Historic City Center

Length : 4 km

Time : 1 h

Universităţii Sq. — Toma Caragiu St. — Ion Ghica St.— Doamnei St. — Eugeniu Carada St. — Lipscani St.— Smârdan St. — Stavropoleos St. — Poştei St. — Sf. Dumitru St. — N. Tonitza St. — Franceză St. — Old Princely Court — Covaci St. — Şelari St. —  Smârdan St. — Lipscani St. — Sf. Gheorghe St. — Universităţii Sq.

More than six centuries ago, back in late 14th century to be more precise, when the chief magistrate of the lands of Ilfov watched the road towards Giurgiu from the bulwarks of the guard tower built on a hillside on the northern banks of Dâmboviţa River, the sight before his eyes must have been rather poor. Few huts, maybe some watermills or scattered homesteads made up a primitive village. All around, stretching as far as the eye could see were stretching the endless Vlăsiei Forests encompassing everything in a deep, green rainment. The brick-made tower was the only landmark to forebode the birth of the city that later became Bucharest. Starting with September 20th, 1459 when ruler Vlad the Impaler issued the document mentioning the name of Bucharest for the first time in recorded history, we have a clear reference date from which to calculate the exact age of the city.

The borough of yore grew in time. At first, it was a small 14th century fortress, then the fortress of Vlad the Impaler erected on the foundations of a former fortification, and later, as the fortress was transformed into a princely residence, boyars and magistrates, merchants and craftsmen settled in establishing the Inner Borough. Alongside came guilders: bakers, cracknel bakers, confectioners, soap makers, shalwar makers, lace makers, shoemakers, furriers, ishlik (high caps of Phanariote fashion) makers, skinners, saddlers, hatters, blacksmiths, money lenders, painters, sliver and goldsmiths, tanners. Afterwards appered inns, new lanes were cut, while the 19th century brought about the development of hotels and elegant banking edifices. There have been earthquakes, fires, floods, plundering enemies, wars, epidemics that caused ceaseless distruction. Many times the city was leveled to the ground but rised again with double strength. The new houses incorporated the walls of the old ones absorbing and transformating them. Placed at the crossroads between the Islamic world of the East and the Catholic or Protestant world of the West, the city of Bucharest was never allowed time enough to develop impressive monuments of art and architecture such as those in Paris, Amsterdam, or London. It is thus easy to figure out why a men from Paris named Pierre Lescalopier who arrived in Bucharest in 1574 during a travel from Venetia to Constantinople said the city “has no beautiful building whatsoever”, of course compared to those of the Western cities of his time.

The story of the Old City Center (or Historical Center as it is commonly referred to today) whose streets and monuments we describe in this website is in fact the story of a city. The Historical Center, as it is usually referred to, is set inside a perimeter encompassed by Victoriei Avenue (to the west), I.C. Brătianu Blvd. (to the east), the University Square (to the north), and the Unirii Square together with Dâmboviţa River (to the south), completed with the area around the Old St. George Church up to Calea Moşilor. It is in fact “a city within the City” if considering the obvious contrast between it and the neighbouring places.

The Historical Center retained only a little of its past charm. There have been preserved old buildings, while the layout of the old lanes developed around the three main axes—Lipscani, Doamnei and Franceză streets—remained virtually unchanged. Yet, many of the once charming things are now lost—the picturesque spectacle of the street, the restaurants enlivened by the music of famous figures of the time such as fiddlers Grigoraş Dinicu and Cristache Ciolac, singers Cristian Vasile and Maria Tănase, the beer houses and coffee shops where great figures of the Romanian literature such as playwriter Caragiale or poets Coşbuc and Eminescu spent late hours into the night…

The Old Center of today is a world of harsh contrasts: imposing buildings and newly restored streets neighbour houses scarred by the hardships of times. Luxurious coffee shops mirror modes terraces. The crowd is mottled, moving around in endless fuss and rarely a tourist sets out for a stroll along the intricate streets. Here an elegant theatre building, there a crooked courtyard.

Despite all these the Old Center, whose hidden meanings can not be grasped by fugitive views, it is a world that can not be known and understood unless we explore it street by street, house by house, and corner by corner. The heritage comprised in these old buildings is living proof of the birth and growth of a great city.