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Romania: Bran, Bucharest, Sibiu, Sighisoara, Transalpina Highway, Transfagarasan Highway
Bucharest, Romania: Big... and happy
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
According to legend, Bucharest was founded by a shepherd called Bucur. In Romanian, bucurie is the term for blissful happiness. Bucur means "you are happy". Bucharest, the Romanian capital is the sixth largest city in the European Union and certainly political, economic and cultural centre of Romania.
After having completed our drive tour of Romania in our Porsche Macan Turbo, we reached Bucharest in the evening. After returning our cars, we checked into Radisson Blu Hotel Bucharest - located right in city centre on the famous Victory Street. The evening in Bucharest would be our last with the Porsche group. An excellent farewell dinner was organised for us at Caru Cu Bere. We extended our stay in Bucharest for a day so that we could explore the city.
The next morning, after breakfast, we hired a private taxi to show us around Bucharest. The cost was Euro 500. That was quite steep, knowing well that local taxis would be available at a much lower cost. But then we wanted to play it safe plus we got the services of the English speaking driver, Mr Teodor Tat, who doubled up as an excellent guide.
A few minutes' drive got us to Revolution Square. Revolution Square is in central Bucharest, on Calea Victoriei (Victory Street). Known as Piata Palatului (Palace Square) until 1989, it was later renamed after the 1989 Romanian Revolution.
The former Royal Palace (now the National Museum of Art of Romania), the Athenaeum, the Athenee Palace Hotel, the University of Bucharest Library and the Memorial of Rebirth are located here. The square also houses the building of the former Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party (from where Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife fled by helicopter on December 22, 1989). In 1990, the building became the seat of the Senate and since 2006 it houses the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reform.
Prior to 1948, an equestrian statue of Carol I of Romania stood there. Created in 1930 by the Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, the statue was destroyed in 1948 by the Communists, who never paid damages to the sculptor. In 2005, the Romanian Minister of Culture decided to recreate the destroyed statue from a model that was kept by Mestrovic's family. In 2007, the Bucharest City Hall assigned the project to the sculptor Florin Codre, who is going to design an original statue of Carol inspired by Mestrovic's model.
In August 1968 and December 1989, the square was the site of two mass meetings which represented the apogee and the nadir of Ceausescu's regime. Ceausescu's speech of 21 August 1968 marked the highest point in Ceausescu's popularity, when he openly condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia and started pursuing a policy of independence from Kremlin. Ceausescu's final speech, 1989 was meant to emulate the 1968 assembly and presented by the official media as a "spontaneous movement of support for Ceausescu", erupting in the popular revolt which led to the end of the regime.
Driving along big wide roads, our next stop was the Palace of the Parliament. Seat of the Parliament of Romania, located on Spirii Hill the Palace is the world's largest civilian building with an administrative function. It is also the most expensive administrative building and heaviest too!
It measures 270 metres by 240 metres; 86 metres high and 92 metres underground. It has 1,100 rooms and is 12 stories tall, with additional 8 underground levels. A colossal parliament building known for its ornate interior, it houses the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, three museums and an international conference center.
The Palace was designed by a team of 700 architects led by architect Anca Petrescu. Construction began during Communism, in 1980, with the demolition of Republica Stadium and part of the old city. Among the important historic buildings lost then, some of them were National Monuments, were the Vacaresti Monastery, the Brancovenesc Hospital and the National Archives. In 1989, it was nearly completed by the Ceausescu regime as the seat of political and administrative power.
At the time of Romanian Revolution which overthrew communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, in December 1989, the Palace of the Parliament was completely finished on the outside and inside had most of its rooms finished.
Driving along the beautiful Unirii Boulevard, we stopped at Piața Unirii - one of the largest squares in central Bucharest, located in the center of the city where Sectors 1, 2, 3, and 4 meet. It is bisected by Unirii Boulevard, originally built during the Communist era as the Boulevard of the Victory of Socialism, and renamed after the Romanian Revolution of 1989.
The square is a significant transport hub, containing the Piața Unirii metro station and a major interchange for RATB buses; there is also a tram terminal near the southwest corner. The Unirea Shopping Center, the Cocor department store and a large taxi rank are located on the east side of this square. The centre of the square boasts a small park and fountains which are particularly popular with commuters and passers-by in the torrid summer months.
From the Unirii Square we drove along Bratianu Boulevard, Magheru Boulevard, Lascar Boulevard, Aviatorilor Boulevard, Beijing Boulevard, Constantin Boulevard and back to the hotel via Victory Boulevard.
The route took us by massive government buildings, upscale homes, monuments, lakes and museums. Few significant structures include:
The Bucharest University of Economic Studies is a public university. Founded in 1913 as the Academy of Higher-level Commercial and Industrial Studies it has become one of the largest higher education institutes in both Romania and South-Eastern Europe. The Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies is classified as an advanced research and education university by the Ministry of Education.
The Hidden Church. It’s easy to observe that many of the churches in Bucharest are hidden either behind or between larger modern buildings. But this is not because people lost faith or they did not care any longer about the church in their neighbourhood.
Communists did not believe in anything other than themselves, but this was not enough. Ceausescu, the last of the communist rulers of Romania, hated to see churches while going by car through Bucharest. Besides, he wanted both to systematise the city after his own criteria and to leave his mark through the history of the city. So in the mid ‘80s, he ordered many churches to be demolished to make way for his grandiose plans. Some architects tried to protect monument churches and monasteries in the city centre as much as they could, and in some cases they succeeded. Therefore, some churches were literally moved from their initial location by even 500 metres, while others have been “hidden from sight”, by raising tall blocks either in front of them, or on each of their sides.
Eroilor Statue. The Monument to the Heroes of the Air is located in the Aviators' Square, on Aviators’ Boulevard. It was built between 1930 and 1935 by the architect and sculptor Lidia Kotzebuie and by Iosif Fekete. The structure, 20 metres high, is made up of bronze sculptures resting on an obelisk-shaped stone pedestal, which in turn stands atop four trapezoidal prisms linked to each other by arcs. Beneath this entire complex is a circular stone base.
Herastrau is a large park on the northern side of Bucharest around Lake Herastrau, one of the lakes formed by the Colentina River. The shores has great restaurants in one of which we had our dinner after landing in Bucharest.
Arc de Triumf was raised in 1922 to commemorate Romania’s World War I dead. The original Arc was made of wood, replaced by the present, Petru Antonescu designed concrete structure in 1935. Standing 25 metres high, the Arc has a staircase that allows visitors to climb to the terrace on the top of the monument, though it is strangely closed most of the time and only opened on special occasions. The sculptures and reliefs that decorate the monument were created by the leading artists of the day, including Ion Jalea, Constantin Medrea and Constantin Baraschi. At the time of our visit, the Arc was under renovation.
Printing Building or the Casa Presei Libere (meaning House of the Free Press) is a building in northern Bucharest - the tallest in the city between 1956 and 2007.
A horse race track was built in 1905 on the future site of Casa Presei Libere. A third of the track was removed in 1950 to make way for a wing of the building, and the race track was finally closed and demolished in 1960, after a decision by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. The building was designed by the architect Horia Maicu, in the pure style of Soviet Socialist realism, resembling the main building of the Moscow State University, and was intended to house all of Bucharest's printing presses, the newsrooms and their staff.
Between 1952 and 1966, Casa Scinteii was featured on the reverse of the 100 lei banknote. On 21 April 1960, a giant statue of Vladimir Lenin, made by Romanian sculptor Boris Caragea, was placed in front of the building. However, this statue was removed on 3 March 1990, following the Romanian Revolution of 1989.
The Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History bears the name of Grigore Antipa, the most famous Romanian biologist the achievements of whom have hardly been matched by any of his fellow Romanian specialized in the field (Grigore Antipa was, amongst others, the first Romanian who reached the North Pole).
The venue is the largest museum of natural history in the country. Ethnographic exhibits can also be studied, though, undeniably, the highlights refer to the mineralogical, zoological and paleontological collections.
It was almost 3 PM when we reached our hotel. We had a late lunch that afternoon at an Indian restaurant. That evening we spent walking in the by lanes around the Revolution Square and spent a few hours at the hotel's casino.
Very early next morning we would take our flights back home.
Bucharest Image Gallery Photo viewer
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