Towns & Cities

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Crisul RepedeOradea is a genuine architectural spectacle, a city which combines the old and the new in an elegant and pleasant manner. Situated along the commercial routes between the West and the East, the city was culturally and socially influenced by the Austro-Hungarians, the Italians and the Ottomans. The numerous palaces, the churches belonging to different cults and the historic monuments reflect the aesthetic richness and diversity of a city which reminds of the Belle Époque. To the tourist, a walk on the streets of Oradea and on the shore of the CriÅŸul Repede reveals bits of history dressed in the baroque, neoclassic or secession style. The urban sceneries are refined and complex, offering unique shots to passionate photographers.

The first mentions of Oradea fortress date back to the 11th century, when King Ladislau I built a fortified monastery in this area, the precursor of the Roman-Catholic Episcopacy. Five centuries later, Italian architects came and gave the fortress its current shape, that of a five-pointed star, marking a flourishing period in the history of Oradea. It was during those times that the Episcopal Palace was built, along with the Cathedral and the observatory, while Oradea was becoming a center of renaissance culture and the meeting place of the great humanist scholars. Throughout time, the fortification was attacked by the Turks, the Austrians or the Transylvanian insurgents, but it was only conquered twice. It is said that the fortress had a vast network of underground galleries, used either as shelters or supply centers.

Oradea FortressThe massive walls, the five bastions with towers and the water ditch were meant to defend the houses and the stalls raised inside the fortress, the school, the library and the printing press. The medieval organization was modified once the princely palace was erected, the residence of the noble Gabriel Bethlen. However, 'Oradea’s pentagon' remains the best preserved fortification of Italian renaissance in Central Europe, still evoking the greatness of the days of old.

The Eclectic Panorama Seen from the Tower of the City Hall

Some of the city’s most imposing edifices triumphantly rise on the right shore of the CriÅŸul Repede. They are the Palace of the City Hall and the Clock Tower, relatively new buildings, from the beginning of the 20th century. Raised on the foundation of the former Episcopal residence, they are representative for the renaissance style; the building of the City Hall is decorated with allegorical statues and in the center of the frontispiece there is the city’s coat of arms: a crown with seven towers underneath which Saint Michael and the lion hold the Christian cross.

Oradea City HallThe Clock Tower is 50 meters high and offers the most beautiful view over Oradea. From here, the fireman on duty used to monitor the surroundings and announced the fires by striking the bell. The irony is that in 1944 the tower caught fire and had to be entirely rebuilt. The mechanism of the clock is to be found on the first floor, while the other three floors are dedicated to admiring the panorama. The landscape is worth all the effort, especially because as you climb the stairs you learn more and more details about the history of the city. Near the city hall there are many halidoms, each with its distinct personality, but with the same comforting atmosphere. Among them, the Greek-Catholic Bishop Palace stands out, a mélange of Romanic, byzantine and neo-gothic elements, with semicircular high windows and a majestic cone-shaped tower.

The Moon Church

Union Square OradeaOradea is a symbol of religious tolerance, so the city is filled with churches and cathedrals belonging to different confessions. A surprising sight is that of the Moon Church (the Cathedral of the Orthodox Episcopacy), a baroque building with neo-classical and Romanian influences. Although sober at the exterior, the halidom is decorated with many mural paintings and the altar is a true work of art. What makes it unique though is the mechanism in the belfry which sets in motion a sphere representing the moon. The black half and the golden half change their positions according to the moon phases. In 1793, when it was first established, the system was unique in Europe, functioning based on gravity alone. There is a legend circulated by the residents of Oradea, according to which the Moon church is the only building to have survived the fire in 1836; the citizens supposedly formed a human wall in front of the fire, placing their hopes in the hands of divine power. It is also said that during this time, three white doves found shelter on the cross on top of the steeple.

In the immediate vicinity of the Moon Church there is a secession-style monument dating from the first years of the 20th century. The Deutsch House (Casa Deutsch) belonged to a merchant who owned a glassware and porcelain store. The façade with many windows still reminds of the prosperous firm, and the lines, the trilobate elements, the floral and popular motifs create a generous architectural mosaic. Be sure not to miss Ullmann Palace either, with its green-bluish stained glass and the sculpted lions dominating the main entrance.

The Black Eagle, the Symbol of the City on the CriÅŸ

Black Eagle PalaceOne of the most important tourist attractions in town is the Black Eagle Palace (Palatul Vulturul Negru), an ensemble of buildings in the secession style, famous for its glass covered passages. The romantic atmosphere invites you to discover the former meeting place of the personalities of the time. At mid 19th century, The Green Tree Inn (Hanul Arborele Verde) situated here was the place where cultural events, balls and social evening were held. Six decades later, under the emblem of the eagle, a small town was formed, with a hotel, a restaurant, a casino and a coffee shop, stores and performance rooms. Such an edifice was nothing but grandiose, holding receptions for Emperor Franz and Queen Elisabeth. You will certainly love its mysterious atmosphere!

Close by, right on the shore of the river, the Sion Synagogue rises, as an emblem of the Jewish community. Its simple architecture reveals oriental and eclectic decorative elements, with geometric shapes, arabesques, and vegetal motifs. Restoration works will bring back its long lost glow, like in the times when it was a famous temple in Eastern Europe.

A Promenade on the Old Corso

Queen Mary TheatreAt the end of the 19th century, the left shore of the CriÅŸul Repede was a promenade area for the citizens of Oradea - we are referring here to the famous Corso, where the locals savored coffees or cold lemonades on the terraces of the restaurants. It is still a pedestrian area today, so you can admire the beautiful buildings of the city at your ease. One of these buildings is the Bazar, a testimony of Oradea’s cultural life; the first cinema was opened here and next to it there is the State Theatre. Those who love antiques will find old books and items in the stores in the passageway. The Theatre, an impressive edifice, bears the mark of neoclassicism; the support columns, the Ionic column heads and the two allegorical statues, Drama and Comedy, are characteristic for Greek architecture. At the interior, the red tapestry heavily contrasts with the golden stuccowork while the neo Roccoco decorations instill a special glamour to the performance rooms.

Moskovits PalaceA walk on the Corso promenade area reveals one of the writers’ favorite places, respectively the former Emke Hotel, where artists found inspiration and company. The colored walls and gothic details still catch the tourists’ eyes, inviting them to spend a bohemian afternoon at the café. New discoveries follow this short relaxation moment: Rimanóczy Palace, a truly amazing Romanian Ca' d'Oro, with a central loggia and Venetian-gothic accents, Stern Palace, with its traditional ornaments, Apollo Palace, a masterpiece of the Berliner secession style, with wide windows and wrought iron balconies and Moskovits Palace, decorated with allegorical characters and floral embroideries. All of these are the works of the Rimanóczy architects in Oradea, whose residence was in the current Orthodox Episcopacy, a harmonious edifice of Venetian inspiration, with an appealing chromatic. It houses a museum where manuscripts, paintings and worship items are displayed. In Oradea, you have to make many layovers and keep your weather eye open, because the city with the most palaces in Romania has many surprises in store for you.

Bishop PalaceThe Baroque Complex

The Baroque Complex comprises three monuments: the Palace of the Roman-Catholic Episcopacy, the Roman-Catholic Basilica and the Canonical Row, one of the most representative ensembles of this sort in Europe.

The Bishop Palace is an extravagant edifice in the style of the Austrian baroque, a replica of the famous Belvedere in Vienna. Monumental at the exterior, the Palace reminds of the refinement and glamour of royal courts. The rooms are decorated with golden elements, large mirrors, sculpted furniture, ceramic stoves, and the high ceilings are covered with rich frescoes. Four of Maria Theresa’s collection paintings are displayed in the French Room. Unfortunately, the end of World War I brought about the complete destruction of the Palace, so ample restoration works are needed. The Palace housed the Museum of the CriÅŸ Rivers Land, with sections dedicated to history, ethnography, natural sciences and arts. Visitors can admire archeological items from Paleolithic to modern times, zoological and paleontological exhibits, universal art collections, rustic ceramics, traditional costumes and a library with 30,000 volumes. Presently, a few of the army’s former buildings are set up to house the Museum’s patrimony.

Baroque PalaceThe Roman-Catholic Basilica is a nave-type halidom from mid 18th century, declared a 'Basilica minor' by Pope John Paul II in 1992. It stands out with its complex paintings, the altar sculpted in Carrara marble and an exceptional acoustic, ideal for organ concerts. In the church there is a herm with St. Ladislau’s relics, honoring the one who completed the Christianization of Hungary.

The Catholic priests used to live near the palace and the church. For them, the Canonical Row was built throughout a period of 125 years, an edifice consisting of ten aligned buildings sustained by 56 massive beams. Although the baroque style prevails, popular Transylvanian influences are present. Seen from one end to the other, the arches give you the feeling of a never-ceasing incursion.

Oradea is the depositary of over 1.000 years of history, which have meant not only a cultural and economic ascent, but also a battle against the invaders and the hardships of times. Welcoming, elegant, accessible, the city speaks of a refined taste and invites you to find its secrets. You will not only experience a journey on the shores of the CriÅŸul Repede, but an exploration of European architectural styles. 

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]