Things to Do in Wallachia
If you’re in Bucharest, it’s impossible to miss the massive Palace of Parliament which dominates the city center and contains more than 1,000 rooms. Built under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu, this opulent edifice is now one of Bucharest’s most popular tourist attractions and home to the National Museum of Contemporary Art and more.
Built between 1886 and 1888, the Romanian Athenaeum is one of Bucharest’s preeminent cultural venues. Classical concerts are held in its 800-seat auditorium, which is renowned for its excellent acoustics, though the concert hall is as much worth a visit for its elegant architecture and interiors as it is for its musical offerings.
Like its Parisian namesake, this triumphal arch sits at one of the city’s busiest intersections and is surrounded by a constant whirl of traffic. The 85-foot (27-meter monument, designed by influential Romanian architect Petre Antonescu, was inaugurated in 1936 to celebrate the unification of Romania and victory in World War I.
Founded in 1864 by Prince Alexander John Cuza, who ruled over the Romanian United Principalities of Walachia and Moldova, the University of Bucharest is located on Piata Universitatii, a buzzing square snarled with traffic and popular with Bucharest locals as a meeting place. The Bucharest University Palace’s imposing Neo-classical façade stands on the northwestern corner of the square; it was designed by architect Alexandru Orascu and completed in 1859.
Today the university has five faculties and is one of the biggest and most prestigious in Romania. Past alumni include playwright Eugène Ionesco, biologist George E Palade and philosopher Emil Cioran.
Outside the University Palace stand four monumental statues of pivotal figures in Romanian history as well as numerous stalls selling secondhand books. Piata Universitatii itself is surrounded by a jumble of architecturally diverse buildings, including the National Theater of Bucharest, the School of Architecture, the modernist Hotel InterContinental and the ornate Neo-classical beauty of the Coltea Hospital, the oldest in the city. A memorial of ten stone crosses stands in the middle of the square in tribute to the rebels who died in the 1989 revolution, which saw the downfall of the despotic President Ceaușescu and brought about the end of Soviet domination in Romania.
This memorial serves as a poignant and sobering reminder of the many Romanian Jews and Roma people murdered during World War II. The memorial, which was inaugurated in 2009, was seen as a symbolic step by Romanian leaders, with previous post-war governments having denied the role Romania’s Nazi-allied government played in the genocide.
Formally known as Palace Square, Revolution Square (Piața Revoluției earned its current title for its role in the Romanian Revolution of 1989 when then-leader Nicolae Ceaușescu made a final disastrous public appearance here to a booing and jeering crowd. At the center of the square sits a memorial commemorating victims of the revolution.
Set within the 19th-century Royal Palace, the National Museum of Art of Romania holds an impressive array of artworks. The collection is divided into two parts: Romanian art, with a particular emphasis on medieval and modern pieces; and European art, which includes works attributed to celebrated artists such as El Greco and Rembrandt.
Extending from Piaţa Victoriei in the north of Bucharest down to the Dâmbovița River, the 1.8-mile (3-kilometer long Victoriei Street (Calea Victoriei is the city’s main artery. The wide road is lined with landmarks, from communist-era blocks to museums and historic houses, churches, and monuments.
Step back in time and discover life in rural Romania at the Village Museum (Muzeul Satalui. Located on the shores of Herastrau Lake, this fascinating open-air museum features a large collection of reconstructed buildings gathered from different parts of the country, as well as exhibits and demonstrations of traditional skills and crafts.
Located in central Bucharest, Stavropoleos Church (Biserica Stavropoleos, also known as Stavropoleos Monastery, is one of the oldest churches in the city. Built in the 18th century, this small, ornately-decorated church is considered one of the most beautiful in the city, and offers an oasis of peace in the heart of Old Town Bucharest.
More Things to Do in Wallachia
Built in the late 1890s and opened at the turn of the 20th century on one of Bucharest’s main boulevards, the CEC Palace (Palatul CEC) was designed by French architect Paul Gottereau and the construction of this fine Beaux Arts masterpiece was overseen by Romanian architect Ion Socolescu. Designated to be the HQ of Romania’s oldest savings bank, Casa de Economii și Consemnațiuni (CEC) and located opposite the National History Museum of Romania, it is a monumental mansion topped with five cupolas; the central one stands over the grandiose, colonnaded entrance and is made of glass and steel. The palace is slated for transformation into an art museum and was sold to the city council for more than €17.75 million in 2006; while plans are drawn up the CEC Bank rents it back from the council but its sumptuous, marble-clad interior – much of which was covered over in Ceaușescu’s time – is no longer open to the public.
The Pasajul Macca-Vilacrosse (Macca-Villacrosse Passage) is a fork-shaped arcaded street in central Bucharest. Covered with yellow glass to allow natural light to shine through, the passage was built at the end of the 19th century to connect the Calea Victoriei and the National Bank. Today, the Macca side of the passage opens on to Calea Victoriei, one of Bucharest’s main avenues, while the Villacrosse side opens to the National Bank and Strada Eugeniu Carada. The passage has a French look to it and is similar to other covered passages built in Milan and Paris during the same period. During Communist times, it was known as the Jewelry Passage due to the presence of the city’s largest jewelry shops, but the original name was restored in 1990.
Today, the passage is still home to a few jewelry shops, but also features several restaurants, cafes, boutiques and hookah bars.
Bucharest’s Jewish History Museum was founded in 1978 by Moses Rosen, who was the city’s chief rabbi between 1964 and 1994; it is found in the ornate Holy Union Temple synagogue, which was built in 1836 by the wealthy Jewish Tailors Guild and is in Moorish style, with layers of brickwork alternating with white plaster fronted by an extravagant rose window. Among all the gold and silver religious ephemera inside, displays detail Jewish history in Romania and mark the community’s contribution to Bucharest society. The somber memorial room at the back of the synagogue is dedicated to victims of the Holocaust, when thousands of Romanian Jews lost their lives in Transnistria. However, star prize probably goes to the startlingly colorful interior of the three-tiered, galleried synagogue, which is liberally ornamented with Byzantine and Moorish tiling, marble floors and decorative walls and ceilings.
One of the few parts of the city to have escaped both WWII bomb damage and the drastic redesigns of the communist era, Lipscani is Bucharest’s historic hub. By day, its pedestrianized streets are ideal for strolling, antique shopping, and caféhopping, while at night, its many restaurants, bars, and clubs fill with fun-seeking revelers.
Bucharest’s main Orthodox place of worship is dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helen and sits atop Mitropoliei, one of the few hills in the city center. It was designed by an unknown architect as a copy of the Curtea de Arges monastery in the university city of Pitesti and consecrated in 1658; it has three dumpy spires, a bulbous apse and Byzantine-style gilded paintings of the saints adorning its exterior. Although the cathedral was largely restored to its original form in the early 1960s, four major upgrades have been made over the centuries, particularly to its gold-encrusted interior, where frescoes have been added as recently as 1935. The first Romanian-language bible was printed here in 1688 and the cathedral holds the most valuable collection of icons in Romania.
Next to the cathedral is a squat bell tower built in 1698 and opposite is the Patriarchal Palace, which has been the official residence of the head of the Romanian Orthodox church since 1708; it is closed to the public but enjoyed a moment in the spotlight when it became the temporary seat of Parliament following the revolution in 1989. Close by is the Neo-classical Palace of the Chamber of Deputies, built in 1907.
The George Enescu National Museum in Bucharest is a memorial to Romania’s most important musician. Enescu was a composer, violinist, pianist and conductor who passed away in 1955. After his death, the museum was established in the Cantacuzino Palace, widely considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Bucharest. Designed in a French academic style with art nouveau elements, the palace features a remarkable glass awning above the entrance and an interior adorned with murals and sculptures.
The permanent collection of the museum includes three rooms of the palace and is devoted to the life of Enescu, as well as the history of Romanian music. Displays include photographs, manuscripts, medals, drawings, musical instruments, furniture and personal items, as well as a casting of Enescu’s hands and his mortuary mask. The museum also has two other branches: the George Enescu Memorial House in Sinaia and the Dumitru and Alice Rosetti-Tescanu George Enescu section in Bacau.
Housed in a grandiose neoclassical building along Calea Victoriei, the National Museum of Romanian History takes visitors on a journey through national history and heritage with its permanent collection of over 750,000 items. Note that the museum is partially closed for renovations until 2021, and exhibits may move to a temporary location in the interim.
Immerse yourself in the multi-sensory exhibits of Bucharest’s Museum of Senses, home to around 40 life-size optical illusions. The family-friendly museum provides plenty of photo opportunities and unique experiences, including the chance to dance in an infinity mirror room and walk through a dizzying Vortex tunnel.
One of only a few active synagogues in Bucharest, the Moorish Revival-style Choral Temple (Templul Coral, which was originally built in 1857, has survived anti-Jewish persecution and pogroms. Behind its yellow and red brick exterior is a colorfully adorned interior. Outside stands a memorial to victims of the Holocaust.
Set up by Polish Jews in the mid-19th century, the Great Synagogue (Sinagoga Mare is one of less than a handful of working synagogues in Bucharest. Behind its simple facade is a lavish rococo-style interior and poignant exhibits documenting Jewish life in Romania and the persecution of Romanian Jews during the Holocaust.
The Grigor Antipa National Museum of Natural History in Bucharest is considered one of Romania’s best museums, as well as one of the best natural history museums in all of Europe. It is named for a famous Romanian biologist who, among his other accomplishments, was the first Romanian to reach the North Pole. While the history of the museum goes back to 1834, the building in which it stands today was built in 1908. With some two million objects, the museum is the largest museum of natural history in the country and features a range of ethnographic, mineralogical, zoological and paleontological exhibits, with highlights including an extensive butterfly collection, a hall dedicated to the Black Sea and dinosaur fossils. In the basement, visitors will find a guide to the animal and plant life native to Romania. With a variety of hands on, interactive exhibits, the museum is also great for children.
Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest is the headquarters and residence of the Romanian president, as well as home to the National Cotroceni Museum. The original palace served as the residence of Romanian rulers until the end of the 19th century, at which time a larger palace was commissioned by King Carol I. Most of the palace had to be rebuilt after an earthquake struck in 1977. Adjacent to the palace is the Cotroceni Garden, one of the major public gardens in the city which dates back to the 1850s.
The National Cotroceni Museum collection features more than 20,000 objects, divided into several different collections. Highlights include 18th and 19th century religious arts; a collection of Romanian paintings from the 19th century to the present; 18th and 19th century paintings from German, Austrian, French and Belgian artists; sculptures from both Romanian and European sculptors; drawings, watercolors and engravings from the 19th and 20th centuries; and decorative arts, including ceramics, glass, metals and textiles.
First laid out in the early 1900s, Carol Park spreads out over an area of about 75 acres (30 hectares. As well as greenery and tree-lined walking trails, the park also features a lake, an open-air theater, and several monuments, most famously a large Communist-era mausoleum that is now home to Romania’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Located in the center of Bucharest, the Romanian Peasant Museum (Muzeul National al Taranului Roman) is one of the leading museums in Europe dedicated to popular arts and traditions. Named the European Museum of the Year in 1996, it boasts a collection of more than 100,000 objects, including textiles, costumes, religious icons, handpainted Easter eggs, terra cotta pottery and other items telling the story of life in the Romanian countryside over four centuries.The museum was originally founded in 1906, but during Communist times, the building houses a museum of the Communist party instead. It reopened as the Museum of the Romanian Peasant after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, but the basement still contains remnants of the Communist museum.
The museum’s red brick building dates back to 1912 and features traditional Romanian architecture, including large windows under the arches and a main tower that is reminiscent of old bell towers. Considered one of the most enjoyable museums in Bucharest, it was expanded significantly in 2002. Visitors can buy replicas of many of the items on display from the museum gift shop.