A Romanian city of Arad doesn’t get many blogs written about it and that’s a shame because it’s definitely worth a visit even though it may not be among the top tier destinations in Eastern Europe. But such off-the-beaten-path places are precisely where you get to experience the country in a more authentic way, removed from throngs of tourists. Arad in a way felt very familiar, easy. The language is a relatively simple to decipher mix of Romance and Slavic influences, plus Turkish words like the delicious ciorbă soup but that didn’t quite help me =) And the architecture – except for Orthodox churches – made me think of my Polish hometown, Kielce (and right now I’m realizing I still haven’t blogged about it – shame!)
The third largest city in Western Romania after Timişoara and Oradea, Arad is an important transportation hub and urban center. The city straddles the banks of the Mureș River that arches in an inverted U-shape around an expansive park with the 18th century fortress. It was built after the 1699 Treaty of Carlowitz that ended 16 years of hostilities between the Ottoman Empire and a coalition of Austria, Poland, Venice, and Russia. As a result of the treaty Transylvania and much of Hungary were transferred from Turkish control to the Habsburg Empire. The Mureș became a boarder between Habsburg Austria and Ottoman Turkey and Arad a frontier town in need of fortification.
The fortress later served as a military prison with is most famous inmate being Gavrilo Princip, who on June 28, 1914 killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne – an event that triggered the outbreak of World War I. Today the massive hexagonal structure houses a mixed Romanian-Hungarian Battalion and is best appreciated from the air.
Arad’s history is woven into the complex history of Transylvania’s cultural influences that date back to the ancient Kingdom of Dacia conquered by the Roman Empire, Slavic and Jewish inhabitants, medieval Saxon settlements and Mongol invasions, centuries of Hungarian, Austrian, and Ottoman influence, and – thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula – vampires. This rich mix of cultures and religions is evident today when you stroll through the city.Arad is also the city of music. In the 19th century it was a popular stop for the most famous performers of the day, including Johann Strauss the Son, Franz Liszt, Béla Bartók, and a Polish violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski. Here is the account of Liszt’s stop in Arad on November 7, 1846 during one of his international concert tours. Hotel Fehér where he stayed today is Hotel Ardearul at Bulevardul Revolutiei 98. It was Liszt’s second time in Arad – he was first there in February 1823 as a 12-year-old child prodigy. He returned to quite a hero’s welcome:
“A military band played in his honor, a male chorus sang, and a gypsy-band played folk music under the window of the hotel where he was staying. Liszt presented two recitals in the ceremonial hall of the Hotel Fehér kereszt (or “White Cross”): the first on 8 November, the second two days later. To his program in Temesvár [now Timişoara] he added several new works including Réminiscences de Robert le Diable of Meyerbeer.”
(Source: Proceedings of the International Liszt Conference, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1993)
Réminiscences de Robert le Diable is a beautiful piece…
…and of course I can’t pass up the opportunity to highlight Arad’s Polish connection – Wieniawski:
Let me leave you with my favorite photo of Arad. Minus the lights strung above this picturesque little street it feels much like it must have felt in the days of Liszt’s and Wienawski’s visits.
Also take a look at these beautiful drawings of Arad by Cristian Motiu that I stumbled upon: