Housed in an imposing, neo-Brâncovenesc redbrick building, the Muzeul Ţăranului Romăn (Museum of the Romanian Peasant) ranks a very close second to the Village Museum as the top museum in the city. On show is a wonderful display of traditional peasant artefacts from all regions of Romania, including colourfully woven linen and textiles, carvings, ceramics and a fabulous hoard of icons painted on wood and glass. Nothing, though, beats the exquisite collection of two thousand miniature clay toys, many shaped into zoomorphic forms, such as cuckoos, horses and lions, as well as bird- and dog-shaped pipes. Of the several impressively reconstructed buildings dotted around the museum, the most eye-catching is an eighteenth-century windmill from Haţeg county, an enormous contraption that took three years to piece back together. Similarly, a thick-set peasant dwelling from Gorj county, comprising three rooms, a loft for storage and a superb porch/balcony, took around a year to reconstruct. There is also an incomplete timber church from Hunedoara, around which lie some of its furnishings – altar doors, a holy table, church bells and so on. A wooden church, typical of those found in Maramureş, stands on a neat patch of grass at the rear of the museum. One of the best places in the city for souvenirs, the museum shop sells a beautiful assortment of rugs, costumes and other folksy objects, while, to the rear, there’s a pleasant café. Look out, too, for the monthly craft fairs held in the courtyard.
The entire premises were actually occupied by the Museum of Communist Party History until 1990, and there are still remnants from this time in the small basement, which contains a curious collection of paintings and busts of former communist leaders. Notably, there’s nothing pertaining to Ceauşescu – most images of the dictator were destroyed following his execution.