Timișoara: European Capital of Culture 2023
September 25, 2023
The European Capitals of Culture (ECOC) initiative, established by the European Union, was developed in 1985. Every year, cities from chosen host countries are invited to apply. The successful city in each country is designated four years before the title year, giving them the chance to:
The initiative is designed to promote the importance of culture in the development of cities, highlighting the richness and diversity found in Europe and the commonalities found between its citizens. As part of this vibrant project, successful cities receive funding of €1.5 million from the 'Creative Europe' programme, which acts as a catalyst to their tourism sector and sparks increased appreciation from their residents. Amidst this landscape, Baia Mare, Bucharest, and Cluj-Napoca competed alongside Timișoara for the esteemed title in Romania. So what factors led the judges to select Timișoara over its counterparts?
IMAGE: Laura Ghise
Timișoara: Putting People First
Timișoara, located in western Romania, is the country's third-largest city and its second European Capital of Culture. Originally chosen as a 2021 Capital of Culture, its title year was delayed due to the pandemic.
The judging panel was very impressed by the city's plans to put people first throughout the project, its comprehensive cultural strategy, and the clarity of its targets.
"The proposed programme is strong; it tackles edgy European themes, and has a deep digital and audience development focus," it stated in its report.
Timișoara certainly has a rich and highly diverse heritage to draw upon. The city's multicultural population is the result of a succession of ruling forces, colonisers and occupiers through its history, and the moving of borders. Timișoara has long been the centre of culture, commerce and technology in the region, considered the informal capital of Banat—a historical province that now lies within Romania, Serbia and Hungary. As a result, it boasts more than 10,000 vintage structures and is a melting pot for over 20 distinct cultural communities, including Romanians, Germans, Hungarians, Serbians, Croatians, Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, Roma and Bulgarians, and followers of many faiths and denominations.
The city has a long history of recognising the diversity of its citizens. In 1771, the first German-language newspaper in Central and South-Eastern Europe, 'Temeswarer Nachrichten', was printed in Timișoara. Today, this city of over 306,000 people has three state theatres in three different languages and the largest architectural ensemble of historic buildings in Romania. Baroque, Historicism, Neoclassicism, Art Nouveau and Wiener Secession styles are all represented on its streets.
The German-language newspaper isn't the city's only 'first', either; there's a reason Timișoara is known as the 'city of firsts'. As befits a city that's always led in technology and culture, it was also the first city in Europe to have horse-drawn trams and the first city in Romania to revolt against the communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu. But the first Timișoara is best-known and most proud of its status as the first city in mainland Europe to install electric street lighting in 1884. This achievement has inspired Timișoara's slogan for its year as a European Capital of Culture.
IMAGE: Flavius Neamciuc
'Shine your light - Light up your city!'
The empowering slogan 'Shine your light - Light up your city!' doesn't only reflect Timișoara's famous technological first, but also its role as the place where the sparks of revolution were ignited, starting a powerful chain of transcontinental transformations over the years.
"With this slogan, we want to launch an invitation to a double mobilisation: on the one hand, shine your light encourages citizens to freely express their values and attitudes, metaphorically described as an 'inner light', and on the other, with the help of this light to remove the darkness and passivity around them through a culturally fuelled civic process.
We aim to set civic energy in motion, 'exporting' the values of other European cities that we believe in, to stimulate an open, visionary attitude among citizens," says the Timişoara European Capital of Culture Association. "We can illuminate the city together with our glowing curiosity, love of art and respect for diversity, our determination to take a step forward and take a stance for our common European values."
The programme's main focus is to promote 'the European journey of Timișoara', offering European and international partners the chance to present their culture as part of the city's common European heritage. Events are arranged around three 'territories':
IMAGE: Flavius Neamciuc
Time to Shine: The Opening Event
The official opening weekend of the cultural programme took place in February, launching 130 short-term and year-long events, including exhibitions, theatre performances, puppet parades and film screenings. It welcomed over 60,000 people to 32 venues over three days. The inauguration was celebrated with an extraordinary, cross-genre music extravaganza at multiple venues throughout the opening weekend. This event attracted 17,000 attendees to the al fresco concert, and it brought over 70,000 individuals out onto the city streets. Acts included Implant Pentru Refuz, a Timișoara band; the Ukrainian hip-hop soloist, Alyona Alyona; the legendary Taraf de Caliu supported by Impex, the German electro artist DJ Fritz Kalkbrenner and violinist Lajkó Félix, who closed the weekend. The audience also enjoyed the stunning Muaré Experience, which combines music and visuals, created by the band Duchamp Pilot and an aerial performance by the Voalá Project from Spain.
IMAGE: Silviu Nastase
Springtime exhibitions that opened that weekend included:
One of the most notable projects launched at the opening was The Nursery Project.
IMAGE: Marius Vasile
The Nursey Project: 1306 Plants for Timișoara
Victory Square is a symbolic place: the site of one of the city's 'firsts'. It's the place where, on 20th of December 1989, Timișoara was proclaimed the first city free of communism in Romania. However, it has become a place to pass through rather than linger.
Now an ambitious project has ensured that visitors will spend time here—and have the chance to view the space in a new way. The Nursery Project, 1306 Plants for Timișoara, saw the construction of a temporary steel structure in the square.
Initiated by The Romanian Order of Architects and designed by MAIO, a team of architects from Barcelona, the structure allows visitors to climb the stairs of the structure to its and view the square from above from one of the five platforms. It was opened during the opening weekend, welcoming thousands of visitors every day, and will remain open all year.
IMAGE: Laurian Ghintoiu
The installation features an important organic component: layers of greenery that include perennial species of trees, shrubs and flowering plants and annual productive and ornamental plants, produced in local community gardens or horticultural research and higher education institutions. At the end of the project's lifespan, these trees and plants will be rehomed in public parks or private gardens.
The structure's platforms don't just also function as viewpoints. Each one tells stories of Timișoara and provides event space. The Nursery has already hosted DJ sets, poetry performances, plus crafts and gardening workshops and interactive outdoor lessons for high school students. Pop-up exhibitions, treasure hunts, movie nights and even rock concerts are also planned.
The installation aims to advocate for the cultivation and expansion of the city's planted spaces and the protection of its complex ecosystem. It's hoped it will raise awareness of the botanical heritage and green infrastructure of Timișoara among young people and promote biodiversity—and local gardening practices, inspired by rural tradition and permaculture. It also makes people think about the coexistence of green space and buildings, and allows visitors to
view features of the surrounding buildings that they may not see from the ground.
IMAGE: Alex Robciuc
Experience Timișoara's Cultural Programme for Yourself
Timișoara is a wonderful place to visit at any time. Its captivating Viennese Baroque buildings have earned it the nickname of 'Little Vienna', while its abundant green spaces have earned it another: the 'City of Parks'. However, its ambitious and inclusive programme for its Capital of Culture title year has made it one of the must-see destinations for 2023. Here are just a few highlights.
Take a ride on an illustrated tram: artist Dan Perjovschi's works, inspired by topics such as revolution, freedom, multiculturalism and community, can currently be seen in an exhibition on a tram. It runs on tramlines 1, 2 and 6, linking important landmarks such as the exhibition spaces in the city squares. "It is an exhibition that doesn't wait for people to come see it, but instead it goes out to find people," the artist said, explaining that the goal was to bring his works to people who don't usually go to museums.
Celebrate sustainable, authentic gastronomy: Organised by CRIES – the Resource Centre for Ethical and Solidarity Initiatives (Timișoara)—the LA PAS programme aims to celebrate the city's gastronomic heritage in the context of the slow-food movement. That involves teaching young people responsible consumption skills, promoting sustainable practices for cultural events, and encouraging public policies that favour sustainable development and a culture of sustainability among citizens. Gastronomy is presented as part of Timișoara's identity—and the sharing of it is viewed as a form of cultural exchange, while cooking and eating together is recognised as an important social activity.
IMAGE: Ioan Florin Cnejevici
The LA PAS 2023 program includes workshops, promotional events for local artisanal producers, 'taste as heritage' gastronomy events and LA PAS Festival. The festival, which will run from the 13th to the 15th of October at the Corneliu Mikloși Museum of Public Transport, will be a celebration of sustainable production and consumption, bringing together artisans and consumers who care about local production and high social and environmental standards.
Watch a waterborne concert: 'Baroque Watermusic' is a series of concerts, performed by musicians in period costumes using heritage instruments (harpsichord, viola da gamba, theorbo, violins) and voice. The musicians play on a boat decorated in a baroque style, with a floating garden, as it travels on the Bega River from the Decebal bridge up to Ștegan cel Mare bridge. Amplification lets the attendees in the riverbank booths hear the music.
Attend an (In)visible Histories event: The "(In)visible histories" project is a recovery of the histories of the LGBTQI+ community and a response to current approaches and censorship discussions in the political, social and cultural-artistic spheres. It includes personal archives and videos. The organiser, the Identity.Education Association, is also holding the
Pride in the Park event at Regina Maria Park in July, and in October, the Libertate? event. This large-scale outdoor production, with live symphonic music and video mapping, will be a visual and audio representation of the last 30 years of the queer movement in Romania.
IMAGE: Viorel Vasadi
Discover stunning sculptures: The Encounters for Sculpture event programme is more than just a series of three-dimensional art exhibitions; there are also opportunities for artist talks and public interaction. The programme seeks to connect local artists with international artists; artistic practice with art history research; and the public with the artists behind the works.
Visit CODRU Festival: Held in the forest just 4 km away, this music festival taking place from the 25th to the 27th of August aims to be eco-friendly, with reusable cups and a tree-planting programme.
IMAGE: Herea Mihai Cosmin
Explore Timișoara's Green Spaces
Here are just a few of the green spaces offered by this 'city of parks'.
The Green Forest (in Romanian Pădurea Verde) lies in northeastern Timișoara, covering an area of 520 ha and encompasses the city's zoo. Presently, it's very much an urban forest, but it is being developed into an eco-park, with large sections left undisturbed to allow nature to thrive. Over the next four years, a 10.5-kilometre network of paths is due to be completed, allowing cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the space more fully.
Timișoara's Botanical Garden covers an area of 9 ha. This beautiful park is home to over 1,650 species of plants.
Anton von Scudier Central Park is one of the city's oldest parks. It's a family-friendly park with monuments, statues, fountains, benches and chess tables.
The Alpinet Garden is in a wonderful location on the left bank of the Bega Canal. It features many species of alpine trees, a Japanese garden, terraces, ponds and bridges.
Discover Timisoara's History
Timișoara's history is best discovered by exploring its Old Town. Here, you will find three squares that are home to some of the city's most interesting and significant buildings.
Victory Square (Piata Victoriei)
Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral sits on the southern edge of the square, famous for its mosaic roof of red and green tiles. In front is a memorial to those who lost their lives during the 1989 Revolution. Other notable buildings here are the Romanian National Opera House, where many Capital of Culture events take place, the Hunyadi Castle Museum, and several palaces, including the Erno Neuhausz Palace, Lloyd Palace and Weiss Palace.
Union Square (Piata Unirii)
Once the very heart of the city, this Habsburg-era square has wonderful pastel buildings and an array of religious buildings. Highlights include:
Liberty Square (Piata Libertăţii)
Now often called Red Square by the locals (due to the colour of the pavement tiles laid in 2014), this square is the site of Timișoara Garrison Headquarters, the Old Townhall, the Palace of Agricultural Bank, and the Palace of Credit Bank.
IMAGE: Silviu Nastase
Your Sustainable Stay in Timișoara
Several airlines provide flights to Timișoara's Traian Vuia International Airport, which is just a few miles outside the city. You can fly directly from the UK. Munich and Bucharest all year round, and other direct flights are available in high season. Bus services run from the airport to the city centre and train station.
For a greener journey, take the train or bus. There are daily services from Budapest (approx. 5 hours) and Vienna (approx. 8.5 hours) to Timișoara's main station, Gara Timișoara Nord, and frequent trains to other Romanian cities, including Bucharest. These three capitals are your rail gateways to many other European cities (including Istanbul).
If you prefer the bus/coach, there are several companies to choose from. Flixbus and AtlasSib have the most comprehensive network, providing services to Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (Flixbus has a route to Spain too). Comati's routes include the Czech Republic and Slovakia. There are daily services to other cities and major towns in Romania too.
IMAGE: Adrian Frentescu
Once you arrive, getting around by public transport is easy, thanks to 18 bus routes, tramway routes, 9 trolleybus routes, and 19 Metro-Area bus routes. Tickets are interchangeable for all forms of transport except express buses, and you can easily plan your journeys thanks to the City of Timișoara Public Transport Planner App.
There are several choices for sustainable accommodation. They include:
The Mercure Timișoara and ibis Timișoara City Centre hotels, both Accor Group hotels, and therefore following its stringent Planet 21 programme. Ibis offers great value accommodation in the city centre, while the mid-range Mercure is just a short distance away.
The Hotel NH Timișoara is in a peaceful area opposite the People's Park, opposite the Bega Canal and just a 15-minute walk away from the city centre. It follows the NH Group principles: UP for PLANET (strategies for environmental sustainability) and UP for PEOPLE (developing a responsible, ethical culture).
For a sustainable and nutritious meal, visit the Biofresh Restaurant in the city centre, which serves vegetarian and vegan dishes with an emphasis on quality, local, organic ingredients and raw foods. You will also find plenty of restaurants offering traditional Romanian dishes such as Sarmale (cabbage rolls), Mici (grilled minced meat rolls) and Mamaliga (very similar to polenta).
IMAGE: Adrian Anghel
Let Your Own Light Shine in Timișoara
You will find a warm welcome in Timișoara, and a friendly, inclusive atmosphere. Whether you come for its architecture, history, cultural events or green spaces, you won't be disappointed. However you spend your day, the wide choice of cuisines offered in the city's many cafés and restaurants will ensure your refreshment stops are as enjoyable as your excursions. Timișoara is a city that does more than just exist - it lives, it breathes, and it invites you to do the same. So why not brighten up your year with a visit?
Dive into the cultural richness of Timișoara, the European Capital of Culture 2023, by visiting:
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