Bucharest

Bucharest (Bucuresti), the Little Paris


Bucharest city center, circa 1930

Close your eyes and imagine yourself dressed up for a sunny Sunday afternoon, with your elegant hat and your fancy stick, if you are a monsieur, or your lace umbrella, if you are a mademoiselle. You're in a chaise cart, dragged by two horses, and shout to the cab driver: "To the boulevard! To the boulevard, driver!" On beautifully paved streets (some still in best shape in our days), you're heading to the centre of a European city in one of its most blooming periods: Bucharest of the 1930s. As you, an aristocrat, must be seen and show off in the society, you salute with a relaxed, though respectful gesture all the passer-bys and finally enter the fancy Patisserie Capsa, where are about to enjoy an eclaire, one of the finest sweets to be found in Bucharest, the Capital City of Romania.


Arch of Triumph, Bucharest

Due to its strong French influence in literature, art, culture, language, fashion, attitude, but mostly architecture, Bucharest was nick-named "Paris of the East" or "Little Paris". The most expressive symbol for this remains the "Arch of Triumph", unveiled in its current form in 1936, similar to the identically named Parisian monument.

Nevertheless, the city's architecture is the 'living' proof of the tumultuous history and alternating periods of development and decay, a spectacle of diversity, extravagance, good taste and mismatch, new buildings and desolation…

 

Facts

Located in the South-East of Romania, Bucharest enjoys a flat relief and is crossed by the Dambovita River, Bucharest's version of Seine.

Bucharest sights along the Dambovita River

 

With its more than 2Mil inhabitants and 230km2, Bucharest, the Capital of Romania, is the largest city and at the same time the main political, administrative, economical, financial, banking, educational and cultural center in the country. Basically here happens everything!


Here is a 2:30 minute long resume of the city:


Just to get a grasp of how Bucharest looks like during summer from a City Tour Bus and to feel its energy, have a quick look (2.5 min) at this video. Please watch from minute 5:30 to minute 8:00:

Within the European Union, Bucharest is the 6th largest city according to its population after London (UK), Berlin (Germany), Madrid (Spain), Roma (Italy) and Paris (France), but the 2nd when it comes to density of population on km2 within city limits (at this point I would like to underline that I refer to the EU; when looking at Europe, Turkish cities maintain the records of density). Sadly, Bucharest is one of the most polluted and noisiest main cities on the Continent. An anecdote even says: “if you learn how to drive in Bucharest, then you are an exquisite driver, prepared for everything”.


In spite of all this maybe scary detail and counter-advertising that no Bucharestian would want me to admit in front of foreigners or potential tourists, I genuinely hope that this adds some spice to your experience in visiting this interesting city. Believe me, you’ll have at least 3 catchy things to tell to your friends and family when you get back home. Maybe it will be the fact that taxis cost 30 pennies per km, that Bucharestian women are very beautiful or that the Department of National Security is an modern building built on top of an old one.

Convenient taxies, beautiful women, interesting architecture.

And, why not admit it, people in Bucharest are mostly very well educated, dynamic, speakers of English and other foreign languages, colorful, funny, sarcastic, interesting, very welcoming, open and used to visitors. We’re famous for our good food. We know how to enhance your experience and thrill you.

 

History & Buildings

One legend says the city was founded by a herdsman called Bucur, another that a voivode (a local ruler) called Mircea put the city’s head stone. Either way, the name “Bucuresti” means “The Joyful” and was first mentioned in official documents in 1459, during the rule of Vlad Tepes (the famous Dracula). It was the first city in the world to have lamp oil street illumination.

Throughout the XVI to the XIX century, the city faced Ottoman oppression, Turkish assaults, Turkish-Russian wars and occupancy, plague, several forced changes of regimes, and also the famous 1848 Revolution, but still managed to develop in between the periods of distress. New schools, hospitals, churches, cultural institutes and streets were built, while the overall surface, population and the importance of the city enhanced. At the end of the XIX century, in the honor of the soldiers returning home victoriously in the war against the Turks, the main squares, bridges and boulevards received the names they bear today, e.g. Calea Victoriei, Calea Dorobantilor, Piata Victoriei. This is lost memory of a romantic Bucharest. The following decades earned the city its nickname of “Little Paris”, due to its Renaissance influence, introduced by artists, architects and travelers returning from their studies, visits or longer stays abroad.

After the Second World War a major change occurred: the instauration of the Communist Regime under Ceausescu. The Communists were planning the extension of the major boulevards built in the XIX century, projected parks and brought up massive buildings, mainly in the communist style: the headquarters of the Communist Party, other administrative buildings and huge concrete apartment blocks, with no distinctive appearance. A vast number of churches and synagogues were destroyed at the President’s Ceausescu’s order, to make place for the new constructions. Please see some of tese buildings below.

Ceausescu/Communist style architecture in Bucharest

 

Ceausescu’s exaggeration towards his personal luxury and grandness burdened the people. One of the living proof of this is the “People’s House” (pre 1990's) or the “Palace of the Parliament”. The Palace of the Parliament is multi-purpose building containing both chambers of the Romanian Parliament and is a major attraction for visitors. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Palace is the world’s:

  • largest civilian administrative building
  • most expensive administrative building
  • heaviest building
  • second largest building after the Pentagon (Washington)

Palace of the Parlament as seen from above

 

The Palace of the Parlament, the south and north side

 

Bucharest: 2nd Largest Building in the World: 3:31 min:

 

Some of the most important Squares in Bucharest that concentrate most of the city’s life are:

1. Piata Unirii (Union Square)

 

2. Piata Universitatii (University Square)

 

3. Piata Victoriei (Victory Square)

 

The Old City Centre is another major attraction of the city, with its heavy historical loading marked by ruins of palace walls, old houses of handicraftsmen of all kind, narrow paved streets with lanterns and its intense day & night activity, animated by Bucharestians and tourists enjoying the shops, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, confectioneries, bars and clubs. For any distraction, relaxation or fun activity, this is the place to go, at any time. The Old City Centre will always have something just perfect for your mood.

Different sights and busy streets from the Old City Centre

 

The End…
And there you are, dear aristocrat of the beginning of the century, just finishing your eclaire at the Capsa Patisserie in the City Centre and leaning back in the fine chair, not even guessing that even after three generations, Bucharestians will enjoy the same simple pleasures as you do now…

A stroll down one of the old pedestrian streets of Bucharest

 
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