Bucharest: Walking the Streets of Old City

A city ‘s personality reveals gradually and only during slow walks down its older streets, not necessarily its large boulevards. Today’s Bucharest looks like a city that is difficult to understand deeply. Of course the large roads and the sumptous Neoclassic, Neo- Baroque and Art deco buildings in the centre highlight the city built a century ago; and the perimeter whose starting point is the House of Parliament (former People’s House) proves the rough military inertia of the architecture specific to the totalitarian period. The city a century and a half ago, or even older, should be looked for in more or less the same spot- the history of places overlapped and interwined archtiectural styles.

The documented beginning of Bucharest is on the bank of the Dambovita River, close to the current Unirii Square, where you can see the ruins of the Old Court.

It was initially a citadel whose role was protection, built around the end of the 14 th century by the ruler Mircea the Elder.

Prince Vlad the Impaler (Who was the source of inspiration for a terrifying myth in the 19th century, renowed all around world today) consolidated the citadel and turned it into a Princely Court (first documented attestation in the year 1459). The Court in Bucharest was not the first capital of the country; before, the city of Targoviste fulfilled this role and the two cities shared their attributions until 1600. The flourishing period of the Princely Court in Bucharest, which had become the single Capital in time, was during the rule of Constantin Brancoveanu, when the Voievodal Palace and the surrounding buildings acquired new aspects.  The Palace, built out of brick, stone and marble, included, besides ceremonial halls, princely apartments and those of the children, a bathroom, wine cellars and it was surrounded by other houses, stables and gardens.

The Old Court was destroyed by a major fire in 1718. Today, its ruins are an outdoor museum where you can admire the vestiges of the 14th century citadel, part of the wall of Vlad the Impaler’s citadel made of the river stone, as well as the building technique based on the Old Romanian-Byzantine method, consisting of displaying rows of briks that separate and pile boulders or stone tiles, as well as the ruins of the Voivodal Palace. Only the Court Church (1545-1554) is preserved from that age, being the oldest construction in Bucharest; it has services and it can be visited. Naturally, the city developed around the Princely Court, with churches, inns and streets, some of which exist to this day.

The current French Street, the oldest one in the city, dates back to Brancoveanu’s rule (1692) when it was paved with oak three beams; it was the road connecting the Voivodal Palace in the city and the summer residence of the princely family, Mogosoaia Palace, 20 kilometers north-east of the city. Mogosoaia Palace is one of the most beloved recreational destinations today. The current name of this street is due to the fact that one of the buildings hosted the French Consulate in Bucharest.

French Street

 

 

 

Most street names in the old city recall crafts specific to that particular age. Thus, Lipscani Street , documented since 1589 and named initially Ulita cea Mare (Great Lane), received its name in 1750 from the merchants selling gods brought from Lipsca- Leipzig (Germany). The buildings that can be seen today on Lipscani Street were built mostly in the 19th cen­tury in the Neoclassic and Neo-Ba­roque style. At one of the ends of the street stands the She-wolf Statue, copy of the famous Roman monument “Lupa  Capitolina”, depicting the legendary she-wolf that is supposed to have fed Ro­mulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The statue was offered to Bucharest by the municipality of Rome, in 1906, at the anniversary of 40 years since King Carol I had been crowned ruler of Romania and 1800 years since the Roman conquest of Dacia. The name Lip­scani became the generic name for the entire space of the Old City Centre due to the importance of the merchants whose stores were located on this street.

National Bank of Romania in Lipscani Street

 

A beautiful building which hosting the Romanian Ombudsman

Selari Street, the first one perpendicular to Lipscani, got its name from the harness objects that used to be sold here (most­ly riding saddles). Today, one of the most important buildings on the street is the so-called Beer Court (Curtea Berarilor), initially a princely palace at the turn of the 18th century, built by a prince, Cantacuzino, for his wife. Fami­ly drama and the vicissitudes of history that marked the entire de­ velopment of the city made the palace decay, becoming, in turn, hotel, brothel, café, glasswork- ers’ guild centre and now a beer house. Selari Street got its name from the harness objects that used to be sold here, mostly riding saddles.

Selari Street

 

Blánari Street is where ex­pensive furs were sold in the 18th century. At the end of the street we can still visit one of the old churches in the city centre, Saint Nicholas of the Glassworkers’ guild. Initially built in the 16th century by a dignitary in the Can­tacuzino family, the church has gone through successive destruc­tions and restorations; the last restoration dates back to the year 1868 when it was painted entirely by the renowned Romanian acad­emy painter Gheorghe Tattarescu, creator of the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest.

Covaci Street got its name from the old ironsmiths’ guild. Legend says that in the inn “La Idee” on Covaci Street there was invented the recipe of the popu­lar mititei: for lack of sheep casing for sausages, the restaurant’s owner is said to have thrown the meat straight on the grill. Thus appeared the small rolls of grilled meat – the mititei – which con­quered Paris around 1900, and which are today attested by the European Union as a traditional Romanian dish.

Covaci Street

Smârdan Street is one of the oldest. Attested in 1710 under the name of Uliţa Târgului Dinăuntru(l) (Curţii) (The Fair Lane inside the Court), the street got its cur­rent name after 1877, in honour of the Romanians’ victory over the Turks in the locality of Smâr­dan (in the Bulgaria of today), which was equivalent to obtaining the country’s independence.

Smardan Street

The most important build­ing on Gabroveni Street and the source of inspiration for its name is definitely Gabroveni Inn. An archi­tectural monument built between 1804 and 1818, the inn found glo­ry between 1825 and 1850. This is where merchants from Gabrovo (Bulgaria) used to stop. Recently, the old inn building was fully and ingeniously restored, by valoris­ing all levels of the construction, from the cellar to the attic, and it became an important cultural centre of Bucharest.

Stavropoleos Street connects the old center to Victoria Square, being one of the places included in most of the history-based guides. Here we find a series of buildings and monuments.The few streets we mentioned do not make up the entire laby­rinth in the Old Centre, they just invite you to take a walk and dis­cover particularly charming build­ings, which have now turned into cafes, beer houses, clubs, shops or bookstores. For this reason, we make a special mention for Stav- ropoleos Street, with its two archi­tectural jewels, a religious one – Stavropoleos Church, built in the Brancovenesc style in 1774 by a Greek monk – and a secular one, the famous beer bouse Caru cu Bere, which was opened in 1879.

Caru cu Bere Restaurant

Stavropoleos Church

 

A beautiful building in Stavropoleos Street which hostinh the Permanent Electoral Autority

We go back to the Princely Court to tell you about the oldest and biggest inn in Bucharest – Hanul lui Manuc (Manuc’s Inn). It was built in 1806 by Manuc bei (Eman­uel Marzaian, Armenian diplomat and merchant from Rusciuc) on the land that had belonged to the Court. The central authority of the state had lost prestige and finan­cial problems determined the sale by lots of the land belonging to the Princely Court. The initial ar­chitecture of Manuc’s Inn is not known entirely, but the descrip­tions of the time show it had 15 arched cellars, 23 shops at the ground floor, two large salons, ten pantries, rooms for servants, a tunnel that could fit 500 people, 107 guest rooms on the upper floor, a café and a garden in the courtyard, a stone quay by the riv­er and the horse stable. The inn, fully restored by its current own­er, maintains its initial hospitality functions, being one of the main centres of attraction in Bucharest, the last traditional inn in Europe.

Hanul Manuc Restaurant

 

Inside “Hanul Manuc” Restaurant

Although split in two on the north-south axis through I.C.Bratianu Boulevard (in the second half of the 19th century), the old part of the city continues with the same labyrinth of streets on the other side of this large road. The best and most famous example to this end is Coltea Church and the hospital bearing the same name. Coltea Monastery was built in 1695-1697 by the dignitary Mihai Cantacuzino. Based on the model of the old Venetian hospital San­ to Lazzaro e Medicanti, he builds near the church the first medical establishment in Wallachia, a hos­pital for the poor, with 24 beds, a drugstore/pharmacy, “with vari­ous remedies and healing plants”, a house for the surgeon, a school, rooms for professors and other annexes, which were completed by 1714-1715. Restored follow­ing a large archaeologic research,

Coltea Church remains an archi­tectural landmark of the Branco- venesc style; the hospital, which has worked continuously for 300 years, is now one of the largest and most modern in Bucharest and preserves its architecture from the end of the 19th century.

Coltea Church and Coltea Hospital

 

Another beautiful street in this area is Ghica Street which hosting a number of beautiful buildings.

Ghica Street

As opposed to other big cities, Bucharest’s historic centre also includes the Financial City. This is due to the manufactur­ing activities and the animated trade that took place close to the Princely Court and in relation to it, as well as to the numerous inns in the area. The vivid picture of peo­ple’s walks, exchanges of goods between the West and the East and money transactions made various incipient banking and stock exchange institutions ap­pear on these streets at the mid­dle of the 19th century. In 1945, the Old City Centre in Bucharest had over 200 banks – offices and branches.

The first to be mentioned is the National Bank of Romania, established in 1880 as a credit institution, which had the exclu­sive prerogative of issuing notes. The bank’s capital was entirely Romanian and one third of it be­longed to the state and two thirds to private persons. During both world wars, the National Bank of Romania offered financial support to the Romanian government’s war effort, while taking measures to stop inflation and save its own treasury.

National Bank of Romania

The first palace of the Bank, the old one, whose main façade was to Lipscani Street, was built on the site of the old §erban Voda Inn. Built in 1683-1685, this architectural ensemble was the main inn of the city due to its size and the safety granted to mer­chants in the citadel-like premis­es, with full walls on the outside. In 1863, at a time when it was al­most abandoned, the inn became the property of the state, then it was bought by the Bank and de­molished to make room for the new bank palace. For its construc­tion, the bank’s management vis­ited similar European institutions in view of noting the progress made in banking architecture. In the year 1882, the architects Cassien Bernard, Charles Garni- er’s student and collaborator, the author of the Opera of Paris and Albert Galleron designed the proj­ect of the Palace, which was lat­er shown at the National Beaux Arts Exhibition in Paris, receiving favourable appreciation. Built be­tween 1883-1889 in the eclectic academic style, with many ele­ments of Renaissance architec­ture and French classicism, the Palace has a rectangular shape and it is one of the most beautiful buildings in Bucharest.

The old palace of the Na­tional Bank of Romania opened the series of monumental build­ings through which newly-creat­ed Romanian modern institutions associated a concrete image that provided them with the necessary visibility to impose: the Palace on Lipscani Street changed the way the commercial centre was per­ceived, by imposing the banking element. Not by hazard, over the next decades, the most important banks and financial institutions erected buildings around it (Da- cia-Romania Insurance Company, National Insurance Company, Dis­counting House, Chamber of Com­merce and Industry and the Stock Exchange, the Deposit House, the Marmorosch-Blank Bank, the Ag­ricultural Bank), which led to the creation of the Bucharest finan­cial-banking centre. Behind the old Palace of the National Bank, between 1940 and 1954 a new impressive building was erected, determined by the progressive expansion of the bank’s attribu­tions, especially related to organ­ising and supervising foreign cur­rency trading and precious metal circulation.

Nearby the building of National Bank of Romania there is a superb passage among buildings which is named Villacrosse Macca. Here you can find a number of restaurants and cafes, both on the left and the right labyrinth.

 

The leftside of Villacrosse Macca…

On the right side…

The Palace of the Deposit, Consignation and Economy House is located a few hundreds of me­tres away, on Calea Victoriei, al­most across the Old Palace of the National Bank. The cornerstone of the Deposit House was laid in 1897, in the presence of King Carol I of Romania and Queen Elisabeth, on the spot of an old monastery from the 16th centu­ry. Designed based on the plans of architect Paul Gottereau (who had worked at the restoration of the Royal Palace in the years be­fore), with specific elements of the French architecture of the end of the 19th century, the Deposit House Palace was completed in 1900. The Palace, built In an eclec­tic style, finished with a dome of glass and metal. The entrance is crowned by a semicircle fronton supported by a pair of composite style columns. The four corners, decorated with gables and coats of arms, are covered by Renais­sance style domes. A much larg­er dome covers the central hall of the building. The judicious deco­ration of the facades, the balance of the volumes It consists of and the Interior paintings that were made between 1900 and 1913 by Mihail Simonide make this palace the most beautiful architectural monument of the city.

The Deposit House

Both the National bank and the Deposit House preserved their initial functions and they have specific museums inside, opened to the public under special condi­tions, allowing the visitation of the sumptuous palaces as well. Across the Deposit House Palace and built at the same time on Calea Victoriei Is the Impres­sive Post Office Palace (today the National Museum of Romanian History). Built between 1894 and 1900, based on plans by the ar­chitect Alexandru Săvulescu for a public destination – the central post office, the palace has an au­thoritarian Neo-Classical architec­ture, specific to offices of Europe­an public institutions of that time. The edifice has a massive rectan­gular shape, with compact fronts on secondary sides, while the façade has a monumental Doric column, supported on two pavil­ions with domes and an entrance consisting of 12 steps. The porch opened to half of the columns’ height, with the 10 Doric columns, makes the building resemble the Geneva Federal Post Office Palace (Switzerland). As of 1972, the pal­ace hosts the National Museum of Romanian History, where you can see the Romanian Treasure and a life-size copy of the famous mon­ument Trajan’s Column In Rome.

National Museum of Romanian History

The Chamber of Com­merce and Industry and the Stock Exchange Palace concludes the presentation of the Historic Centre of Bucharest. The spot on which the building was erected was do­nated by the minister of Indus­try, loan Lahovary. The Stock Ex­change Palace was built between 1908 and 1911, based on plans of the Romanian architect Stefan Burcus, in the French Neo-Classi­cal style, with Corinthian pillars and columns. The exterior sculp­tures were created by Emil Wil­helm Becker, the sculptor of the Royal Court. The sculpture on the
front depicts Industry and the god Mercur, holding a caduceus, as a symbol of commerce. Although today the Stock Exchange Palace does not preserve its Initial func­tion (the National Library of Ro­mania functioned here between 1955 and 2010), and it is in a rather high state of degradation, it was mentioned because it regu­larly hosts one of the most appre­ciated antiques fairs in Bucharest.

 

If you take a walk through the Old Centre of the Romanian capital, you will discover some of the country’s history, you will feel the Eastern charm of the old city, with Its narrow streets and inns, and you will admire the elegant palaces that won Bucharest the name of Little Paris. And the offer of cafes, beer houses and restau­rants seems inexhaustible..

 

 

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