Sep 202009

Versiune în română

Today Bucharest is turning 550 years old. More precisely 550 years have passed since September 20, 1459 when Bucharest was first mentioned in an official document signed by one of the most (in)famous Romanians, Vlad the Impaler. People have lived in and around the area that is now Bucharest for a long time before that, but this was the first time this place was officially called Bucharest.

I couldn’t decide what picture to post for today’s occasion so I got the idea of making a collage. These are pictures of Bucharest, new pictures and old ones, some that you have seen already and some that you didn’t. Bucharest is all these and much more. It’s my first collage ever so please excuse me if it’s a bit rough on the edges.

Sep 192009

Versiune în română

In quite a few countries in the world, particularly in Northern Europe and the USA, flying the national flag in front of your house is very popular. Romanians on the other hand are not flag enthusiasts. Last year the Romanian president asked Romanians to display the flag on balconies on the day of the national holiday but even with that occasion I didn’t see many of them. I believe that there are Romanians which own a flag because I see them surfacing every time our national football team wins some important game and people gather in the University Square to party. But we are probably very far from countries like Norway where, as I read on the web, according to a recent survey only 6 percent of the people sampled reported that they do not posses a national flag. For these reasons I was very surprised to see a few flags being flown in downtown Bucharest in what looked like private apartments. And they seem to be there permanently because I passed them quite a few times in the last month.

Sep 182009

Versiune în română

One thing I like about keeping this blog – aside from the good excuse to walk the city and take photos – is the documentation work that I do before I write about a subject. I get to find out many interesting things about the history of Bucharest, events I didn’t imagine happened. I started to read about the history of Bucharest a few years ago but every day I keep discovering new things; I guess that’s normal for a city of this size and with 550 years of history behind it. To give you an example, who would think that such a benign looking monument as is the one in today’s photo has an interesting story?

The monument in the photo marks Romania’s Kilometer Zero. For those not familiar with the concept, in many countries Kilometer Zero or Zero Milestone is a location (usually in the country’s capital) from which all road distances are measured. It is also customary that this spot is signaled by a marker or a monument. The Kilometer Zero of Romania is located in downtown Bucharest in front of New Saint George Church. And the story behind it is as follows. In the beginning of 1937 the city hall decided to erect a monument on this spot, marking Kilometer Zero. The “Military Stone” was supposed to be ready until May 9th 1937. In reality the monument was not finished by that date and its inauguration took place more than half a century later, in 1998. The monument was supposed to include a circular stone basin with a wind rose and in between the spokes of the rose were supposed to be mosaics with the names and the coats of arms of the Romanian provinces. In the center of the monument the artist imagined a sphere and on top of the sphere the statue of Saint George killing the dragon. After initially agreeing with the project the Romanian Church changed its mind and opposed the statue invoking the second commandment, which for the Orthodox church is “You shall not make for yourself an idol”. The sculptor, Constantin Baraschi, changed the project and instead of the statue of Saint George he proposed that the sphere carries the statue of – are you ready for this? 🙂 – Prince Charming killing the dragon. Still the project is rejected and before further changes were made the war started. After the end of the war the provinces of Bessarabia and Bukovina remained under Russian control and their coats of arms and names could not be admitted on the monument so the sphere was taken away and after 1950 the monument was covered with earth. The project was reinitiated only after 1990 when the basin and the wind rose were dug up. In the center of the monument there’s only a metallic zodiac sphere; nobody’s killing the dragon on top of it or anywhere close by. The monument was inaugurated on June 9th 1998, 61 years after its deadline. The historical provinces of Bessarabia and Bukovina do appear on the monument even though they are not part of Romania anymore. Also, among the cities inscribed on the stone basin are also Chişinău, Orhei, Tighina, which are currently in the Republic of Moldova, as well two towns now part of Bulgaria but which were part of Greater Romania from 1913 to 1940.

Wow, this was a loooong post. But I though the story was interesting and worth telling. I hope that in our ADD driven world someone will be patient enough to read it 🙂 – or rather someone will have the time to read it. I would also like to give credit to a fantastic book (unfortunately from what I know, available only in Romanian) in which I read most of the story told here. The name of the book is “Bucharest in dates and events” by Radu Olteanu.

Sep 172009

Versiune în română

Roughtly about two months ago I saw work being done on the southeast corner of the University Square, the one with Colţea Hospital and the Ministry of Agriculture building. Knowing that the little park was renovated only about two years ago I asked myself, as I’m sure many of my fellow citizens did, “Why are they renovating this corner again?”. Turns out they were repairing the fountain and installing a giant bronze violin, a work of artist Ioan Bolborea made after a project by the Italian artist Domenica Regazzoni. Domenica Regazzoni has a series of violins, the one installed in Univeristy Square being “The broken violin”. Sculpture aside, I really like this little corner of peace right in the heart of such a chaotic city as Bucharest. It’s a great place to sit on a bench and watch the world go by.

Sep 162009

Versiune în română

Come September many Romanians turn to one of the most popular traditions of the fall season: making their own wine at home. We call it “house wine” (“vin de casă” in Romanian) to differentiate it from the one you buy from the supermarket. And since most people living in Bucharest have a small yard with only a few vines or have none at all if they live in an apartment, they supplement or procure the raw material by buying grapes at the market. For 0.35 euro per kilogram (or $0.5 per kilogram) you can buy, as the sign reads, “Grapes for making wine” a mixture of 3 types of grapes which are also listed. Making wine is also a great ocasion for socializing. People invite you to help pick the grapes or assist in wine making which is sometimes a good excuse for family and friends to meet and have fun together – not that in Romania we need excuses to meet and have fun 🙂

Sep 142009

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And since I mentioned The Linden Tree Inn (Hanul cu Tei in Romanian) yesterday, I decided to tell you a few more words about it and post a picture of the inner courtyard. Bucharest was once full of places like this one, where travelers could enjoy a meal and a drink and secure shelter for the night. Unfortunately many of the old inns have dissapearead or are in ruin. Even though The Linden Tree Inn changed its destination and today it houses an art gallery, you can still get a feel of the 19th century atmosphere. The inner courtyard links Lipscani street with Blănari street. For a bit of history, it was built in 1833-1834 by two merchants, Anastasie Hagi Gheorghe Polizu and Ştefan Popovici. Each one of them had 14 shops on one side of the courtyard. Nowadays the ground floor is home to many art galleries selling paintings and antiques, art supplies stores and a cellar bar. The upper floor is worked in wood and covered by glass pannels as was typical at the time. It was restored between the years 1969-1973.

Sep 132009

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Sometimes beauty lies in the little details, which make a mundane object become something special. This is the gate handle to Hanul cu Tei, or the Linden Tree Inn, one of 19th century inns still standing in the Old Town, which nowadays houses an art gallery. I must have passed it a hundred times but only the last time I was there I noticed the old handle and how interesting it looks.

Sep 122009

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Seeing Magheru Boulevard on a weekend with only a few cars speeding by, it will be hard to be believe that this is the one of the busiest streets in Bucharest. Come Monday, the boulevard will be packed with cars barely inching along. Magheru Boulevard, named after General Gheorghe Magheru, a Romanian revolutionary, runs parallel to Victory Road (Calea Victoriei in Romanian) and even though Calea Victoriei is more imporant historically, nowadays Magheru is the commercial lider being one of the most expensive streets in Europe in terms of renting commercial spaces. For those interested in seeing between the wars architecture Magheru is the perfect place for a stroll, because most of the buildings that line the boulevard are from the 20s and 30s.

Sep 112009

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Just so you don’t think that Bucharest is only made up of communist architecture, dangling cables and graffiti I decided that the time has come for me to post another postcard picture. This is Cantacuzino Palace, located on Calea Victoriei, designed by the architect I.D.Berindei in French Baroque style and built between the years 1899-1902. The facade is dominated by the main entrance; above it there is a giant shell-shaped porte-cochere and two stone lions guard the stairs and the door. George Enescu – Romania’s most famous composer – lived here for a while. The building belonged to his wife Maria Cantacuzino. In fact Enescu preferred a life of simplicity and he and his wife chose to live in a smaller town house that previously housed the administrative staff of the palace; this house is located behind the main palace. Nowadays the palace houses the George Enescu Museum which displays the musician’s manuscripts, scores of his compositions and personal belongings like one of his first violins. I still remember the impression it made on me when I saw the building for the first time. I think I was about ten when my aunt took me and my cousin on a stroll on Calea Victoriei. I thought that this must be the most beautiful building in the world 🙂