With its Baroque and Secession outcroppings and weathered fin-de-siècle backstreets, CLUJ (officially Cluj-Napoca; Klausenburg in German and Kolozsvár in Hungarian) looks every bit the Hungarian provincial capital it once was. The city’s focal point is Piaţa Unirii, surrounded by shops, cafés and restaurants and dominated by the monumental St Michael’s Cathedral. With a clutch of fine museums (especially the marvellous Ethnographic Museum), churches and buildings, and buzzing nightlife, Cluj could quite easily detain you for several days.
The city was founded by Germans in the twelfth century, on the site of a Roman Municipium, and the modern-day Magyars – now under a fifth of the city’s population – still regret its decline, fondly recalling the belle époque when Kolozsvár’s café society and literary reputation surpassed all other Balkan cities. For Romanians, however, this was the city of the Hungarian landlords until 1920; most consider Ceauşescu’s addition of Napoca to its name in 1974 as fair recognition that their Dacian forebears settled here 1850 years ago, long before the Magyars reached Transylvania. It’s rightly said that Romanians live in Cluj and Hungarians still live in Kolozsvár, with separate schools and theatres, though relations between the two communities are healthy. Cluj is also the birthplace of the Unitarian creed and its centre in Romania, further adding to the multiethnic, multi-faith cocktail.
Under communism, Cluj was industrialized and became Transylvania’s largest city, with a population of over 330,000. Nonetheless it retained something of its old languor, as well as a reputation for being anti-Ceauşescu. From 1992 to 2004, the city was run by Gheorghe Funar, the “Mad Mayor”, former leader of the Romanian National Unity Party, and notorious for his anti-Hungarianism – park benches and litter bins were painted in the colours of the Romanian flag, while several absurdly expensive monuments were raised.
Unlike almost every other Romanian city of comparable size, Cluj avoided the construction of a Civic Centre and the widespread demolition of its historic centre, which remains largely unspoiled within the line of the city walls. It’s increasingly being pedestrianized, allowing stylish new bars and restaurants to flourish; unfortunately the city’s drivers haven’t got the message and are trying to cram more and more cars into the remaining space.
Cluj is the unofficial capital of Romanian cinematography – it was here, in 1905, that the country’s first film studio was inaugurated, and the city has more cinemagoers than any other Romanian city. Moreover, it’s one of the few places where city-centre cinemas survive in addition to multiplexes in the new malls: notably the Cinema Florin Piersic (formerly the Republicii), Piaţa Mihai Viteazul; and Victoria, B-dul Eroilor 51. Cluj is also home to the country’s premier film festival, the Transylvanian International Film Festival (TIFF), a ten-day jamboree at the beginning of June that features a superb mix of domestic and world films shown at the cinemas listed above.
The Untold Festival (w untold.com), over the first weekend of August, is big and very popular, with dance and techno acts in the central park and the new Cluj Arena and Polyvalent Hall immediately to the west. Cluj-Napoca Days takes place in the last week of May, centred on Piaţa Unirii, along with folk/jazz/blues and theatre in Piaţa Muzeului; and the Cluj Blues Festival is held at the Ethnographic Museum in early November.
Cluj has a reasonable bunch of restaurants, including several upmarket options, various pizzerias, for instance on B-dul Eroilor, and lots of fast-food options and snack bars, especially on Str. Napoca and Piaţa Blaga. Café life in Cluj ranks second only to that of Bucharest, as does the bar and club scene, thanks to the city’s large student population.
Founded in Cluj in 1556 by the hitherto Calvinist minister David Ferenc (1520–79), the Unitarian Church had its origins among the Italian and Spanish humanists and some of the more extreme Anabaptists. Unitarianism derives its name from its rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as other basic doctrines such as the divinity of Christ, his atonement for the sins of the world, and thus the possibility of salvation. However, its significance lies in its undogmatic approach – adherents are conspicuous for their devotion to liberty and reason in matters of religion and their exercise of tolerance to all sincere forms of religious faith.
By 1568 Unitarianism was already accepted as one of the four official churches of Transylvania; it spread worldwide and by the 1830s had mutated to become the religion, for instance, of the Boston/Harvard establishment, with an emphasis on scientific progress and material success. In Romania there are now around 75,000 Unitarians, almost all Hungarian-speaking.