Romania’s abandoned mining valley to be a cultural centre

Jiu Valley consisted of six mining towns and surrounding villages.
Jiu Valley consisted of six mining towns and surrounding villages. Image: Costel Munteanu Wikimedia CC BY SA 3.0

Planet Petrila, a project initiated by an acclaimed cartoonist, Ion Barbu aims to bring life to the abandoned coal belt in the Jiu Valley through art and culture.

“Planet Petrila is a place where an economic activity dies and another activity, of cultural nature, but which can also produce economic results, is coming to life,” Barbu told BIRN at his home in Petrila, where he was born and has created an unlikely hub for Romanian and international artists.

A topographer for 15 years at the now-defunct Petrila mine, he aspires to attract culture lovers to the town, which would bring much-needed lifestyle and economic benefits to the Jiu Valley. He has opened three museums and runs a residency for artists, and has organized numerous cultural events in Petrila. A focus for his actions is the work of Ion D. Sarbu, an important Romanian writer, born in Petrila who was a mineworker himself. 

Quotes from Sarbu’s books, whose magic-infused metaphoric depictions of Petrila’s realities have been compared to the universe created by Russian literary master Mikhail Bulgakov. They decorate the walls of several apartment blocks and houses in the mining town. Written by Barbu in his trademark handwriting, which has become iconic in Romanian cultural circles through the thousands of cartoons he published in newspapers and magazines over the years. The urban graffiti speaks about life, death, freedom, the limits of human experience, and the pleasures and miseries of provincial life in Petrila. 

The former mining town has been turned into postmodern cultural space without state support or funding, the activists say. They have not even been able to attract EU funds, either, partly because of the lack capacity to present qualified projects but also because the mine still belongs to the National Company for the Closure of Mines, which is part of the Ministry of Energy and is thus ineligible for cultural funding.

“We have managed to save part of the architectural heritage of the Petrila mine, and if the money finally comes, it has the potential in a relatively short period of time to become a cultural Mecca,” Barbu declares.

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