Much nicer than I'd expected
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Bucharest the capital of Romania, is a large modern city on the banks of the River Dâmbovița.
In the mid C15th it was on an important trade route between east and west. Carvanserai (inns) were used by traders. These were large walled enclosures with rooms round the sides for merchants and traders, stabling for their horses and carts and a market place in the centre. Hanul Hanul on Strada Franceză is the only surviving Caravanserai in this part of Europe and has recently been restored as a restaurant. It still has its whitewashed outer wall surrounding a central courtyard. Stairs and corridors lead to rooms round the inside of the walls.
Vlad the Impaler had a court here and the remains of his palace can still be seen in the old town.
Bucharest became the capital in 1881 after the unification of Wallachia and Moldovia as part of Romania. Architects were brought from Italy and France to design buildings suitably grand for the new capital. The banks are particularly impressive and designed as a statement to the power and importance of money. The Art Nouveau style buildings and wide tree lined boulevards lead to Bucharest being known as the ‘Paris of the East’. Many of the larger buildings and palaces are now museums of embassies.
It even has its own Arc de Triomphe on the northern outskirts of this city. The present structure which commemorates the dead of the First World War, replaced an earlier wooded arch built after Romania gained its independence at the end of the C19th.
When Ceausescu came to power, he began a massive programme of modernisation and began to demolish many buildings to replace them with large apartment blocks. As so often found in large cities, many of these are now covered with graffiti.
As part of this megalomania he bulldozed one sixth of Bucharest to build the massive Palace of Parliament as he wanted to bring all the different government ministries under his control in a single building. This is now the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon, with twelve storeys, including four underground. It has over one thousand rooms, sixty reception halls, its own power station and underground rail service. Started in 1984, it is still unfinished. Only the first five floors are in use, with Parliament meeting on the second second floor.
The old part of Bucharest (Centu Vechi) escaped demolition by Ceausescu. This was the merchant area with closely packed houses with no gardens lining the streets. Many of the streets are named after the various craft guilds. There was a devastating fire in 1847 which destroyed many of the old buildings. Many of the banks have buildings here.
The heart of the old city lies in the pedestrianised area bounded by Calea Victoriei, Regina Elisabeta, Bulevardul Bratianu and the river and is a warren of narrow cobbled streets. This was the area around the royal court, where Vlad the Impaler had his palace and was used by the Princes of Wallachea for four hundred years. The palace was destroyed by a series of fires in the C19th and little is left, apart from a few C17th or C18th walls and vaults. The C16th Church of St Anthony with its striped red brick and paler plaster, was built on the site of an older wooden church and served as the chapel for the royal court.
The tiny Stavropoleos Church and monastery on Strada Stavropoleos is dwarfed by surrounding buildings. The church is open daily and is worth visiting. Founded in 1724 by a Greek monk, it is one of the oldest churches in Bucharest, although the monastery was dissolved at the end of the C19th when it was in a ruinous condition. It regained monastic status in 2008 and now has six nuns living here.
The church was extensively restored at the start of the C20th when an arcaded courtyard was added which has a strong Moorish influence in the architecture. This now houses a library, conference room, and a collection of icons and parts of wall paintings rescued from churches demolished during the Communist regime.
The top of the walls of the church and small tower are covered with wall paintings. As in all Orthodox churches, the inside is covered with frescoes and there is a carved and gilded iconostasis.
The old town has to be walked. It was a lot more attractive than I’d expected.
We spent a day in Bucharest at the end of an eight day trip to Romania. My full report with all my pictures is here.
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