Cluj-Napoca: Romania’s Boom Town

By Ruben Alexander

ROMANIA – Towards the end of the five hour bus ride from Sibiu, the bus turned a corner revealing a magnificent view of my next destination: Cluj-Napoca, which has 324,576 inhabitants, making it Romania’s second largest city. So, thinking of how to start this thread, the first thing I did when I had borrowed a bike (from the hostel I stayed at) the following afternoon, was go back there to make some pictures. I actually went there twice, because it was raining when I got there the first time. As you will see on the pictures (which were all made on one day and on the preceding evening or following morning), Cluj has rather a strange climate in the summer. The day starts with nice weather, and grows continuously hotter until about 1 p.m., when it starts raining. It then rains for a few hours, leaving the city veiled and steaming for a while before the evening turns wonderfully clear (I asked someone about this, and he said it was normal).

Buna Ziua Cluj-Napoca

1. The road to Turda, a town just outside Cluj which I had passed on the bus from Sibiu

2. Cluj has a similar setting to Liège (I like cities with this kind of setting!), though the difference in elevation is quite a lot bigger(between 340-690 meters, I only discovered this later using a google maps app, it wasn’t more difficult to get around by bike). The center is hidden from view to the left of this picture


4. There are a lot of new developments in boom town Cluj-Napoca

5. A more Transylvanian view towards the outskirts

6. We have now entered Cluj-Napoca, by way of a neighbourhood which I later found out (again on Google maps) to be called Buna Ziua, which means ‘good day’ (as in ‘hello’)

7. The road down to town is lined with sprawl worthy of Belgium

8. The construction site of the new Greek-Catholic Cathedral, at the bottom of the hill, and on the edge of the center

9. Cluj-Napoca has a few big communist-era housing projects. I think the architecture of some of them is quite interesting, but didn’t make any pictures of it except for this one, opposite the Greek-Catholic Cathedral

Now we will visit the hill on the opposite (= northern) side of town, behind the station, during the veiled and steaming part of the late afternoon.

10. It was too veiled for good pictures when I was going up the hill, which is why I’ll start with this photo of the abrupt edge of town

11. Looking the other way from the same spot


13. Cluj has two football teams, one of them very successful but which no-one from Cluj likes, and the other unsuccessful but the “team of the people” (at least according to someone I spoke to). The more successful team nonetheless has the older stadium you can see here on the citadel hill (which hides the centre from view), while the other has the hyper-modern Cluj Arena, which I will show you later.


15. The streets of this neighbourhood are slightly reminiscent of some suburbs of Liège (like Saint-Nicolas)

16. Though the houses are obviously in central-European style


18. A wooden church (which was partly hidden behind a high gate)

19. There are a few kinds of modern architecture in Romania. One of them is the playmobil style, which many people will be shocked to hear I quite like

20. Like in the rest of Romania, there are people selling things on the street in various places in Cluj, such as here opposite the main bus station where I had arrived the previous afternoon

21. The bus station is situated next-to the white building on the left, across the tracks from the railway station

The big streets

Now that I have shown you Cluj-Napoca’s setting, I will take you around the city center, starting with the big streets.

Though it also goes by the name of Klausenburg, and like Sibiu, is one of the ‘Siebenbürgen’ (the seven Saxon towns of Transylvania), Cluj-Napoca doesn’t show as many traces of its German heritage as Sibiu. It is rather in the 19th century, during the Hungarian period (when it was known as Kolozsvár), that the city experienced rapid growth: from 19,000 in 1850 to 51,000 in 1900. (I got this information from Wikipedia, but the whole story is quit complicated and involves quite a lot of conflict between the various ethnicities living in the city. Hungarians were a majority in Cluj until the 1960’s, and that they still form a considerable minority of about 50,000 today. The university is even bilingual Romanian-Hungarian.) And as you will see in this post, it is also this period that left the most visible marks on central Cluj.

22. The station (I slept in a hotel across the street on my first night)
Strada Horea, the street from the station to the centre



25. The Synagogue

26. (This picture is actually from my first visit in 2009, when there were less cars but more old Dacias)


28. An art deco building

An ensemble of ornate buildings stand on either side of the bridge over The Little Somes (Somesul Mic) river:



31. The Széki Palace (1893)

32. View towards the citadel hill (which you can see from the other side on photo 13)

33. Cluj-Napoca doesn’t have much of a riverfront, but I like the view from the bridge




37. Looking towards the old town from roughly the same place as the last two pictures

38. What you can’t see on the last picture, is the most hated building in Cluj (which I’m afraid to say I quite like)

39. Another probably controversial building, this one, from the ’60’s or ’70’s sits behind it

40. Canalul Morilor (Mill Canal), across the street from photo 39

The part of Piața Unirii, Cluj’s main square south of the 14th-15th century Church of Saint Michael was pedestrianised since my last visit. The statue in front of the church is of Matthias Corvinus, who was of Romanian ethnicity, but was king of Hungary from 1458 to 1490 (like the current president of Romania Iohanis Klaus, who is a Transylvanian Saxon from Sibiu).




44. Looking down Bulevardul Eroilor from Piața Unirii


46. An art-nouveau building on the corner of Piața Avram Iancu and Bulevardul 21 Decembrie 1989 (which runs parallel to Bulevardul Eroilor)

Piața Avram Iancu, a park-like open space covering a few blocks (the whole width of the centre) in the middle of the city. It contains three monumental buildings:

47. Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral (1933)

48. The Romanian National Opera (1904-1906)

49. And finally, the new Greek-Catholic Cathedral that you saw from the other side at the beginning of this post

The small streets

Having explored Cluj’s 19th century boulevards, I will now show you the oldest part of town, which dates back to a time when the city was more of a village (according to Wikipedia, it had about 10,000 inhabitants in 1787).

50. An archway on the western side of Piața Unirii takes us into the small streets of the old town

51. It was in this area that the hostel (Retro Hostel) I stayed in on the second night was situated

52 .Waking up here the next morning felt like seeing Cluj in a different light, something which is only possible in the best of cities

53. The charm of Cluj’s old town…

54. … is also its weakness, …

55. … as it is rapidly becoming the “place to be”, …

56. … and therefore becoming too expensive for locals, which, as various people I met in and around the hostel told me, was already the case in much of Cluj (sadly, this seems to be a universal problem)

57. As a result, it is in danger of becoming a bit one sided (which I think is also a universal problem, and strange as it may sound to a Romanian, is recognisable to someone from Utrecht)

58. It is nonetheless very picturesque and charming (and pleasantly bustling), and will remain that way, …

59. … which is why I’ll leave you with this shot of the city wall that could almost have been taken in Jerusalem or North Africa

Cluj with Klausenburg

Now the positive sides of Cluj’s explosive economic growth, as shown to me by the fellow member of architecture forum Klausenburg, who’s nickname is the German name for his city, gave me a tour of the things he thought I wouldn’t find by myself on the evening I arrived.

Not far from the station, it at first appeared that he was taking me to exactly the kind of place I would find by myself:



But this short detour on the “wrong side” of the tracks had another reason: Liberty Technology Park, which houses more than 30 companies – including big names like Siemens and KPMG – in a renovated industrial complex from the nineteenth century (At least Klausenburg said it’ s from the nineteenth century, I think it looks more modern – a bit like the style Dutch cities such as Arnhem and Eindhoven were rebuilt in after WW2). The IT sector is booming in Cluj-Napoca, in part due to there being a lot of talented programmers, who, lacking the real thing, built there own internet in the city during the 1990’s. Wages are high in this sector, especially by Romanian standards, but someone else I met told me that not only were wages very low in other sectors, but also that there weren’t very many jobs in them.

62. The complex contains both old (left) and new (right) buildings

I would say the older buildings are in a kind of early-modernist style:





With approximately 50,000 students at Babeș-Bolyai University alone (there are also other institutions), Cluj is one of Romania’s most important student cities (Timisoara is another). This means that it is filled with a lot of young, healthy looking people, and I was only there during the summer holidays. And where do young, healthy looking people go? Of course they go to Cluj’s magnificent Central Park (Parcul Central), which also houses various faculties of the university.

Klausenburg took me there too (we ate a Piadina at a franchise in by the bridge you saw two post ago, and I liked it so much that had breakfast and supper there the next day). It was already to dark to make pictures under the trees, where people were enjoying themselves, some of them relaxing in hammocks, but I managed to make a few pictures out in the open:






72. There aren’t any people in this rather posh looking restaurant/café, which is situated in the building on the last picture…

73. … because they’re all on the stylish terace at the back

74. Cluj Arena – home to FC Universitatea Cluj – is situated next to the park. Depeche Mode (I have to admit I had to look on YouTube to realise that I recognise quite a lot of their songs) were performing there the next day, and fans were already pouring into the city

75. The new Polyvalent Hall behind Cluj Arena

76. And a final shot of the Somesul Mic and the citadel hill from the plinth of Cluj Arena…

77. … before we went to drink a liter of beer in record time in another posh-looking bar near the park …

… because, though it was too dark for pictures, Klausenburg still had a number of things to show me. After a lightning tour of the old town (it was getting late and he had to work the next day), we took a taxi* to Baza Sportivă Gheorgheni, which has to be the best sports park I have ever seen: it consists of hundreds of different machines – half way between what you’d find in a fitness center and in a playground – surrounding a running track and tennis courts. I personally find fitness a rather boring activity, but it is much more fun like this, and I would definitely go there if there was something like this near my home. There are are two more similar parks in Cluj, all of them totally free and open 24/7. No wonder the people in Cluj look so healthy!

* The driver didn’t have enough change and didn’t accept my offer to give him three lei more (about €0,65), thereby making me pay too little for the ride, again disproving a cliché about Romania.

Lastly, we went to the Iulius Mall, which is one of the biggest malls in Romania, but which was obviously closed at this hour. I don’t really like shopping malls or the kind of box-shaped developer’s architecture that often surrounds them (it seems to be the same regardless of the country), and Iulius Mall is no exception. But I did like the green setting of Cluj-Napoca’s spotlessly clean new neighbourhoods, and the lake behind the mall was very nice indeed. Most importantly, nothing on this evening’s tour was what most westerners would expect to see in Romania.

That was all for Cluj-Napoca, but click here to see my photos from the beautiful Oradea!

Series Navigation<< Sibiu: A German Town in Romania (& Ceausescu’s Mountain Road)Art Nouveau Oradea >>

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