According to a Romanian legend, the city of Bucharest was founded by a shepherd named Bucur, literarily meaning joy or happiness, who dazzled people with the way he played his flute and endeared him to locals because of the good wine from nearby vineyards, therefore the local residents decided to name the town after him.
Bucharest, the capital city and industrial and commercial centre of Romania, was originally known as the Dambovita citadel. As compared to most of the other European cities, Bucharest is a relatively new city, its existence first being referred to by scholars as late as 1459. Between the two World Wars, Bucharest was called Little Paris owing to its elegant architecture, the sophistication of its elite and its wide, tree-lined boulevards. Most of the buildings and districts in the historic centre were damaged or destroyed by war, earthquakes and Nicolae Ceausescu's program of restructuring the city, but much survived.
Bucharest is situated on the banks of the Dambovita River, which flows into the Arges River, a tributary of the Danube. The Colentina River, a tributary of the Dambovita, also gives rise to several lakes within the city such as Lake Floreasca, Lake Tei and Lake Colentina.
Even though it is not very old, Bucharest has a historical charm, from the streets of the Old City Center, to the grand architecture of the Royal Palace. The city also has a large number of museums, art galleries, and unique architectural sites.
Once the city was founded, according to legend by a shepherd named Bucur, Bucharest has gone through alternate periods of development and decline. The city is first mentioned as the Citadel of Bucuresti in 1459, when the Wallachian prince Vlad III the Impaler built a fortress here and used it to hold back the Turks threatening the Wallachian state. However, archaeological excavations revealed the existence of over 150,000 years old prehistoric settlements.
Bucharest became the capital of Walachia in 1659, and also its main economic center. In the beginning of the 17th century, the city was burned down by the Ottomans but was restored and continued to prosper. It also became the location for the Wallachian court.
In the next two centuries, the city was partially destroyed by natural disasters, rebuilt several times, hit by a plague, wrested from Ottoman control and occupied at several intervals by the Habsburg Monarchy and Imperial Russia. Between 1828 and the Crimean War, it was under the Russian administration after which an Austrian garrison took over.
In the year1847 tragedy struck the city again, this time the city was consumed, almost entirely by a fire, destroying a third of the city. In 1861, when Wallachia and Moldavia were united to form the Principality of Romania, Bucharest became the new nation's capital and in 1881, it became the political center of the newly-proclaimed Kingdom of Romania.
During the second half of the 19th century, the city gained much popularity and to keep up with its growing status, it began to develop its urban areas with extravagant architecture and cosmopolitan high culture of this period, giving the city its sobriquet of the Paris of the East or Little Paris (Micul Paris), with the Victory Avenue representing Paris’ Champs-Elysées.
During most of the First World War, the city was occupied by German forces and after the war, Bucharest became the capital of Greater Romania. Then again during the World War II, Bucharest suffered heavy losses.
Between 1965 and 1989, under the leadership of Nicolae Ceausescu, most of the historic part of the city was destroyed and replaced with high-rise apartment blocks. In 1977, a strong earthquake, 7.4 on the Richter-scale, claimed many lives and destroyed many old buildings. However, the city still retains some of its historic neighborhoods.
The Arch of Triumph: The 85 ft high arc was built, initially in wood, in the year1922 to honor the bravery of Romanian soldiers who fought in World War I. It was completed with granite in 1936. Visitors can also climb to the top, by the means of an interior staircase, for a panoramic view of the city. The sculptures adorning the structure were created by leading Romanian artists.
Cantacuzino Palace: Prime Minister Grigore Cantacuzino was one of Romania’s wealthiest citizens in 1899 and wanted to have the most elegant residence in Bucharest. The Palace was built combining a neoclassical architectural style with art nouveau elements, featuring wrought iron balconies, tall arched windows and an elegant wrought-iron doorway flanked by two lions. Today, the palace houses the George Enescu Museum.
George Enescu Museum: Located in the Cantacuzino Palace, the museum displays documents and various objects that belonged to the great Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu, including a Bach music collection he received as a gift from Queen Elisabeta of Romania.
Victory Avenue: This is Bucharest's oldest and most charming street built in 1692 which soon developed into one of the most fashionable streets in the city. A stroll along this street will help you discover some of the most stunning buildings around, including the Cantacuzino Palace, the historical Revolution Square, the Military Club, the CEC Headquarters and the National History Museum.
House of the Free Press: This imposing structure stands at the entrance to the capital and was completed in 1956. It till date houses almost all of the capital's printing presses and newsrooms and the Bucharest Stock Exchange in the southern wing was added much later.
Revolution Square: It was here, at the balcony of the former Communist Party Headquarters, that Nicolae Ceausescu spent his final moments in power on December 21, 1989. He fled an angry mob only to be captured outside of the city a few hours later. The building now houses the Senate. The square also houses the former Royal Palace home of the National Art Museum, the Romanian Athenaeum, the historic Athenee Palace Hotel, and the Kretzulescu Church.
The Royal Palace: it was erected around1937 and was home to King Carol II and his son, King Mihai I, until the monarchy was abolished in1947. It was here that King Mihai led a coup that displaced the pro-Nazi government during the World War II. Today, the palace houses the Romanian National Art Museum.
The Romanian Athenaeum: Completed in 1888, it was financed almost entirely with money donated by the general public after the original patrons ran out of funds. Its high dome and Doric columns, it resembles an ancient temple. The lobby’s ceiling is beautifully decorated in gold leaf, pink marble columns are linked by flowing arches with elaborate brass lanterns, and the concert hall is covered with frescoes. Is has outstanding acoustics and is Bucharest's most prestigious concert hall.
Athenee Palace Hotel: Currently a luxurious Hilton hotel, it was built in 1914 and was made famous in Olivia Manning’s novel, Balkan Trilogy, as a center of intrigue and espionage during World War II. The hotel suffered heavy bombing during the war but was rebuilt in 1945.
The Military Club: This neoclassical structure was built in 1912 to serve the social, cultural and educational needs of the Romanian army. It still hosts official events and houses the army's library, offices and classrooms for officers’ instruction. Most of the building is off-limits to civilians, as expected, but the restaurant and summer terrace is open for the public to enjoy.
Old Princely Court & Church: The Old Princely Court was built in the 15th century by Vlad Tepes and all that that now remains are a few walls, arches, tombstones and a Corinthian column. According to the locals, Vlad kept his prisoners in dungeons here which extended under the city. The Old Court Museum was established in 1972 when an archaeological excavation revealed the remains of the fortress, along with Dacian pottery and Roman coins along with the oldest document found as yet attesting to the city’s origin. The Old Court Church, dating from 1559 stands next to the palace and is considered to be the oldest in Bucharest.
The Palace of the Savings Bank: It has one of the most impressive neoclassical facades in the city and was built in the 19th century. The palace is square-shaped and four small domes and a large central dome with metallic ribs separated by glass, allowing for plenty of natural light. The entry arch, with its Corinthian columns, is the highlight of your visit here.
The Old Historical Center of Bucharest: it used to be a glamorous residential area and in the beginning of the 14th century, most merchants and craftsmen established their stores and shops in this section of the city. The area was known as Lipscani, named for the many German traders from Lipsca. Today, the area has many art galleries, antique shops and coffeehouses.
University Square: This is one of the most popular meeting places in Bucharest, and as an additional bonus, the square brings together some remarkable architectural treasures like the School of Architecture, the Bucharest National Theater, the neoclassical Coltea Hospital and its lovely church and the Sutu Palace. In the middle of the square there are ten stone crosses in memory of those killed during the 1989 revolution.
Sutu Palace: It was built in neogothic style and was known to host some of the most extravagant balls in the 19th century. In 1862, the palace underwent some revamping with arcades and a monumental stairway. Only the painted ceilings, the stucco, the parquet flooring and the tile stoves have been preserved. It now houses the Bucharest History & Art Museum.
Parliament Palace: It was built by the Communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, but was known as the People’s Palace and is the second largest administrative building in the world after the Pentagon. It took over 20,000 workers and 700 architects to build this massive structure with 12 stories, 1100 rooms, a 328-ft-long lobby and four underground levels, including an enormous nuclear bunker.
Metropolitan Church: Set beautifully atop one of the city's few hills, the church was built in 1658. The Byzantine interior contains some of the most stunning iconostasis, as well as a couple of exquisitely carved altars. The impressive bell-tower at the entrance was built in 1698. Next to the church, but closed to the public, is the Patriarchal Palace, residence of the supreme leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church.
Bucharest History & Art Museum: The museum features an impressive collection of over 300,000 artifacts, coins, books, maps, engravings, paintings, arms and furniture to old traditional costumes. Among the most valuable exhibits are the documents attesting for the first time the name of the city of Bucharest, and a sword set in precious stones that belonged to Prince Constantin Brancoveanu.
The Natural History Museum: This museum is the largest natural history museum in Romania, housing collections of reptiles, fish, birds and mammals, part of the 300,000-plus collection of artifacts and specimens are on display, including a dinosaur fossil.
Being such a prominent city, Bucharest hosts a number of cultural festivals throughout the year, in various domains. Most of the festivals take place in the summer months of June, July and August. Every year in May and June the National Opera organizes the International Opera Festival; the Romanian Athaeneum Society hosts the George Enescu Classical Music Festival in September; the Museum of the Romanian Peasant and the Village Museum showcase Romanian folk arts and crafts throughout the year; and since 2005, Bucharest has been host to the international Cow Parade with dozens of decorated cow sculptures being placed at various points across the city.
Getting in: Most flights, both international and domestic, arrive at the Henri Coanda International Airport, located 18 km from the city. The Aurel Vlaicu International Airport is smaller and is used primarily by low-cost airlines. There are also bus and train connections between Bucharest and many cities in Europe, especially southern parts of the continent.
Getting around: the Bucharest Metro has four lines and covers the city quite extensively, and is a good way to get around. There are frequent and fairly comfortable trains that are reliable and easy-to-use. The city also has an extensive network of buses, trams and trolleybuses with stops virtually everywhere in this city.
Climate: Bucharest has hot dry summers and cold winters with temperatures often below 0°C.