In the South Eastern corner of the Romanian Plain, lies the cultural, financial and political heart of Romania. Bucharest’s breath-taking lakes, culturally rich gardens and eclectic, generation-defining architecture caused the phrase ‘mini-Paris’ to follow after Bucharest in reputation. Like the city of Rome, Bucharest was built upon 7 hills that were once covered in the thick dense Vlasiei forest.
With its reputation for contrasting architecture and beautiful landscapes, comes a stark history and powerful revolution from Eastern European communism. Governed by Nicolae Ceausescu, a Romanian dictator who ruled the country for personal gain and power, Bucharest saw a significant alteration to; lifestyle, government, architecture and way of life under Ceausescu’s leadership.
Bucharest in 1989 was a city of relief, revolution and rebirth. After a time of dictatorship and control, Bucharest began the long process of rebuilding itself and its people. This month sees the 25th anniversary of the final revolutionary domino of the communist era and the ultimate downfall of Ceausescu.
The Romanian people of Bucharest have adapted the memories and experiences of their time within the communist era, into a method of helping the economic and social development of their city. Tours are now held throughout the city that offer a glimpse into the last days of Romanian communism. Locals recount stories, share poignant memories and tour historical landmarks to embrace their history and incorporate its lessons into their future.
One major historical landmark where most tours begin, is the grandiose Parliamentary Palace, a permanent reminder of the megalomaniac dictator and his merchant for decadence and power. With over 3,500 tons of crystal and 1 million cubic meters of marble, the People’s Palace is the 3rd largest building in the world by volume, just after the Aztec Pyramid of Teotihuacan and Cape Canaveral.
Built when Ceausescu took advantage of an earthquake in 1977, by raising most of the lower city centre of Bucharest, flattening a hill and redirecting the flow of the Damovíta river. Each chamber designed with the perfect echo, as Ceausescu clapped when requiring the services of servants. Although Ceausescu may have been removed from power before the building’s completion in 1994, the Palace is considered a pinnacle reminder of the communist regime.
Today the People’s Palace is home to the Romanian Senate and the chamber of Deputies, with the first floor occupied by the Museum of Contemporary Art. It stands opposite the revolution square, where protestors chanted together 25 years ago. Monuments of the city’s freedom have been dispersed throughout the area; the pyramid of victory – ‘a tall needle pricking the cloud of communism’ is an honorary statue to highlight the historical moment for Romania, as well as the memory wall, on the south side of revolution square, where 1,058 names are engraved of those who perished in the rebellion.
At the height of this dictator’s reign, everything in 4 square miles of the Palace was rebuilt to match the style of Ceausescu’s Palace, leaving only 3 historical Orthodox churches remaining. Saved by the people by moving the churches, foundations and all, behind tall apartment complexes to be out of Ceausescu’s sight. Allowing original Romanian architecture and religious landmarks to remain a part of the city.
After 25 years, Bucharest is seeing a sharp incline in economic ventures. Major urban consolidation plans due in the late 2010s aim to increase the metropolitan feel of the burgeoning city, whose culture in undefined in style, incorporating its traditional Romanian peasant history as well as modern urban European taste. Bucharest’s possibilities are increasing and this city of rich history and beauty may be leading the way in terms of embracing the past and utilising the future.
How important is it to, like Bucharest, embrace and adapt to significant moments in history?