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Old Cluj Napoca | © Razvan Antonescu/Flickr
Old Cluj Napoca | © Razvan Antonescu/Flickr
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13 Moments in History That Shaped Cluj Napoca

Picture of Roxana Coman
Updated: 8 December 2017
Cluj Napoca is a city boasting a vivid ambience, plenty of original cafes and restaurants, amazing events all year-round and some remarkable artists that contribute to the continuous renewal of the marvellous art scene. Yet the city as you know or will discover it today, is the outcome of a multitude of events that influenced development. Here’s an overview of the happenings that modelled Cluj Napoca.

The Dacian and Roman era

Before and during the first century of our times, a big part of Romania’s territory was occupied by the Dacians. However, in their expansion process, the Romans fought and defeated the Dacians in two wars, 105 and 106 A.D.

On Cluj’s territory, the Romans built a citadel, on what is today the city centre. Ruins of the old Roman citadel can be found in the Unirii Square. Cluj, at that time called Napoca, was one of the most important cities in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, gaining the status of a Municipium in 124 A.D. and the one of Colonia in 164 A.D.

Roman ruins in Cluj
Roman ruins in Cluj | © Ana Maria Catalina / Wikimedia

Roman’s withdrawal

The Romans didn’t stay long as in 271 A.D. their troops withdrew south of the Danube because of the uninterrupted waves of barbarians that started invading the territory. The remaining populations searched for shelter in the mountains. Until the end of the 9th-century, the city’s territory was a passage camp for these migratory populations.

The Hungarians’ arrival

At the end of the 9th-century, the ancestors of today’s Hungarians settled in Transylvania, occupying the region. They built several settlements on the region’s territory, Cluj being one of them, with its centre on what is today the Calvaria hill. Nevertheless, in 1241 it was destroyed by the Mongols’ invasion and rebuilt only after Saxons arrival.

Calvaria_Church,_Cluj-Napoca
Calvaria Church | © Roamata/WikiCommons

The Saxon colonisation

In the 13th-century, German colonists, generally called Saxons, occupied Transylvania and built several fortifications. Until their arrival Cluj was only a village, but they built a stone-made citadel in what is today the Museum Square.

Obeliscul_Carolina_si_Biserica_franciscana
Museum Square, Cluj | © Cluj-Napoca/WikiCommons

Cluj becomes a city

In 1316, the king Carol Robert elevated the village to city status, Civitas Kulusvar. The event was considered the ‘birth’ of the city of Cluj and came together with some rights for its citizens: to choose their local ruler, their priest, to move freely and to trade through Transylvania without paying customs duties. It was a first event that contributed to the development of the city into a commercial centre.

Likewise, in 1355, the first market was organized in the actual Union Square. Later on, in 1405, King Sigismund of Luxembourg made Cluj a free royal city and the construction of a second, bigger citadel started.

The city evolves into a commercial centre

At the end of the 15th-century, the guilds were formed. With the right to trade freely on all the territory of the Hungarian Kingdom that the city and Transylvania were part of, Cluj became a flourishing trade centre and its population, divided between Hungarians and Saxons, increased. Today, the still-standing towers remind us of the guilds that used to have their workshops inside.

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Tailor’s Bastion, Cluj | © Cartophil/ Shutterstock

The Religious Reform

The Catholic population of the city was shaken by the convincing speeches and philosophy of Gaspar Helt, adept of Martin Luther’s creed and the Cluj-born David Ferenc, founder of Unitarianism. The Catholic churches were occupied by the adepts of the new faiths. In Saint Michael Church, the changes that the church went through with the arrival and departure of the different religious groups are still visible: the frescoes that adorned the church were either destroyed or covered with paint and today few fragments are still visible.

Saint Michael Gothic Church
Saint Michael Gothic Church | © Stefan Jurca / Flickr

The Habsburg’s rule

At the end of the 17th-century, the Habsburgs took control over the city and started the Counter-Reformation, also known as the Catholic Revival. The Austrians erected a citadel on the Cetatuia Hill, where only its ruins stand today. The city became the Transylvanian Government’s centre and the old medieval citadel was transformed into a modern city.

The Austro-Hungarian Compromise

In 1867, after the defeat of Austria in the Austro-Prussian war, the Austrian Monarchy agreed to ally with Hungary and form the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary that ruled until 1918. In a Transylvania dominated by the Hungarians and the Austrians, the Romanians tried fighting for equal rights with the other populations.

In 1892 a Memorandum was created by Romanian politicians of Transylvania, addressed to king Franz Joseph, requesting electoral and educational rights for the Romanian population of Transylvania. Unfortunately, this document brought them accusations of treason and in 1894, a process that ended with their condemnation, took place in the Reduta building of Cluj, today the Ethnographic Museum.

The Union of Transylvania with Romania

The end of the Second World War came with the union of Transylvania with Romania, already a monarchy ruled by King Ferdinand 1st of Hohenzollern-Sigmarigen. The fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the political actions of the Romanian elite contributed to the establishment of today’s Romania. Over following years, in Cluj, the former Hungarian institutions were claimed by the Romanians. However, Cluj is home to a Hungarian minority even today, being a multicultural city.

The creation of the University

If the very first university was opened in Cluj in 1581, the year 1959 is the moment when the actual university was created by the fusion of the Hungarian university Janos Bolyai and the Romanian university Victor Babes. This partnership formed the Babes Bolyai University, one of the most prestigious in the country. Currently, thousands of students from all over the country come to study in Cluj, giving the city a young spirit, who are at the core of an effervescent atmosphere.

The Communist period

Communism gave the city the name of Cluj-Napoca, adding ‘Napoca’, the name of the ancient Roman citadel, to Cluj. The actual neighbourhoods like Marasti, Manastur, Gheorgheni were filled with the standardized Communist apartment blocks and the city’s surroundings served as a terrain for the numerous factories opened during Ceausescu’s rule. The city was strongly industrialized and it received the ‘Star of the Socialist Republic of Romania’ for propaganda purposes.

Piata Mihai Viteazul
Mihai Viteazu Square, Cluj | © Clara Sanchiz/Flickr

Cluj becomes European Youth Capital

More than 20 years after the fall of Communism, Cluj won the European Youth Capital title in 2015. Many events were organised during the whole year, including the first edition of the UNTOLD Festival, winner of the European Festivals Awards in 2015. This, together with another 1,500 activities, put Cluj on the map as a young, dynamic and invigorating city of Europe.

In the last decade, the city has boosted its research fields and modern technology use to become an arts nucleus and second university centre in the country.

Untold Festival Main Stage|©Travelcristi|WikiCommons
Untold Festival Main Stage | ©Travelcristi|WikiCommons