A Town to Read

Clara Kleininger

2017 - Ongoing

Petrila, at the heart of Romania, is becoming one of Romania’s many ghost towns fast, with the closing of its coal mines. Once part of a blooming, well-respected industry, the inhabitants of Petrila are left with no viable alternative for the future of their town.

Ion Barbu, former topographer at the mine and later well-known caricaturist at Romania’s most famous satirical newspaper after the transformation, stubbornly refuses to leave the sinking ship that Petrila is threatening to become and believes in the ‘mining of culture’ instead of mining of coal.

He leads a campaign for saving the historic building of the Petrila mine from demolition and transforms it. His creativity pours out of his small miner’s house, into the streets and onto the walls, everything he touches takes on colours, word-plays and joking commentary of the reality around.

Not everyone – local authorities included- understand the approach, but he has made some unlikely allies – former coal miners and their families help him put on performances, renovate, decorate and maintain the coal mine, which now houses one of the four museums that Ion Barbu and his friends have opened in Petrila.

Petrila, a mining colony established in the 19th century, had its most glorious time when Ceausescu had the idea of turning the country 90% dependent on coal energy in the ’80. With the ’89 revolution and the end of an era came also the end of Petrila’s importance and of the miners’ dignity. Petrila’s new colours and humour draw on mining mythology, reflect a well thought through social commentary and give some hope of rebirth to many other places sharing a similar fate in Romania.

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  • In the mine's courtyard

  • The Show Must Go On

  • One of You Will Kill Me

  • Ion Barbu adding a quote to the wall

  • Entrance to the mine's shaft

  • Ina and Cenușă, who worked for 27 years as a miner and rescuer at the Petrila mine

  • The Jiu river passes, Petrila stays

  • The Golden Age

  • Not far form Petrila, Brâcuși's column of infinity, one of Romania's touristic attractions, guarded by the police