Bucharest: A Walk through History I
by Ioana Petrescu
Unlike a good part of the countries forming the Eastern Block before 1989, Romania still remains a mysterious destination for most of the tourists. Situated at what is called the Eastern boarder of the European Union, it recently started to welcome people coming from all over the world. On one hand, what tourist love is the fact that they can enjoy things such as traditions that haven’t been changed since hundreds of years, a beautiful scenery with lowlands and mountains or Europe’s biggest delta. On the other hand, once they step in the cities they can discover a vibrant and growing urban culture, where there is always something happening. And the attraction point for this is of course Romania’s capital, Bucharest.
Facts about Bucharest
Compared to other European capitals, Bucharest was founded quite recently. The first official statements date back to 1459 and it was a document signed by Vlad the Impaler (also known as Count Dracula – yes, you read it right, the famous vampire, Count Dracula). Even though in the popular belief it is thought that the dreadful count lived in Transylvania, he was actually the king of the region called Wallachia in the Middle Ages.
The Romanian name of the city, București, is also connected to a legend. According to one of the most known legends the real founder was a sheepherder called Bucur and the citizens of the establishment he created became known as bucureșteni (heirs of Bucur).
During most of its history, Bucharest was a capital city, even though for a couple of hundreds of years the country/kingdom was under Ottoman, Austrian or Russian occupation. Fast forwarding the events that modeled the view we get today, one can say that the city underwent through different modernization processes and that the people here were witnessed quite some happenings, from revolutions until wars, natural disasters and a complete ‘facelift’ during the communist time.
The city flourished more than once in history and the most known development was in the period when the capital was called the ‘Little Paris’ due to the architectural resemblance with the French city. Even though the communist regime ended over 26 years ago, this was a real set-back for Bucharest’s development as many of the historical buildings were demolished and never to be recovered.
The Old Town
For a place with 1.9 million citizens and another almost 500.000 living in the surrounding areas, it is quite easy for a tourist to find his way around the busy streets and to find peaceful and quite places. At first sight it might seem a concrete jungle, but at a second look one can see and discover the city’s beauties.
In your tour in Bucharest, you should start with the well-known old town, a reminiscence of the historical part of the city. In the past couple of years this part was renewed and the access of cars was forbidden. Now, one can enjoy either a long walk down the streets, the view of old historical buildings, sitting at a nice terrace or the crazy nightlife (we will get to this later).
If you want to have a good walking tour, just start your journey at the northern end of Calea Victoriei (one of the oldest street in Bucharest and a main connecting road) and in Victoriei Square. This will take you from the Natural History museum, passing by the Revolution Square, through the city center, until one of the extremities of the Old Town.
Main Attraction Points in the Old Town
Now that you have started your tour next to the museum, start heading South and check out some destinations.
The first point is actually the Natural History Museum, in a building dating back to the end of the 19th century. Tourist interested in this domain can see collections focused on Romania’s biodiversity, ecosystems around the world and also a collection dedicated to the evolution of the human kind. On the other side of the square one can see the Government’s building, built in between 1937 and 1952.
The journey to the city center takes its visitors next to the George Enescu museum, a building dedicated to our main composer, who has now classical music festival. In the beginning this place was a palace built in the beginning of the XXth century in the rococo style.
Further down the road, tourists in Bucharest can see the former Royal Palace. The building stands now over a smaller court made for a former nobile family in Bucharest which was rebuilt in the U-shaped palace that we can see today. Even though its initial purpose was to serve the Romanian royal house, starting 1947 the building was given different purposes and it now hosts the National Art Museum. Like many other places, it has suffered throughout its history, thus being set on fire during the 1989 Revolution.
Almost across the street from the palace one can just walk to the square where the communist regime was put to an end. After the Revolution started on the December 17th in another Romanian city (Timișoara), on December 21nd our last communist president, Nicolae Ceaușescu, tried to give a speech that was not welcomed by the people and was later, those day, forced to flee. The square is called now the Revolution Square and it is the place where one can find a series of monuments dedicated to those events.
After passing by this historic monument, one can walk a couple of hundreds of meters more and will end up in the famous Old Town. The Old Town is actually an area of 0.5 km situated around the Old Citadel (reminiscence of the buildings made by Vlad the Impaler and his successors) and it is the most vibrant and colorful part of the city. This is also the number one destination for all tourist visiting Bucharest. During the day tourist can enjoy the traditional foods in Carul cu Bere, the most famous restaurant who’s history dates back to 1899, or in Hanul lui Manuc, an inn dating back to 1806. If you are a fan of spending your nights outs, in almost every building from the area is at least one pub, terrace, restaurant or a small club. The area becomes alive during the night, regardless the temperature or the time of the year. The places are open almost 24/7 and there is always an event to attend.
And now that you are there, just enjoy your drink and the atmosphere of a city always on the move.