Located in northwestern Romania, only minutes away from the border with Hungary, Satu Mare spans over 150 square kilometers and has a population of about 109,000 inhabitants. As the capital city of Satu Mare County, the city is a cultural, academic, and industrial center of the region.
The history of Satu Mare goes back to the early Middle Ages, being mentioned for the first time in 1181, under the name of "Castrum Zotmar" in the Gesta Hungarorum or The Deeds of the Hungarians, the first Hungarian chronicle. However, some archaeological findings show that the area was inhabited even during the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. What is now one city, Satu Mare, started out as two neighboring towns facing each other from the two sides of the Somes river, Satmar and Mintiu. The former was known in the 13th century as the residence of the Hungarian king Stephan V, while the latter was mentioned in documents from around the same time as a German settlement. The two cities were destroyed during the Mongol invasion of 1703, but they were rebuilt and united into one city in 1712, under the Hungarian name of Szatmar-Nemeti. After changing hands between Hungary and Romania several times between the two world wars, the city of Satu Mare became part of Romania definitively in 1945.
Strategically located on the intersection of commercial roads, Satu Mare developed as an important rail hub starting with the 19th century. Also, thanks to its closeness to the borders with Hungary and Ukraine, Satu Mare is a prime location for industrial and logistical parks.
The Administrative Palace
The tallest building in Transylvania and the fourth tallest in the country, at 97 meters. The construction of the building started in 1972 at the order of the Communist Party and was finalized in 1984, in the brutalist architectural style. The building features three smaller towers, representing the three main nationalities living in Satu Mare – Romanians, Hungarians and Germans – and a main tower representing the bond between them.
The Chains Church
One of the oldest churches in Satu Mare, serving the Reformed community, and located in the historical center of the city. The bell of the church was cast in 1633 and it’s the oldest in Satu Mare. Built between 1793 and 1802, the Chains Church takes its nickname from the pillar-mounted forged chains that surround it.
The Firemen’s Tower
The 47-meter-tall tower was built in 1904 based on the designs of architect Ferencz Dittler. At the base, the structure is rectangular, but after the first ten meters it turns into a cylinder that is capped by an observation platform. As the name implies, the tower was used as a spotting point by Satu Mare’s fire squad. Visitors can enter the building and climb the tower for a spectacular view of the city.
The Great Synagogue
Erected in the Moorish architectural style at the end of the 19th century. Located on Decebal Street, the synagogue is often used as a concert hall, after being closed for several years for restoration.
The Oas Land
Roughly 50 kilometers north-east from Satu Mare, Tara Oasului (Oas Land) is a celebrated traditional and historical region of Romania. If you visit the area, don’t miss the Huta Pass, the Wooden Church from Lechinta, and the open-air Museum of Oas Land.
Carei Dendrological Park
Located in the heart of Carei, a small city 35 kilometers away from Satu Mare. The dendrological park spans over more than 10 hectares, surrounding the Karolyi Castle. An officially protected area since 1982, the park is a big attraction for nature lover thanks to the multiple rare tree species that can be seen on its premises.
The Garden of Rome Park
Initially called Kossuth Kert, the main park in Satu Mare is located nearby the train station. It was designed by Hamburg-born landscapist Johann Hein, the creator of over 300 parks and gardens. The actual form of the park is very different from the original, but it’s still a wonderful place to spend a few hours in, especially during a hot summer day.
The Central Park
A green oasis in the center of Satu Mare, the Park has a lovely fountain with colored water. It’s the perfect place to catch your breath after a stroll around Satu Mare’s historical center.
The Museum of Arts
Housed in a 19th century Neo-Gothic building, the museum displays the works of 20th century Romanian plastic artists. A permanent exhibition displaying the works of local painter Aurel Popp has been open here since 1969.
The Roman-Catholic Cathedral
The construction of the cathedral as we know it today started at the beginning of the 19th century. This majestic cathedral integrates part of an older baroque-style church. Take a step inside for a quiet pause from the bustle of the city.
In the area
The story of the Karolyi Castle began in the 15th century, when the noble family that gave its name to the castle moved to Carei. The building was initially designed as a defensive fortress, and nobleman Karolyi Antal turned it into a castle for his family. In the interwar period, a part of the castle was used as a sanatorium, while a casino functioned in the other. Since the communist period, the castle houses an art museum.
The Merry Cemetery of Sapanta
Located in the village of Sapanta, in nearby Maramures County, the cemetery is known around the world for its colorful tombstones and the funny epitaphs that describe the life of the deceased. The cemetery is now an open-air museum, visited by tourists from all over the world who want to see this rather unusual, but definitely interesting place of eternal rest.
The Wooden Churches of Maramures
Located in Maramures, very close to Satu Mare, a group of about one hundred wood-built churches stand as testimony to the ancestral traditions and strong beliefs of the area’s inhabitants. The exquisitely-built churches date from different periods ranging from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Eight of them are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites – among them the churches in Rogoz, Budesti, and Barsana are particularly highly regarded by art historians.
How to get there
Satu Mare is easily accessible by car, bus, train or airplane. There is a direct train line connecting Satu Mare with Bucharest, but also with Budapest. The Satu Mare International Airport is located 13 kilometers south of the city, and has one of the longest concrete runways in the country.