The Culture Palace in Blaj was awarded the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage.
Dubbed "the Little
Rome", the town of Blaj, in central Romania, is known for its special place in
history when it comes to acknowledging the Latin roots of the culture and
language of the Romanians in Transylvania. This is the place where the first
school in Romanian was established and also home to the famous Transylvanian
School, a group of Romanian intellectuals who militated for the emancipation of
Romanians in Transylvania. Besides that, another cultural society, ASTRA, is
closely tied with Blaj. The Palace of Culture was built for the benefit of this
association, in the historical centre of the town, on the very ground where the
house of the famous scholar Timotei Cipariu used to stand, as the Director of
the Tourist Information and Promotion Center Ciprian Vestemian told us:
"It was designed in
the 1930s by the Romanian architect Victor Smigelschi, the son of painter
Octavian Smigelschi, from Bucharest. The building was aimed to host events
initiated by the ASTRA Cultural Association. The building of the foundation
started on September 1936 on the celebration of Astra Blaj's 75th
anniversary. The then Prime Minister and members of the Government attended the
ceremony, alongside King Carol the 2nd and his son, the future king
Mihai. In the inter-war period, the palace hosted various major cultural
events, as it served as both a theatre and cinema hall. Between 1936-1963 it
also hosted, on the upper floor, the History and Ethnography Museum, the town library
and even a cable radio centre. In 1948, the building was taken over by the
state and was renamed the Horea, Closca and Crisan People's Athenaeum. In
1992, the Government returned the Culture Palace to the Metropolitan Bishopric,
and it was further used as a cinema hall.
In 1995, a devastating fire destroyed a great part of
the building, with only the outer walls and part of the rooms on the first
floor still standing after the disaster. After the Municipality of Blaj bought
the Culture Palace from the Greek-Catholic Metropolitan Bishopric, restoration
works began in 2013, based on a project that observed the original architecture
of the building. Speaking about that, here is Ciprian Vestemian once again:
"The architect wanted first and foremost to retain
the initial shape of the building. Unfortunately, that was not entirely
possible, because the outer walls, weekend by the fire, could no longer support
a new structure. Therefore, four new structures were erected, which were so
very well inbuilt, that only a very experienced eye could detect them. In fact,
there are four new pillars supporting a ceiling which is very interesting, as
it is partially made of glass, and therefore lets natural light in. It is a multifunctional space. The upper
floor areas were especially conceived for offices and were totally refurbished.
New rooms were created for actors and artists."
So successful were the restoration works that, not
long ago, the Culture Palace in Blaj was awarded the EU Prize for Cultural
Heritage. Speaking about that, here is Ciprian Vestemian once again:
"On April 5th this year, the European
Commission and the Europa Nostra Foundation announced the winners of the EU
Prize for Cultural Heritage. It is an honour for us to have been awarded the
highest European heritage distinction in the preservation category, thanks to
architect Vlad Sebastian Rusu, who supervised the restoration of the Culture
Palace in Blaj. The jury acknowledged the quality of the project emphasising
the fact that the administration of Blaj has successfully managed, through
minimum interventions, to revive the lost architecture of the historical
buildings that were in ruins, only by adding essential structures and
structural elements. With no demolition at all, heritage vestiges were
successfully put to good use."
The prize has already brought specific major benefits
through the promotion of the Culture Palace and Blaj as a cultural destination.
The number of tourists in "little Rome" is already on the rise.