Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is a city that lives up to the old-new reputation. You’ll find modern buildings and ornate churches near gloomy communist-era apartments.
The atmosphere is changing — as to make up for years of stagnation — yet the city retains its Eastern European flair. Like any big city, it’s got the good and the bad — nice areas and not so nice, crowded streets and peaceful parks — but in my mind, and heart, the good outweighs the bad.
The city was established by a shepherd names Bucur around the 1400 AD. During the Middle Ages, Bucharest was a commercial center, where The Old Court, an enclosed public square, constituted the nucleus for commerce in the region.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Bucharest became known as Small Paris. Buildings such as the Romanian Athenaeum were designed by French-trained architects and built in the years before World War I.
By 1918, roads were paved and renamed, one of them Calea Victoriei, (Victory Way) in honor of the battles of the 1877-78 War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire.
World War II, and the bombardment of 1944, changed everything, and the communist rule interrupted Bucharest’s cosmopolitan days. Slowly, the city was ringed with Soviet-style apartment structures, first in bombed areas, then expanding into the countryside. Same as the city, the lives/paths of Bucuresteni and Romanians everywhere changed. Completely.
Years after the overthrow of the communist regime, the House of the People, the world’s second largest building after the US Pentagon, reminds Romanians of the communist era for one reason: it was built for Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator. Now renamed the Palace of Parliament, the 1,000-room building reflects the work of the country’s best architects and artisans.
Inside the Palace of Parliament
Soviet-style apt. buildings
Today, the city reflects a heritage influenced by the old Romanian aristocracy, the communist society, and the international community.
For me, Bucharest is a city of parks and secret little gardens that write their own stories. Stories of lovers strolling hand in hand, of troubadours gathering for evenings of poetry. Parks with hidden pathway, like the one in Herestrau behind the oak tree where I had my first kiss. :)
It’s a busy city these days, changing so fast I fear the random traveler will misunderstand it. Then again, being misunderstood is the fate of all great people and places.
Photos courtesy: Bucharest, by seisdeagosto; Wikimedia CC; Ateneul Roman, by Mastermindsro, Wikimedia CC; Cismigiu Garden, by Britchi Mirela, Wikimedia CC; The Palace of Parliament, by Pete Tedder, Flickr; Pantelimon, Wiki, CC