Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is the largest city and the main political, administrative, economic, financial, banking, educational, scientific and cultural center of the country. Bucharest, a capital which was certified more than 500 years ago, is nowadays animated by a population of almost two million inhabitants.
At the crossroads of the East and West, Bucharest had a long and stormy existence.
The conquest of Decebal’s Dacia by the Romans, immortalized on the Column of Traian the Emperor from the Roman Forum, has become a stone chronicle of a moment which triggered the ethnogenesis of the Romanian people. The Dacian-Roman relations with the Roman-Byzantine civilization come through the linguistic and the early Christian filiation of Saint Andrew apostolate from Dobrogea, ensuring a continuity of the late Antiquity beyond the Danube.
“This particular Romanity, called by the Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga “Byzance apres Byzance” will be the fundamental element of our entire culture and civilization, of the entire process of “becoming”, which can be synthetically described as belonging to the formal Byzantine universe read in a Latin key” (S. Vasilescu)
The foundation of Bucharest is attributed to Bucur, thought to be a peasant by some, or an aristocrat or outlaw by others.
The first documented confirmation of the city of Bucharest was one from the record dated September 20, 1459 through which Vlad Tepes is attesting for some inhabitants their ownership right and is exempting them from paying dues. Vlad Tepes, known also as Dracula, has spent four of his six reign years in Bucharest, favoring this to his former residence, Targoviste.
Curtea Veche – Old Court, the seat of the Walachian rulers, located near Dambovita and Mihai Voda Monastery 1594 – founded by the ruler Mihai Viteazul who unified the first time the three principalities, show Byzantine architectural elements.
The Royal Court (Curtea Domneasca) will polarize a large commercial and hand-made products center, with a lot of inns and stores, today a busy tourism area.
In the post-Byzantine period, 17th century, a series of large monasteries were built, as Plumbuita Monastery (1647) by Matei Basarab (1635-1654), the monastery from Dealul Podgoriilor – now the famous Metropolitan Cathedral, the church of the Cotroceni Monastery (1679-1681) – the work of Constantin Serban Cantacuzino 1654-1658, the Palace from Potlogi 1698, Mogosoaia Palace 1702, Sf. Gheorghe Nou (Saint George the New) church 1707 – the work of Constantin Brancoveanu.
The Turkish-Fanariot regime, after the beheading of Constantin Brancoveanu and his four sons in 1714, sanctified by the Orthodox Church, will not stop the construction of religious spaces. Great places were built, like Vacaresti monastery (1716-1722), Antim monastery (1713-1715) – the work of the scholar metropolitan Antim Ivireanu, Kretuzulescu church 1722, Stavropoleos church (1724-1730), many examples of spatial craftsmanship. Also other investments are important – the Melik house 1760 or Hanul lui Manuc (Manuc Inn) 1808.
The unification of the principalities (1859) has contributed to the development of the capital city, which became the most important city in south-east of Europe, after Istanbul. In 1861, the streets of Bucharest were illuminated with gas, before Paris and Berlin.
The strengthening of the state authority through Prince Charles the 1st of Hohenzolern in 1866 and winning independence from the Turks in 1877, the coronation of the King in (1881) play a beneficial role in the harmonious development of Bucharest.
At the end of the 19th century, the map of the city already had the general configuration of today; the great axes north-south and east-west structuring it were drawn, that is Magheru-Balcescu-Bratianu boulevards of today and Regina Elisabeta-Carol I boulevards. The structures of the institutions which became iconic for the capital were built: Palace of the National Bank 1885 –arch. Albert Galleron and Cassien Bernard, Palace of Justice 1895 – arch. Andrei Ballu and Ion Mincu, Palace of the Romanian Savings Bank 1896-1900 – by Louis Gotterau, Romanian Athenaeum 1888 – arch. Albert Galleron, Post Palace 1900 – arch. Alexandru Savulescu, the University 1869 – arch. Alexandru Orascu, Palace of the Senate 1907 – arch. Dimitrie Maimarolu.
The disappearance of the empires and the appearance of nations, redrawing of the continental maps at the end of the 19th century have triggered the double aspiration to modernity, as a sign of progress and to tradition as a source of identity.
Bucharest is a melting pot of these European style movements which marked the last two centuries. The dilemma between tradition and modernity will accompany the historic path of the city on a spatial and on a cultural level.
The classicism of balanced and symmetric articulation of the volumetric masses, the European romanticism with historic recurrence and the process of typology or synthetic eclectic composition in the area will show the great agitation for coagulation of the institutional spaces.
The elements brought by the experience of the French, Italian and German architects and then by the ones trained by Ecole des Beaux Arts from Paris are vain, monumental. In the summer of 1911, when the famous architect Le Corbusier stopped in Bucharest, he discovered a city invaded by “well known festoons”, later called Little Paris, with an intense life “so hot that you can feel the blood in your temples and can not sleep at night”.
The search of identity, Romanian tradition, will define the first modernity. The shift of the interest from general patrimony to vernacular will generate the development of the regional and of the 1900 art, anticipated by the national architecture movement, or neo-Romanesque (Lahovary house 1886, Bufetul de la Sosea 1892– arch. Ion Mincu) as proto-art-nouveau.
The war, the economic crisis, technological progresses will impose the modernism as an avant-garde exponent of the economic issues and social justice, defining a second modernity.
The esthetics of simplicity, of sincerity in expressing functionality will find in the Romanian space an open field of experiments. The buildings of Marcel Iancu (co-founder of Dadaism), Horia Creanga – Aro Building 1929, Duliu Marcu – Ministry of Transportations 1927 will convince through force and simplicity.
The national socialistic current will also find, through monumental classicism, an adequate illustration –Government Palace 1944, Military Academy 1939 – arch. Duliu Marcu.
The Art-Deco current generated by the Exhibition from Paris in 1925 is represented by the headquarters of Arcub – arch. V. Rosu, the North Station – arch. V. Stefanescu.
We should also define the post-war, in the sense of a regressive modernity with ideology determination, as being the third modernity.
The post-war space is marked by the soviet influence – Casa Scanteii – arch. Horia Maicu then a connection to functionalism through the Polytechnic Institute – arch. Octav Doicescu, St. Gheorghitu Academy – arch. R. Rulea, Palace of Radio and TVR – arch. Tiberiu Ricci, National Theater – arch. Horia Maicu.
After the great earthquake of 1977, the dictator Ceausescu has triggered in the name of post-disaster strategy, a hysteria of demolitions and reconstruction which destroyed over 400ha of the historic center, leaving a deep wound in the city’s body and fadeless traumas to the people.
Churches and monasteries of great architectural and artistic value were demolished (Vacaresti Monastery) or at best shifted in order to be hidden behind apartment buildings (Mihai Voda, Schitul Maicilor, Olari, Cuibul cu barza). An entire elegant villa district, the one from Dealul Spirii, was erased in order to make space for the controversial building “Casa Poporului – People’s House”, second largest in the world (after the Pentagon) and the apartment buildings around it.