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Freedom Square: A tapestry of history

artistic statue with a cloudy blue sky in the background
Statue of St. John of Nepomuk, Timisoara, Romania

On any given day, you can hear a piano étude ringing out from an open window, filling the air with a graceful elegance that easily matches the surrounding architecture. It’s a welcoming introduction to Timișoara’s Freedom Square.

Once the site of three trading crossroads, today’s Freedom Square, located between its better-known sisters, Victory and Unity squares, is a visual feast, telling a story of the city’s ever-changing history.

The music school whose students’ practice sessions provide the score to a lazy afternoon on the square was once Timișoara’s City Hall, a classically styled building German colonists built in the 1700s on the site of a former Turkish bath.

Across the street from the music school, a stately baroque-style building is testament to the square’s historical importance in the early life of the city. Constructed as a bank in the 1800s, the building’s sophisticated balconies, plasterwork, and tower attest to why Timișoara was known as “Little Vienna.” Like an aging Hollywood star, time has taken its toll on the structure, but its beauty is still evident, and it’s easy to spend time exploring its architectural details.

During the past several weeks, Liberty Square has been home to a lively Easter market with live music and vendors selling street food, wine, and souvenirs.

ceramic dogs with cute expressions in a woven basket
Souvenirs, Timisoara, Romania

With no shortage of food vendors, the air has been filled with the scent of freshly baked langoși, pancakes, and other treats. Sitting in the late afternoon sun enjoying a langoși, it’s easy to imagine the markets that have taken place in the square during the past two hundred years. The music and food might be different, the way people look might be different, but the spirit of people coming together on a beautiful spring day is timeless.

Making my way around the stalls, I came to a young street musician who was singing a version of an 80’s classic, the Scorpions’ “Still Loving You.” Like every other time I’ve passed by, he was reading the song lyrics from an iPhone and singing with a level of emotion that would make any Stoic philosopher proud. What he lacked in memory and feeling, however, he made up in persistence since I have yet to visit the square without seeing him performing in the same spot.

The market stalls circling the center of the square crowd around one of the oldest art monuments in the city, the Statue of St. John of Nepomuk.  

The monument, constructed in 1756 replaced an earlier monument of St. John of Nepomuk, the region’s patron saint, which was built in the 1720s. The 1756 monument commemorated the plague epidemic of 1738-1740 and remained in front of the city hall until 1852 when Emperor Franz Joseph I ordered it to be moved to make space for an obelisk. The monument returned to its original home in 1970.

Like many similar monuments, it’s easy to pass by without giving it a second glance. But those who take the time to explore it are treated to skilled carvings of the saint’s life along with statues of three saints and the Holy Virgin.

In next week’s newsletter, we’ll walk a few blocks to the city’s Victory Square, the flashpoint of the Romanian 1989 anti-Communist revolution.

A woman riding a bicycle through a historic town square
Freedom Square, Timisoara, Romania


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