If you’ve ever found yourself walking through the old city center in Bucharest, you’ve probably felt how history can come to life amidst a sea of people–and with it, a calm, refreshing fragrance of ideas, happiness and culture. But once in a while, an abandoned building breaks this spell, giving a sense of sadness and loneliness. The city has an impressive collection of historical buildings that have been let to ‘rot,’ leaving their beauty unrecognizable.
Let’s go on a walk beginning on “Calea Moșilor,” a place that used to be an important trade route since the founding of the city (and even before), where there are numerous buildings from the late 19th century which are now slowly falling apart. These bits of history do not only give insight into the days of Belle Époque Bucharest – a city where old-style nobility created an interesting contrast with the developing technology and architecture – but also helps to create that “spell” of nostalgia and awe that people long for when passing them by.
Now, we’re walking along “Calea Victoriei,” another important avenue of the city dating from the 17th century, home to a great amount of historical buildings. From the Palace of the National Military Circle to the CEC Palace and many others, the beauty of the neoclassical structures takes us back in time. However, the number of abandoned buildings matches the size of the street. A former casino that originated as the German Legation in 1880, at the intersection with Dacia Avenue, has its windows covered with dusted planks, remaining just a memory of the excitement-filled building it once was.
As we approach the National History Museum, we find, right next to the agitated crowd eating and drinking in the Macca-Vilacrosse Passage, the Rosenthal Block. This building was built by the National Bank of Romania as a lending and helping center for its officials before the second world war. The now abandoned 8-story high concrete structure, with its darkened, dirty façade, stands as a cold, sad reminder of its decay.
Continuing our walk, past the sweets-selling Capșa Home, we reach the University of Architecture and Urbanism. Here we meet Ms. Cristina Enache, Director of the Department of Urban and Landscape Design, who tells us a little about Bucharest’s collection of historical buildings and the state they are in at the moment.
She begins by mentioning the vast range of patrimony buildings in the city, from the medieval churches (St. Anton, Colței Church, etc.) and inns from the old center, to the communist-style huge residential neighborhoods and the House of Parliament. She adds that, “Bucharest has been through an important stage in urban development beginning with the 19th century,” when the parks were built and the avenues were redesigned based on the ones in Paris. These details she gives us stand as foundation for her next interesting comments.
When asked why so many historical buildings are in such a bad state, she answers that, “It’s mainly due to juridical problems. The majority are revendicated, but the retrocession trial is still ongoing. In the case of the already retroceded buildings, the cost of restoration is pretty high, which added to the complexity of the law results into a difficult task to accomplish. Thus, they remain either vacant or, in many cases, occupied by people with no shelter.”
Enache’s prospect of these buildings is balanced, hoping for “facilities at a legislative level that would stimulate investors to rehabilitate such buildings so that, on one hand, they are properly valued, and on the other hand, they don’t pose a threat to public safety.” She, together with her colleagues at the university, are working together to achieve an urban balance that would include these abandoned buildings.
Tired, we stop right across the National Theater, watching the many dramatic characters’ statues while getting lost in the monotone sounds of the busy Magheru Avenue. We’ve been walking for a few hours, but the buildings we saw suggested that many years have passed. Raising our heads, we see the grandeur of the InterContinental Hotel. Interesting.