A Trip to the Banat

The Banat province (stretching in three countries: Romania, Serbia and Hungary), has always been one of Europe’s richest multiethnic regions. After the great defeat of the Turkish army at the gates of Vienna in the 17th century, the Banat was conquered by the Austrian Empire and remained part of it until the First World War. In the meantime, the Habsburg rulers designed a plan to rebuild the province, by colonizing different populations, such as the famous German Banater Schwaben. Nowadays, the ethnic structure of the province is formed by Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Serbs, Jews, Bulgarians, Slovaks etc… We invite you on a weekend break to discover this interesting mosaic of cultures and ethnicities.

Day One

We are going to depart from Sibiu at noon and drive to Timisoara on the Western highway for about 2-3 hours. The capital city of the Banat is not only one of Romania’s biggest cities, but also one of the most beautiful. Although the first establishments in the region are dated over 2000 years ago, the present looks of the city go back to the 18th century, when the city suffered massive restoration works, changing its looks from the oriental Turkish city, into the vibrant metropolis that became famous under the name of “the small Vienna”.  We will take a walk and visit the ruins of the Habsburg fortifications, the Catholic cathedral and the main Square, the Serbian-Orthodox cathedral and the beautiful administrative buildings and turn then to the National Opera and the Orthodox cathedral. Here we will find out more about the revolution that took place in December 1989, which started in Timişoara and ended with the execution of the dictator Ceauşescu. Dinner and accommodation will be in the center of the city.

Day Two

After breakfast we are going to leave Timişoara behind and drive to the Banat Mountains, an area with charming scenery and a very interesting history. Because of the many local resources, the Austrian administration decided to colonize architects and engineers from all over the empire, to would help build a better infrastructure and extract those resources. This region became one of the first in Europe, where railways and locomotives were built. In Reşiţa we will get the chance to discover a unique museum of steam locomotives, all of them built in the local factory, which produced hundreds of models until 1986.

The Banat also hosts the first railway track built in Romania. It was built in 1863, only a couple of years after the Austrian Semmeringerbahn (and by the same architects) and was used to transport good quality charcoal from the mines of Anina, to the Danube harbor of Buziaş. The train station in Anina is the oldest in Romania and was opened before the train stations in Paris, Stockholm, Tokyo or Los Angeles… The track is almost 35 kilometers long and was a masterpiece of engineering for that time: it’s the fourth mountain railway in the world, with 14 tunnels (over 2000 meters in length), 10 viaducts and over 21 kilometers of tracks cut right in the middle of the mountains. All of these were built without any dynamite or cranes, which weren’t invented at that time… We will step out of the car and hop on the train which is going to take us on an amazing journey.

After about one and a half hours, we will reach Oraviţa, our destination. The former miner’s city hosts another amazing treasure from the beginning of the 19th century: the theater and opera house. Built as a copy of the Viennese Theater nächst der Burg (which was demolished to enlarge the Habsburg Imperial Court) it is a masterpiece of the famous Jugendstil.

Departing from Oraviţa, we will continue our journey south and reach the Danube. The scenery is gorgeous: the river flows into the mountains and narrows, building a very spectacular place, called “The Iron Gates”. This was the most feared place by sailors in the days where ships were made out of wood, because the strong currents could easily sink a boat. We will drive along the Danube and can see the Serb boarder on the other side of the river. Dinner and accommodation are planned in superb scenery, right next to the “Iron gates”.

Day Three

This morning is going to be special: at breakfast, we will be spoiled by the view of the sun rising over the Danube in the shape of a big, red fireball… After this, we will depart for Băile Herculane, that used to be one of Europe’s most famous spas in the 19th century. The healing properties of the local water were first discovered by the Romans, who had built a big thermal complex there. During the Habsburg rulers the resort was rebuilt and became a magnet for the Viennese high society. Among others, it was one of the favorite places of Emperor Franz Josef and his famous wife, Sisi. Unfortunately, the resort was left to disintegrate after 1990 and it is just a ruin of what it used to be over a century ago.

Departing from Herculane, we will drive through former industrial areas and reach the former Roman capital of the country: Sarmisegetusa. The city was built right after the bloody and brutal war fought between the local Dacians and the Romans and named after the conquering emperor, “Sarmisegetusa Ulpia Traiana”. Here we will get the chance to see a very well preserved Roman complex, with ruins of an amphitheater, a forum, many temples, a gladiator school and many civil and military houses.

In the afternoon we will drive to one of the oldest and most bizarre churches in the country. It is situated in Densuş, a small village, close to the antique Dacian and Roman settlements. This is the reason why most of the material used to build this church comes from an antique pagan temple. The interesting fact is that the old Roman gods and tombstones are standing right next to Christian icons and frescoes… It really is an interesting experience…
In the evening we will return to Sibiu.