The Cities We Live In

Exploring the Multiple Identities of Cluj

Cluj-Napoca, Cluj, Kolozsvár, Klausenburg, Cj, Kvár—all names and nicknames to which this city from Transylvania, Romania answers. It’s the city of festivals, the country’s university city. It’s the city where the first professional Hungarian theatre company was founded in the eighteenth century, and the one that was covered in blood during the revolution in 1989.

Cluj is a diverse city—ethnically, denominationally, religiously, and culturally. It’s a historical peculiarity: over the years, Cluj has belonged to three different states (the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Hungary, and Romania) and been home to many different nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures (Hungarian, Romanian, German, and Jewish). Freedom of religion was established in the sixteenth century, and ever since then the city has been home to people from a wide range of denominations. On top of this, there is an abundance of schools and universities operating here—the first dating back to 1872, which is widely regarded as the reason Cluj became the region’s most important city. The universities attract more than a hundred thousand students, many coming from abroad. Tourists often visit, and if you sit down at one of the cozy terraces in Cluj, you will find yourself between crowds of people speaking all kinds of languages.

Today, Cluj is the most vibrant city in the country, with many people saying it is the uncrowned capital, out-winning Bucharest.

daytime rooftop view of the city of cluj, romania

City skyline of Cluj. Photo by Viktória Barazsuly. 

Back in the fifteenth century, craft guilds were founded and craftsmen started creating and selling goods. It was mandatory for apprentices wanting to become masters to join a guild and travel to other cities, like Vienna, Wittenberg, and Bologna, to gain knowledge and experience. Today, Cluj is the most vibrant city in the country, with many people saying it is the uncrowned capital, out-winning Bucharest. It boasts many cultural and artistic venues, and, for the past ten years, startups and international IT corporations have set up headquarters here. This has led to new events being created, such as big music festivals, but has also led to a rise in cost of living and housing problems.

Cluj has a strong theatrical heritage through its prestigious public institutions and theatre faculty, but it is also home to a nationally relevant independent scene, which is already in its second wave of makers. I (Zenkő) was a theatre student here for five years between 2008 and 2011, though I left after I graduated, coming back only as a “foreign” performing arts curator. A year ago, I moved back to Cluj to work and study again, and I began to rediscover this complex city. It’s a city others should know about, but I realized it could only be understood if we open ourselves up to its various narratives, dive into its multiple layers, and see the city from different perspectives. Then, we will be able to discover the many cities that exist within the one.

Cluj has a strong theatrical heritage through its prestigious public institutions and theatre faculty, but it is also home to a nationally relevant independent scene.

This city series offers six articles that look at Cluj-Napoca from different angles: Anca Hațiegan’s piece examines the city’s theatrical history, covering everything from the first-ever production to the shifting power dynamics between the Romanian and Hungarian state theatres. Mihai Mateiu’s article describes some of the cultural offerings of the city, focusing on his recent work that connects arts and culture to the business sector. Széker Jetta’s interview with Miki Braniște looks at Cluj’s cultural policies over the past decade. István Sebesi’s piece discusses two of the city’s independent theatre companies: Waiting Room Project and Reactor. Finally, Panna Adorjáni’s article talks about what it’s like being a local independent theatremaker in the city.

Imagine that you are sitting down on a bench in Cluj, let’s say on top of Fellegvár (Cetățuie), a hill in the middle of the city from where you can see all its corners and landscape. And now imagine that the authors of these articles have joined you—one after another— to tell you their version of Cluj. That’s what this series does: introduces you to the city they are living in.

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Thoughts from the curator

Imagine that you are sitting down on a bench in Cluj, let’s say on top of Fellegvár (Cetățuie), a hill in the middle of the city from where you can see all its corners and landscape. And now imagine that the authors of these articles have joined you—one after another— to tell you their version of Cluj. That’s what this series does: introduces you to the city they are living in.

Exploring the Multiple Identities of Cluj

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