Walking down the old town of Bucharest, I was rather intrigued. I didn’t exactly fall in love with Bucharest when I first set my eyes on it so I didn’t expect anything out of its old town. Walking from the Piața Unirii’s metro station, I had no expectation.
The late September sun was shining, the sky was almost clear with just a few clouds meandering about. It was a fine day to walk around and I needed the fresh air. Piața Unirii or Union Square in English isn’t exactly the prettiest square I’ve seen. However it does have fountains that made the place rather lively.
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The Controversial People’s Palace
In a distance I could see the great Palace of Parliament or previously known as Casa Poporului. This building is the second largest administrative building, right after the Pentagon and is something that Bucharest is known for. There are over a thousand rooms inside and the place is so large that there are rumours of secret chambers and its own private metro (wowza?!). Though the building may be quite amazing in size, many Romanians see this building as a symbol of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s megalomania. Upon building this great building, Ceauşescu selfishly sacrificed parts of the city and not to mention money of the people of Romania. Though today the Palace of Parliament is home to the current government as well as the National Museum of Contemporary Art, its history continually reminds people of the many pain Romanians went through for this building to stand.
When I learned of this, I couldn’t help but shudder. It must be so painful for locals to see this massive building every day, especially for those who were there to see this Palace of Parliament being built with the many controversial that came with it.
I continued my wandering towards the old district of Bucharest, or better known as the Lipscani district. This part of the town was almost destroyed during the Communist era, luckily it it didn’t get demolished. Imagine this street has been around since the Middle Ages! Surrounded by many interesting buildings, it is no wonder that this street is always bursting with life.
Bucharest’s Oldest Hotel: Hanul lui Manuc
Anyone who has been to Bucharest will probably have heard of Hanul lui Manuc. I too couldn’t miss out to see this inn. It is an exquisite building dating back to the 1800s and original owned by an Armenian, Manuc-bei. The inn has gone through many restorations and today it still operates as a hotel with the many cafes and restaurants inside. I had the chance to dine in one of the restaurants and the food was quite something, plus the idea of dining inside the marvellous buildings made me all giddy.
Vlad Tepes in Bucharest: Biserica Sfântul Antonie and Curtea Veche
Having lived in Europe for a while, I have seen many churches. Many of the churches I have seen were mostly Catholic churches, I have also seen many Protestants and Anglican churches. However, I have seen very little of Orthodox churches. In Bucharest, I saw many Orthodox churches and they are so different from the churches I have seen before. When I saw Biserica Sfântul Antonie (St. Anthony’s Church) I was fascinated, this church is certainly impressive. Even more when I learned that it was built in 1559 by Mircea Ciobanul and was once the place for coronations for Wallachian Princes. The sunlight accentuated its stripy brick facade and it seemed that the church is active even nowadays as I saw a bride and groom coming out of the centuries old church.
Just near the church was Curtea Veche or Old Princely Court. From the front of the ruins you could see a statue of Vlad the Impaler. This was once his residence during his reign, so it dates back to 1459. I couldn’t help to be in awe, how such places could still be here in Bucharest, remnants of the olden days, remnants of Vlad the Impaler no less! It was all too exciting for me!
Biserica Stavropoleos, a Greek Monk’s Monastery
Not very far from St. Anthony’s Church, stood another striking beauty, an Orthodox monastery: Stravropoleos Monastery. The monastery was built by a Greek monk named Ioanikie Stratonikeas. Today you can only see a part of the old monastery which is the church, built in Brâncovenesc style. This style of architecture is also known as Wallachian Renaissance, a style which could be found in the old buildings in Romania mostly built in the late 17th century until the early 18th century.
The old library of this place is said to have around 8000 books and the place also shows great interest in Byzantine music (Greek music). I thought the place was amazing, the interior of the church amazed me and entering the courtyard of the monastery was almost like stepping back in time.
Dining at Caru’ Cu Bere
Caru’ Cu Bere or the beer wagon is recognised as a historical monument, one of the many in Bucharest’s old town. At this place though, you can enjoy a meal of traditional Romanian cuisines. Yes, it might be “one of those touristy things” to do but I think it’s one of those experiences that one should enjoy while in Bucharest. While enjoying my ciorbă, a popular Romanian sour soup, I freely gazed and awed at the amazing interior which was built in an art-nouveau style.
The Breathtaking Romanian Atheneum
I walked a little further down and finally stood at Revolution Square. This place was renamed to mark the downfall of the reign of communism in 1989. On 21st December 1989, thousands gathered at this square demanding Ceauşescu to step down. It gave me chills imagining that moment. No surprise that this square is important to Romanians.
Around it are many notable buildings, one of which is the Romanian Atheneum with a small park decorating its front yard. This is the home of George Enescu Philharmonic. It is indeed a stunning theatre where many concerts are held. I never got the chance to enter this building but I have heard of the marvellous interior depicting the Romanian history in an al fresco style. Indeed, I have to revisit this place!
Bucharest is often seen as an underestimated city. Yes, I too underestimated it. However, its old district certainly has its own charms with centuries old buildings and its meaningful history. It is definitely a place for history geeks and architecture lovers, and also those curious travellers.
Have you been to Bucharest? What did you think of it?
This week’s theme: Interesting Buildings