Eastern Promise

Arriving in Cluj Napoca I walk alongside a rather dilapidated street into the centre of town, past several Baroque churches such as the Calvin Reformed Church, Evangelical church and Unitarian church. The first thing I come across in the centre is the modern Orthodox cathedral and its surrounding sets of modern status designed to ground a historical context for Cluj as a Romanian town, thereby serving as a counterpoint to the adjacent square with the medieval catholic cathedral, whose exterior is blazoned with the arms of the King of Hungary. The surrounding square is dominated by a statue of Matthias Corvinus and other Hungarian nobles, in opposition to the Romanian statue of Romulus, Remus and the Wolf. While I’m there I’m somewhat surprised at the extent of campaigning for the European elections that’s underway; there are several stalls and the Christian Democrats are holding a rally. Some of the buildings in the area are beautifully exuberant, ranging from art nouveau, the colourful cubism of the Vila Astoria to the neo-baroque of the National Theatre, Mirror Street and the Justice Palace. I also rather like the medieval city walls and tailor’s bastion. I visit the art gallery in the Banffy Palace. The medieval works show a distinctive iconographic style that’s quite distinct from either Western Europe or the Byzantine tradition, although the majority of the collection is given up to perhaps rather less original neo-impressionist works. I rather like paintings by Stefan Luchian and Nicolae Grigorescu. I also rather admire Elena Popea’s cubist paintings of Dutch settings (somewhat odd to see modernist renditions of Castle Bran). The only artist I recognise is the Hungarian Nagy Istvan. I also go to visit the ethnographic museum and admire the collections of Romanian ceramics, regional costumes and textiles along with gruesome items like a hunting bag made from Badger hide where the head and snout form the clasp. It has an exhibition of Rembrandt etchings during my visit; I especially like the drawing of Faust that Goethe was later to use as a cover and a self-portrait with most of the drawing in darkness save a little light from a small window. I then walk out of the centre a bit and look at the old synagogue, the elaborate town hall and the Carolina” Obelisk dedicated to the visit of a Hapsburg Emperor.

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