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Bucharest General Information
Location: Southern Romania
Size: City of Bucharest - 88 sq.miles (228 sq.km); Bucharest Metropolitan area - 587 sq.m(1,521 sq.km)
Elevation: 190-295 ft (55-90 m)
Population: 2.6 milion (2007)
Inhabited since: 500 BC
First documented: 1459 AD
Known for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, glorious Belle Époque buildings and a reputation for the high life (which in the 1900s earned its nickname of "Little Paris"), Bucharest, Romania's largest city and capital, is today a bustling metropolis.
Romanian legend has it that the city of Bucharest was founded on the banks of the Dambovita River by a shepherd named Bucur, whose name literarily means "joy." His flute playing reportedly dazzled the people and his hearty wine from nearby vineyards endeared him to the local traders, who gave his name to the place.
In the 15th century, the princely court of Vlad Tepes (thought to have been the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula) was established here and by the end of the 17th century, the city had become the capital of the province of Walachia. In 1862, Bucharest became the capital of Romania.
Remodeled in the late 19th century by French and French-trained architects, the city features large neoclassical buildings, fashionable parks, and even its very own Arc de Triomphe on the elegant Soseaua Kiseleff, an avenue longer than the famed Champs-Elysees and home to the city's mansion district.
Bucharest is laden with historical charm - from the streets of the Old City Centre, which are slowly being restored, to the grand architecture of the Royal Palace and the lush green of Cismigiu Park. The city also claims a large number of museums, art galleries, exquisite Orthodox churches and unique architectural sites.
Nicolae Ceausescu's legacy, including the Parliament Palace (formerly called the People's Palace), which at 3.76 million square feet stands as the world's second largest building after the U.S. Pentagon, provides an interesting introduction to the dictator's megalomaniac vision.
Bucharest's buzzing cultural scene - 37 museums, 22 theatres, concert halls, opera house, 18 art galleries, jazz clubs and hip nightclubs - will certainly keep you busy. Every two years, Bucharest is host to the George Enescu International Festival, a prestigious cultural event named after the famous Romanian musician and composer. Renowned orchestras, conductors and soloists perform at the Romanian Athenaeum, a hall with acoustics comparable to Milan's La Scala.
House of the Free Press
An impressive edifice standing somewhat menacingly at the entrance to the capital, Casa Scanteii (as it is still universally known) was designed by architect Horia Maicu and completed in 1956, one year after the strikingly similar Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw, Poland. Originally housing almost all of the capital's printing presses and newsrooms, it, today, carries out much the same function, with the addition of the Bucharest Stock Exchange in the southern wing.
The Arch of Triumph
Initially built of wood in 1922 to honor the bravery of Romanian soldiers who fought in World War I, Bucharest's very own Arc de Triomphe was finished in Deva granite in 1936. Designed by the architect, Petre Antonescu, the Arc stands 85 feet high. An interior staircase allows visitors to climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city. The sculptures decorating the structure were created by leading Romanian artists, including Ion Jalea, Constantin Medrea and Constantin Baraschi.
Calea Victoriei is Bucharest's oldest and arguably, most charming street. Built in 1692 to link the Old Princely Court to Mogosoaia Palace, it was initially paved with oak beams. The street became Calea Victoriei in 1878, after the Romanian War of Independence victory. Between the two world wars, Calea Victoriei developed into one of the most fashionable streets in the city.
Stroll along this street from Piata Victoriei to Piata Natiunilor Unite to discover some of the most stunning buildings in the city, including the Cantacuzino Palace, the historical Revolution Square, the Military Club, the CEC Headquarters and the National History Museum.
Grigore Cantacuzino was thought to be one of Romania's wealthiest citizens in 1899. As Prime Minister, it was his wish to have the most elegant residence in Bucharest. Using the designs of architect Ion Berindei, the Cantacuzino Palace was built between 1898 and 1900 in eclectic French style. Combining a neoclassical architectural style with art nouveau elements, it features wrought iron balconies, tall arched windows and a porte-cochere (an elegant wrought-iron doorway) flanked by two lions. Today, the palace houses the George Enescu Museum
Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei)
The square gained worldwide notoriety when TV stations around the globe broadcasted Nicolae Ceausescu's final moments in power on December 21, 1989. It was here, at the balcony of the former Communist Party Headquarters, that Ceausescu stared in disbelief as the people gathered in the square below turned on him. He fled the angry crowd in his white helicopter, only to be captured outside of the city a few hours later.
The square's importance stretches back long before the dramatic events of the 1989 Revolution. On the far side of the square stands the former Royal Palace, now home to the National Art Museum, the stunning Romanian Athenaeum and the historic Athenee Palace Hotel. At the south end of the square, you can visit the small, but beautiful, Kretzulescu Church.
The Royal Palace
Erected between 1927 and 1937 in neoclassical style, the palace was home to King Carol II and to his son, King Mihai I, until 1947, when the monarchy was abolished in Romania. It was inside the halls of this palace that King Mihai, aged 18, led a coup that displaced the pro-Nazi government during the World War II and put Romania on the Allies' side. Today, the former Royal palace houses the Romanian National Art Museum
The Romanian Athenaeum
The work of French architect Albert Galleron, who also designed the National Bank of Romania, the Athenaeum was completed in 1888, financed almost entirely with money donated by the general public. One of the preeminent public fundraising campaigns ever in Romania, the "Give a penny for the Athenaeum" campaign saved the project after the original patrons ran out of funds. With its high dome and Doric columns, the Athenaeum resembles an ancient temple.
The lobby has a beautifully painted ceiling decorated in gold leaf, while curved balconies cascade in ringlets off a spiral staircase. A ring of pink marble columns is linked by flowing arches where elaborate brass lanterns hang like gems from a necklace. Inside the concert hall, voluptuous frescoes cover the ceiling and walls. Renowned worldwide for its outstanding acoustics, it is Bucharest's most prestigious concert hall and home of the Romanian George Enescu Philharmonic.
Athenee Palace Hotel
Built in 1914 by French architect Teophile Bradeau, the Athenee Palace (currently a posh Hilton hotel) was made famous in Olivia Manning's novel, Balkan Trilogy, as a centre of intrigue and espionage during World War II. British and German diplomats plotted, schemed and spied on each other in the epoch atmosphere of the hotel's English Bar, while a host of rich and famous gathered and intrigued as their society collapsed around them. The hotel suffered heavy bombing during the war and consequently, was rebuilt in 1945.
Nestled amid the other historical buildings in Piata Revolutiei, this small red-brick Orthodox church was built in 1722 by the great chancellor Iordache Kretzulescu and his wife, Safta (a daughter of Constantin Brancoveanu) in the Brancovenesti architectural style. The interior frescoes were executed around 1860 by the famous Romanian painter Gheorghe Tattarescu.
Royal Palace Great Concert Hall
Located next to the Royal Palace, the concave-roof structure was built in 1960 to accommodate the 3,000 Communist party members who every five years attended the communist party congress. It was on this stage that Nicolae Ceausescu would deliver his vision of a multilaterally developed socialist society. Today, the massive auditorium plays host to various conferences and events, including some of the George Enescu International Festival concerts.
The Military Club
Standing guard imposingly, this neoclassical masterpiece, designed by Romanian architect Dimitrie Maimaroiu, was built in 1912 to serve the social, cultural and educational needs of the Romanian army. Banquets and official events are still hosted in the ballrooms, while the upstairs area is reserved for the army's library, as well as offices and classrooms for officer instruction. The main part of the building is off-limits to civilians, but the sumptuous restaurant and summer terrace is open to the public.
The Palace of the Savings Bank
Boasting one of the most impressive neoclassical facades in the city, this structure was built in the 19th century to the design of French architect Paul Gottereanu (who between 1875 and 1900 designed more than 50 buildings in the city, to house the first Romanian Savings Bank. The square-shaped palace has a large central dome with metallic ribs separated by glass, which allows natural light to come in; there are also four smaller domes. The arch at the entrance, with its Corinthian columns, is a highlight of any architectural tour of the city.
Old Historical Center of Bucharest
Perhaps the city's unique charm can be best observed in the area known as Lipscani, which consists of a jumble of streets between Calea Victoriei, Blvd. Bratianu, Blvd. Regina Elisabeta and the Dambovita River. A once-glamorous residential area, the old city centre is now slowly being refashioned into an upscale neighborhood.
At the beginning of 1400s, most merchants and craftsmen - Romanian, Austrian, Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, Armenian and Jewish - established their stores and shops in this section of the city. Soon, the area became known as Lipscani, named for the many German traders from Lipsca or Leiptzig. Other streets took on the names of various old craft communities and guilds, such as Blanari (furriers), Covaci (blacksmiths), Gabroveni (knife makers) and Cavafii Vechii (shoe-makers). The mix of nationalities and cultures is reflected in the mishmash of architectural styles, from baroque to neoclassical to art nouveau.
Today, the area is home to many art galleries, antique shops and coffeehouses. On a beautiful day, you can stroll down the narrow cobblestone streets and imagine the shopkeepers outside near their stores, encouraging people to buy their merchandise and negotiating prices with them. Don't forget to stop by Hanul cu Tei, which is a rectangular courtyard between Strada Lipscani and Strada Blanari, home to an array of art and antiques shops.
Old Princely Court & Church
At the centre of the historic area are the remains of the Old Princely Court (Curtea Veche), built in the 15th century by Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad Dracula. According to local lore, Vlad kept his prisoners in dungeons which commenced beneath the Princely Court and extended under the city. All that remains today are a few walls, arches, tombstones and a Corinthian column.
The Old Court Museum was established in 1972 when an archaeological dig revealed the remains of the fortress, along with Dacian pottery and Roman coins, evidence of Bucharest's earliest inhabitants. The oldest document attesting to the city's origin under the name of Bucuresti (Bucharest) was discovered here. It was issued on September 20, 1459 and signed by Prince Vlad Tepes.
Next to the palace stands the Old Court Church (Biserica Curtea Veche), dating from 1559 and considered the oldest in Bucharest. For two centuries, the church served as coronation ground for Romanian princes. Some of the original 16th century frescoes have been preserved.
Located on Selari Street, near the Old Princely Court, the Glassmakers' Court is one of the hidden treasures of Bucharest. The court also features a fine cast iron staircase, as well as a few souvenir shops and a relaxing coffee shop. Products coming from Curtea Sticlarilor can also be found in the shops and art galleries along Selari Street.
Built between 1804 and 1808 by the wealthy Armenian trader Emanuel Marzaian (called by the Turks, Manuc Bey), the inn was witness in 1812 to the preliminary talks of the Peace Treaty that put an end to the Russian -Turkish War (1806-1812). A favorite meeting and resting place for tradesmen in those times, Manuc's Inn has preserved to this day its old style and flavor. It now serves as a hotel with a restaurant, a wine cellar and a pastry shop.
The Beer Cart Restaurant
Opened in 1879, this famous restaurant and beer house soon became one of the most popular meeting places for Bucharest's literati who would gather to discuss matters of their time. Its neo-gothic architectural style is reflected both in the façades and the interior decorations: columns, arches, chandeliers, a wooden staircase, furniture and murals on the walls and ceiling.
National Bank of Romania
The National Bank of Romania (BNR) stands on the site of one of the most famous buildings in Romania: the Hanul Serban Voda, which from 1678 until 1883 was the home of various institutions ranging from a pub to an inn to a girl's dormitory! After two fires gutted the building, however, the land was leveled and in 1883, work began on the BNR, completed to the designs of French architects Cassien Bernard and Albert Galleron in 1885. Built in neoclassical French style, the building boasts a facade with Corinthian columns and an enormous central banking hall. The passing of time has left its marks on the building, but it remains a classic worthy of admiration.
Buzzing with crowds and traffic from early morning until late at night, this area is one of the most popular meeting places in Bucharest. The square brings together some remarkable architectural masterpieces on each of its four corners, starting with the University of Bucharest's School of Architecture, the Bucharest National Theatre, the neoclassical Coltea Hospital and its lovely church (1702-1794) and the Sutu Palace, now home to the Bucharest History Museum.
In the middle of the square, on a little island, 10 stone crosses pay respect to those killed during the 1989 revolution. Below the square is an underground passage with shops and eateries, allowing pedestrians to cross from one side of the square to another and to access the subway station.
University of Bucharest
Bucharest remains first and foremost a hub of higher education. The University of Bucharest was founded in 1864 by Alexandru Ioan Cuza, ruler of the newly united principalities of Walachia and Moldova. Work on the neoclassical building began in 1857 and finished in 1859.
Between the two World Wars, the libraries and corridors of the University hosted an impressive number of Romanian personalities, including Mircea Eliade, Emil Cioran, Eugène Ionesco, Sergiu Celibidache.
Year-round, you can find book merchants near the University building selling anything from antique books, records, discontinued newspapers and illustrated broadsheets from another age to secondhand books.
The oldest hospital in Bucharest, dating from 1704, Coltea was built on land belonging to the Vacaresti family, who at the time owned many of the great prosperities of the capital. The original building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1802, and the neoclassical building standing today dates from 1888. The church next to the hospital is the original 1701 construction, and is currently undergoing much-needed renovation. The hospital remains a functioning public health centre; you may enter only if you have official business. The church, however, is open to all, and the saintly silhouettes on the ceiling are admirable.
Famous for the grandiose balls held here in the 1900s, Sutu Palace was built in neogothic style between 1832 and 1834 by foreign minister Costache Sutu, to designs of architects Johann Veit and Konrad Schwinck. In 1862, the palace was redecorated by sculptor Karl Storck, who created three arcades and a monumental stairway; a huge Murano mirror was added in the hallway. Only the painted ceilings, the stucco, the parquet flooring and the tile stoves have been preserved.
Since 1959, the building has housed the Bucharest History & Art Museum
Built by Communist Party leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, the colossal Parliament Palace (formerly known as the People's Palace) is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon. It took 20,000 workers and 700 architects to build. The palace boasts 12 stories, 1,100 rooms, a 328-ft-long lobby and four underground levels, including an enormous nuclear bunker.
When construction started in 1984, the dictator intended it to be the headquarters of his government. Today, it houses Romania's Parliament and serves as an international conference centre. Built and furnished exclusively with Romanian materials, the building reflects the work of the country's best artisans. A guided tour takes visitors through a small section of dazzling rooms, huge halls and quarters used by the Senate (when not in session). The interior is a luxurious display of crystal chandeliers, mosaics, oak paneling, marble, gold leaf, stained-glass windows and floors covered in rich carpets.
-It is the world's second-largest office building in surface (after the Pentagon) and the third largest in volume (after Cape Canaveral in the U.S. and the Great Pyramid in Egypt)
- The crystal chandelier in the Human Rights Hall (Sala Drepturilor Omului) weighs 2.5 tons
- Some of the chandeliers have as many as 7,000 light bulbs
Ceausescu's building megalomania climaxed with the construction of the Civic Centre, an area located at the south end of the Palace of Parliament along Bulevardul Unirii. Bucharest had taken significant damage from the Allied bombing during World War II and the earthquake of March 4, 1977. However, neither of these events changed the face of the city as much as the redevelopment schemes of the 1980s, when eight square kilometres in the Old Historical Centre of Bucharest were leveled, including monasteries, churches, synagogues, a hospital and a noted Art Deco sports stadium. Some 40,000 people were evicted with only a single day's notice to make room for the construction of these Stalinist apartment buildings topped with neoclassical follies.
One of the oldest churches in Bucharest (with parts dating back to the 16th century and a steeple built in 1715), the Apostles' Church is brimming with some rather strange portraits that are well worth seeing.
Set atop one of the city's few hills, known as Mitropoliei, the Metropolitan Church has been the centerpiece of the Romanian Orthodox faith since the 17th century. The church was built by Constantin Serban Basarab, ruler of the province of Walachia between 1656 and 1658, to a design inspired by the Curtea de Arges monastery. It became the Metropolitan Church in 1668 and the seat of the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1925.
The Byzantine interior, containing the most dazzling of the city's iconostasis, as well as a couple of exquisitely carved side altars, bestows great beauty on the services presided over by the Romanian Patriarch. A huge crowd gathers here for the Easter midnight service.
The outstanding bell-tower at the entrance was built in 1698 and restored in 1958. Next to the church, and closed to the public, is the Patriarchal Palace (1708), residence of the Teoctist, supreme leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The Stavropoleos Church was built in 1724 by the Greek monk Ioanikie Stratonikeas. Featuring a combination of Romanian and Byzantine architecture, it has a beautiful façade and a delicately carved columned entrance. Surrounded by a peaceful garden, it is an architectural jewel, with beautiful frescoes and wood-painted icons. The mass (in Romanian) is worth viewing if you can find room in this small and cozy church.
St. Joseph's Cathedral
Constructed in red brick between 1873 and 1884, this Roman Catholic cathedral is an architectural masterpiece combining both gothic and Roman elements. Organ recitals are held every week.
St. Nicolas Church
Built in 1909 by the Russian Tsar Nicholas II for 600,000 gold rubles, this Orthodox Church has a wooden, gold-gilded iconostasis allegedly modeled after the altar in the Archangelskiy Cathedral in Moscow.
Bucharest is home to one of the oldest and most important Jewish communities in Romania. Sephardic Jews arrived here in the 16th century. Around the beginning of the 17th century, during the Cossack uprising, the first Ashkenazi Jews came from Ukraine and Poland. A sacred brotherhood, a charity box and a prayer house were registered in 1715. Some of the synagogues built during the 18th and 19th century also featured ritual baths (mikve). By 1832, 10 holy houses had been established. Their number would increase significantly before the end of the century, almost every one having its own Rabbi and cult performers. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish population in Bucharest numbered 40,000 people with 70 temples and synagogues. From this great number, only a few survived the brutality of history - fascism and communism - and two still serve the city's present Jewish community.
Dr. Moses Rosen Museum of the History of the Jewish Community
Housed in the magnificently preserved Great Synagogue (1850) in the city's historically Jewish neighborhood, this museum traces the history of Romania's Jewish population. The displays include a collection of books written, published, illustrated or translated by Romanian Jews; a small collection of paintings of and by Romanian Jews (many of the same artists' works hang in the National Museum of Art) and memorabilia from Jewish theatres including the State Jewish Theatre. The museum also contains a large collection of Jewish ritual objects from Romania, collected by Rabbi Moses Rosen (1912-1994), the late Chief Rabbi of the Romanian Jewry.
Built in 1857, the red brick temple (noted for its magnificent Moorish turrets, choir loft and organ) is the largest active synagogue in Bucharest. Services are held every day at 8am and 7pm. On Saturday, they are held at 8:30am and 7pm.