Karina Pitis 

‘Typically for communism, the response was instead to convey a huge amount of resources into a giant and not particularly useful grand project.’ [1] Chemical plants are the monuments of the communist period. They became institutions in themselves that were once able to support large communities from the nearby cities and villages. Their economic activity was the pillar of the communist regime. ‘In the communist doctrine the conditions of social interaction define and shape a particular function and indicate the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of the participants and the environment.’[2]

A factory town is an area in which people live around a main industry. In the case of Turnu Magurele city, the chemical plant was moved 5 km away from the city centre and the two elements of the town, living and working, were linked by a single transportation and communication network.

The systematization programme

In 1974 the systematization plan was carried out under Nicoalae Ceausescu’s communist regime in order to urbanize, reorganize and unify the urban and rural areas of Romania. As a result the number of villages in Romania was reduced from 12,123 to approximately 5-6000. Ceausescu’s plan was to maximize agricultural land. Villages deemed to have no development potential were to be transformed into agricultural fields and the rural population was to be resettled in order to eliminate the differences between the rural and urban standards of living. In less than 25 years (1951-1985), the status of millions of people shifted from land owners to state tenants in cold, crowded, prefabricated concrete blocks. Prior to the introduction of the systematization programme, the one-family house was the basic unit for both the urban and rural Romanian setting. By abusive expropriation, and mass demolition of villages the very national identity of this nation was erased. In urban areas, typically 85 -90% of the building stock within Romanian towns was demolished and replaced by block apartment buildings. The party believed that in their modern Romania, 90% of the population should be urbanised. The programme was aiming that by “2000 a whole nation will live in towns in which almost nothing will remain from the country’s history and its ‘’traditional civilization”[3]. The programme embodied the narrow visions of a corrupt and intolerant regime.

Forced industrialization

Between 1965 and 1987 Romania was forcibly industrialized as part of a planned economy programme and numerous factories appeared out of the blue. First, second and third size industrialized towns completed an evenly distributed network of industrial production that was meant to assure spatial, economic and social uniformity. The population within the industrialized cities tripled or even quadrupled between 1960 and 1990. Heavy manufacturing industries were given priority over primary or even tertiary activities. Cities became centers of production rather than centers of consumption with ‘122 cities out of 260 being industrialized above average’[4]. Medium-sized cities were designated to act as ‘urban development poles’. In the chemical sector new combine works and factories were erected. In 1962 at Turnu Magurele, a southern medium sized city in Romania a chemical fertilizer plant was opened. The main purpose of this factory was to provide chemical fertilizers for the agricultural fields in southern Romania. A sulfuric acid plant was opened shortly after to help the previous plant in the production of fertilizer and then in 1978, The UVCP was opened in Turnu Magurele. At that time the UVCP was the only plant to recycle industrial waste in Eastern Europe. From industrial waste (which was usually a black, very pollutant dust) the factory was extracting gold, silver, and other rare metals. In 26 years of activity, among other metals, around 2 tons of gold was extracted. The result of this process was also a red dust, extremely toxic, that often polluted Turnu Magurele city and its surrounds. More than ‘500.000 tons of unprocessed pyrite’* (main industrial waste generated) are still stored on the site. For almost 40 years the chemical plant provided employment to those living in the main city and surrounding villages. * Values reported by Engineer Gheorghe Mihai, 26th Jan 2017

Dictator’s target

The dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s ambition was to create an international bank (BRCE- Banca Romana de Comert Exterior – Romanian Bank of External Trade) that could rival the IMF (International Monetary Fund). He knew that Romania had enough gold resources to create a gold reserve. Beside principal mines such as Rosia Montana, gold was extracted from industrial waste in the UVCP plant. Grams of gold were the new metric system that coordinated a whole country activity. In order to pay for the modernization project, Romania’s built up a debt to the IMF of 11 billion dollars. In his desperate attempt to pay off the IMF debt, the dictator ordered the export of 90% of the country’s production. Ceausescu’s abusive regime reached his peak when food, gas, water, electricity and any other daily basis products where rationalized. His ‘BRCE bank’ was never created but gold was stored throughout the communist regime. Unfortunately, just ten days before his execution most of the Romanian gold reserve left the country. In December 1989 the Il-18 airplane took off from Bucharest to Teheran loaded with 24 tons of gold in the form of gold bars. The gold was never returned. Ten days later, 25 December 1989, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were executed.


Disintegration of the economy followed. The breakdown of industry led to migration from the cities. Most of the medium-sized cities were unable to diversify their narrow economic base and the slow privatization of industry led to a dramatic fall in the employment rate. The UVCP factory in Turnu Magurele saw a dramatic loss of industrial employment. The factory was repeatedly closed for modernization or because of high rates of pollution. Situated on the Danube’s shore in its last 20 years of activity the factory’s pollution rates were three times bigger than the normal values sanctioned by E.U. Most affected was the Bulgarian city Nikopol which is situated opposite the chemical plant on the other shore of Danube. This institution, once the lifeblood of 37,000 people living in Turnu Magurele and the nearby villages, is now a ruin. A wreck that can no longer be fixed. Upgrades were unprofitable and the factory ended up being sold piece by piece for scrap. Systems that once worked together under the communism regime are now just steel and concrete shells.

Shrinking cities

After the plant closure, the agricultural fields were able to absorb some of the un-employed population from the city. Whilst, in the city, only skilled workers benefit from a new place to work resulting in socio-economic polarization. Depopulation and an aging population have become two of the most common phenomena in Romania. The population from cities such as Turnu Magurele often migrates to bigger cities or outside the country. The systematization programme broke down the DNA of a nation whose identity was rural village - keeper of traditions.


1.    Village peasants at a traditional wedding signing the forms (1948) 2.    Nicolae Ceausescu helding a speech 3.    Pyrite polluting smoke 4.    Ceausescu visiting the chemical Fertilizer Factory from Turnu Magurele (1967) 5.    UVCP Factory from Turnu Magurele (during the commu-nist period)


1 Owen Hatherley. Landscapes of communism, pg. 150
2 Alexei Gutnov. The Ideal Communist City, pg. 35
3 Dinu C. Giurescu. The razing from Romanian’s Past: International Preservation Report. Architecture Design & Technology Press. 1990
4 Claudia Popescu. Deindustrialization and urban shrinkage in Romania. What lessons for the spatial policy? Transylvanian Review of Administrative Sciences. 2014