Daniel Dumitran



The resumption of this topic after an interval of two years is justified by the desire to reflect in more detail the evolution of the “cities of the Union”, which was only one of the issues addressed in the previous volume.[1] As the subject of a conference organized in the fall of 2019 in Alba Iulia and a simultaneous exhibition dedicated to the three cities where the declarations of the union with the Kingdom of Romania were signed in 1918,[2] the topic provoked approaches consistent with the debates of the last decades about the characteristics of urban development. Defined as the result of a historical stratification of cultural and natural values ​​and characteristics beyond the notion of “centre” or “historical ensemble”, in order to include the wider urban context and its geographical environment, the urban historical landscape can constitute the object of an arrangement and integration strategy related to the urban development process, which nowadays displays an unprecedented rhythm.[3] The similar concept of a “living city” implies a strong connection with the past, permanently updated through the preserved heritage, with a special cultural and economic potential.[4] An element of continuity, capable of rejuvenating the communities to which it belongs,[5] but also of contributing to the cohesion of communities, by virtue of the principle of “patrimonial community”,[6] the concept is the product of the cultural creation of the communities that have coexisted or succeeded in the urban area. Contemporary cities, however, risk losing the identity conferred by this heritage as a result of insufficiently substantiated urban policies or the uncontrolled expansion of the inhabited territory. In Romania, current developments have overlapped with the destructive factor represented by the urban systematization policy of the Communist regime, which today’s administrations try to compensate for by identifying symbols that are able to give a new cohesion to the affected communities. Alternatively, the example of the “cities of the Union” can be a useful starting point for investigating the relationship between symbolic status and the urban policies that are put into practice. Of course, the conference was not limited to these examples, as it also included the presentation of some relevant aspects of the evolution of the urban architecture of the Romanian capital, Bucharest,[7] as well as a discussion on a topic thus far under-discussed: the modification of the central spaces of Transylvanian cities in the context of their integration with the Romanian state.[8] The problem of urban systematization during the Communist regime was not only reflected in some of the presentations, but also in the organized debate that took place during the conference.[9] These could have been supplemented with other exciting topics which, for various reasons, were only recorded in the program of the event.[10]

Some of the mentioned communications are not found in the final volume of the conference proceedings, which focuses mainly on the evolution of the two cities of the Union, Alba Iulia and Cernăuți.[11] Apart from these, the volume also contains studies referring to the interwar urban evolution of the city of Sibiu and to the phenomenon of decommunization in the big cities of Ukraine.

Diana Mihnea’s study, “The Agrarian Reform and the City: The Great Expansion of Sibiu during the Interwar Years”, reflects the academic interests illustrated by the author’s doctoral thesis[12] and subsequent publications. The study approached in this case reflects the major tensions between the central ministerial authorities, supporting the allotment based on agrarian reform legislation, and the municipal authorities, which tried to elaborate a systematization regulation adequate to the developmental needs of the city.

Another perspective, in which the author in fact opens a new research field demonstrating the social valences of urban history, is offered by Valer Moga, through the study, “Românizarea orașelor din Transilvania după 1918. Studiu de caz: Alba Iulia” (The Romanianization of Transylvanian Cities after 1918: Case Study: Alba Iulia). The phenomenon of “Romanianization” is accorded the significance of a natural process whereby the ethnic Romanians gradually assert themselves in terms of economic and cultural life, but also through access to one of the most dynamic professions, that of lawyer. The result is a detailed investigation of the reconfiguration of the life of Alba Iulia in the new post-1918 context.

The significance of the same city as a place of memory reconstructed through the literary “gaze” of the witness–author is reflected in Botond Gudor’s article, “Benő Karácsony (1888-1944) și Alba Iulia” (Benő Karácsony (1888-1944) and Alba Iulia). Benő Karácsony’s case is exemplary, first of all in terms of his committed identity as a Hungarian Jew, representative of the options of the members of the old Jewish community in Alba Iulia, and secondly, due to his descriptions of the atmosphere of the pre-war city in his literary works, one of which – the short story O după-masă de vară în vechiul oraș Alba Iulia (A Summer Afternoon in the Old Town of Alba Iulia) – is reproduced, in its Romanian version, in the appendix of the article.

Urban historical memory, as reflected by the way in which patrimonial heritage has been able to preserve a certain identity of the city of Cernăuți, is the central topic of the article “Chernivtsi’s Squares and Monuments in the Context of Distinctive Bukovinian Identity, Cultural Heritage and Urban Historical Memory”, by Valentyna Bohatyrets and Liubov Melnychuk. Starting from the images of the city from three historical eras (Austrian, Romanian and Soviet) presented in the exhibition “Cities of Union - Cities of Memory”, the article explores and theorizes on how collective memory is built through plazas, monuments and cultural heritage in general.

The systematization plans of the Communist regime in the area, which had the highest patrimonial value in the city of Alba Iulia, are the subject of Ioana Rus-Cacovean’s study, “Urban Planning in the Area of ​​Alba Iulia Fortress in the Years 1965-1988: Completed Projects and Abandoned Proposals”. By analysing the projects that preceded, were determined by, or followed the 1968 anniversary of the semi-centenary of the Union, the author’s investigation offers important conclusions regarding the uncertainty and inconsistency of the measures for the protection of historical monuments adopted during the Communist regime.

The urban evolution of the post-Communist period, with particular regard to the phenomenon of decommunization, is tackled by Natalia Rotar’s study, “Decommunization of Symbolic Urban Space of Ukraine’s Cities: Effective Local Government Capacity Building”. The methodological debate is accompanied by four case studies of the cities of Kyiv, Dnipro, Odessa and Kharkiv, and by a valuable investigation of the decommunization policy as reflected in decisions to change the urban toponymy, which implied consulting the local communities.

Finally, remembrance of the evolution of the city of Alba Iulia is the subject of Daniel Dumitran’s contribution, “Addenda to an Exhibition: About Urbanism and Heritage in the City of the Union”, which discusses the main landmarks of the image of the second city of the union presented during the exhibition organized on the occasion of the conference “Cities of the Union – Cities of Memory”. The contribution is a continuation of the author’s 2018 study devoted to the thorny issue of the identity of the city, asserted to a large extent in the last century, as a “city of the Union”.[13] Lacking the possibility to offer the chance of any more walks in the past[14] other than those facilitated by old images of the city or the literary creations dedicated to it, and with a monument-symbol of the Union problematically included in the urban landscape, even a century after its construction, Alba Iulia is characterized rather by the urban policies that marked its evolution during the Communist regime, with a predilection towards those of the last two decades of the Communist regime. The city has suffered, to a much greater extent than other important cities of Transylvania, the negative consequences of these policies, the effects of which are extended even today.

The group of reviews contains perspectives on recent works consistent with the major theme of the volume, including Arhitectura urbană în Transilvania în perioada interbelică (Urban Architecture in Transylvania in the Interwar Period) by Daniela Maria Puia and Catedralele Unirii la vest de Carpați (The Cathedrals of The Great Union to the West of the Carpathians) by Dan-Ionuț Julean and Dana Julean, but also referring to less common aspects of the urban landscape, such as the location of cemeteries as distinct spaces of memory within the urban and rural topography, a topic addressed by the works Metropolitan Jewish Cemeteries of the 19th and 20th Centuries in Central and Eastern Europe. A Comparative Study by Rudolf Klein and Cimitirele ortodoxe din Republica Moldova. Istorie – Arhitectură – Sculptură (secolul al XVIII-lea - prima jumătate a secolului al XIX-lea (Orthodox Cemeteries in the Republic of Moldova. History - Architecture - Sculpture (18th Century - First Half of the 19th Century) by Manole Brihuneț.


[1] The City and the Great War. Architecture, Urbanism and Society after 1918, eds Daniel Dumitran and Valeriu-Eugen Drăgan [AUA hist. 22, II (2018)] (Cluj-Napoca: Mega Publishing House, 2018).

[2] Orașele Unirii: proiecte și evoluții urbanistice după anul 1918 [The Cities of Central and Eastern Europe in the Last Century: Urban Projects and Developments After 1918], Alba Iulia, October 3-5, 2019; Orașele Unirii – orașe ale memoriei [Cities of Union: Cities of Memory], Alba Iulia, October 3, 2019.

[3] Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape, adopted on 27 May 2011 at the Intergovernmental Meetings of Experts on the Historic Urban Landscape, Annex 36C/23 of UNESCO General Conference, 36th Session (Paris, 2011), art. 8-9, accessed 29.11.2020,

[4] Hans Christie Bjønness, “A Cultural Heritage Conservation Strategy in the Context of Urban Development (The Case of Kathmandu, Nepal)”, Ancient Nepal 141 (June 1998): 3-6, accessed 29.11.2020, nepal_141_01.pdf.

[5] Karine Hébert, review of Patrimoine et identités en Amérique française, ed. André Charbonneau and Laurier Turgeon (Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2010), Urban History Review 40, 2 (2012): 51-52.

[6] Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society, Faro, 27.10.2005, art. 1-4, accessed on 29.11.2020,

[7] “Spre orașul modernist! Modificări în peisajul urban al Bucureștiului interbelic” [Towards the Modernist City! Changes in the Urban Landscape of the Interwar Bucharest] (Ioana Maria Petrescu) and “Secvențe Art Deco într-un oraș eclectic: Bucureștiul anilor 1930-1950” [Art Deco Sequences in an Eclectic City: 1930s-1950s Bucharest] (Cristina Bogdan).

[8] “Românizarea piețelor centrale în Transilvania” [Romanianization of Central Plazas in Transylvania] (Virgil Pop).

[9] “Sistematizare urbană în zona cetății din Alba Iulia în anii 1965-1988. Proiecte realizate și propuneri abandonate” [Urban Systematization in the Area of the Citadel in Alba Iulia in 1965-1988: Completed Projects and Abandoned Proposals] (Ioana Rus-Cacovean); “Sistematizarea urbană în comunism: beneficiu sau dezavantaj?” [Urban Systematization During Communism: Benefit or Disadvantage?] (Cristian Culiciu); and “Patrimoniul cultural al orașului Alba Iulia și provocările modernizării” [Cultural Heritage of the City of Alba Iulia and the Provocations of Modernization] (debate moderated by Daniel Dumitran).

[10] “Afirmarea identității naționale prin noua arhitectură a instituțiilor publice după 1918” [Assertion of National Identity Through the New Architecture of Public Institutions after 1918] (Valeriu-Eugen Drăgan) and “Arhitectura eclezială urbană în România după 1918” [Ecclesiastical Urban Architecture in Romania after 1918] (Jan Nicolae).

[11] The paper “Destinul edificiilor istorice în Chișinăul interbelic” [Destiny of Historical Buildings in Interwar Chișinău], presented by Liliana Condraticova during the conference, referred to the third city of the Union, Chișinău.

[12] Diana Mihnea, “Orașele Transilvaniei în perioada interbelică. Implicații urbanistice ale legislației de împroprietărire” [Transylvanian Cities During the Interwar Period: Urbanistic Implications of the Legislation on Allotment] (Doctoral Thesis, Ion Mincu Architecture and Urbanism University, Bucharest, 2015). The paper “Orașele României Mari în contextul împroprietăririlor cu locuri de casă” [Cities of Greater Romania in the Context of the Apportionment of House Locations], presented by Irina Calotă during the conference, also dealt with a similar topic.

[13] Daniel Dumitran, “Identitate pierdută? Proiecte de sistematizare urbană a orașului Alba Iulia după anul 1918 (I)” [Lost Identity? Urban Planning Projects of Alba Iulia City after 1918 (I)], in The City and the Great War, 197-257.

[14] See the debate on the habitation and cultural individuality of the city, in Rodica Crișan, “Reabilitarea locuirii urbane tradiționale” [The Rehabilitation of Traditional Urban Dwelling] (Bucharest: Paideia, 2004), 81-86.