Introduction to Bucharest
With a chequered history, visitors to the Romanian capital of Bucharest will be confronted with a mismatch of architectural styles, cuisine influences and the old and the new as this emerging Eastern European city shrugs off the austerity, poverty and sheltered existence of its Communist past.
Located on the Wallachian plains between the Danube Delta and the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, the first mention of Bucharest as a city was in relation to the infamous Prince Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler, the prototype for Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, in the mid-15th century. By the 17th-century, the Wallachian capital was one of Europe’s wealthiest cities and Bucharest became the national capital in 1862. With a penchant for French architecture, the city went through a renaissance in the early 20th century when it was known as ‘Little Paris’ in the 1930s for its landscaped parks and Baroque buildings modelled on Parisian styles.
After this golden age for Bucharest, Allied bombing in World War II and a major 1940 earthquake heralded the end of most of the city’s historic sites, which was further exacerbated by the ensuing Communist-era from 1944 to 1989 and particularly under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaşescu, who razed most of the Old Town to build the grandiose Palace of the Parliament. Another earthquake in 1977 also turned this once-pretty city into a gritty mass of grey block buildings and grinding poverty that finally resulted in the Romanian Revolution of 1989, which saw the overthrow and execution of Ceaşescu.
With such a tumultuous history, it’s no wonder centuries-old ruins stand next to Communist-era housing blocks and Baroque architecture shares space with modern glass edifices. Bolstered by European Union grants and youthful enthusiasm, Bucharest has transformed again into a vibrant and sophisticated cosmopolitan city ready to embrace its future. Mark this city as one to watch, and visit this Eastern European gem now before everyone else!