The most representative building in the municipality on the banks of the river Săsar is the bell tower of Saint Ştefans’s church, situated on Crişan and 1 Mai streets, close to Piaţa Libertăţii (Liberty Square) and Piaţa Centrală (Circulus fori) in the old town.
The first documentary attestation of a catholic church located here dates from 1347, but it was officially inaugurated only in 1387. The tower, built of massive stone was raised in the honour of Prince Iancu de Hunedoara in order to mark the victory against the Ottomans at Ialomiţa (1442). The construction of the tower had begun in 1446, but it was finished only in 1468, under the reign of Matei Corvin.
Being several times damaged by lightning and fires, the two buildings had suffered many capital repairs but, in 1763, only the tower was rebuilt. This is when the lookout was built on its top.
The entrance to the tower is through the southern door. A spiral stone staircase leads up to the first floor. From there the access is by climbing the wooden stairs. The height of the building is about 50 meters, and from the lookout one can enjoy an interesting panorama of the whole town.
According to those who had seen it, there are many similarities of this old tower from Baia Mare and the tower of the old City Hall in Prague. Others compare it to the Fire Watch Tower in Bucharest, but in this latter case the similarity consists only in their function: to watch over the city and prevent fires. In Moldova, at Piatra Neamţ, there is a building bearing the name of “Turnul lui Ştefan cel Mare” (The tower of Stephen the Great). But in that case it is a bell tower (of St. Ioan church), which had belonged to the Princely Court; it was raised in 1491, during the reign of Ştefan cel Mare (1457-1504).
Returning to “Turnul lui Ştefan” from Baia Mare, we should add that the old mechanical clock from the 17th century has been replaced by an electronic one.
A more recent action for the rehabilitation of the building and the consolidation of its walls started in 2007, the costs of the repairs being supported by the Ministry of Culture.
The great edifice is not only an important historical objective; it became a cultural landmark at the beginning of the ‘90s, when (an initiative of actor Paul Antoniu) the tower was the place from where poems were recited periodically, a manifestation they called “Poetry from the Tower”.
Members of the Baia Mare painting school as well as other well-known artists have been fascinated by the silhouette of this old tower with a clock and a veranda on its upper part, and immortalised it from different angles in memorable works of art.
The Historical Centre of Sighetu Marmaţiei
Former residence of the voievodes of Maramures, prefectural capital, Sighet was built around a fortified settlement, dating from the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age. It is considered to have been the centre of a group of settlements situated on the Tisa river valley, at its confluence with Iza, and it is connected with the exploitation of the salt mines from the zone of Maramures. Till the 14th century it had served only “as a gathering place and for fairs”. Its first documentary attestation dates from 1346, being recorded as Zyget. Nevertheless, in many documents it appears as “Marmaţia”.
The majority of the buildings had been built before the first decades of the 20th century, to serve as seats of the administrative institutions of the regional prefecture.
The building of the former prefecture of the historical Maramures was raised in the year 1690-91. The architecture is a combination of baroque and eclectic elements. After the Sighet prefecture had been dissolved in 1948, the edifice became the seat of an industrial secondary school. Later on, due to a restoration project, both the structure of the building and its destination were changed, and it has become a commercial complex.
The Museum of Maramures occupies another building from the historical centre of Sighet. Initially it had been a catholic convent (dated 1730-1775) and it had also housed a piarist school. The baroque style is evident.
Thehouse with caryatides was built in an eclectic style in 1890. At present, on its ground floor, there is one of the Sighet bookshops.
The building which at its first destination had been the Comitatens Tribunal (1893-1895), during World War II was used as a hospital. Since 1948, it has become the seat of the municipal town-hall. Its architectural style has Renaissance and Classical elements. The entrance gate is protected by a balcony supported by four Doric columns continued each in a stone urn.
The building of No. 2SecondarySchool (1902) “is one of the purest secession style houses in Sighet. It has a remarkable attic with crenelations and the floral decorations are made of green burnt ceramic.”
Situated at the crossing of the Iuliu Maniu and Mihai Viteazul streets, the former seat of the National Bank of Romania (1911) has an extremely original 45° angle belevelling of the corner. The carved entrance door, the forged iron fence closing in the yard, and also the numerous decorations (garlands, volutes), all these make of it one of the most beautiful buildings in the town.
The ASTRA Cultural Palace was built in 1913, at the initiative of the Association for the Culture of the Romanian People from Maramures. There was a restaurant on the ground floor, on the fist floor – a casino and on the second floor – the seat of the Museum. At present, it is a real culture palace with the Culture House, the People’s Art School and the “Laurenţiu Ulici” Library housed in it.
The centre of Sighet is a valuable architectural reserve, specific to the capital of Transylvania in the 19th century. Behind nowadays dusty facades one can easily guess the splendour and brilliance of the past. It had never been a cosmopolitan borough, but, until the second half of the 20th century, Sighet was the only urban locality in the historical Maramures, and this is the reason why, even later, the peasants from the riverside villages used to call it simply “Oraş” (Town).