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Exploring Bucharest

By Laura Blake

Posted: 17th June 2014 12:32

Romania’s capital is a mismatched sort of a city, with modern office buildings alongside French Baroque architecture, wide tree-lined boulevards and grey communist-era housing blocks.  It earned the nickname ‘Little Paris’ between the World Wars, for the elegance of the city and the sophistication of its inhabitants.  It even has its very own Arch of Triumph (Arcul de Triumf).  Today, it is a city shaking off the reminders of its dictatorial past and emerging better and more exciting than ever before.

Palace of the Parliament

Containing the chambers of the Romanian Parliament and the National Museum of Contemporary Art with a substantial amount of breathing room, the Palace of the Parliament is the second-largest building in the world.  It was designed by architect Anca Petrescu in an eclectic neo-classical style during the “golden age” of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorial regime, and entire neighbourhoods were destroyed to make way for its construction, including churches, synagogues, and housing for more than 40,000 people. 

Seen as a symbol of communism, some planned to destroy the building when the regime was overthrown (ironically, before Ceausescu ever got to make use of his monstrous creation).  Instead, it was decided that it would be better to make use of the space, and today it is possible for the public to take a guided tour around the building.  You can even get married there, if you have 2,000 guests you need to make room for. 

Revolution Square

Formally known as Piata Palatului, this square was renamed following the 1989 Romanian Revolution.  Historically it’s an important site, being the location of two memorable mass meetings marking the high point (August 1968) and collapse (December 1989) of Ceausescu’s communist regime.  On the 21st of December 1989, Ceausescu’s final speech was globally broadcasted, and the following day, Ceausescu and his wife fled the angry crowds in his helicopter, only to be captured by armed forces a few hours later.

Today, Revolution Square is home to the National Art Museum (in the building which previously was the Royal Palace), the Romanian Athenaeum, the Athenee Palace Hotel, and the small but beautiful Kretzulescu Church.  There’s also the ‘Memorial of Rebirth’, a 25m tall marble pillar, ‘crowned’ with metal, a structure which has received criticism for its design but ultimately is a symbolic representation of the events that have taken place here.

Carol I Park

Named after King Carol I of Romania, Carol I Park was created for the 1906 ‘Romania in the World’ exhibition and designed by French landscape artist Eduard Redont.  The dominating feature of the park is the 48m tall granite Mausoleum, known as ‘Monument to the Heroes of the Struggle for Freedom and Socialism’ during the communist regime.  From the top of the Mausoleum, experience panoramic views across the whole of central Bucharest.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is also located here, one of many national tombs dedicated to the soldiers who died fighting for Romania in World War I. 

The park provides a fantastic escape from the busy city, with wide tree-lined paths, the large Lake Filaret, and several monuments, including the Giants’ Statues, the Cantacuzino Fountain and the Technical Museum.  Carol I Park is also occasionally used to host open-air music concerts.

Lipscani District

Bucharest’s old town dates back to the middle ages, and has mid 17th Century roots as a merchant district.  To this day the Lipscani area continues to be charming and bustling, and is most representative of the transitions and potential of Bucharest as a whole, having come from a no-go area just a few years previously to the cities liveliest entertainment district.

There is a vast array of restaurants with food from all over the world here, and as far as nightlife goes, you’re spoilt for choice with bars, jazz clubs, student dives, and hidden underground clubs aplenty.  The Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse, originally designed as a conduit between one of the areas busiest streets, Calea Victoriei, and the National Bank, has high ceilings made of yellow glass and today is the place to go for chilled out cafes touting hookah pipes and exotic tobaccos.