As one of Transylvania’s biggest and most vibrant cities, Cluj-Napoca, in north-western Romania, is a must-see for every city-breaker among you. Personally, I always start exploring a city by getting to know its historical center first. And here is the reason why: if you know where something has been, it’s easier to understand where it is now. In Cluj-Napoca, this place is its central square, Piața Unirii, one of the largest squares in Romania, being 220 m long and 160 m wide. Here, one can truly get a taste of Cluj-Napoca by exploring its center and getting to know the basics of the city.
Until the middle of the 19th century, this square was called the Big Square (Piața Mare) because it was built after the Square of the Citadel (now called the Museum’ Square) and was simply considerably larger. By the end of the century, it was renamed as the Main Square (Piața Principală). This name didn’t quite catch on, and shortly after the installation of the monument ensemble, it was renamed to King Matthias’ Square (Piața Regele Matia or Mátyas Király Tér). In 1918, after the Great Union, a remarkable event which led to the construction of many monuments, the square was renamed to Union’s Square (Piața Unirii). In the communist era, it carried the name of the Liberty Square (Piața Libertății), but with the fall of the regime, the name switched back to Union’s Square and stayed the same to the present day.
The monumental ensemble of Matthias Corvinus with its 4 generals made by the artists János Fadrusz and Lajos Pákey is positioned in the center of the square. What makes this place unique is the fact that it was built around the St. Michael’s Church, the second biggest Gothic cathedral in Romania, after the Black Church in Brașov. The construction of this architectural monument began in 1348 and ended in 1419. The sigil of the Roman Empire, Hungary, and Bohemia, with Sigismund as its ruler, above the entrance, are the evidence of the importance of this church as it was a witness to a few memorable events throughout history. Some of the notable events are the christening of Matthias Corvinus, the crowning of Ferdinand I, and the confirmation of the several rulers of Transylvania.
St. Michael’s Church suffered a few fires which led to several restorations. The Gothic Tower was rebuilt in a Baroque style in 1742, but after a lightning strike and an earthquake, it was finally redesigned in a Neo-Gothic style adjacent to the church. The last restoration happened during 1956-1963, which led to the uncovering of a few frescoes from the 14th and 15th century.
Piața Unirii is a very popular meeting place for all the citizens of Cluj-Napoca because of its central location and the recognizable monuments that one can find here. I can only recommend people start their visit to Cluj-Napoca here, where one can explore the center and taste the essence of the city. Not far from here, there are other must-see locations like the Botanical Garden or the Piarist Church.
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