Timișoara has been inhabited since ancient times, by Dacians and later the Romans, who named it Castrum Temesiense. First mentioned in 1212 as a citadel, by the 14th century it became an important outpost in the fight between Christendom and the Muslim Ottoman Turks. It was here that Hungarian and French crusaders gathered before the Battle of Nicopolis (1396), one of the last large scale crusades. From the 18th century, it developed around the fortified nucleus and later transitioned towards becoming an important economic and industrial centre. The city flourished between the interwar period and the Communist period, when its population tripled.
In 1884 Timișoara was the first mainland European city and just second in the world – after New York – to have electric public street lighting. After the city’s contract with the Viennese company that supplied it with the gas used for lighting ended, the city decided to take a shot on a new revolutionary public lighting system. On 12 November, 731 electric lamps were used to light the streets of Timișoara, paving the way for its bright future. The two lamps in front of the Huniade Castle, hosting the Banat Museum, are a reminder of just that.
The capital of the Banat region was also the second European city, and first in Romania, to introduce horse-drawn trams in 1869.
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Lively cultural scene
The third most populous city in Romania, Timișoara has no less than four theatres, namely the Mihai Eminescu National Theatre, the German State Theatre, the Csiky Gergely Hungarian State Theatre, and the Merlin Puppet Theatre.
The city also has several museums hosted by some of Timișoara’s landmark buildings. The Art Museum, hosted by the Baroque Palace in the Unirii Square, the Banat Museum that occupies the Huniade Castle, and the open-air Museum of Banat Village are not to be missed. The Palace of the Serbian Episcopacy offers a surprisingly well curated collection of art and rare books. Plus, Timișoara also has an Opera, a Philarmonic, plenty of art galleries and hosts over 30 festivals every year.
Ever since King Ferdinand I awarded Timișoara the status of University centre in 1920, the city has attracted the brightest minds in the country and beyond.
Timișoara now has four public universities and as many private ones. The student population of the city, totalling around 60,000 students, lends the city a fresh, youthful vibe.
2021 European Capital of Culture
In September 2016, Timișoara was elected 2021 European Capital of Culture, a title it shares with Novi Sad in Serbia and Eleusis, Greece. For one calendar year, the city will host a series of cultural events with a European dimension, such as exhibitions, concerts, plays and many more.
Throughout its history, Timișoara has been a melting pot of cultures. An important Muslim community in the 17th century during Ottoman rule, and later, Hungarians, Serbs, Germans and Jewish all called the city their home.
Currently, the Romanian Opera House, the imposing building in Victoriei Square, hosts the Opera, as well as the Mihai Eminescu Romanian National Theatre, the German State Theatre and the Csiky Gergely Hungarian State Theatre. Moreover, services at the Catholic Dome are held even today in Romanian, Hungarian and German languages.
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Timișoara’s architecture is the first thing that stands out when it comes to the city’s rich cultural heritage.
Standing tall at 80 meters, with its 11 towers, and seven bells, the Timișoara Metropolitan Cathedral is one of the most imposing buildings in the city. Its cupola is built in Moldavian style, while the side arches are in Byzantine style and the mosaic floors recreate motifs found in Banat style rugs. The City Hall and the Neuhaus Palace, designed by talented Hungarian-born architect Laszlo Szekely, add to the list of architectural landmarks of the city.
The Catholic Dome is the most important Baroque monument in the Banat region. Its sumptuous interior features nine altars decorated in rococo style, made by Viennese painters and sculptors. Not least, Art Nouveau buildings are scattered all around the area of the former citadel. The Dicasterial Palace, hosting the Palace of Justice, is a copy of the Palazzo Medici in Florence.
The city’s old centre is full of cafés, restaurants and ice cream parlours catering to all tastes. The highlights of the Banat cuisine, such as pork specialties, Ciolan cu varză and Pulpă de porc la tavă or Mâncare de brozbe as well as plenty of deserts will provide you with a hearty meal after a day full of sightseeing.
Timișoara has mild weather all year round, thanks to its Marine West Coast Climate. This means that usually, at the height of summer, the city is spared the hot and dry days Bucharest and other cities in the Romanian Plain are known for. In winter, temperatures do not drop sharply, making the city an enjoyable destination to be explored by day and by night.
Timișoara has plenty of parks as well as its own Botanical Gardens. However, the natural areas around the city are where you can spot the most spectacular wildlife in the region. To combine outdoor activities and birdwatching, a canoe trip on the Bega river will provide you with the right setting. A longer trip, of around two and half hours will take you to Cheile Nerei, one of the most beautiful national parks in Romania.