In the last northern outcrops of the Poiana Ruscă mountains, Deva sits at the base of an extinct volcano crowned with the ruins of a fortress. These stone walls have been left to decay since an explosion during the Wallachian Revolution of 1848. To lift you up the vertiginous slope to see the ruins is a modern funicular, but the hill itself is a nature reserve if you’d prefer to hike it.
Deva had been the capital of Transylvania for a short time in the 17th century, and the power base was the stately Magna Curia, a palace at the bottom of the slope. Go in for a history museum with enthralling Roman Dacian artefacts and traces of early habitation starting with the Palaeolithic Age.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Deva:
1. Deva Fortress Ruins
The big sight in Deva is the stronghold resting atop a volcanic cone in the north of the city.
The first record of this fortress is from 1269, and it was built over an ancient Dacian oppidum.
The most eventful phase in its history came between the 16th and 18th centuries.
The protestant preacher Ferenc Dávid was imprisoned here for heresy and died in the fortress in 1579 (his cell is intact). In the 17th century it was attacked and briefly held by the Ottomans, and a century later in 1784 the fortress was besieged during a peasant uprising.
Most of the architecture in the central edifice and three radial enclosures is from the 15th to the 17th century.
During the Revolution in 1849 the fortress was destroyed by an explosion in the magazine.
2. Telecabina (Deva Fortress Funicular)
You can ride up to the Deva Fortress in under two minutes from the town on this funicular railway that made its first trip in 2005. A return ticket costs 10 Lei, and the line operates from 09:00 to 21:00, May to September.
There’s a vertical difference of 160 metres on this 278-metre line, and within a few seconds of setting off from the lower station you’ll be treated to clear panoramas of the city, its plain and the Poiana Ruscă mountains.
3. Fortress Hill
On busy days there may be a long queue, so if you’re in the mood you could take the walking trail bending up the slope through the forest.
But it’s not just about beating the crowds, as the entire hill is a 30-hectare nature reserve with more than 1,400 plant species, many of which are rare and native to the region.
You’ll also have the minor thrill of knowing that you’re walking on an extinct volcano.
This landform is from the Miocene Epoch, up to 23 million years old, and has a number of horned vipers.
These can grow to up to a metre long, but despite their high venom toxicity tend to be shy and aren’t considered dangerous.
4. Magna Curia
The fine Renaissance and Baroque palace below Fortress Hill was first established in 1582 by the Hungarian captain in charge of the garrison at the fortress.
In the 1610s it was transformed into a more refined residence when it became home to the Prince of Transylvania Gabriel Bethlen, who briefly made Deva capital of Transylvania.
He employed the Italian architect Giacomo Resti da Verna for the project and gifted the domain to his wife.
The most recent, Baroque alterations were made in the early 18th century when the facade was completely remodelled with the current window pediments and exquisitely corbelled balcony.
You can go in for the history department Museum of Dacian and Roman Civilisation.
5. Museum of Dacian and Roman Civilisation
Divided into three departments: Art, History and Natural Sciences, this is essentially a museum all about the Deva County.
The headquarters is the Magna Curia palace, which has collections of both prehistory and ancient history.
The oldest Palaeolithic artefacts, discovered in caves around Deva go back 150,000 years and include stone tools like spearheads and scrapers, as well as fossilised bones of animals and humans.
From the early Iron Age you can size up three stone anthropomorphic figurines uncovered not far away in Baia de Criș, and unique in Transylvania.
Meanwhile there’s a trove of Roman Dacian finds like coins, mosaics, glassware, household utensils, scraps of clothing, statuettes and a marvellous lapidarium with numerous engraved stones and statues to gods and goddesses.
6. Corvin Castle
A brief road trip to the south, Corvin Castle was first ordered by the famed Hungarian general John Hunyadi in the 15th century as a bulwark on the frontier with the Ottoman Empire.
Held as one of the best works of Gothic architecture in Romania, the castle is the product of five phases of construction, the last in the 19th century, giving it a Romantic fairytale appearance.
All the sights of a classic Medieval castle await, like towering buttresses, a high approach ramp, inner courtyards with quatrefoil motifs, chapel, a majestic Knights’ Hall and a drawbridge.
You’ll be provided with an audioguide, and although not many of the rooms have been decorated you can still appreciate the vaulted ceilings and historic stonework.
Deva still has a very small Jewish minority numbering 45 in 2005, down from 900 on the eve of the Second World War.
The earliest Jewish settlers came to Deva around the middle of the 19th century, and in the early 1900s built themselves a synagogue, partly funded by the affluent Blum and Seiger families.
In 2007 this listed building was restored by the Hunedoara County Council, and the synagogue is kept partly as a place of worship on Shabbat and holidays, and as a museum after one of its two elders passed away in 2009.
8. Parcul Municipal Cetate
The densely wooded park to the east of the Magna Curia used to be the palace grounds and was made public at the start of the 20th century.
In 2012-13 the park was rehabilitated with the help of EU funding and is a restful spot to while away a few minutes after a visit to the museum, or bring children to the playground.
There are newly landscaped lawns and flowerbeds, the alleys were repaved and information boards about the park’s trees and plants were set up.
The park also has a sweet wrought iron bandstand and a new fountain with 18 water jets that kids go crazy for on summer days.
9. Parcul Bejan
At the end of the noughties a lot of money was invested in this park on the southwest fringe of the city.
Bejan Park borders the larger Bejan Forest, a swathe of uncultivated land that has the full spectrum of oak species growing on Romanian soil.
As for the park, this 2.42-hectare space has lush laws, flowerbeds, manicured hedges and playgrounds for little ones.
Also for kids is a small zoo that has boars, roe deer, a pony and two ostriches.
10. Turnul Vechii Biserici Ortodoxe (Old Orthodox Church Tower)
After the Fortress and Magna Curia, Deva’s third-oldest building is the last vestige of an Orthodox church on this site up to 1865. This tower was raised in 1640 and then rebuilt a little while later following a fire.
The last modifications were made in the 1727, and it’s a worthwhile sight for the wooden gallery on its upper floor, beneath a pointed spire.
The structure can be found on Strada Calugareni in Deva’s Orthodox cemetery.
11. Arboretum Park Simeria
Barely ten kilometres up the Mureș River is the third largest arboretum in Europe, encompassing 70 hectares.
This was all the property of the old Gyulai Castle, and was first planted as an English-style park in the 18th century.
A line of noble owners added a rich array of exotic species, beginning with a chestnut alley in 1763. More than 250 years later there are 2,165 species of trees and rare plants from magnolias to bamboo, and new species are being planted by the year.
But you don’t have to be a botanist to love this place.
You couldn’t ask for a more relaxing place to go for a wander, amid giant deciduous trees, sunlit glades, meadows and pasture for cattle.
If you’re stuck for family activities you could try this bathing centre not far from Fortress Hill.
This clean, modern and well-kept facility has four pools, including one for toddlers.
There are also gentle river rapids and a slide at one end.
The pools are all heated to over 30°C so are designed more for relaxation than heavy exercise.
You can also book a massage at Aqualand’s spa, bake for a few minutes at the sauna and steam room or burn a few calories at the gym.