The tour follows vibrant streets that were once inhabited by Ashkenazi Jews and offers a better understanding on their backgrounds. During the walk the travelers we’ll be enriched with information about:
Arrival to Bucharest. Panoramic tour of Bucharest and transfer to the hotel. Overnight in Bucharest.
In Bucharest, Jewish merchants and craftsmen began to settle from the time of an important leader of Wallachia - Constantin Brâncoveanu onwards (16th century), their guilds being located in the middle of the actual city. But, the massive input was recorded after the Unification of the Principalities (1859), when lots of them came from the countryside to the new capital.
First came the Sephardic Jews, who fled the religious persecution in Spain, then the Polish Jews and the Ashkenazi followed. As the Jewish community grew, the Jewish Bucharest quarter expanded occupying an important area in the city center - most of them were craftsmen, merchants, political leaders, bankers, doctors, and architects; a very active and prosperous community, in the midst of a rather traditional-rural community.
During the interwar period the Jews had become an important minority of 11% of the city’s population; then the big emigration process took place after the constitution of the Israeli state in 1947 and the nationalization process from 1948.
Before 1940, in Bucharest there were around 60 Jewish synagogues and temples. Unfortunately, in 1941 the legionaries destroyed the largest and most beautiful synagogue in Eastern Europe, burning the legendary Sephardic synagogue Cahal Grande, built in 1818.
Despite the struggling of history, several emblematic buildings such as the Polish Great Synagogue (1847) and the legendary Baraşeum Theater have survived and are waiting the travelers to find more about their stories. Together with them, other important Jewish buildings such as the former Berkowits bank (Noblesse Palace) or “Hanul cu tei” (Linden Inn) are important landmarks of Bucharest.
Important landmarks to be visited:
Dinner at a famous Romanian traditional restaurant from the old center of Bucharest, Caru cu Bere (1879).
Overnight in Bucharest.
On the way to Brasov, we stop in the heart of the Romanian Carpathians to visit the summer residence of King Carol (1866-1914) - the first king of Romania, Peles Castle - a stunning masterpiece of German New-Renaissance architecture mixed with Italian gardens, one of the most beautiful castles in Europe.
At a short distance, then – Rhein Cellar (1892) – visit, wine-tasting and lunch.
Arrival in Brasov in the afternoon.
Although it was late inhabited by the Jews - early 19th century, their important presence in the middle of the Saxon (German) majority is always worth to mention. The first Jewish school was built in 1864 and the Neolog Synagogue in 1901.
Visit the Synagogue – a beautiful neo-gothic architecture with Moorish and Romanesque elements, adorning the building, together with brilliant stained-glass windows in a cozy and silent elaborated interior.
Evening in the heart of the old Brasov – the Council Square, admiring the Saxon residential architecture, warm restaurants and caffes.
Overnight in Brasov.
Drive in the middle of Transylvania to Tg Mures – the city with a vast majority of Szeklers (Hungarian speaking population who settled in Transylvania starting to the 11th century), blending very well their culture and history with the Romanians.
First mentions about Jewish population are form the 17th century (1682), then the 19th century was the moment growing, finding Jews amongst a wide range of professions – editors, merchants, industrialists, bankers, doctors and small-scale artisans.
Visit the Grand Synagogue (Status Quo Ante), planned by arch. Gartner Jacob from Vienna and erected in 1899, in an eclectic architectural style. The exterior contains typically roman architectural elements, mixed with some elements of gothic inspiration, as well as Moorish inspiration, such as scalloped profiles or domes which borrow from Islamic architecture. It is beautiful decorated with stained glass, frescoes and wood carvings. As part of the last restoration from 2000, the building was repainted in an apricot color, with all of its ornaments and window frames painted in white.
Afternoon in Cluj-Napoca, a city full of charm with a youthful spirit. The attraction here is the synagogue (“Po‘ale Tsedek”) built by the architect Izidor Hegner, from the Neolog Congregation, dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust, the single in service from the city.
The first Jewish presence in Cluj-Napoca is dated back since 1481, but more indications about presence of them are from the 18th century; they became active during the 20th century, playing a significant part in the economic, social, and cultural life of the city. Over 110 Jewish companies contributed to Cluj’s achievements in industry, crafts, trade, banking, insurance, transport, and services. Unfortunately, persecutions, restrictions, and the bans of the Holocaust brought an end to the flourishing age of Jewish life in Cluj, their deportation to Auschwitz in 1944 marking the end of the vibrant community.
Important landmarks and monuments could be seen during the evening walk downtown of the city: the gothic St. Michael’s Church (14th century) with its Neo-Gothic tower, from the 19th century, the tallest church tower in Romania; the Orthodox Cathedral, built during the interwar time, the Roman-Greek Cathedral, the Palace of Justice (1898-1902, eclectic style), creation of architect Gyula Wagner, then the symmetrical buildings from Iuliu Maniu street, as a reminder of the urbanistic trend developed by Georges Hausmann in Paris.
Overnight in Cluj-Napoca.
Drive to the North of Romania, towards the fairytale land of Maramures region. On our way we’re passing the town of Dej, a local point of interest for the Jewish presence on the Romanian territory over the time.
In order to get to Maramures, a beautiful mountain Carpathian range, rich in mineral resources (gold, silver, zinc, copper) is crossed. Rolling hills and pastures coming into view. Going deeper will feel like going back in time. Here, deep into the heart of the rural landscapes, time stands still.
One of the most beautiful treasures of Maramures is represented by wood works, a local activity best seen in the construction of churches, several being included in UNESCO.
Visit Desesti church (UNESCO), erected in 1780 and painted by the famous local painter, Radu Munteanu.
Afternoon in Sighetu Marmatiei.
The northern part of Transylvania was transferred to Hungary in 1940, so the region we’re travelling was characterized by a large oppressive activity and deportation measures of the Jews, during the WWII. The town of Sighetu Marmatiei was part of this process.
The apparition and growth of the Jewish population is mention since the 18th century, caused by a big migration from Poland. On the eve of World War I, close to 8,000 Jews lived in the city (constituting roughly 37% of its population), and then increased to 11,000. Majority of them were sent to the labor camps, and only few dozen survived.
Before World War II, eight synagogues served the local Jewish community. Today, only one, built in 1885 in an eclectic Moresque style, is still standing and in use, Wijnitzer Klaus Synagogue.
Not far from the synagogue is the house where 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel was born, now a museum dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust and the Jewish way of life in Sighet before World War II.
Visit the synagogue and the memorial house.
Overnight in Sighetu Marmatiei.
Morning visit to the Old Jewish Cemetery from Sighetu Marmatiei. The town was center of Hasidism and pilgrims from around the world still gather here to visit the tombs of the tzadikim (righteous ones) which are still visible.
Then we pay a visit to The Memorial to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance - a former prison, built in 1897 in the middle of Sighetu Marmatiei, during the Austrian rule is today the setting for a museum dedicated to what happened under communism in Romania and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The cells have been transformed into museum rooms, each with its own theme or chronology of the political malformation that brought suffering and death throughout the twentieth century, both inside and outside prison walls.
Departure to Sapanta village, famous for its Merry Cemetery, and also place where a small Jewish cemetery is located.
Merry Cemetery – a creation of a local artisan, Stan Ioan Patras who carved the first tombstone crosses in 1935 and reached over 800 till 1970. His work was continued by his apprentices still nowadays. We see here brightly blue colored tombstones with naive paintings describing, in an original and poetic manner, the people who are buried there in addition to scenes from their lives, representing their jobs, their addictions, or the moment of death.
During the travel to Oradea, we stop in Satu Mare town.
The first Jews appeared in Satu Mare around the early 18th century. The place became known for the development of the food industry, especially in distilling. A great influx of immigrants in the 1870s shattered the unity of the Jewish community. Initially the newcomers were traditional Ashkenazic Jews, but later Hasidim became the majority and thus slowed down the process of acculturation. In time, the population grew, reaching 13,000 before WWII, but the Nazis deported most of them to death camps. A memorial to the 18,000 Jews from around Satu Mare murdered in the Holocaust stands between the two remaining synagogues. Only one is still in service, Saar Ha Torah Synagogue, erected in 1920.
Overnight in Oradea.
Oradea represents a mix of architectural styles, including mainly Art Nouveau buildings combined with secession, baroque and medieval bastioned citadel, a beautiful landmark and vibrant city from the West Romania.
Morning walk in Oradea, visiting the Neolog Zion Synagogue, one of the fourth synagogues from the city. It is the third largest in Europe, a small replica of the Synagogue in Nurnberg and it was built in 1878, by the David Busch, the town’s chief municipal architect at that time.
Then we move to visit the Aachvas Rhein Orthodox Synagogue where the Jewish History Museum of Oradea is hosted, opened as a token of gratitude for the contributions of the Jewish community to the history of the city. This place represents one the oldest locations in Romania about the Jews settling, first mentions being recorded as early as the 15th century. During the Middle Ages, the Jewish population was involved in different activities in transportation, banking, communications, chemical and alimentary fields, making the economy and life of Oradea to flourish and rise at high levels.
The peak of Jewish heritage was recorded around 1940’s when population got to 30,000 people and the city had 27 synagogues. Sadly, the Nazi regime put end of this development, organizing 2 ghettos in Oradea and sending people to the labor camps.
Drive to Timisoara and stop before getting to the city at Recas Cellars – old tradition in making wine since the 15th century. Visit the cellar and wine tasting.
Overnight in Timisoara
Timisoara was a significant settlement in the medieval Hungarian Kingdom; between 1552 and 1716, it served as a Turkish administrative center. The town was under Austrian rule until 1779 and subsequently was again part of the Kingdom of Hungary until 1918.
Timisoara’s first Jews arrived from the Balkans, initially settling temporarily for commercial purposes. Though a permanent Jewish settlement emerged in the first half of the sixteenth century, the oldest known gravestone is dated 1636. The population grew from 144 people (1716) to 13600 (1947).
Separate Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities to exist in Timisoara, and the gradually diminishing Sephardic community maintained its independence until the end of World War II. The first known synagogues, as well as ritual baths, kosher butcher facilities, and some service apartments for both communities (in the same building but with separate rooms) were built in the Inner City’s castle—known as the Judenhof—in 1762. The majority of Timisoara’s Jews were forced out of the structure around the mid-eighteenth century; they found a new home in the rapidly developing Industrial City. A synagogue was consecrated there in 1848 and another one in 1865 - built in a Moorish-style, accommodating 3000 people, and had an organ similar to that of the Leopoldstadttempel in Vienna.
In the interwar period, Timişoara was a significant Zionist center in the same time with the amplification of the Antisemitism movements. Then, due to political changes in the time of WWII, Timisoara was one of the locations where the deportation of Jews didn’t happen.
The morning walk in Timisoara includes the landmarks from the old center – Union Square, Liberty Square and Victory Square, noticing buildings like the Synagogue from Citadel (1865), Roman-Catholic Cathedral (baroque, 1736 – 1774), Serbian Cathedral (baroque, 1745-1748), or the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral (new-Moldavian style, the second tallest church in Romania, 1936).
Back to the heart of Transylvania, driving to Sibiu in the afternoon.
Overnight in Sibiu.
The records from 1357 represent the earliest about Jews in Transylvania. In 16th – 17th centuries Jews in Sibiu maintained commercial links with the Ottoman Empire and Poland. In the 18th century and the first half of the 19th, the restrictive policy of the authorities of Sibiu prevented Jews from settling in the citadel. The policy was abolished in 1851, the Imperial leaders granted access for Jews to all cities in Transylvania.
The Jewish population in Sibiu was small, reaching the highest peak in 1947, 2020 members. During WWII Sibiu remained under Romanian authorities, and Antonescu regime put in practice the anti-Jewish legislation, allowing the seizure of community property, drafted Jewish men for forced labor, and excluded Jews from participating in social and public life. Plans to deport Jews were not carried out.
Morning walk downtown of the old Sibiu, a beautiful Saxon heritage, with cobbled and narrow streets between lines of massive residential buildings, each of them with hidden stories imprinted in the old walls. Landmarks include the New Gothic Synagogue (1898), the Gothic Evangelic Church (14th century, with the largest 6000 tubes organ in SE Europe), the Baroque Roman-Catholic Church (1726-1733), the Metropolitan Orthodox Cathedral (1906), the Council Tower (16th Century) and other defensive towers of the fortified city, as the Potters, the Carpenters, or the Stairs Tower.
Lunch in traditional restaurant built in a cellar of a Saxon house, Crama Sibiul Vechi.
In the afternoon leave for Bucharest.