Traveling to Romania

History, Nature, Places, People.

Bucharest – the Little Paris

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Bucharest is located in the southeastern part of Romania. As with many Eastern European capital cities, Bucharest was built on the banks of a river – the Dambovita. The city has been the capital of Romania since the 19th century.

History:
The first mention of Bucharest is in a document from 1459, signed by Vlad Dracula, then ruler of the first Romanian state of Walachia. Known as ‘Vlad the Impaler (or Tepes)’ (for leaving his enemies to die slowly on stakes) he became the inspiration for the famous vampire of literary and celluloid fame. Yet among his countrymen, he is something of a folk hero, renowned for standing up to the Ottomans, Saxons and Walachia’s noble families. The ruins of one palace attributed to him can still be seen in old Bucharest, where trendy bars and clubs also capitalize on his image, with cobwebs and dank underground dance floors.

After the Turkish conquest, Bucharest continued as a scene of rebellion and was burnt by the Ottomans, in 1595. A century later, it was made the seat of the Walachia government, by Sultan Mustafa II. The city was caught in the crossfire of conflicts between the Ottomans, Austria and Russia – the city was frequently occupied and destroyed until 1862, when it became the capital of a unified Romania. But after liberation, Bucharest began to forge a different identity, with French architects called in to remake it in the image of Paris, with long, tree-lined boulevards and a forging of classical and new Romanian architecture. Between the world wars, influenced by modernist trends from native artists who had lived abroad, such as Constantin Brancusi, Bucharest began to rejoice in a mixture of styles that would make it totally individual and produced some of Europe’s most beautiful residences for the elite.

This ‘romantic’ chapter came to a close when Communism took root in 1946. Although never heavily bombed by the Allies, in World War II, Socialist Realism ushered in dreary Stalinist apartment blocks, many of which remain today. When Nicolae Ceausescu became president of Romania’s Communist Party in 1965, however, he was so determined to create an imitation Champs Elysee in the ‘civic centre’ that he destroyed many historic buildings, including 26 churches. His plans were never completed but the strange combination of neo-Stalinist architecture nonetheless gives a nod towards the city’s avant-garde tradition. Oddly, all of these architectural incongruities afford an added dimension to the city today.

The city:
Romanian legend tells that Bucharest was founded on the banks of the Dambovita River by a shepherd named Bucur, whose name literarily means “joy”.
Playing the flute he amazed the people and his wine from nearby vineyards was very popular among the local traders, who gave his name to the place! As one of Europe’s most up and coming destinations, Bucharest has had to react quickly to its newfound status. As a result, there are a bevy of recently opened venues to eat, drink, shop, club and sleep.
Not only this, but standards are high and local residents have come to expect the best. From Piata Universitatii most sights of interest are easily accessible and equally the nearby Calea Victoriei is a great starting point for shopping particularly. These two landmarks constitute the central Bucharest area where many, though by no means all, of the most well-known restaurants and bars are situated. Walking in this part of the city is the best way to see Bucharest, but don’t be afraid to venture further north, east and west to discover many more treasures. Wander the tree-lined streets, take in some authentic folk art and sample a range of international cuisine.
Whether you want traditional Romania or contemporary city life, come and find it all here before the rest of the world does.

Highlights:

House of Press
Typical Russian architectural style, following the famous Lomonosov Moskow University, the build has been finished in 1956, hosting the siege of the Ministry of Culture, as well as many newspapers and radio broadcasting location.

 

The Triumphal Arch (Arcul de Triumf) In northern Bucharest, along Sos. Kiseleff lies Bucharest’s Triumphal Arch (Arcul de Triumf). Modelled on the triumphal arch in Paris, the structure was erected in 1935-1936 to commemorate the creation of Greater Romania which took place in 1918. It sits on the spot where two earlier arches stood: the first arch made of wood and cardboard was erected in 1878 to mark Romania’s independence from the Turks; the second arch made of timber was erected in 1922 to mark Ferdinand’s entry into Bucharest as the first king of Greater Romania. The current arch is built of concrete and granite. Portraits of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie decorate one face, while the names of battles fought by Romanians during the First World War can be seen on the other face. The portraits of the king and queen were destroyed dur ing the communist rule but they were restored in 1992. The sculptures decorating the arch were created by leading artists of the day, including Ion Jalea, D. Onofrei and Constantin Baraschi.

The Village Museum.
The most beautiful museum in open air. The Village Museum, lying in a specific Romanian setting, on the Herãstrãu Lake shore in Bucharest, is one of the biggest and the oldest outdoors museum in Europe. Its exhibits – genuine monuments including houses, pens, churches, water and wind mills, cloth mills, of great historic and artistic value – acquaint the visitors in two hours with the specific of the Romanian village. The objects inside the households – carpets, pottery, rugs, icons, furniture – point to the originality of the folk creation, the sensibility and care for the beauty of the rural people. After this wonderful visit where you will see how the houses look from every region of Romania, you can choose a region that you liked more and maybe, you will keep in mind that is a place in Romania you really want to go and see it live and beside this, you will feel the people, will see how they leave in their homes. You will eat their traditional food from the region, because every region of our country has different customs, architecture, traditions, they prepare the food in different ways and for shore they live different.

Museum of the Romanian Peasant.
This delightful museum (Muzeul Taranului Roman) opened in 1906 and is widely regarded as Romania’s best. A veritable treasure trove of pottery, icons and clothing, it also houses the fascinating Communism Exhibition and the ruins of an 18th century Transylvanian wooden church. Voted as The European Museum of the year in 1996.

Grigore Antipa Museum of Natural History
This fascinating museum has recently expanded and opened up areas to house some newly discovered curiosities. Full of stuffed animals looking a little startled and even a mammoth (dead) and some interesting rocks – or at least as interesting as rocks can be. The first floor deals with sea life and has a few examples of whales, dolphins and seals. Elsewhere you’ll come across a beautiful butterfly collection as well as a few cheeky monkeys and stuffed birds. You can currently enjoy an exhibition of living reptiles.

University Square (Piata Universitatii)
In the last 15 years University Square has proved to be a popular railing point at the time of national crisis as well as celebration: people gathered here during the 1989 revolution and the sad events of June 1990 and they continue to gather here every time the national team wins a soccer game (which unfortunately doesn’t happen very often these days). If you see a lot of people loitering around the underground passage entrance in front of the National Theater is because it’s probably the most popular meeting place in Bucharest. It’s a place buzzing with crowds and traffic, a true center of activity. The square is surrounded by interesting architecture starting with the University of Bucharest building on the square’s northwestern corner. Facing the university there are four statues of illustrious pedagogues and statesmen (but now they are moved them in Cismigiu Park for 2 years, because they want to build an underground parking). On the other northern corner, adjacent to the Intercontinental hotel, is the National Theater of Bucharest. Opposite it lies the beautiful building of the School of Architecture, behind a little square with a small fountain where people stop and sit when the weather is nice. On the southwestern corner of the square, the Bucharest History Museum traces the city history from the beginning to modern days and across from it lies the neo-Classical building of the Coltea Hospital and its lovely church. In the middle of the square, in a little island, there are ten stone crosses that pay homage to those killed during the 1989 revolution. Below the square there is an underground passage with shops and eateries which allows pedestrians to cross to from one side of the square to another and also leads to the subway station.

The University
Bucharest University is dominating one of the corners of University Square. The old building, in neoclassic style is facing Regina Elisabeta Boulevard. It was started in 1857 and finished in 1859. The buildings on the sides were built in 1912-1916. The University as an institution was created in 1864 by Alexandru Ioan Cuza, ruler of the newly united principalities, Wallachia and Moldova. All around the building you can find stalls selling secondhand books.

National Theater (Teatrul National)
The stocky building sitting on one of the corners of University Square is the National Theater. It was built in 1973 after plans by a group of Romanian architects. The old building of the National Theater was destroyed during the WWII. Originally the building had a different facade, modeled after the architecture of Moldova’s monasteries but in 1984 it was remodeled and got its present massive shape. The theatre has 4 performance halls.The National Theater is named after the Romanian playwright and short-story writer Ion Luca Caragiale (1852-1912). His plays made fun of the politics and politicians and of the Romanian society of that day. For example the play that is considered to be his masterpiece, “A Lost Letter”, written in 1884, describes a provincial government election won by a blackmailer. It’s amazing how his works have the same power today as they did a century ago. Not only that, but recently I saw one of his plays being performed in California and I was surprised to see how the American public of today can relate to his story written in 1880. Last, if you feel like having refreshment, you’ll find two bars located on top of the National Theater. One is an open terrace bar called “La Motoare”, open only in summer; while the other one called “Laptaria lui Enache” is open during fall, winter and spring.

Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei).
Whilst Piata Universitatii saw some of the darkest days of Ceausescu’s regime, events at Piata Revolutiei heralded the beginning of a new age. This building now houses the Senate. Close by are the former Royal Palace, now home to the National Art Museum, the Romanian Athenaeum and the Athenee Palace Hotel, also the Kretzulescu Church. In August 1968 and December 1989, the square was the site of a two mass meetings which represented the apogee and the nadir of Ceausescu’s regime. The 1968 moment marked the highest point in Ceausescu’s popularity, when he openly condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia and started pursuing a policy of independence from Kremlin. The 1989 meeting was meant to emulate the 1968 assembly and presented by the official media as a “spontaneous movement of support for Ceausescu”, erupting in the popular revolt which led to the end of the regime.

The former Royal Palace (nowadays the Art Museum)
The imposing building which used to be the Royal Palace is located in the Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei), in the northwestern corner. It was first built around 1815 by Prince Dinicu Golescu and it underwent changes over several decades. The building was remodeled in 1882-1885 after plans by the French architect Paul Gottereau only to be rebuilt in 1930-1938 after being damaged in a fire in 1926. Starting with 1948 the palace houses the National Art Museum and it displays an extensive collection of Romanian and European art dating from the 15th to the 20th century. The building was damaged during the events of December 1989 and was closed for several years for repairs.

The Athenaeum
This is Bucharest’s most prestigious concert hall and one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. It was built in 1888 in neo-classical style after a design by the French architect Albert Galleron. The project was conceived by the diplomat Constantin Exarcu and the money for the completion of the building were gathered in a public collection in which people were asked to “give a leu for the Atheneum” (The “leu” being the currency of Romania). With its 40 m high dome and the Doric columns it resembles an ancient temple. The beautiful facade is adorned with mosaics of five Romanian rulers. On the inside there are scenes from Romanian history. This is the place to hear classical music in Bucharest. The resident orchestra is George Enescu Philharmonic.

Central University Library (Biblioteca Centrala Universitara)
The Central University Library is a beautifully ornated building located opposite the Royal Palace in the Revolution Square. The library was founded by king Carol I and the building was designed by the French architect Paul Gottereau, who also designed the National Savings Bank (CEC) building. The building was heavily damaged during the December 1989 movement but was later restored and now it looks really pretty.

Victory Avenue (Calea Victoriei)
Calea Victoriei is one of Bucharest’s most charming streets. It was built as a main road in 1692 under orders from Constantin Brancoveanu who needed a road to link his palace at Mogosoaia with the Old Court. In the beginning the street was known as Podul Mogosoaia – Mogosoaia Bridge – because it was paved with wood. In 1878 after the Romanian War of Independence the street’s name became Calea Victoriei.
Between the two world wars Calea Victoriei became one of the most fashionable streets. Following this avenue from Piata Natiunilor Unite to Piata Victoriei you’ll find some of the most beautiful buildings in Bucharest. Among these are Stavropoleos Church – on Stavropoleos str., few second away from Calea Victoriei, the National Savings Bank or CEC building, the Art Deco Telephone Palace, the Cretulescu Church, the Central University Library, the Romanian Atheneum, the Royal Palace which t oday houses the National Art Museum and the Cantacuzino Palace.

Cantacuzino Palace (Palatul Cantacuzino)
This palace was designed by the architect I.D.Berindei in French baroque style and construction was started in 1899. Above the main entrance there is a giant shell-shaped porte-cochere; two stone lions guard the entrance. George Enescu – Romania’s national composer – lived here for a period of time. The building belonged to his wife Maria Cantacuzino. In fact Enescu preferred a life of simplicity and he and his wife chose to live in a smaller town house that previously housed the administrative staff of the palace; this house is located behind the main palace. Nowadays the palace houses the George Enescu Museum which displays the musicians manuscripts (scores of his compositions) and personal belongings like one of his first violins.

The Army Club (Cercul Militar National)
This highly ornate building was designed in French neo-Classical style by Dumitru Maimarolu, Victor Stefanescu and Ernest Doneaud. Construction started in 1911 and ended in 1923 with most of the funds being donated by the Romanian Army officers. The Army Club replaced the monastery church of Sarindar which used to sit here.

Romanian Savings Bank or CEC Building
This beautiful building was designed in eclectic style by the French architect Paul Gottereau. Its construction began in 1894 on the site of a 16th century monastery Sf. Ioan cel Nou. This was the only bank that was allowed to do business during communism.

Villacrose and Macca Passages Villacrosse and Macca passages are two pedestrian alleys roofed with glass and wrought iron and lined with shops, cafes and restaurants. They were built at the end of the 19th century. Entrance from Calea Victoriei across the police headquarters and from E. Carada Street.

Lipscani District.
Lipscani, Bucharest’s historic centre, retains an old town charm which is almost irresistible! It is located between Calea Victoriei, Blvd. Bratianu, Blvd. Regina Elisabeta and the Dambovita River and its collection of winding streets boasts antique markets, bric-a-brac spilling out from tiny boutiques and some of the city’s most appealing restaurants and bars.

Old Princely Court.
During the early middle Ages, Bucharest became a commercial center; important enough to enable the XIV century princes to build the Princely Court – known as “The Old Court” – which constituted the nucleus for the development of the medieval town.
The first mention of the name of “Bucharest” is dating from September 20, 1459: the mention appears on a document issued from the chancellery of the famous Prince Vlad Tepes (the Impaler). According to the legend, he kept his prisoners beneath the court! What remains today are a few walls, arches, tombstones and a Corinthian column. Here stands also Bucharest’s 16th century Old Princely Church (Biserica Curtea Veche), the city’s oldest church. Original frescoes and Walachia architecture are among the star features in this ancient site.
By the year 1599, a new Princely Court is being built, and several churches were raised by the end of the 16th century.
During the 17th century, the princes Radu Serban (1602-1611) and Radu Mihnea (1611-1616 and 1620-1623) worked intensely in renewing the town.
Matei Basarab (1632-1654) repaired the Old Court, and built the churches “of the Saint Apostles”, Sarindar and Plumbuita.
By 1640, because the royal relations with the Turks worsened, Matei Basarab moved his Capital back to the town of Targoviste.
Bucharest still remained a princely residence. In May 1654, the Prince Constantin Serban Basarab (1654-1658), Matei Basarab’s successor entered Bucharest for a short period of time, as, after the revolt of his mercenary troops, in February 1655, he left Bucharest to Targoviste, ordering Bucharest and the Old Court to be set of fire.

The Parliament Palace
The Parliament Palace is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon regarding its surface, of 64.800 km2. It was built between 1984 and 1989 on the place of some monasteries, that were demolished, and of the Uranus Hill, that was leveled to the ground, in the center of Bucharest, by a team of architects led by Anca Petrescu. It was destined for the members of the Communist Party; Ceausescu planned to make beside the offices, personal living places; so that its surface would have been bigger. Presently it houses Romania`s Parliament. The People`s House has a rectangle shape, with impressive dimensions: 270 m at the façade, 240 m on the side, a height of 84 m and a depth (under 0 m) of 92 m. It has 12 stories, four underground levels and a nuclear bunker (a secret subway line connected to the Bucharest subway was meant to be constructed), 1.100 rooms: offices, reception halls, scientific, cultural and socio-politics manifestation rooms. It has two monumental galleries of 180 m length and 18 m height. The largest hall is the Unification Hall that has a sliding ceiling through which can enter a helicopter. The hall`s carpet weighs 14 tons and was woven on the premises with special build machines created for the purpose. Around 3.500 tons of crystal were used for the chandeliers. The biggest chandelier is the one in the small Parliament hall, it weighs three tons and 7.000 light bulbs are used for it. After the Revolution the building was meant to be blown up, but the costs would have been huge. Most part of the building is not used. It houses 440 offices, dozens of conference rooms, the largest are between 1.000 and 1.500 m2 each. It has two halls of over 2.000 m2, two conference rooms with a capacity of 1.200 seats and 850 seats. All these have a surface of 265.000 m2 . Regarding the built volume: the People`s House is on the third place in the world (2,55 million m3) after the building of Cape Canaveral (in the U.S.A., where cosmic rockets are assembled) and after Quetzalcoatl`s Pyramid from Mexico.

The Union Square (Piata Unirii)
The Union Square (Piata Unirii) is where the downtown starts. Two of Bucharest subway lines intersect here and the square is the site of one of the city’s department stores, Unirea. Unfortunately this place was also Ceausescu’s playground for experimentation, as the square was caught in his plan for “urbanization” and creation of the ugly soviet style Civic Center. To make way for his Civic Center Ceausescu ordered the demolition of all the buildings located in and around Unirii Square. The Brancovenesc Hospital, the Sf. Vineri Church, the Sf. Spiridon Church, the Vacaresti Monastery and many others historic buildings and monuments as well as lots of private houses were virtually wiped out. It’s worth coming here and seeing the Civic Center just for realizing how ugly the architecture is (the blocks of apartments are just ugly, but the fountains along the Unirii boulevard are truly hideous).
The building complex from the Metropolitan Hill
This building complex made up of the Palace of the Patriarchy, the Patriarchal Residence and the Patriarchal Cathedral is situated on the site of “Holy Emperors Constantin and Elena” monastery, foundation donated to the Metropolitan of Walachia by ruler prince Constantin Serban Voda (1654-1658).
The metropolitan played an important role in the Assembly of Walachia, in the second half of the 19th c., and as a consequence all the important historical events in Walachia took place on Dealul Mitropoliei; it is worth mentioning that on the 24th of January 1859 the Elective Assembly of Walachia presided by metropolitan Nifon in the former Assembly of the Deputies hall voted the act of the union of Walachia and Moldavia by electing Alexandru Ioan Cuza as unique prince of the Romanian Principalities.
The monumental building of the Palace of Parliament, now the Palace of the Patriarchy, was built according to architect I. Maimarolu plans, being the first reinforced concrete construction in the country. In time it suffered modifications, the most important being the reconstruction of the cupola, that fell down during the earthquake on the 10th of November, 1940.

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