Romania’s capital, Bucharest, is the perfect place for those looking for a taste of metropolis, with its wide boulevards, majestic Belle Époque buildings, and its sophisticated life, which was the reason of being called as “Little Paris” in the 1900s.
According to a legend, the city of Bucharest was founded on the banks of the Dambovita River by a shepherd named Bucur, which means “joy”. Rumor has it that this place was named after him, as the sound of his flute made people happy and he became popular among local merchants. Bucharest is a dynamic, energetic and entertaining city. For many, this is a one-day, two-day stop on the way to Transylvania, but the city deserves more attention. More time is needed here to enjoy beautiful museums, parks, and lively places. Most of the center is modern but the jewel behind it is the elegant 17th and 18th century Orthodox churches and elegant Belle Époque villas hidden in quiet corners…
The splendor of the state
Communism has irrevocably changed the face of the city and built giant monuments. The magnificent Palace of Parliament is the most prominent example of this. Built by the special request of Nikolay Ceausescu, leader of the Communist Party of Romania, the Palace of Parliament, formerly known as the “People’s House” (Casa Poporului), is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon of America. Twenty thousand workers and 700 architects worked to build this giant structure, which has eight underground layers, including 12 floors, 1100 rooms, a 350-meter lobby, and a huge nuclear bunker. The Palace of Parliament is the second-largest office building in the world. As the volume, it is the third-largest building after the Cape Canaveral Space Center in the US 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 nearly 7,000 bulbs. When construction began on June 25, 1984, the building was designed as the center of the country’s Communist government. Today it is home to the Romanian Parliament, Bucharest International Conference Center and the Romanian Museum of Modern Art. Built and furnished with materials produced in Romania, the building is the work of the country’s finest craftsmen.
The legendary square
On December 21, 1989, when world television stations broadcast the last moments of Nikolai Ceausescu in power, Revolution Square gained worldwide fame. The importance of the square goes back to a time before the dramatic events of the 1989 Revolution. The square is home to today’s National Art Museum, the stunning Romanian Athenaeum and the former Royal Palace, home to the historic Athenee Palace Hotel. The small but impressive Kretzulescu Church is also in this square. Another building that concerns the political history of the city is the “Spring Mansion”, the private residence of Nikolai and Elena Ceausescu and their three children Nicu, Zoia and Valentin. The variety of wood used for construction and decorations is impressive; oak, sycamore, cherry, walnut were used locally, and various woods such as mahogany, rosewood, African pear, Canadian cherry were brought from abroad. This residence also features a collection of paintings worth seeing (Octav Băncilă, Camil Ressu, Rudolf Cumpăna, Dumitru Ghiață, George Baron Lowendal), handmade tapestries and mosaics designed by Romanian artists Olga Porumbaru and Florin Pârvulescu.
Classical music and architecture
The most prestigious concert hall in Bucharest, Athenaeum, home to the Romanian George Enescu Philharmonic and renowned for its outstanding acoustics, was completed in 1888 by French architect Albert Galleron, who also designed the National Bank of Romania and financed almost entirely by the donations of the public. “Give a penny for the Athenaeum” campaign, one of the most important public fund raising campaigns in Romania to date, was the savior after the funds of the original owners were exhausted. With its high dome and Doric columns, the Athenaeum resembles an old temple. The lobby ceiling decorated with gold leaf, curved balconies, pink marble columns, brass lanterns, ceiling and wall frescoes are just some of the fascinating details of the concert hall.
A picture of the Romanian countryside
Bucharest is a remarkable city for museum enthusiasts. The Romanian National Peasant Museum, in particular, is remarkable in terms of exhibiting Romania’s richest folk art collection since 1906. With more than 90,000 works, it is home to the rich cultural life of the Romanian people. The Pottery Collection in the museum is among the most important of the country with 18 thousand works. The oldest ceramic object in the museum belongs to 1746. Another impressive exhibition is the Costume Collection. Approximately 20,000 traditional folk costumes, some of which belong to the early 19th century, provide a comprehensive insight into peasant life, styles, and traditions, addressing all aspects of life in the Romanian countryside. A wooden church is displayed in one gallery and a wooden village house is displayed in another. There are four more wooden churches in the open area of the museum.
Aside from the dynamism of the city, peace is worth experiencing. You can’t go back without visiting Bucharest’s parks. The Cismigiu Garden (Gradina Cismigiu), designed by German landscape architect Carl Meyer in 1845, was opened to the public in 1860. The name of the garden comes from the Turkish word ‘çeşme’ which means fountain… There are more than 30,000 trees and plants brought from the Romanian mountains, as well as exotic plants from the botanical gardens in Vienna. Cismigiu, Bucharest’s oldest park, is an ideal stopover for walking and relaxing. You can spend time among the green grass and curling paths, rent a kayak and stroll along the lake. There is also a playground for children and a chess section for amateurs. Another park is Herastrau, which spans about 400 acres from the Arch of Triumph to the Baneasa Bridge. In addition to the lake activities in the park, there is the Village Museum. The area surrounding the park is even more remarkable; on the streets between Bulevardul Mircea Eliade and Soseaua Kisileff, it is possible to see extraordinarily beautiful houses in different architectural styles, from the 19th century to the modern luxury villas, from the neoclassical to the 20th century Art Nouveau. This is the area where the elite of Bucharest once lived and still lives today.