BUCHAREST: a brief presentation of the 6th largest EU metropolis

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I highly advise anyone looking to buy a period property in Bucharest to research as in depth as possible the history and character of this complex and substantial city at the eastern edge of the European Union. That would be a necessary task before fine tunning your search on particular streets, architectural styles or artistic value of the sought property. I compiled here a short presentation of the city which I hope would be a good start in your endeavours.

* Bucharest, the capital of Romania, is an enormous city, the 6th largest metropolis of the European Union after London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Madrid and ahead of capital cities like Budapest, Prague or Warsaw (see EU statistical data). It is also the largest population centre between Vienna and Istanbul, on a territory twice as large as France.

History:

1. The town originated as a minor settlement on shepherd routes that converged to the fording places between the Arges and the Dambovita rivers. The mythical founder of the first settlement is said to be the shepherd Bucur (a name of Thracian – Dacian origin, also fond in the Albanian- an Illyrian language, meaning joyous man). This is why sometimes Bucharest is called the “City of Joy” (“Orasul Bucuriei” in Romanian). It has became a princely seat and capital of Wallachia under Vlad the Impaler in 15th century and from then on developed for the next four centuries as an Oriental market town and administrative centre under the domination of the Ottoman Empire.

Shepherd Bucur's church- tradition says that is located on the place of the first settlement of Bucharest

Shepherd Bucur's church- tradition says that it is located on the place of the first settlement of Bucharest

2. The town was modernised on European lines under the reign of King Carol I, toward the end of the 19th century reaching a zenith in terms of glamour and sophistication during the inter-war period.

King Carol I of Romania (1881-1914), the moderniser of Bucharest

King Carol I of Romania (1881-1914), the moderniser of Bucharest (Valentin Mandache collection)

3. Under the post-war communist regime the city grew in population and became highly industrialised at the expense of its heritage and traditions, suffering immense damage under the communist policies of social engineering and forced industrialisation.

4. The intense economic development of the first decade of the 21st century is now radically transforming Bucharest, setting in motion a new influx of population, enormous social tensions and uneven development. The city is now at a major crossroads in its evolution when it has the premises to either become one of the great European cities or be a relegated as a third rate urban agglomeration at the eastern periphery of the European Union.

Architecture:

1. The city has just a handful of pre mid-19th century buildings: some churches, the ruins of the old princely court (Curtea Veche), or the massive Ottoman stage post inn Hanul lui Manuc.

Manuc Inn, one of the few remaining Ottoman heritage buildings of Bucharest

Manuc Inn, one of the few remaining Ottoman heritage buildings of Bucharest

2. “The Little Paris” architecture from the time of Carol I for which the town became famous. This type of period property is perhaps the most representative for the Bucharest market of heritage houses. The buildings come in a variety of locations, prices and degrees of architectural sophistication, constituting some of the most rewarding renovation/ restoration projects to undertake in the city.

"Little Paris" style period properties in south-central Bucharest

"Little Paris" style period properties in south-central Bucharest (VM)

3. The golden age period in the inter-war years when the neo-Romanian, classicist and modernist style edifices were erected.

"Golden Era" (Inter-war period) Bucharest buildings

"Golden Age" (Inter-war period) Bucharest buildings (Valentin Mandache collection)

4. The communist period of social housing (new massive city quarters like Drumul Taberei, Pantelimon) and also triumphalist ideological statements (Casa Poporului, Casa Scanteii)

"Casa Scanteii" ("Iskra- the name of Lenin's neswpaper- House"), Soviet style edifice named today "The Free Press Building"

"Casa Scanteii" ("Iskra- the name of Lenin's neswpaper- House"), Soviet style edifice named today "The Free Press Building"

5. Post 2000s- chaotic non-descript modern style developments,

Example of unsightly development from NE Bucharest that plagues the post-2000s city

Unsightly development from NE Bucharest, a type that plagues the post-2000s city

Economy:

Bucharest is the economic engine of Romania, a city that concentrates nearly 15% of         the country’s 21 million population and produces 19% of its GDP (Euro 25 billion in 2007) and a quarter of the industrial output of Romania. However the city’s development is greatly impeded by three main factors: *pervasive corruption, *abusive red tape and bureaucracy and *undeveloped transportation infrastructure incompatible with a modern city. The roads system, as in the rest of the country, is designed for a 1960s traffic level and consequently is now crumbling. All the post-communist governments ignored and under-invested in the transport infrastructure with disastrous consequences for the future development of the city. The construction sector is another important industry with a spectacular evolution since 2000, but badly hurt by the economic crisis that came in the last semester of 2008. As a conclusion, Bucharest has a huge economic potential, which unfortunately is stultified by an outdated infrastructure, corruption and lack of government vision.

Society:

1. Bucharest has the typical societal make up of a rapidly growing frontier town. One must take into account that the city started from a modest provincial Oriental market town in mid 19th century to that of the 6th largest metropolis of the European Union one and a half century later. Such a rapid transformative urbanisation is similar with that of “frontier towns” from the New World of the American continent or as was the case with Russia’s great new towns that emerged in the 19th century in the Black Sea steppe or Siberia on top of previous small indigenous settlements. That fact imprints a peculiar dynamic social psychology to Bucharest inhabitants characterised by a propensity to quickly adopt innovations at the expense of traditions and heritage and also toleration of social deprivation and inequalities.

peasants in a Bucharest market early 20th century

A rapidly developing city with social contradictions: peasants in a Bucharest market early 20th century (Valentin Mandache collection)

2. Bucharest acts as a cultural melting pot for the country where people representing communities from all the regions of Romania (a country nearly the size of Britain, with strong regional differences) made in the course of time the city their home.

3. Bucharest is also a multi-ethnic and multicultural centre. For most of its history until the communist period, the town has been very cosmopolitan in its outlook, hosting large and diverse communities such as Jews, Germans, Hungarians, Italians, Gypsies or Russians.

the Coral Temple

Jewish Bucharest: the Coral Temple

4. The communist period witnessed the near complete Romanianisation of the town, a product of the industrialisation policies that required workforce from countryside and emigration of its Jews or Germans, phenomenon strongly encouraged by the national-communist regime of Ceausescu, Romania’s late communist dictator.

5. The post-communist period marks the new cosmopolitanisation of Bucharest with expatriate workers arriving here and emergence of new immigrant communities such as Arabs, Chinese and Vietnamese people, followed as the economy develops by Indians, Pakistani and Africans.

Chinese trader in the Red Dragon market (NE Bucharest)

Emergence of new Bucharest communities: Chinese trader in the Red Dragon market (NE Bucharest)

©Valentin Mandache

If you are interested in acquiring a period property in Romania, I would be very glad to assist with the search on the ground, locating the building or special research in the local archives. I also offer assistance and advice regarding the restoration/ renovation project or in obtaining special grants for restoring listed buildings from the Romanian state or the EU. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the “Contact” page of this blog.

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3 comments on “BUCHAREST: a brief presentation of the 6th largest EU metropolis

  1. Pingback: Dezbatere „Istoria celor patru boom-uri imobiliare ale Bucurestiului” « Scoala Centrala

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