Lonely Planet Writer

Romania’s Timişoara is European Capital of Culture 2021

Romania’s western city of Timişoara has been chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2021 by an EU-nominated international jury. Three other Romanian cities were also competing for the title: the capital Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca and Baia Mare. The only city in Romania that already had this honour was Sibiu in 2007.

Timişoara's main square, Romania.
Timişoara’s main square, Romania. Image by Paul Kelly/Getty Images

Timişoara’s campaign was carried out under the slogan ‘Shine your light. Light up your city.’ This alluded to the fact that Timişoara was the first European city to introduce electric street lights in 1884, and that Romania’s 1989 revolution, which overthrew the dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, also started in Timişoara. As the European Capital of Culture, the city will have a special programme promoting the diversity and richness of European cultures and the feeling of belonging to the European Union.

Roses Park, Timişoara.
Roses Park, Timişoara. Image by Alex Tod / CC BY-SA 2.0

According to Timişoara’s mayor Nicolae Robu, the budget for the project to prepare the city for the 2021 title is 48.5 million euros. The European Capital of Culture title is seen as a significant opportunity for cities to raise their international profile and attract more tourists through different cultural events throughout the year.

Timişoara has had a turbulent history. The city is believed to date from the early 13th century. It was soon destroyed by the Tatars and conquered by the Ottomans in the 16th century. It later became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and even today is known as ‘Little Vienna’. The anti-Ceauşescu demonstrations, which started on the square in front of the National Theatre & Opera House in December 1989, led to the demise of the communist regime, which is why the city is now also called Primul Oraş Liber (First Free Town). Those events are well documented in the Permanent Exhibition of the 1989 Revolution. Today Timişoara is the centre of the Banat region with visible influences of Turkish, Austrian, German, Serbian and Jewish presence throughout its history and a vibrant cultural life.