Location: Southern Romania
Size: City of Bucharest - 228 km2; Bucharest Metropolitan area - 1,521 km2
Population: 2.2 milion (2010)
Inhabited since: 500 BC
Known for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, glorious Belle Époque buildings and a reputation for the high life, Bucharest, Romania's largest city and capital, is today a bustling metropolis.
Romanian legend has it that the city of Bucharest was founded on the banks of the Dambovita River by a shepherd named Bucur, whose name literarily means "joy." His flute playing reportedly dazzled the people and his hearty wine from nearby vineyards endeared him to the local traders, who gave his name to the place.
Calea Victoriei is Bucharest's oldest and arguably, most charming street. Built in 1692 to link the Old Princely Court to Mogosoaia Palace, it was initially paved with oak beams. Stroll along this street from Piata Victoriei to Piata Natiunilor Unite to discover some of the most stunning buildings in the city, including the Cantacuzino Palace, the Military Club, the CEC Headquarters, National History Museum and the historical Revolution Square. The square's importance stretches back long before the dramatic events of the 1989 Revolution. On the far side of the square stands the former Royal Palace, now home to the National Art Museum, the stunning Romanian Athenaeum and the historic Athenee Palace Hotel. At the south end of the square, you can visit the small, but beautiful, Kretzulescu Church.
Of all the atrocities commited on Romanian territory in the name of socialism, few rank as monstrous as the destruction of an entire district of the capital to make way for the Centru Civic, or Civic Centre. Eight square kilometres in the Old Historical Centre of Bucharest were destroyed, including monasteries, churches, synagogues, a hospital and a noted Art Deco sports stadium. Some 40,000 people were evicted with only a single day's notice to make room for the construction of these Stalinist apartment buildings topped with neoclassical follies. The centrepiece of the Civic Centre, Casa Poporului (Parliament Palace) is unquestionably Romania’s most famous building. The colossal Parliament Palace (formerly known as the People's Palace) is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon. It took 20,000 workers and 700 architects to build. The palace boasts 12 stories, 1,100 rooms, a 328-ft-long lobby and four underground levels, including an enormous nuclear bunker, it today plays host to the Romanian parliament and a modern, well equipped conference centre, as well as Romania’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Much of the building, however, remains unused.
Old Town, many will know it better as Lipscani, with most locals calling it the Historic Centre (Centru Istoric, in Romanian). At the beginning of 1400s, most merchants and craftsmen - Romanian, Austrian, Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian, Armenian and Jewish - established their stores and shops in this section of the city. Soon, the area became known as Lipscani, named for the many German traders from Lipsca or Leiptzig. Other streets took on the names of various old craft communities and guilds, such as Blanari (furriers), Covaci (blacksmiths), Gabroveni (knife makers) and Cavafii Vechii (shoe-makers). The mix of nationalities and cultures is reflected in the mishmash of architectural styles, from baroque to neoclassical to art nouveau.
Str. Franceza, another Old Town street now blessed with more restaurants, cafes, bars and such like than you could wish for. About half way along look out for the Sf. Dumitru Church: Sf. Dumitru is the patron saint of Bucharest. On the other side of the church is Bucharest’s comedy theatre.
The Old Court (Curtea Veche), first built on this site in the second part of the 15th-century by Vlad Ţepeş, was considerably extended during the 16th-century, by Mircea Ciobanul, and again a century later, this time at the hand of Constantin Brancoveanu, who added a splendid voievodal palace, decorated with marble and icons. The palace was by and large destroyed by a series of fires in the 19th century however, and subsequently neglected. Much of what remains today was uncovered during archeological digs that took place from 1967-72, when the palace ruins were first opened as a museum. There are fragments of the original 15th century walls, as well as remnants of the voievodal palace throne room, in which most of the relics found on the site are exhibited. Next door to the palace is the Old Court Church, the oldest in Bucharest, dating from 1545. It was enlarged in 1715, during the reign of Ştefan Cantacuzino, and the frescoes inside, painted by maestros Constantin Lecca and Mişu Papa, were added in 1847. The church's exterior was recently renovated, and it looks better than ever.
Manuc‘s Inn built between 1804 and 1808 by the wealthy Armenian trader Emanuel Marzaian (called by the Turks, Manuc Bey), was witness in 1812 to the preliminary talks of the Peace Treaty that put an end to the Russian -Turkish War (1806-1812). A favorite meeting and resting place for tradesmen in those times, Manuc's Inn has preserved to this day its old style and flavor. It now serves as a restaurant, a wine cellar and a pastry shop.