The Romanian City That Enlightened Europe

Forget about Paris and London – the Romanian city of Timișoara paved the way for Europe’s transition to electrical street lighting. Discover the story behind the original City of Lights.

Night lantern illumination in Timisoara, Romania. An antique street lamp in the style of the vintage.
Night lantern illumination in Timisoara, Romania. An antique street lamp in the style of the vintage lamps that were the first electrical street lamps in all of Europe. Photo: HEREA COSMIN / Alamy Stock Photo / Be&W

The beautiful city of Timișoara has a history of being the first – the first to use a tram, the first to be liberated from communism, the first to have a waterway, and the list goes on and on. Nonetheless, probably the most influential ‘first’ held by Timișoara is the title of Europe’s first (and world’s second, after New York) city illuminated by electrical lights. For the Big Apple, it was Thomas Edison’s idea that lit up the town. Timișoara’s important step was motivated by something more pragmatic and urgent.  

It was 1882 when Timisoara would come face to face with one of the most complex situations in its history. The sole gas provider in the city decided to raise the price of its services, which proved fatal for the local authorities. Unable to buy new gas pipelines, nor afford the services, the people in charge found themselves powerless (literally) as they watched the possibility of their city being deprived of lights unfold.

Necessity is the mother of invention

These days, it’s enough for one street lamp to stop working for a street to encounter electricity problems, and people start to panic and take measures. Therefore, the authorities’ concern was legitimized, as an entire city was to be left in the dark – but it was not. Luckily for everyone, a Vienna-based company came forward with the proposal of building an electric powerhouse that would solve the problem. It took two years, but in 1884, on November 12th, the very first electrical lamps in Europe were turned on.

Beautiful red sunset in aerial view from Timisoara taken by a professional drone - Timisoara Orthodox Cathedral, Bega and Central Park
Beautiful red sunset in an aerial view from Timisoara taken by a drone showing the Timisoara Orthodox Cathedral, Bega, and Central Park. Photo: Mariana Ianovska / Alamy Stock Photo / Be&W

A total of 731 lamps, covering a distance of 59 kilometers, were switched on, and suddenly, everything that was in the dark was brought to light. It was a step that changed not only the life of the locals but one that influenced cities alike to make the switch. Shortly after, cities all over Romania and Europe followed suit. The story of how Romania was the first country in Europe and the second in the World to introduce electrical streetlights came as a response to one of the biggest crises the city of Timișoara ever faced.

Setting an example for all of Europe to follow

Not only did they resolve the issue, but they managed to set a world record while doing so. The town went from being mired in a desperate situation to being a trendsetter – turning what could have been a devastating situation into a worldwide example. And thus, the city of Timișoara lit the way for Europe towards electrical lighting.

A first is forever a first, and the Timișoaran people, as well as Romanians everywhere, are incredibly proud of this achievement. To publicly commemorate the bright year of 1884, a vast streetlamp was installed in the city. And when we say huge, we mean it. The monument weighs over a ton and is over 6 meters tall. Even the bulb inside is gigantic – measuring half a meter!

The lamp is located in the 700 Market, and on each side of the light, there is an inscription stating the achievement, written in four different languages. The streetlamp is fully functioning and serves not just as a streetlamp but as a reminder that, among the 44 countries in Europe, Romania was the first to revolutionize the public lighting industry.

Naomi Gherman

Master student in Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations at Babeș-Bolyai University, eager to share more about our world's most fascinating stories and people. Romania-based reader, writer and content creator with a strong interest in journalism, foreign languages and politics.

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