The Sighet Memorial is a museum located in the former famous Sighet Prison, where political detainees were sentenced during the communist era. The museum tells the story of the poor conditions the detainees faced, the horrors they had to survive, and it documents the communist times in Romania.
Let’s back up a little bit. The communist rule lasted in Romania between 1947 and 1989. There were two leaders: Gheorghe Gheorgiu Dej and Nicolae Ceaușescu (ruler between 1967 and the fall of the communism). Shortly after the communist regime was established in Romania, the elites, that posed a danger to the authorities, were sent to the Sighet Prison. Intellectual, political and religious personalities were imprisoned at Sighet.
And let’s back up a little more. The Sighet Prison was built in 1897 by the Austro-Hungarians as a common law prison. After the communist regime was established, over 100 former ministers, academics, economists, military officials, historians, journalists, politicians were brought to the Sighet penitentiary in 1950.
The sentences were heavy, and most of the prisoners weren’t judged. The conditions were poor: there was no heating, almost no food and no light. As a result of this condition, 54 of the inmate didn’t survive. It may be that they were buried there in the cemetery of the poor, not far from the prison, but their whereabouts are still unknown.
The cell where Gheorghe I. Bratianu, an important Romanian historian and politician spent his last days
In 1955, as a result of the Geneva Convention and the admission of communist Romania, some of the political detainees were released, and some of them transferred. The prison in Sighet become once more a common law prison.
The Civic Academy Foundation took over the former prison in 1993 and began transforming it into a museum in 1994. Ten years of work, done by the Centre for Studies into Communism were required to uncover the true magnitude of the repression. The museum rooms were designed by Ştefan Popa, architects Radu Canciovici and Ciprian Ionescu in collaboration with other designers and architects. The foundations, the insulation, the roof and the interior walls were under a restoration process.
In the year 2000, the rehabilitation work was completed. Each cell became a museum room, where objects, photographs and documents were exposed. The repression, the destruction of the rule of law and the replacement with a totalitarian system, as the main topics concerning the communist era, are exposed in chronological order.
There were almost eight thousand of dead people in the prisons, camps and places of deportation in Romania. Their names were engraved in the subterranean space. Two large sculptures of Camilian Demetrescu, "Homage to the political prisoner", were created for this memorial museum. Among them, other artworks were donated: "Freedom we love you" by Şerbana Dragoescu, the painting "Resurrection" by Christian Paraschiv and the bronze sculpture "The Black Sea" dedicated to the historian Gheorghe I. Bratianu, one of Romania's most important historians and politicians.
The Sighet Memorial tells us a story we may want to forget, one of suffering. It is a place where art meets documentation, and a place where the truth came out of the prison walls.
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