Bucharest: Returning to former glory
Light and shade are never far apart in the Romanian capital. Once upon a time the beauty of Bucharest could easily compete with that of Paris. Magnificent city palaces, stately villas and ornate theaters lined the streets, the upper classes spoke French and the broad streets were referred to as boulevards. Fifty years of Communism have left their mark, yet there’s no mistaking the fresh new breeze that’s blowing through the city of two million today
Back to the overview
Architecture of superlatives
It has 5100 rooms and is the largest building in Europe: Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu even razed entire sections of Bucharest’s historical old town to make way for his giant Casa Poporului (People’s House) as it was then called. During the five years (1984-1989) it took to build, some 700 architects and 20,000 laborers worked on the project. Originally intended as a luxurious residence for the dictator, the building came under threat of demolition after Ceausescu’s deposition and execution. Today it serves, among others, as the seat of parliament, hence its present name: Parliament Palace.
Parliament Palace: Strada Izvor 2-4, www.cdep.ro (website of the Romanian Parliament, English and Romanian)
Unity Square (Piața Unirii) is one of the main squares in Bucharest, and an important local transportation hub, where several subway, streetcar and bus routes converge. A grand fountain at its center dominates the square. From here, it’s just a short walk to a host of shopping opportunities and also to Lipscani, the historical merchant district.
War and Communism notwithstanding, some of the buildings from Bucharest’s glory days have stood the test of time, among them the Atheneum, where world-famous conductors and soloists, such as George Enescu (the composer), Maurice Ravel and Yehudi Menuhin have performed. The round concert hall with its magnificent marble pillars and domed roof opened in 1888. Today, audiences of up to 800 attend concerts given by the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra as well as international guest musicians, and at the same time get the chance to admire the 75-meter-long fresco running along the circular inner wall beneath the dome that depicts scenes from Romania’s history.
Atheneum: Strada Benjamin Franklin 1-3, Tel. +40-21/315 25 67, www.fge.org.ro (English and Romanian)
Art & cafés: the modern Bucharest
National Museum of Art:
The National Museum of Art is located, across from the Atheneum, in a former royal palace. It highlights medieval and modern Romanian art, but also exhibits numerous works by world-famous international artists - El Greco, Monet, Rembrandt and Rubens among many others - most of which come from the collection assembled by the Romanian royal family.
National Museum of Art: Calea Victoriei 49-53, Tel. +40-21/313 30 30. Opening times: Wed-Sun 11am-7pm (May-September), Wed-Sun 10am-6pm (October-April). Admission: up to € 3.50 (50% reduction for students and senior citizens) www.mnar.arts.ro
The Romanian capital is blooming again today, and one after the next, entire streets of houses are being restored in the historical merchant district, Lipscani. The Communist regime originally intended to clear the whole district, but then merely left it to decay. Many of the romantic narrow streets are now closed to traffic, making Lipscani with its often mysterious atmosphere a fantastic place to stroll and explore. One highlight here is the former Linden Tree Inn (Hanul cu Tei), a quaint building that now houses some trendy cafés and art galleries.
Macca-Villacrosse Passage (Pasajul Macca-Villacrosse) is also mischievously known as Bucharest’s first shopping mall because back in the late 19th century, when it was covered with a yellow glass roof, this narrow street in quaint Lipscani had shops on the ground floor of most of its houses. Bucharest’s first stock market was also located here. Today the passage and its many cafés attract crowds of visitors and are particularly popular with the city’s trendy, young set.
Pasajul Macca-Villacrosse: Calea Victoriei, level with the streets Pasaj Macca and Pasaj Villacrosse.
Pictures: Corbis, Raach/Knoll/Hemispheres/laif (3), Heimann/Bilderberg (2)