History of Bucharest


Unlike plenty other European capitals, Bucharest does not boast of a millenniums-long history. The first historical reference to this city under the name of Bucharest dates back to the Middle Ages, in 1459.

The story goes, however, that Bucharest was founded several centuries earlier, by a controversial and rather legendary character named Bucur (from where the name of the city is said to derive). What is certain is the area on which nowadays Bucharest stretches has been inhabited since ancient times.

As said, the city was first mentioned in 1459, in a document issued by the court of Prince Vlad the Impaler, the prince (voievod in Romanian) who allegedly inspired the creation of the world renowned character of Dracula. It was in those times that Bucharest started to grow as an important economic and political center of Wallachia. The Old Princely Court is the most important architectural complex which reminds of those times.

For several centuries after the reign of Vlad the Impaler, Bucharest, irrespective of its constantly increasing chiefdom on the political scene of Wallachia, did undergo the Ottoman rule (it was a vassal of the Empire), the Russian occupation, as well as short intermittent periods of Hapsburg domination. Lipscani Street (Strada Lipscani), which now delineates the historical quarter of Bucharest, was back then the main thoroughfare, crossing the center of the old city.

It was in 1881 that it became the capital city of the Principality of Romania, after the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia. Much of the medieval architectural heritage was destroyed in a fire in 1847, but the modern era brought a new period of prosperity. A strikingly modern city was being built, and the architectural landscape and urban layout brought international fame to Bucharest, such that the city was dubbed the Little Paris, and Calea Victoriei, one of the most celebrated avenues in nowadays Bucharest, was often compared with Champs Elysees.

One of the gloomiest episodes of the early 19th century refers to the moment when the population was stricken by the so-called Caragea’s plague, an epidemics which killed about one quarter of the population.

It was in 1918 (December the 1st, more precisely) that Transylvania was united with the previously constituted Principality of Romania. Hence, Bucharest became the capital of the entire country, after a 2-year period when the capital of the Principality was transferred to Iaşi due to the fact Bucharest was under German occupation (1916 to 1918, during World War One).

The period between the two world wars was exceptionally favorable to Bucharest. It was precisely then that the city experienced its cultural heydays. Casa Capşa, already acknowledged as a landmark of social, political and cultural meetings and debates, continued to enhance its prestige, both nationally and at international scale. However, subsequently to World War Two, once the Communist regime took over the political scene, much of the historical Bucharest lost its coordinates, at least architecturally speaking.

The megalomaniac projects of Nicolae Ceauşescu raised to the ground most of the historical landmarks of the city, not to mention his unfortunate contribution was complemented by the tragic earthquake in 1977, when Bucharest suffered further damage, and not only with respect to the city layout and architectural patrimony, but also to its population. The Parliament Palace (otherwise known as the People’s House, Casa Poporului in Romanian) is the best example which illustrates the artistic vision of the regime. For a deeper insight into the communist heritage, tourists need to look no further than the monotonous apartment buildings built in a dull Communist style which populate most of the city.

The last violent historical episodes which have taken over Bucharest refer to the 1989 Revolution and to the subsequent political and social commotions, commonly known under the name of Mineriads (Mineriade in Romanian), which took place in the early 1990s.

At present, Bucharest undergoes a constant and deep urban planning renewal, the much awaited facelift focusing, in part, on restoring whatever medieval and modern era heritage survived in time. The bewilderingly miscellaneous picture of Bucharest is, in fact, comprehensive enough to accommodate both spectacular elevated touches and grotesque dull shades, and not only architecturally speaking, but from the point of view of all that is related to the city (culture, people’s customs, infrastructure and so on).

 

 

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