THE MEGALOMANIAC DREAM OF A DICTATOR
The Parliament Palace (Palatul Parlamentului) is undoubtedly one of the main tourist attractions of the Romanian capital. This emblematic building offers you an additional attraction, a panoramic balcony with the best view of the dictator Ceausescu´s "New Civic Center" project. Built of marble and steel on an artificial hill, the Palace occupies 330,000 square meters, making it the second-largest building in the world after the Pentagon. With more than 1,000 rooms, a height of 84 meters, 12 floors, and two anti-atomic shelters, it has an imposing appearance.
The enormous dimensions of the Palace speak of the dictator´s megalomania. Nicolae Ceausescu ordered the demolition of entire historic districts to make way for his remarkable tribute to socialism: the House of the People, as the Palace was called. Ceausescu used it as a residence for his family and as the seat of government; he also spared no expense on the interiors: a succession of halls, each more luxurious than the next, with colossal marble staircases, ornate ceilings, mosaics, richly carved doors, furniture, carpets, rows of chandeliers, and crystal chandeliers. Scheduled visits to the Palace bring you closer to its magnitude.
Walking through the deserted halls and corridors of the building will provide a different view of Romania, far removed from the bustling commercial centres that now make up Bucharest´s urban landscape. A visit to this monument provides moments of learning, fascination, and reflection on the past. The last room visited, probably the most spectacular, is the protocol room, destined to be called "Romania". Its dimensions are impressive, and its location in the central axis of the Palace leads us to a huge balcony from where we can look at the Constitution Square, the scene of shows, parades, celebrations.
The impressive view it offers extends to Unirii Boulevard. Unirii is the centrepiece of the great "New Civic Center" project, started after the 1977 earthquake under the excuse of rebuilding and repairing the damage caused by the earthquake in Bucharest. Nicolae Ceau?escu´s regime used it to erase the old historic centre´s influences on the urban environment. In the original project called "Victory of Socialism," the Boulevard Unirii represents the socialist equivalent of the Champs Elysées. Its architecture is inspired by the totalitarian regimes of the former socialist bloc, especially China and North Korea. One of the dictator´s greatest wishes was that the avenue would surpass its Parisian counterpart in size.
The construction of the 3.5 km long artery required a considerable financial and material effort at a difficult time for Romania, and its grandeur should not make us forget that this vast urban project caused incalculable damage to Bucharest´s architectural heritage. Much of the historic centre was demolished to make way for these buildings.
Parliament Palace, 2-4 Izvor Street, Bucharest
MICI",A ROMANIAN PASSION
Outdoor beer gardens in every neighbourhood of Bucharest pump the smell of grilled meat into the streets, attracting pedestrians to a table, a cold beer and a plate of freshly baked "Mici" with bread and mustard. It is an authentic Romanian tradition and, for many, a passion. But what is Mititei or Mici? It is a typical Romanian dish consisting of minced meat rolls grilled with different seasonings. In the original recipes, beef is the preferred meat, but Romanians generally don´t eat much beef and don´t particularly like a lamb, so it seems natural that the recipe evolved to have more pork. Mititei / mici means "the little ones," referring to the size of these sausages.
They are usually about 4-5 cm in length, round in shape, and 2-3 inches in diameter. Sometimes you will see larger ones, but most of them, when cooked, reach that size. Mici can be grilled in a hot oven or even fried, but the natural method is grilling. The two words "Mici" and "Mititei" are used alternatively to refer to this dish; they are plural words in the Romanian language. We are not sure if there is a singular form, but we can assure you that no one in Romania will order only one of them at mealtime. The origin of mici is surrounded by mystery. One popular theory suggests that mici were invented one night at an inn in the Lipscani region of old Bucharest, run by a Transylvanian named Iordache Ionescu, famous for his sausages.
One night, when he was running out of sausage casings, he decided to take a chance and cook some anyway rather than disappoint the line of customers waiting for his grilled sausages. So he came up with the idea of preparing the minced meat in the familiar mici form, in small meat rolls, and putting them directly on the grill. It was without a doubt a success because now they are a staple of Romanian cuisine. Mici" meat is seasoned with thyme, aniseed, paprika, black pepper, and garlic, although it seems that each Romanian family has its recipe. There are neighbourhood butcher shops in Bucharest that produce their own Mici, and some of them have earned a good reputation for their preparations. It´s a dish you can find anywhere in Bucharest, typical restaurants, fast food stalls, and outdoor beer gardens. The mititei are usually accompanied by slightly sweet mustard, white Romanian bread and a cold beer.
French fries are also a popular side dish. You can also order it with Ghivecireis (vegetable rice) and red cabbage and bean salad. Depending on the flavour, classic garnishes are mustard, salted pickled green tomatoes, pickled peppers and cucumbers, finely chopped onions, olives, and a vegetable cream seasoned with chillies (zacusca iute).
TRADITION ON THE CAT WALKS OF HIGH FASHION
What is the best souvenir to take away from Bucharest? A rather tricky question to answer, given the variety of typical products and handicrafts that enrich Romanian culture." We suggest you fix your eyes on the beautiful traditional blouses that you will find in the stores in the historic centre of Bucharest. The Romanian blouse, also called ´ie´, is probably the most symbolic piece of Romanian folklore and a representative artistic expression of the country´s traditions. Made of linen, cotton or silk, the ´ie´ is decorated with embroidery of geometric and floral patterns depending on the region, such as circles and crosses, flowers and butterflies, sometimes even sequins around the neckline, on the front and the sleeves.
Traditionally, the ´ie´ was entirely handmade by women in the countryside, requiring many hours of work and dedication. Each blouse told its own story. Both the cut and the quality of the fabric were often related to the wealth or prestige of the wearer´s family. In the past, blouses often indicated age, social and marital status; unmarried girls and young women wore bright colours, while married or older women wore simple patterns and understated colours. Each design retained its meaning; fertility, war, love, fragility, power, faith... For example, trees represent wisdom and life, while sunflowers represent the sun, a divine symbol of prosperity. In 1940 Henri Matisse painted his famous painting "La blouse roumaine".
Theodor Pallady, a Romanian painter, gave him a beautiful collection of traditional Romanian blouses that inspired him to create this painting and others. Forty years later, in 1981, Matisse´s works inspired the famous designer Yves Saint Laurent for his autumn-winter collection that year.And this was just the beginning because, after Saint Laurent, the "ie" was also a source of inspiration for other designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, Oscar de la Renta, Tom Ford, etc. Thus, the streets of the Romanian villages became a catwalk of elegant designs like those worn by top models in international fashion shows.
Today, traditional Romanian themes continue to inspire the fashion creations of Romanian and foreign designers, not only in fabrics but also in handbags, shoes, and other accessories. Many young Romanian women are creatively integrating the Romanian blouse into their casual wear in an attempt to return to traditional values. One thing we must warn you about is to beware of imitations, as there are also garments made in China. Naturally, if dragons appear among the embroidered motifs, you can be sure that this is not a traditional Romanian blouse. The difference is also noticeable in the price, of course.
The best thing to do is ask your local guide for advice on finding authentic Romanian "ie" at reasonable prices.
THE CAROUSEL OF LIGHT
The Carturesti Carusel bookstore is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world and one of the most photographed places in Bucharest. Located at 55 Lipscani Street, in the heart of Bucharest´s Old Town, this bookstore has gained immense popularity among photography lovers and Instagrammers thanks to its beautiful architecture and interior design. With six floors, over ten thousand books and a cafe on the top floor, you can quickly lose yourself for hours exploring among its numerous shelves.The elegant building, built in the 19th century, was, since 1903, owned by the famous Chrissoveloni banking dynasty and the headquarters of their family business.
It was confiscated during the communist period, and a few decades later, it was transformed into a grocery store. Unfortunately, in the 1990s, the structure became unstable, the building was abandoned. A five-year restoration project that began in the 2000s strengthened the structure of the building, and through an innovative design, but mindful of its historical essence, the store was able to reopen, this time as a sensational bookstore! There are many great places to take pictures in Carturesti, but the classic photo is on the spiral staircase. Something about that staircase and those white banisters with the colorful background of thousands of books seems to be screaming, "take me a picture"! Translated as the "Carousel of Light," Carturesti Carusel is not only notable for the beauty of its white columns and spiral staircase but also for what it offers.
In addition to the extensive collection of books on a wide variety of subjects, you´ll find 5000 albums and DVDs, as well as a multimedia space in the basement and a gallery dedicated to contemporary art on the second floor. If you walk up to the top floor of the store, on the top floor, you will find a bistro with a beautiful view, a great place to sit, plenty of seating, free wifi, and books on the tables to read. This plant-filled space has excellent lighting and modern furniture; the aroma of good food mingles with the scent of freshly printed books. The bistro, with its friendly staff, also serves vegetarian food and excellent coffee.
Throughout the store today, you will find many reading corners and small places to sit and enjoy the shelves, perfect for when you want to escape the city´s crowds. Please share your photos in this beautiful bookstore with us!
Carture?ti Carusel, Strada Lipscani 55, Centrul istoric, Bucurest
ACHURCH ONTHE MOVE
It must be amazing to look out the window and see a secular church passing before your eyes - even more so if you were in communist Romania in the 1980s! And yet, between 1982 and 1988, almost a dozen churches and other buildings were moved hundreds of meters to save them from destruction as dictator Nicolae Ceau?escu radically re-designed the heart of the Romanian capital. At the time, thousands of residents were forced to abandon their homes, and an entire historic district of Bucharest (approximately 9,000 homes), as well as churches, synagogues, and other buildings, were demolished to make way for the dictator´s megalomaniac project.
Hidden among the communist-era skyscrapers is the Mihai Voda Church, a beautiful 16th-century Orthodox church, the oldest of all the churches that moved during this period. The Palace of Parliament now stands on the site where it was moved to its present location, hidden behind a particularly tall apartment block. Nicolae Ceau?escu did not want to see Orthodox churches in his vanity project in Bucharest, and they did not fit with communist architecture or ideals.
The church was part of a monastery that did not survive, founded by Mihai Viteazul Michael the Brave, a 16th-century Romanian unifying prince and the country´s national hero. One legend explains the monastery´s founding; one very, very cold winter, Michael the Brave was arrested by the Wallachian prince Alexandru cel Rau ("Alexander the Evil"), who accused him of plotting to take over the leadership of the country. On his way to St. Anthony´s Square, where he was to be beheaded, he passed by a church on the edge of Mount Spirei. Michael asked its guards for permission to attend mass. Bowing before the icon of St. Nicholas, he promised to build a monastery nearby if he escaped death. There are three versions of how Michael escaped execution.
The first tells of a ransom paid by 12 aristocrats. The second says that Miguel´s physical appearance, tall and handsome, caused the executioner to drop the axe and escape. A third version says that he was freed after protests by the people gathered at the execution site. Once free, he keeps his promise and builds the monastery.That an atheist regime would go to great lengths to save churches is strange enough, but the method makes the accomplishment even more impressive.
At the centre of it all was Eugeniu Iordachescu, the civil engineer who came up with the radical idea of putting entire buildings on the equivalent railroad tracks and transporting them to safety. When he broached the idea with his colleagues, they told him it was not possible, that the buildings would collapse. Some thought he was crazy for even suggesting it. But slowly, the idea took shape in his head. The authorities were sceptical, and for the first step, he was only given verbal permission, and nobody wanted to sign the written approval. But the result was a success - imagine watching centuries-old buildings being moved around in 1980s Romania.
Over time, the team became more ambitious, and Lord achescu even moved entire apartment buildings with the water and gas lines still connected and with the inhabitants still inside! Mihai Voda is one of the few remaining "moving" churches in Bucharest that you can visit today.
Biserica Mihai Voda, Strada Sapien?ei 4, Bucure?ti 050131
WHAT IF WE GO TO A CEMETERY?
Well, if you dare, Bucharest is the ideal place to visit a cemetery with lots of art. This is Bellu Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Bucharest and one of the best known in Romania. The cemetery´s site once housed the court of the nobility and a large garden, the Bellu Garden. In former times it was customary to bury people in churches, a fact that can still be seen in many churches today, as many of these cemeteries are still preserved, as there was no place where needy people, convicts or those who died during plagues and epidemics could be buried, and Baron Bellu at that time gave some land from his garden, for this purpose.
As time went by, this cemetery became a museum. All the wealthiest people in town started to put up their funerary monuments to honour their deceased and soon became the cemetery of the most famous Romanian personalities. Its inauguration took place in 1859, when the little daughter of the mayor of Bucharest, who died when she was only three years old, was buried here. Today many sculptures, beautiful pantheons and tiny chapels with beautiful altarpieces adorn the cemetery. One of the oldest sculptures in the cemetery is that of Katalina Boschott. A young teacher came to Romania from Belgium to care for the children of a famous doctor. The young Katalina and the doctor fell madly in love and lived a beautiful love story. At first, their romance was secret, and to keep it a secret.
They went to spend a few days at a seaside resort, away from the glitter of society. But with such bad luck, she fell ill with peritonitis and died because of medical negligence.On her grave, there was an inscription that read, "this doctor killed me".
It was never really known to whom the inscription was addressed and whether to the doctor who operated on her or her lover. The cemetery belongs to the Association of Significant Cemeteries of Europe.
Do you dare to look for Katalina or find similar stories in the epitaphs? Courage!
THE HIDDEN FRESCO
One of the most emblematic buildings in Bucharest and one that will undoubtedly catch your attention during your visit to the city is the "Ateneul Român", the Romanian Athenaeum, recognized as a symbol of Romanian culture. Besides its architectural beauty, it is famous for the monumental fresco that decorates the circular interior of its 75-meter long and 3-meter vast concert hall, which also bears witness to the political vicissitudes of the country. In 1865, cultural and scientific personalities founded the Romanian Atheneum Cultural Society to erect a large building dedicated to art and culture in Bucharest. On the recommendation of the French architect Charles Garnier, author of the Opéra Garnier in Paris, the plans for the building were assigned to a colleague.
The structure of a former riding school was used for its construction. The building was inaugurated on February 14, 1888. A public campaign to raise the necessary funds was held with a slogan that is still remembered today: "Donate a leu for the Athenaeum! The style of the Athenaeum is neoclassical, with some romantic details. In front of the building is a small park and a statue of Mihai Eminescu, one of the great Romanian poets. The auditorium accommodates 600 spectators in the audience and another 52 on the stage. The first floor has a decorated conference room the same size as the auditorium.
Costin Petrescu´s fresco depicts the milestones of Romanian history in 25 scenes, beginning with Emperor Trajan´s conquest of Dacia and ending with the realization of Greater Romania. The final image shows King Charles II, the King of Culture, accompanied by his heir, Grand Duke Michael, descending among the people to sponsor science, literature, art, agricultural work and industry.In 1940, General Ion Antonescu, who had seized power in Romania, asked the painter Costin Petrescu to remove the former King Charles II from the fresco, whom he had just defeated. In place of the former king, Petrescu painted an allegory of peasants representing the provinces of Greater Romania: the Old Kingdom, Transylvania, Bessarabia, and Bukovina.
Since the painting also included anonymous symbolic figures, peasants, children, etc., at the end of the war, the Communist authorities ignored that two peasants represented Bessarabia and Bukovina. These regions were no longer part of Romania. In February 1948, a congress for the unification of the Communist Party with two other workers´ parties was held at the Romanian Athenaeum. In its preparations, the fresco was covered with red velvet to hide the monarchy´s role in Romanian history.
In 1966 extensive work was done in the Athenaeum to introduce air conditioning, restore the roof, change the armchairs, etc. Thanks to this and the fact that the memory of the monarchy was now distant, the red velvet that had hidden the mural for decades could be removed. If you decide to visit the Athenaeum, you will be amazed by its luxurious decorations and the magnificent fresco forbidden to Romanians during the communist era.
Ateneul Român, Strada Benjamin Franklin 1-3, Bucure?ti 030167
THE CHARM OF COTROCENI
Suppose you want to stroll through one of Bucharest´s most elegant and imposing neighbourhoods. In that case, your choice is Cotroceni, one of the few that survived the 1944 bombings and the megalomania of Nicolae Ceacescu. The architecture of its houses, the leafy trees and the light traffic will make you forget the hustle and bustle of the big city. Although it is one of the quietest neighbourhoods in Bucharest, Cotroceni has many tourist attractions, including the Presidential Palace, the Military Academy, the Botanical Garden, and the Romanian Opera House.
It is located in western Bucharest, situated around Cotroceni Hill in Sector 5 of the city. In the 17th century, this select neighbourhood was a large forest that extended to the Dâmbovi?a River. The area´s name comes from a Romanian archaism meaning "to hide," as the dense forest was a refuge for thieves and bandits. In 1678, Serban Cantacuzino, prince of Wallachia, persecuted for plotting to seize power, took refuge for three days in the forest itself. Serban returned to the country a year later and, as a sign of his gratitude, built a monastic complex in the forest consisting of a church, a house for abbots, cells for the monks, and several royal houses. After 1850, successive Romanian rulers used these houses as summer residences, thus increasing interest in the area. King Carol I, demolished the royal houses in 1893 and built the present Cotroceni Palace.
The construction of the Palace favoured the development of an exclusive neighbourhood with Art Nouveau, Neo-Romanesque and Neo-Moorish architecture. In the early 20th century, all kinds of important people, intellectuals, professors, artists, and high-ranking army officers, built their mansions around the Palace to be close to the king. In this way, the neighbourhood became very select, and the elegant two-level houses, spacious and often with a small courtyard, gave the area a princely air.
Development continued with theconstruction of important buildings, such as the Medical School, attracted important figures from the scientific elite to the neighbourhood. Ninety per cent of Cotroceni´s streets are named after great doctors and researchers. Discovering the neighbourhood´s streets will evoke the Bucharest of another era: many of its houses remain unchanged despite the passage of time. An exciting aspect of the district and a secret to preserving its architectural beauty is a protected area. New buildings are rare and follow rules imposed by law: they must be aligned in height with the old ones and thus maintain a homogeneous appearance within their diversity.
A walk to Controceni can be an unforgettable experience, allowing you to enjoy exciting architecture, a bourgeois atmosphere with houses covered in trellises and aristocratic cats prowling in the shade of old tilia and chestnut trees. It is a residential area, with no stores except for a few good cafes and terraces where you can take refuge in the hot summer months.
The nearest metro station to Cotroceni is Eroilor.
IN A GARDEN OF DREAMS
The most central of the city´s public gardens, Cismigiu is a paradise of grass, trees, flowers and ponds, and is Bucharest´s oldest public garden. Often mistakenly referred to as a park, Cismigiu is a large garden, first designed and laid out in 1845 by German architect and landscape designer Carl Meyer, which was not completed until 1860. More than 30,000 trees and plants were brought from the Romanian mountains, while exotic plants were obtained from the Vienna botanical gardens. The city´s heart is about 16 hectares and is bounded by two central boulevards: Regina Elisabeta Boulevard and Schitu Magureanu Boulevard.
In the southeastern part of the garden is the Gheorghe Lazar National College. In the northern part of the park, you can admire the Cretulescu Palace. The garden is designed in the English parks´ manner. It has several entrances: two from Regina Elisabeta Boulevard, two from Schitu Magureanu Boulevard, one from ?tirbei Voda Street and is included in the list of historical places in Bucharest. Small but well-maintained, among the highlights of this garden are the Roman Garden, designed in the style of ancient Rome, with busts of Romania´s most famous writers; the artificial lake, whichcan be explored in a rowboat in the warmer months or skating during the winter; and the French monument in Carrara marble, celebrating It is prevalent in Romanian fiction, as mentioned in several literary works.
The park has two cafes, refreshment kiosks and, in summer, terraces and playgrounds. It can get bustling in good weather, but it is a lovely place to spend time. Cismigiul should be visited mainly in spring and summer when it is decorated with flowers of all colours and coincides with cultural or musical events. You can paddle on the lake, have a drink or a beer on one of the terraces on its shore, you can admire the complex assortment of flowers at the entrance, or you can rest on one of the benches next to the statues of famous Romanian writers.
Cismigiu is a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon.
Gradinile Ci?migiu, Bulevardul Regina Elisabeta, Bucure?ti 030167
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