Mediafax is the biggest media company in Romania headquartered in Bucharest and founded in 1991. The one who asked us for this interview was the Mediafax correspondent in Arad, Marian Buga.
They’re all young, some of them still studying and some of them not even living in Arad, but they are all kept together by the same passion: the history and the architecture of the city. A group of students started a project which wants to create a momentum in the Arad’s tourism by giving free tours, inspired by a European concept.
Free Tours is a concept started in Berlin in 2004, which later expanded in other major cities from all around the world. In 2012, the initiative to set up such a group of volunteering guides appeared also in Arad, when a bunch of young people decided to try and impress the tourists with the beauty of their city.
One of the founders of this project is Eugen Rogojan, which is 16 years old and studies philology in Highschool.
Even if he doesn’t live in Arad, but in Santana, a town located at 30 kilometers away from the city, Eugen is ready to answer the questions asked by a tourist, because the history and the architecture of the county capital city are two of his biggest passions. Those two determined him to start with Mario Csipai the project called Arad Free Tours.
The Arad Free Tours volunteers want to put the city on the touristic map of the country.
After Eugen and Mario started the project, a few more people joined them, so that right now, the Arad Free Tours team is made out from ten young people, all speaking foreign languages. Some of them aren’t even from Romania, but they’re all linked somehow to Arad.
The Idea of the Arad Free Tours project was developed by Mario, who mainly coordinates everything. He travels a lot, that’s how he found out more about this concept and after a while he started believing that it would fit very well also here in Arad. We want to put the city on the touristic map of the region and of the country, because even if Arad has a great history and a very beautiful architecture, it’s not developed in the touristic branch says Eugen.
He and the other people from the team are doing everything as volunteers and are promoting their activity on their own site where tourists can also book tours of the city.
Usually the ones who ask them for tours are big groups of people visiting the city. Some of them are tourists from all over the world and some of them are school teachers with groups of students.
We had tours with people coming to private companies here in Arad, but we also had tours with people who came to state institutions. We’re having a really nice collaboration with the School Inspectorate which asked us a few times to have some walks around the city with teachers from different countries visiting Arad added Eugen.
The volunteers are looking for other people to join them and at the ending of a recent recruitment campaign, 15 people wanted to get into the team. They will all be taught about the history of the town and how to act with the tourists by the guides who already have experience.
The founders of the project are saying that they usually don’t ask tourists for donations, but some of them are still rewarding them. They say they accept small donations which are later used for promoting their activity, having costs including site maintenance, printing brochures and other things helping them to improve what they do for the tourists.
Recently, Eugen had a tour with a group of Greeks who were in Arad for the first time.
He impressed them by telling the story of the Jewish Synagogue from the Tribunul Dobra Street: There’s a very interesting story about that building. In the Second World War, it was marked on the roof with a cross, so they won’t bomb it from the planes. That means the building was a safe place, and that’s why all the schools from Arad took their students in this building and held classes in safety.
It’s a very nice building and it makes me somehow proud that the Greeks had an influence on the architecture in this part of Europe says one of the Greek tourists.
Among the Arad Free Tours volunteers is also a 32 years old Polish lady, Agnieszka Doyniak, who comes from a small town, Mogilno, located 80 kilometers away from Poznan. She is a financial controller and moved into Arad five years ago. The first contact with this city made her feel that this is the place where she might live from now on.
I’ve discovered a city with old buildings, very different from what I saw in Poland. This is the main reason I joined the volunteering guides team. I can’t repair any historical building, but at last I can show other people that they still exist and they have great stories says Agnieszka.
She tells tourists not only about the history of the city, but also about the people living here.
The people are representing the city and they have to be an advantage. When I came from Poland, I was just like a tourist, everything was new, but I found that the people are very nice and helpful with everybody. I think that’s the opinion of every tourist when they leave the city added she.
The volunteers, the only touristic guides in Arad, use historical arguments to promote the city
Even if they’re volunteers and amateurs, the members of the Arad Free Tours team are the only touristic guides in Arad, a city which wants to become a European Cultural Citadel in 2021.
This thing gives us a lot more responsibility, it makes us want to be well prepared says Ioan Mihai Gale, a 24 years old student, part of the team.
Every time he makes tours around the city, Mihai tells the tourists about the city’s development from the beginning of the 22ns century.
I try to make a thing better known: that Arad was the best city in a lot of domains. We had the first Theatre in the country, we had the first pedagogical school in Transylvania, we had the first car factory in the country, but I also tell them that in 2028, we will have one thousand years of history. I love telling the tourists about the famous people who were born in the county, about Ioan Slavici, Vasile Goldis and many others. I tell them every time that Franz Kafka had relatives in Arad and that he took walks around the city when he was visiting says Mihai.
The route which they take around the city is about 4 kilometers long and covers the architectural center of the city, the historical center and sometimes the more modern part of the city. So, the tours can last from 1,5 up to 4 hours, and the tourists hear stories and take pictures of sights like the Administrative Palace, the Cultural Palace, the Saint Anthony of Padua Church or the State Theatre.
There’s also a disappointment for the tourists: they don’t have access to the Arad Fortress, because it’s used as a military base. Everyone is very curious about that place and we try to explain them that even if it’s the emblem of our city, the fortress, the citadel isn’t opened to the public and we can only hope that it will be demilitarized in the following years Mihai adds.
At the end of the tours, the guides are asking their guests what’s the opinion they made about the city. Most of them see the similarity with the architecture in Vienna. Then they tell them that the city was also known as the small Vienna, a name claimed also by Timisoara. To bring the historical argument in favor of Arad, they quote Mihai Eminescu and Nicolae Iorga who after their visits in this city called it a small Vienna.
The historian Dan Demsea says that the project is coming in the twelfth hour (late, but not too late):
It’s sad that the local government isn’t interested in this kind of touristic advertising, and now the task spades on the shoulders of those volunteers who motivated by the love for the city, are doing a great job.
Original article translated by Eugen Rogojan.