason was the arrest of the priest Laszlo Tökes, who had openly opposed the communist regime. Quickly, the government troops, using force, managed to disperse the demonstration, which was also accompanied by strikes. Nevertheless, Ceauşescu, the Romanian dictator, did not like this, because his order to shoot at the demonstrators went unheeded. Fortunately, only batons were used. By then, of course, the revolution could no longer be stopped.
Mass demonstrations took place in Timișoara and this time the security forces fired; there were several deaths. A day later, however, some soldiers fraternized with the demonstrators and laid down their weapons. And so Timișoara became the first city in Romania to break away from the dictator. This unique event, which was initially hardly known in the country due to cut lines, is now commemorated by a museum. Here, not only the event is remembered, this is rather embedded in the context of the Cold War and also deals with Ceauşescu’s life. A piece of the Berlin Wall can also be seen in front of the museum.
Your feet hurt after exploring the city? Then let’s go to the city’s botanical garden. Conveniently, it is located directly behind the old town ring road. It was built during the communist era and redesigned shortly before the fall of communism. Since 1995, it has been protected and with an area of 84,000, you can stroll for hours or just take a break. The plants come from all over the country and give a good overview of the Romanian flora. But you can also discover tropical plants in a greenhouse and a Japanese garden. And if you are interested in history, you can still see remains of the old fortress here.
You are hungry, want to spend the night in the city or need more information? Then our practical tips will help you.
The central tourist information office is located at 2 Alba Iulia Street, where you can get competent help every day during the week from 8 am to 4 pm.
Food and Drink
- Merlot. Elegant restaurant where you can enjoy artfully designed, upscale cuisine at more than moderate prices.
- Tinecz. The dishes at Tinecz are more down-to-earth and rustic, but no less delicious. In addition to grill classics, there are also Romanian dishes with a modern interpretation.
- Scârț Loc Lejer. Is this still a pub or already a museum? At the Scârț Loc Lejer, all sorts of odds and ends from the communist era have been collected, and you can look at them over a beer and some Romanian classics.
- North Star Continental*. From the outside, the hotel block in the center does not look much, but the location is almost unbeatable. Moreover, the prices are moderate, and there is an outdoor pool!
- Hotel Savoy*. Picturesquely located on the banks of the Bega River, this four-star hotel surprises with reasonable prices that are absolutely unusual for these facilities. The rooms are modern, without frills and leave nothing to be desired.
- Hotel Reghina Blue*. The Reghina Blue also has a pool. The slightly greater distance to the center is more than made up for by the friendly team and the stylish rooms.
To explore the city, we recommend this inexpensive tour*. Here you will be guided in English through the city in about two hours and learn a lot about the history of this place.
You want to know more about Timisoara and Romania or you are planning a vacation in Romania? Then the following books will help you:
Classic tour guide that covers Romania and Bulgaria and of course also contains a chapter about what to do in Timisoara
This book contains the latest research on the history of this diverse area.
Sergiu Miron, a Timișoara local, gives you a lot of tips about what to do in Timisoara when you want to visit the most beautiful Timisoara sights.