Zalău is the seat of Sălaj County, Romania. In 2004, its estimated population was 62,900.
Zalău lies in the Zalău Valley, at the junction of the Apuseni mountains and the Eastern Carpathians, in Sălaj County. Zalău is in the central part of Sălaj County, in Zalău River watershed where the depression of the same name and the Meseş Peak meet.
It neighbours Ţara Maramureşului and the county of Satu Mare, in the northwestern part of the historical region of Transylvania, Romania. It lies along the bank of the small river Zalău, between three narrow valleys in the Meseş mountains. It is the county seat and the largest city in Sălaj County.
With a total surface of 90.09 square km the administrative territory of the county capital includes the locality Stâna situated at south-east from Meseş, in the hydrographic basin of Agrij.
Zalău is 8 km away from the Roman Castrum of Porolissum historical landmark, a well preserved city with an imposing fortress, an amphitheater, temples, houses and a customs house in the ancient Roman province of Dacia. In medieval times, Zalău was the crossing point between central Europe and Transylvania, along the so-called Salt Route. It became a Principality of Transylvania between 1526-1660. It was also managed by Ottomans between 1660-1692.
The first written confirmation of the existence of the inhabitants is to be found in "Gesta Hungarorum" written by Anonymous. Later, in 1220 Zalău is referred to as Villa Ziloc, Zylac in 1246, Zylah in 1282, Zyloh and opidum Zylah in 1318, Zilain in 1601, Zilahu in 1808, Szilaj-Szilagy in 1839, Szilaju in 1850, and Zilah-Walthenberg-Zalău in 1854. After the Mongolian invasion and the burning of the city in 1241, in the year 1246 Zalău belonged from an administrative point of view to the catholic episcopacy from Oradea and remained like this until 1542 when it becomes part of the Transylvanian Principality. It is important to mention a few significant dates in the history of Zalău that influenced the economical development of the city.
This way in 1473, on the 1st of August, Matthias Corvinus, the King of Hungary and Bohemia, certified Zalău as a town, "Oppidum Zilah", granting the inhabitants of Zalău the privilege of the economic independence, in a period of time when the will of the nobles and the kings was the only criterion to share justice and to rule the state.
Another important date in the development of the locality is 1571, under the reign of prince István Báthory, 1600 under the reign of Mihai Viteazul, and after the annexation of Transylvania to the Habsburg Empire the city goes through an economical decline based on the infusion of western products.
Before the Treaty of Trianon, Zalău was one of the most important urban centers in the region. It had a Reformed, a college (Wesselényi college), a township school for civil service (for boys only), and a national civil school (for girls only). It had the largest hospital in the region and a tax revenue office.
In 1850, its population was 4,294 and, in 1910—8,062 (7,477 Hungarians, 19 Germans, 529 Romanians and 23 belonging to other ethnic groups). By religion, there were 1,333 Roman Catholics, 873 Greek-Catholics, 5,363 members of the Reformed Church, and 415 Jews. The city had 1,427 households, and most of its inhabitants were working in manufacturing. The Reformed church was built in 1246. It is one of the city's oldest buildings and one of the largest in Eastern Europe. In 1711, Charles XII of Sweden rested one night on Király street (now named after Corneliu Coposu).
Between 1892-1896, one of the most famous Hungarian poets Endre Ady attended the Protestant school in Zalău. Since 1957, in the front of the school, there is a statue of Endre Ady. In the newsper "Szilágy" from Zalău, Endre Ady published his first poem on March 22, 1896.
The city of Zalău has always been the capital of a county, and in 1876, Zalău became the seat city of the Sălaj County (Hungarian: Szilágy county). Then, Sălaj County was part of Hungary and from 1918 is part of Romania. Since 1979 Zalău has been in the position of a municipality.
It was after 1960s when the city became a regional industrial center for the first time. Industrial corporations like Armatura Zalău, Silcotub Zalău and Silvania Michelin Zalău hired thousands of workers, which also sparked an increase in population.
In the 1970s with the state expanded housing and high-rise blocks of flats were built on the outskirts of the city.
Zalău is connected to European road E81 and the national road DN 1F. A new motorway is being built to connect Zalău to Western Europe. The town has two nationally accredited University colleges, a public library, a museum, an art gallery, three hotels, a motel, and two student halls of residence.
The most important of the 24 monuments and buildings in the county capital of Zalău are: "Transilvania" (theatre in 1895), the city hall (court and seat of the prefects office in 1889), the Roman Catholic church (1878), the reformed church (1904-1907), the Greek Catholic church "Adormirea Maicii Domnului" (1930-1934), the orthodox deanery (built in late 19th century), the Historical Museum (built about 1900 - casino of the artisans fellowship), the primary school "Simion Bărnuţiu" (girls` school in 1895) and the mathematics-physics high school (reformed college in 1860), all these being valuable urbanistic elements for the historical and cultural patrimony of the land. The famous statuary group "Wesselenyi" (1902) by János Fadrusz and the bust made in the honour of Simion Bărnuţiu by Romul Ladea is worth visiting as well.
Zalău hosts lively pageants each year, including a summer festival known as the "Zalău Days". There is a statue of Baron Wesselényi in the town center; the Tuhutum memorial (both made by János Fadrusz in 1902); the Zalău County Museum of History and Art displays artifacts ranging from neolithic times to modern times, with a focus on the Roman period and hosts works of modern art. There are several churches, including the Calvinist cathedral, which is one of the largest in Transylvania.