An ancient settlement, Napoca was part of the Roman Empire as early as the time of Emperor Trajan, which played an important role in the later naming of the city (Cluj Napoca). Its medieval nucleus may have been the castrum Clus, identified with the castle of Kolozsmonostor, but its development was brought to an end by the Tartar wars. After the destruction, the newly settled settler village was organised around the area known as the Great Market Square, later the Main Square, which was later fortified with ramparts and the settlement was soon afterwards granted the status of town by Charles I of Hungary.
In the Main Square, visitors with a keen eye can find traces of almost every architectural style from the 15th to the 20th century, although not necessarily on the facades of the buildings. There is no doubt that the ancestor of the Parish Church of St Michael dominated the site until the mid-14th century; according to the surviving carvings, it was probably a Romanesque building.
From the 15th century onwards, the square was dominated by the Church of St Michael, now in Gothic style, with the small chapel of St James to the south. Damaged by fire in 1489, the church was restored during the reign of King Matthias, except for the tower, which was not completed until later, in the mid-1500s. It was not long admired by the townspeople, as the tower was destroyed by the great fire of 1697 and only rebuilt between 1742 and 1744 in Baroque style typical of the period.
The history of the church reflects the rise of Protestantism, which went hand in hand with the awakening of nationalism. The church was briefly used by Lutherans and Calvinists from 1556 and Unitarians from 1559, but was returned to Roman Catholics by a Habsburg decree in 1716. The church was also the site of many major events, and several national assemblies were held there. It was here that Zsigmond Báthory was invested as Prince of Transylvania, later Zsigmond Rákóczi was also elected ruler of Transylvania, and in the 20th century, Áron Márton spoke out against the persecution of the Jews.
In the second half of the 16th century, the chapel of St. James, next to the parish church, was enlarged into a five-five-bay, three-nave church, probably of the hall type. However, the chapel was badly damaged in 1697 and was demolished rather than rebuilt. Not far from the church was the burial place of the townspeople, the “cinterem” (cemetery around the church). In the 16th century, a protective wall was built around it, which allowed merchants to place stalls around the wall, which the church let out for high prices. The demolition of these was discussed as early as the 18th century, but it was carried out only in the 19th century, thanks to the work of a committee led by honorary town clerk László Kőváry. In 1896, the town decided to turn its main square into a square of decoration.
A five-metre wide asphalt pavement was built along the houses, the twelve-metre wide cart-way was covered with granite stones and the market square was covered with gravels.
As for the buildings in the square, the most prestigious citizens of the city lived in its rows of houses, and the headquarters of the most important secular and ecclesiastical institutions were built here. The most characteristic building of the period is the Old Town Hall on the Main Square, designed by clerk of works Antal Kagerbauer from Kolozsvár. The façade of the neoclassical building has been preserved in its original style, with rustic plasterwork and a row of internal arcades. The building once displayed the painted coats of arms of the seven free royal cities, which were later transferred to the History Museum. In 1991, the Town Hall was moved to the former County Hall, designed by Ignác Alpár.
In the second half of the 19th century, several buildings on the Main Square were given a new, historicised look, among which the former Savings and Credit Bank and the Palace of the Industrial Association, built in 1883, according to the design of Frigyes Maetz, are very important.
The Central Hotel stands on the corner of the square and Magyar Street. The predecessor of the building was a tavern with the signboard “Fiskus” in the reform era, a name so ingrained in the minds of the locals that even at the end of the century the corner was still referred to as the Fiskus corner. In 1869, a thirty-one-room, one-storey building already stood on the corner, which Ferenc Plihál leased in 1872 and opened the Pannonia Hotel. As the building was owned by the Catholic Status, they rebuilt the building, making the façade eclectic, adding a tower over the corner and a balcony above the gate and another one to the north on the first floor. The exterior of the house is still similar today, except that in the 1950s an arcaded passage was opened for pedestrian access. The building was given to Gábor Nagy by the Catholics, who in 1891 turned it into the most modern hotel in the city, the famous Központi (Central) Hotel. One of the most distinguished guests of the hotel was Archbishop József Samassa of Eger in September 1895, but writer Mór Jókai also stayed here with his young wife.
The other important hotel on the square was the New York Hotel, built in 1895 on the south-west corner, designed by Lajos Pákei. The hotel soon became the venue for the most prestigious parties and balls of the city, as the ground floor was home to the stateliest literary café of Kolozsvár, the New York Café. During the First World War, the hotel had prominent guests including poet Endre Ady, whose difficult nature almost led the poetry giant into a duel. Ady arrived in an extremely agitated state of mind and his tension was not without reason. The possibility of an invasion frightened him so much that he only calmed down when Csinszka arranged for his release from military service at the garrison in Kolozsvár. On hearing this news, the poet started a spree, and it was then that he came into conflict with the 'intellectuals of Kolozsvár', but that is another story.
Statue of Matthias instead of obelisk
In the second half of the 19th century, Kolozsvár wanted to pay a proper tribute to the growing cult of King Matthias. Firstly, by restoring the house where Matthias was born - the renovation of the building, which was in a rather poor state, had been delayed for years. Secondly, the city wanted to erect a statue to commemorate the famous native of Kolozsvár. However, there was already a monument on the square, the Státua, commemorating the visit of Emperor Francis I and his wife to Kolozsvár in 1831. Joseph Klieber, a prominent figure of Viennese classicist sculpture, carved the reliefs of the obelisk, which rises on a plinth, the portrait of the imperial couple, the scene of their arrival in the city and the city coat of arms. The need to relocate the monument arose when the statue of Matthias was planned, so it was moved to the Small Market, later Karolina Square, and much later Museum Square, in front of the Franciscan Church.
The first step of the actual initiative took place in 1882; the flag bearer of the cause was a Unitarian secondary school teacher, Lajos Nagy. It was on his motion that the town council adopted a resolution to erect a memorial statue in honour of Matthias on the "most suitable public square" of the town. All the good intentions were there, but the only thing missing was money. The situation improved spectacularly when a second statue committee was formed in 1888, and with a larger sum of money at their disposal, they finally launched a call for tender. The winning work was clearly that of János Fadrusz, who was waiting for the jury's decision in Kolozsvár. Although the original idea was for the statue to be completed in the year of the millennium, Fadrusz was still working on the monument to Maria Theresa in Pozsony at the time. The sculptor's design was much grander, and he convinced the committee that twice the size of the figures, rather than one and a half, would be more effective in the vast square, however he needed more time to complete it. Thus, on 30 September 1896, only the foundation stone of the monument could be laid. Fadrusz modelled the figures of the statue in his studio in Budapest and cast them in bronze at the foundry in Újpest. The statues arrived in Kolozsvár on 15 August 1902 in four railway carriages.
The group of statues was unveiled on 12 October 1902. The equestrian statue of the king triumphing over the enemy troops at the centre was set on a pedestal reminiscent of a high bastion. The removal or relocation of the statue of Matthias was much on the agenda, and unfortunately was even mooted in the early 1990s. The fact that a quote from the historian Nicolae Iorga was inscribed on the pedestal in 1932 helped to calm the mood somewhat. It well illustrates the controversy surrounding the statue that the quote has since been reinstated on the statue on two further occasions. A similarly troubled fate has befallen the coat of arms of Matthias, which seems to have been removed from the pedestal for good. However, it can be seen as a positive gesture that the extensive renovation of the statue was carried out with the joint support of the Hungarian and Romanian states between 2008 and 2011.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Gaal György - Vincze Zoltán: Kalauz a régi és az új Kolozsvárhoz, Korunk, Kolozsvár, 1992.