Near the village of Bran and the city of Brasov, on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, lies Bran Castle. Over the years it has come to be known as ‘Dracula’s Castle’, although it is only one of numerous similarly imposing castles linked to Bram Stoker’s tale of horror. Sitting on top of a 61 metre high rock, and bedecked with spires and towers, it certainly plays the part of Count Dracula’s residence very well. For 37 years up to 1957, it was the home of monarchs. Nowadays it is a museum, with paintings and furniture that belonged to Queen Marie of Romania. A large number of the castle’s rooms are connected via underground hallways displaying a number of artefacts from the 1300s right up to the 1800s.
Approximately 200 metres above the town of Rasnov, which lies on a connecting road between Transylvania and Wallachia, you will find the very interesting Rasnov Fortress. This building is documented as far back as 1331, and was constructed by Teutonic Knights to defend themselves from attacks by Tartars. Unlike its other Saxon counterparts, over the centuries it became a refuge, with all the buildings one would expect to find in a village, such as a church, houses and a school.
People of the Jewish faith have lived in Bucharest since the 1500s – longer than anywhere else in Romania. Sephardic Jews were the first to make the city their home, and in the early 1600s, when the Cossacks revolted, this was the catalyst for Ashkenazi Jews to migrate from Ukraine and Poland. In the early 18th century a sacred brotherhood, poor box and synagogue were enlisted with the authorities. As more prayer houses were established throughout the 1700s and 1800s (ten by 1832), ritual baths called mikve were installed. By the end of the 19th century, the vast majority of the 70 temples and synagogues had their own Rabbi and as the 1900s dawned there were about 40,000 Jews in Bucharest.
Just before World War II 100,000 Jews lived in Bucharest, served by 80 prayer houses. However, as fascism and communism reared their ugly heads, the vast majority of prayer houses were destroyed. Today, two synagogues serve Bucharest’s 4000 faithful – the most significant population of Jews in Romania. Together they run a Jewish theatre, school and museum. In 2009 a Holocaust Memorial was established. With this gesture much progress was made towards Romania making peace with its past. Continue reading
The House of the Free Press (Casa Presei Libere), located on Piata Presei Libere 1, is an imposing structure located at the gateway to Bucharest. Still referred to as Casa Scanteii, this accomplishment of architect Horia Maicu opened in 1956 to hold the majority of Bucharest’s printing presses. To this day it is still used for a very similar purpose, except now it is also the home of the Bucharest Stock Exchange.
The 25 metre Arch of Triumph (Arcul de Triumf), located on Piata Arcul de Triumf, is the place to go for spectacular views over Bucharest. This is thanks to an interior staircase by which one can climb to the summit. When it opened in 1922, it was a wooden structure – however, in 1936 it was covered in granite. It is a mark of respect to Romanian soldiers who were sent to fight in the first World War, and is the city‘s answer to the monument that stands proudly in Paris. Although Petre Antonescu was the architect responsible for its design, native artists such as Ion Jalea, Constantin Medrea and Constantin Baraschi were also behind the beautiful decoration.
Bucharest Romania is a city with a long and interesting history. It has seen occupation, invasion, renewal and decline. Despite its size relative to other Romanian cities and its long history it only became the capital of the country towards the end of the nineteenth century.
Wallachia and Moldavia were united in 1861. Bucharest became the capital city of a kingdom and entered a period of splendor. Fine buildings were erected some of them in the style of Paris. High culture prevailed and the city became known as ‘the Paris of the East’ so admired was it for its culture and refinement.
Development of the city was restrained by endemic floods for many years. It stands on the Dambovita River which is a tributary of the Danube, and prone to flooding. When the river was channeled in 1883 the flooding was stopped and the city became more stable. This improved development prospects. Continue reading