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St. Gheorghe Square

sf gheorghe-smIt is one of the oldest squares in Timişoara. Unfortunately, changes made immediately after the city’s defortification (this process had a correspondent also in the city, in order to modernize the street tram) deprived the square of its main element – the so-called “seminary church”, which was dedicated to St. Gheorghe (St. George). It is assumed that the church existed since before the Turkish occupation – during the Ottoman rule it had been converted into a mosque.

After the establishment of the Austrian government, the building was turned over to the Jesuits (who arrived in Timişoara in 1718) and reopened as a church, after repairs and a major face-lift which had lent it a Baroque style; eventually the old building was, however, demolished (1739) and a new church was built. In the mean time, the Jesuit order was dissolved in 1773. Adjacent to the church building a Catholic seminary was built. Later, this building housed the first secular institution of higher education in Timişoara, in 1845; it had two faculties: philosophy and law. Unfortunately, it had a short life (it was closed in the turbulent year 1848) and from the documents of that time it seems that its end was drawn mainly from the insubordination to the Church and the military administration, which disfavored the intelligentsia, suspecting it of pro-revolutionary sympathies. The next opportunity to open a university would occur only in 1921.

The seminary church was positioned obliquely to the square’s axis, i.e. diagonally – which led to the appearance of two triangular spaces, unique in Timişoara’s urban landscape.

The building on the right has always belonged to a bank; it was built with the destination of headquarters for the “First Savings Bank” (Erste Temeswarer Sparkassa) in 1855; the institution itself already existed in 1846. The work on the new headquarters had begun before the 1848 revolution, but during the long siege of 1849 the unfinished building collapsed, killing two workers.

The building on the left was and still is a banking institution. It emerged after 1914 (when the church and seminary were demolished) under the name “Timişoara Bank Palace”; it has a very sober look, because in its façade the exuberant Secession, dominant at that time, is not reflected at all. It is similar to bank buildings on the Ringstrasse in Vienna. An entire collection of urns decorates the building’s prominent belt, between the 1st and 2nd floors. Unfortunately this large building not only significantly reduced the picturesque of St. Gheorghe’s Square, but has almost halved the area.

On the square’s southern side (i.e. the side which is backed by socialist blocks) there are smaller houses, which contrast with the two imposing bank buildings. On the yellow one we can see Secession decorations (amongst others: representations of owls) combined with a rather Neo-Classicist architecture. Also on this side there is the Klapka house. Klapka Georg was born here, the son of the famous Josef Klapka, who was Mayor and based the first public lending library of Timişoara (and probably the first in the empire). Georg Klapka was to become even more famous – he became one of the Hungarian revolutionary army generals from 1848-1849. Of course, he Hungarized his name to Klapka Győrgy. The house is marked with a bilingual plaque, and often one can see here wreaths with Hungary’s national colors.

Only in 1996, the equestrian statue of St. Gheorghe fighting the dragon appeared in the square; the monument commemorates the events of December 1989. In the entire area between Continental Hotel and the 700 Market bloody street fighting between security forces and demonstrators occurred on December 17, 1989. They were the demonstrators that wanted to go from the Continental Hotel to the “party committee” headquarters (the today Prefecture), and were beat off by the army towards Libertăţii Square. St. Gheorghe monument is a bronze creation of artist Silvia Radu, and architect Mihai Botescu. On the elegant pedestal made by Ştefan Călărăşanu are written the names of children-martyrs of the Revolution.

It is little known that in the Seminary Square (St. Gheorghe Square today) the first tram pulled by horses was set in motion, in July 1869. This would be the end of the line for the line connecting the Fabric district. In the inaugural drive all the town notables took part. A humorous journalist wrote, “they managed to cross the dangerous road [...] to Fabric in just 8 minutes, without any derailment”. However, the official dinner at the “Regina Angliei” (“Queen of England”) restaurant from Fabric lasted three good hours. The journalist noted: “No derailment happened here either”.


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