bucharest la multi ani(Gheorghe Leahu: Popa Nan - Original source) La multi ani, Bucuresti!

Today sees 553 years since Bucharest first appeared in a written document dated 1459. 553 years.... An old lady in some ways and a young one in others, depending on your comparisons I suppose.

Bucharest became Romania's capital in 1862. This, from Wikipedia:

"Its eclectic architecture is a mix of historical (neo-classical), interbellum (Bauhaus and Art Deco), Communist-era and modern. In the period between the two World Wars, the city's elegant architecture and the sophistication of its elite earned Bucharest the nickname of "Little Paris" (Micul Paris). Although many buildings and districts in the historic centre were damaged or destroyed by war, earthquakes and Nicolae Ceaușescu's program of systematisation, many survived."

And that, really, is the crux of this post. After 553 years, doesn't our beloved Bucharest deserve better than it has? Think about it. What kind, loving things have been bestowed on the city that used to be known as Micul Paris over the last five decades? Only a few suggestions come to mind: Lipscani's incredible makeover, the excellent renovations of Muzeul Antipa and Hanul lui Manuc,  facelifts given to a handful of houses (not enough), loads of new restaurants and cafés (not necessarily a positive point but I guess it means there are villas that haven't been destroyed in the name of 'progress', people have something to do of an evening and it helps the economy) and... um... oh. That's the extent of my ideas. Some may add the new bridge opened by Oprescu a year or two ago. Others may offer that ghastly statue of Traian on the steps of the National Museum or Paunescu's bust in Parcul Icoanei. Well, yes, you get the gist! As for Wikipedia's 'many survived', indeed they did. But the contemporary megalomaniacs so intent on carving roads through the capital, plonking carparks every which way they can and building foul and unrentable office complexes on land that used to boast historical monuments and buildings of great architectural and cultural value have been very busy indeed...

Biserica_lui_Bucur,_1856(Source: Biserica lui Bucur, the legendary founder of Bucharest who gave the city its name)

If you are not familiar with the history of Bucharest, please see HERE. To mark the day, Jurnalul.ro has an article entitled 'Nine Things You Don't Know About Bucharest' you may like to read for fun. I was fascinated by number 8.

Five hundred and fifty-three years and what have we to show for it.... That's pretty shameful, wouldn't you say?

While other European cities such as Prague, Vienna and Paris have worked outstandingly hard to preserve their history and patrimony, today's Romanian officials and politicians (along with the real-estate mafia we all know exists) are working just as outstandingly hard to honour Ceausescu's plan in the demolition of just about everything lovely. If it is listed, so what. If it's in a protected zone, who cares. Laws? Legislation? Naaaaah.... it's in the way, get rid of it. "But, that's Prague, Vienna and Paris! This is Bucharest! You can't compare!" Yes, I can. There is NO reason why Bucharest cannot be like the aforementioned. It is corruption, greed, ignorance and indifference that forbids it. And so many of its population find that absolutely normal.... After 553 years, there is simply not enough loveliness remaining. Not nearly enough. Rubble, holes where houses once stood, signs to show reconstruction or another demolition, half-finished construction sites, areas that look like Kabul, peeling walls, broken windows, houses infested with illegal 'residents'...

prdomo(Source: NGO ProDoMo's indignant poster - and rightly so.)

Just this morning, I read a FB post by Nicusor Dan stating that approval for the next crazy, absurd and totally needless (my words, not his) horror project is being prepared which will transform the two most beautiful avenues in Bucharest - Kiseleff and Aviatorilor - into highspeed expressways, blocking Calea Victoriei. I expect it's been signed by now - and on such a day leaves no doubt as to the incredible arrogance of these destruction-bent people who, in fact, have been charged to care for the city, not demolish it.... All those beautiful trees will be 'removed', the green spaces that we love so well for walking, cycling, reading and wandering aimlessly simply to admire the (still remaining) exceptional villas that align them will soon be images for 'old' postcards and books. They wlll be found nowhere else. PSD are pressing for modification to the urban laws, allowing anyone to construct anything anywhere. What?!? Just to make a point, I read an article last night about a couple in Georgia USA who were being sued by the local homeowners association because they had painted their daughter's playhouse out in the backyard pink. The association claimed that the family had to have the colour approved by the association’s board before it could be painted  pink. Yes. And that's how it SHOULD be. That's how things are in CIVILISED countries where civic duty is prerequisite and people care about what they are actually looking at. But not in Bucharest.... Not any more. Why, oh why, does this keep happening? Why do 'they' keep doing this? Simple. Because they can. No one seems able to stop them.

This is not a post to list the hundreds of dreadful, illegal demolitions. It is not a post to slag off Oprescu and the architecture commission, nor the Chief Architect of Bucharest. I have written many of those and it's neither the time nor the place. I say only that after 553 years, while everyone else is trying to improve their cities, renovate rather than rebuild wherever possible, underline the beauty of their architecture and highlight their history whether it be joyous or tragic and syphon traffic away from the centre in order to make things so much more pleasant for citizens, Bucharest is attacked and disfigured by greedy, corrupt, lousy parasites right from the top down to the very bottom. Those who move a finger are few and far between. I know they exist, that tiny 10%. There are associations, NGOs and individuals who care VERY much. But it seems like a flea up against a tsunami...

A fost o data...

old_bucharest_photo__2265x1560(Source: Old Bucharest, Calea Victoriei)

A fost o data a city where beauty stood on every turn, where every corner was a photo opportunity and where history, patrimony and heritage mattered. Along with culture. A fost o data a city (and a country for that matter) which valued education and promoted learning, where the university was reknown and the doctors admired. A fost odata a city (and country) whose musicians exuded incredible poetry through symphonies and suites and whose concert halls were filled with names that would wow any 'mélomane'. Yes, times were hard, of course they were. But, on the whole there was respect and far more pride than we find today. There was elegance. Da, a fost o data...

Of course, one can still find beauty in Bucharest - that quiet, shy, almost reticent loveliness that brings a lump to one's throat every time one is confronted with it. You only have to read further back on this blog (and so many others besides) for examples. Perhaps, for the visitors as well as for many Bucharest residents, one must be told where to look - the splendid streets around Dorobanti, the hidden villas behind Unirii, the oldy-worldiness of Tineretului, the charm of what's left around Cismigiu on all sides, the elegance of Cotroceni and Icoanei - and that's just for starters. Bucharest demands to be loved. Few of us actually do. Indeed, there IS beauty.

2P8110244All elderly ladies deserve kindness, understanding and heart. Every single one. Bucharest is no exception to the rule of compassion nor respect.

Happy birthday, my dear beloved city, and to many more prosperous years. May what is left of your illusive loveliness be preserved and loved yet a while...