Târgu Jiu is primarily known as the home of the internationally famed modernist sculptures of Constantin Brâncusi (1876-1957). It’s also generated its fair share of unrest; frequent strikes in the Jiu Valley mining region from the 1980s onwards brought Romania’s industrial activity to a standstill, forcing the Communist government to give in to the miners’ militant demands. The miners’ siege on Bucharest in 1990 ended in bloodshed and second riot in 1991 directly contributed to the fall of Romania’s first post-Ceausescu government.
Again in 1999, 10,000 striking miners bulldozed through police barricades on their way to Bucharest, protesting layoffs and low wages. After a 17-day strike, the government settled on a deal for pay raises and the reopening of pits that had been closed since 1998. In true Ceausescu spirit, the government changed their minds six days later, and then had the nerve to act surprised when violent protests began anew. Eventually they grabbed protest leader Miron Cozma and sentenced him to 18 years in prison over for his role in the 1991 protests in an effort to show the International Monetary Fund that the government was serious about plans to close hundreds of coal mines and loss-making factories, in order to pay off Romania’s US$3 billion foreign debt.
Several notable people sat it out in Târgu Jiu prison during WWII including communist party leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, Nicolae Ceausescu, who was then secretary-general of the Union of the Communist Youth, and Ion Iliescu, the joker that replaced Ceausescu as president in 1990.
Four of Constantin Brâncusi’s sculptures are on display in Târgu Jiu. (Click here to see a video of these sculptures, with French commentary.) Central Park has three of the four sculptures (1937-38) that Brâncusi built in memory of those who died during WWI. His Gate of the Kiss (Poarta Sarutului), situated at the park entrance, is an archway built in commemoration of the reunification of Romania, decorated with folk art motifs from Brâncusi’s native Oltenia. Continuing along the park’s central mall, you come upon the Alley of Chairs (Aleea Scaunelor); dwarf-sized stone stools grouped in trios on either side of the avenue. Finally, the alley leads to the third sculpture, the riverside Table of Silence (Masa Tacerii). Each of the 12 stools around the large, round, stone table represents a month of the year.
Brâncusi’s most famous sculpture, the Endless Column (Coloana Fara Sfârsit), was bestowed on the town in 1937. Strangely, it sits alone and forlorn, 2km east of Central Park on the far end of Calea Eroilor. The 29.35m-tall structure is threaded with 15 steel beads and is seen as a triumph of engineering on top of being an inspired piece of modern art. According to New York-based World Monuments Fund it ranks as one of the planet’s top 100 works. The column was restored in 2000 for a mere four million euros (it must have been in terrible shape).
Finally, wander over to the front end of the Elvira Godeanu Drama Theatre, where you’ll find a statue of Brâncusi, armed with his sculpting chisel.
If you’ve got any Brâncusi interest left in the tank, Târgu Jiu’s small Art Museum (Muzeul de Arta) has a photographic exhibition on his life and works.