Armenian Trace in Romania: Armenopolis – Gherla


  1. Home
  2. /
  3. Armenia
  4. /
  5. Armenian Trace
  6. /
  7. Armenian Trace in Romania: Armenopolis – Gherla

Unforgettable Armenopolis - Հայաքաղաք

Brief History

Gherla, a city in modern-day Romania, was known by several different names throughout its history. It was called Armenopolis in medieval Latin and Greek, Հայաքաղաք (Hayakaghak) in Armenian, Armenierstadt in German, and Szamosújvár, Örményváros in Hungarian.

The city was founded in the early 18th century by Armenians from the city of Ani and the Cilician Armenian Kingdom, who had originally settled in Crimea and Moldova before moving to Transylvania in 1672.

City of Ani (Armenian: Անի) was the Medieval Capital of Armenia in 961 – 1045. In many resources Ani was named “The City of a Thousand Churches”. At present, the ruins of the ancient Silk Road city of Ani are located in the far east of Turkey. Designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Cilician Armenian Kingdom  (Armenian: Կիլիկիայի Հայկական Թագավորություն)  was an Armenian state that existed from 1080 to 1375 (1424) in Asia Minor, on the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Armenian Bishop

Oxendius Vărzărescu, also known as Oxendius Verzellescus in Latin, Օշենտիոս Վըրզարեան/Վրզարեան in Armenian, Verzár Oxendius and Auxentius Verzereskul in Hungarian, was a bishop of the Armenian Catholic Church and a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Bishop played a vital role in securing permission to build a city and provided guidance and support for his fellow Armenians. In 1686, the Armenians of Transylvania, who were previously part of the Armenian Apostolic Church, were placed under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Catholic Church, with Vărzărescu as their bishop.

In 1700, the Austrian Emperor Leopold I granted Transylvanian Armenians, led by Bishop Vărzărescu, the right to build an Armenian town on the Somes river, near the Romanian village of Gherla, in exchange for 25,000 florins.

He served as a pastor in Armenopolis for over 12 years and made significant contributions to the development of the community.

Royal Free City


The Coat of Arms and The seal of the Armenopolis 

Sign on the seal: *”Free Royal City of Szamosújvár. 1838.”

*Szamosújvár – Armenopolis in Hungarian, means “the new town on the Someș”.


Armenopolis took approximately 15 years to construct and was the only city in the nation to be built according to a specially developed and approved plan that featured practical urban and architectural design. The design for the city was created by Armenian-origin architect Alexa, who was invited from Rome for this purpose.

The authentic Baroque style of Armenopolis was characterized by its abundance of forms, ornaments, and elements, which is why it was sometimes referred to as “Armenian Baroque“. Prior to the arrival of the Armenians, the settlement consisted of around 100 households, but by the early 19th century, there were around 1000 households. Each family was provided with land for a house and a garden, as well as a plot outside the city for raising livestock.

Armenian Catholic Churches

At the same time as civil buildings were being constructed, religious buildings were also being erected. Two churches in the Baroque style were built: the Armenian Catholic Solomon (Salamon) Church in 1723-1724 and the Armenian Holy Trinity Cathedral in 1748.

Armenian Catholic Solomon (Salamon) Church

Armenian Holy Trinity Cathedral

Rubens’ “Descent from the Cross” in Armenian Holy Trinity Cathedral

Descent from the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens

According to Lucian Nastasa-Kovacs, the Director of the Cluj Napoca Art Museum, professor and researcher at the Romanian Academy, the Armenian community in Gherla gained wealth and prosperity through trade and multi-craft enterprises. “That brought them (*Armenians) a lot of wealth and prosperity, so much that, in time they ended up loaning money to the Court in Vienna.

Although the Court, when supposed to return the loans, would suddenly become short of money and reluctant to pay back. Eventually, an Armenian delegation from Gherla, arriving in Vienna exactly when a big cathedral (*Armenian Holy Trinity Cathedral, 1748) was being erected in the town, came with an answer to the question: ‘What can the Emperor offer you in exchange for the loaned money?’.

This story explains why an impressive panting by Rubens, titled ‘Descent from the Cross’, became property of the Armenian community. The painting is still hosted by the cathedral in Gherla. The paining was rather small and it did not fit the size of the cathedral, so it could not be displayed behind the altar. However, it was placed in a chapel of its own, and nowadays it’s probably the only painting by Rubens that can be admired free of charge. “

Cyrill Demian - Inventor of Accordeon

Cyrill Demian, who was of Armenian descent, was born in the Transylvanian city of Armenopolis in 1772. Later, his family moved to Vienna (Mariahilfer Straße No. 43), Austria. On May 23, 1829, Demian and his sons Karl and Guido were granted a patent for their invention of the accordion.

Today, Demian and Sons’ invention is on display in the “Historical Accordion 1830-1945” museum in Switzerland.

*As a unique museum in Switzerland, the “Historical Accordion 1830-1945” collection features instruments from around the world, including those from the early days of the accordion to the present day. The collection includes approximately 500 instruments that document the 125-year history of the accordion and its cultural impact. Visitors to the collection are invited to play the instruments on display.

Hotel Armenopolis

Address: Strada Mihai Viteazu 15, Gherla 405300, Romania

Strada Armenească Armenian Street, Gherla

6 Strada Armenească, Gherla

Armenopolis - Gherla on the map