Timişoara is the third largest city in Romania and the most important city in the western part of the country. It lies on the Bega River in the southeastern corner of the Pannonian Basin and is the capital of Banat, a historical region now divided between Romania, Serbia and Hungary. It is known as Temesvár in Hungarian, Темишвар in Serbian and Temeswar in German.
The modern history of Timişoara starts in 1716, with its capture from the Ottomans by the troops led by Prince Eugene of Savoy. To prevent the city from falling back to the enemy, the Habsburgs reconstructed its fortifications in a much larger scale than what the city had in the Middle Ages and in the Ottoman period. They also put a lot of effort in colonisation, encouraging Roman Catholic peasants and craftsmen from the other parts of the Holy Roman Empire to settle in Banat. The vast majority of the new settlers were Germans, later known as the Banat Swabians. By offering them free land, financial support and a long-term tax relief, the Habsburgs hoped to revive the local economy and win the settlers’ loyalty in what was still a volatile frontier province.
Many newcomers settled in an area to the east of the Timişoara Fortress and founded factories, workshops and guilds there, turning the city into a thriving industrial center. Around the same time large-scale hydrographical projects were carried out to convert the Bega into a navigable canal, to facilitate the transportation of goods between Banat and the centres of the Empire. What followed was a remarkable economic growth that continued in the subsequent centuries. The connection of the city to the railway system of Central Europe in the second half of the 19th century gave it a further boost.
After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, Timişoara was administered as a part of the Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen. Under the Hungarian rule, it experienced a fast demographic growth, with its population almost doubling in thirty years around the turn of the century. It was a multicultural city with German and Hungarian speakers forming a majority, followed by Romanians, Serbs, Jews and various other ethnic groups from the Dual Monarchy and beyond.
In the early 20th century Timişoara experienced a large-scale urban transformation, brought about by the demolition of its 18th-century fortifications. While the core of the old city in the intra muros area of the fortress was preserved, the bastions and walls were almost entirely torn down and the moats were filled. The city also got a new development plan which, following the example of Vienna, converted the inner perimeter of the former fortress into a ring road, assigned much of the land around it for new constructions, and created the main boulevard on a plot to the south of the historical nucleus of the city (originally Franz Joseph Boulevard, later King Ferdinand Boulevard, now Victory Square). The outlying districts, such as Fabric in the east, Elisabetin in the south and Iosefin in the southwest, also got an entirely new look at the time.
The buildings that were erected followed the contemporary architectural styles, especially Eclecticism and Art Nouveau.
The Art Nouveau of Timişoara is quite diverse. The first architects who followed the style typically employed only some of its features, often inspired by Vienna Secession, on Eclectic façades. One can notice the influence of older styles, most notably Gothic and Baroque, in Art Nouveau buildings in various districts of the city. In the mid-1900s the façades showed more and more curvilinear and floral motifs typical of international Art Nouveau. The Hartlauer and Nicolin palaces, designed by Martin Gemeinhardt, on Pleven Square in Elisabetin are probably the best examples of the early variant of the style.
At the end of the decade Hungarian Secession became the predominant version of Art Nouveau in Timişoara. The most important architect of the period was László Székely, the chief architect of the city, who oversaw the design aspect of the constructions spurred by the demolition of the fortress and also designed a large number of public and private buildings himself. The most notable of his works are the Emmer Palace, the Brück Palace, the Piarist High School, the Hungária Baths, and the palaces on the Corso of the Franz Joseph Boulevard.
Of the other Hungarian architects we should definitely mention Lipót Baumhorn, the celebrated synagogue architect who designed the Lloyd Palace on the Franz Joseph Boulevard and the Temes-Béga Palace in Iosefin, as well as Marcell Komor and Dezső Jakab, the architects of the Steiner Palace, which is one of the best examples of Hungarian Secession ever.
Below I will introduce the Secessionist buildings of Timişoara in six parts:
Notable structures missing from this portfolio include the entrance gate of the former City Park (now Queen Marie Park) in Fabric, the Hartlauer Palace, the Neufeld Palace and the Besch & Piffl Palace in Elisabetin, and the Nemes Palace and the Csermák Palaces in Iosefin.
In the compliation of this portfolio, of all the sources that I used, the best was the Heritage of Timişoara website. It contains a lot of information, photos, postcards and drawings of the city’s buildings during the fin de siècle.
I took all the photos in May 2019.
You will find the locations of the mentioned buildings on the map below.
Part One: Old Cetate
The demolition of the Timişoara Fortress did not affect fundamentally its intra muros area. Many Baroque, Neoclassical and Historicist buildings survive in what is now the inner circle of the Cetate district (Innere Stadt in German, Belváros in Hungarian). Some of the most attractive Secessionist structures of the city can be found here as well, most notably in the south and west of the Union Square (or the Losonczy Square, as it was known at the time).
1. Emmer Palace
Strada Florimund Mercy 7
László Székely, 1906-1908
The Emmer Palace is one of the best examples of the influence of Western European Art Nouveau in László Székely’s work. Its façade shows various sinuous lines, mascarons, monograms of the owner, and a sculpture in a niche.
The Emmer Palace is one of the few Secessionist buildings in Timişoara that I have been able to enter. The entrance has a beautiful railing. It leads to a staircase with an equally attractive railing and a niche with a mascaron and swans in high relief. The building has a small courtyard.
2. Káldori Palace
Strada Emanoil Ungureanu 15
This building has a simple Secessionist façade decoration, showing geometric ornamets in the upper part of the bay window at the corner, sinuous eaves on its both sides, some bands with floral motifs, and circles around some of the first-floor windows.
3. Building on Strada Lucian Blaga 3
The Golden Eagle Inn operated on the site of this building since the mid-18th century. The current structure from 1907. It is an attractive corner building with floral and geometrical ornaments. It now operates as a hotel.
4. Steiner Palace / Discount Bank
Strada Gheorghe Lazăr 1
Marcell Komor & Dezső Jakab, 1908-1909
This structure, which was unfortunately almost entirely under scaffolding when I visited Timişoara, is one the major works of Hungarian Secession. It was designed by Marcell Komor and Dezső Jakab, a celebrated pair of architects who spread the extravagant style initiated by Ödön Lechner all over the Hungarian territories, designing impressive buildings such as the Synagogue and the City Hall of Szabadka (now Subotica, Serbia), the Palace of Administration and the Palace of Culture in Marosvásárhely (now Târgu Mureş, Romania), and the Black Eagle Palace in Nagyvárad (now Oradea, Romania). Its direct precursor was the building of the Savings Bank in Subotica, which the architects had designed just a year before and with which it shares many commonalities.
The building has protruding upper floors of complex volumes. There are original stylised motifs on various parts of the façade, most notably around the doors and windows. Colourful glazed Zsolnay tiles are preponderant, most notably on the Vasile Alecsandri Street front, where there is a striking ornamental panel with the motif of a beehive (a symbol of banking) surrounded by hearts.
The Discount Bank operated on the ground floor of the building, while the upper floors were divided into lavish rental apartments.
5. Brück Palace
Strada Florimund Mercy 9
László Székely, 1910-1911
This is one of the two Secessionist buildings on the Union Square (the other being the Steiner Palace). Before the erection of the current structure the Golden Cross Pharmacy operated here. The owner of the new building allowed for the pharmacy to continue on its ground floor and divided the upper floors into apartments.
The façade shows decorative elements that are, in comparison with the Steiner Palace, less organic and more abstract, showing the influence of Vienna Secession. The large bay window at the corner makes the building fit in well in the Baroque landscape of the Union Square.
Historical stained-glass windows and wooden furniture survive in the ground-floor pharmacy.
6. Gálgon Palace
Strada Eugeniu de Savoya 9
Henrik Telkes & Jenő Klein, 1911-1912
The Gálgon Palace is located at a busy intersection in the heart of Old Cetate. It is a colourful building with predominantly geometric ornaments. One can spot some mascarons and reliefs with female figures on its façades. There is a rooster on top of the corner dome.
7. Hungarian General Credit Bank
Strada Coriolan Brediceanu 2
László Székely, 1911-1912
Built on the site of an 18th-century Franciscan church, this structure dominates over the Liberty Square (or the Prince Eugene Square, as it was known in the Austro-Hungarian period). It has a strong corner emphasis with a tower and elegant façade decorations. There are bas-reliefs on the sides of the entrance on the first-floor level.