Oradea is the capital city of Bihor County, in Transylvania Romania. The city proper has a population of 204,477 as of the 2009 census; Oradea metropolitan area, which includes the whole urban area, has a population of 245,832.
The city lies at the meeting point of the Crişana plain and the Crişul Repede's basin. It is situated 126 meters above sea-level, surrounded on the north-eastern part by the hills of Oradea belonging to the Ses hills. The main part of the settlement is situated on the floodplain and on the terraces situated down the river Crişul Repede. Oradea is famous for its thermal springs. The river Crişul Repede crosses the city right in the centre, providing it with a picturesque beauty. Its output depends on the season; the water containers (the dyke near Tileagd) have partly controlled it ever since they were built in the early 1980s.
Oradea dates back to a small 10th century castle, while its bishopric was founded during the 11th century by King Ladislaus I of Hungary. The first documented mention of its name was in 1113 under the Latin name Varadinum. The city flourished during the 13th century. The Citadel of Oradea, the ruins of which remain today, was first mentioned in 1241 during the Mongol invasion. The 14th century was one of the most prosperous periods in the city's life. Statues of St. Stephen, Emeric and Ladislaus (before 1372) and the equestrian sculpture of St. Ladislaus (1390) were erected in Oradea. St. Ladislaus' fabled statue was the first proto-renaissance public square equestrian in Europe. Bishop Andreas Báthori (1329–1345) rebuilt the cathedral in Gothic style. From that epoch dates also the Hermes, now preserved at Györ, which contains the skull of King Ladislaus, and which is a masterpiece of the Hungarian goldsmith's art.
Georg von Peuerbach worked at the Observatory of Varadinum, using it as the reference or prime meridian of Earth in his Tabula Varadiensis, published posthumously in 1464.
In 1474 the city was devastated by the Turks. It was not until the 16th century that Oradea started growing as an urban area. The Peace of Várad was concluded between Ferdinand I and János Szapolyai here on February 4, 1538, in which they mutually recognized each other to be king. In the 18th century, the Viennese engineer Franz Anton Hillebrandt planned the city in Baroque style and, starting from 1752, many landmarks were constructed such as the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace, presently the Muzeul Ţării Crişurilor ("The Museum of the Crişland").
After the Ottoman invasion of Hungary in the 16th century, the city was administered at various times by the Principality of Transylvania, the Ottoman Empire, and the Habsburg Monarchy. In 1598, the fortress was besiged and, on August 27, 1660, Oradea fell to the Turks and became the capital of Varat Province. This eyalet had Varat (Oradea), Salanta, Debreçin (formerly part of Budin and Eğri Eyalets), Halmaş, Sengevi and Yapışmaz sanjaks. The city was seized by the Austrians in September 1692. The Hungarian Revolution of 1848 played an important role in the city's history. It was having the biggest Hungarian arms factory as long as Debrecen was being the temporary seat of the Hungarian government.
In the second half of the 19th century literary nicknames for the town included "Hungarian Compostela", "Felix civitas", "Paris on the River Pece", "the City of Tomorrow", "Athens on the Körös", and "the City of Yesterday". These nicknames are not widely used today, although "Paris on the River Pece" is still utilised sometimes.
As a consequence of Hungary's role in World War I, the Treaty of Trianon awarded large parts of Eastern Hungary, including Oradea and Transylvania, to the Kingdom of Romania without plebiscite for the area's huge Hungarian majority. Under the Second Vienna Award brokered by Hitler and Mussolini in 1940, Hungary reoccupied North Transylvania, including Oradea, but had to relinquish claims to it under the Treaty of Paris concluded on February 10, 1947.
In 1925 the status of municipality was given to Oradea dissolving its former civic autonomy. Under the same ordinance its name was changed from Oradea Mare ("Great" Oradea) to plain Oradea.
Ethnic tensions sometimes ran high in the area in the past but the different ethnic groups now generally live together in harmony, thriving on each other's contributions to modern culture. There are many mixed (Romanian-Hungarian) families in Oradea, with children assimilating into both of their parents' cultures and learning to speak both languages.
After December 1989, Oradea aims to prosperity and wealth specific to towns with European tradition. Both culture and economy, the perspectives of Oradea are inevitably related to the general aspiration of the Romanian society to freedom, democracy and free market economy with varied initiatives in all fields of activity. Due to its specific character, Oradea is one of the most important economic and cultural centers of Western Romania and of the country in general, and one of the great academic centers with a special development dynamics.
Oradea has long been one of the more prosperous cities in Romania, due mainly to its location on the Hungarian border, making it a gateway towards Western Europe. The GDP per capita of Oradea is approximately 150% of the Romanian average. After 1989, due to its important base of consumers, Oradea enjoyed an economic renewal, not so much in industry but rather in the services sector.
Despite this, a survey by Capital Magazine named Oradea as the least dynamic city in Romania with a population over 150,000, falling behind Cluj-Napoca, Aradand Timişoara. In particular, the city was criticised for high taxes, poor infrastructure and a lack of a clear development strategy.
Oradea has an unemployment rate of 6.0%, slightly lower than the Romanian average but much higher than Bihor County's average of around 2%. Oradea currently produces around 63% of the industrial production of Bihor County while accounting for around 34.5% of the population of the county. Its main industries are furniture, textiles and clothing, footwear and food.
Oradea's architecture is a mix between Communist-era buildings, mainly in the outer quarters, and beautiful historical buildings that are remnants of the era when the city was part of Austria-Hungary. In addition to many Baroque buildings, Oradea is remarkable for its particularly rich collection of Art Nouveau architecture.
During the Communist period and in the first years of Romania's post-Communist transition, many of the historical buildings became derelict or were deteriorating. After 2002, when Romania entered into an economic boom, many historical buildings in the city were restored to their previous state and currently the city gives off a very historic and well-maintained feel.
The beautiful city centre is worth visiting, as are the Băile Felix health spas, accessible by bus and located outside the city.
Other sites worth visiting are:
- Baroque Palace of Oradea – today Muzeul Ţării Crişurilor, a wonderful Baroque museum with 365 famous windows. It was the Roman Catholic bishop's palace until 1945, when the Communist regime took the building into public ownership. It was returned to the Roman Catholic Church in 2003. Its collection includes many fossils of dinosaurs and birds from the bauxite mines at Cornet-Brusturi.
- Catedrala barocă – the biggest Baroque cathedral in Romania,
- Cetatea Oradea - Oradea's Fortress, with a pentagonal fort,
- Biserica cu Lună – a church unique in Europe, with a type of astronomical clock depicting the phases of the moon,
- Pasajul Vulturul Negru – the "Black Eagle" Passage,
- Ady Endre Museum - a museum dedicated to one of the greatest Hungarian poets,
- Teatrul de Stat – the State Theatre, plans for which were designed by two Austrian architects who had built around 100 theatres and opera houses in Europe by the end of the 19th century,
- Str. Republicii – one of the most beautiful streets of Transylvania, displaying an incredible number of Art Nouveau buildings (under restoration in 2006),
- There are around 100 religious sites of different denominations in Oradea, including three synagogues (however, only one is said to be still in use) and the biggest Baptist church in Eastern Europe.