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Cities in the Spotlight: Bucharest, Romania

Updated: Mar 11

In today's installment of cities in the spotlight we are heading to Bucharest, Romania.


Bucharest City Information

Bucharest is the capital and largest city of Romania, as well as its cultural, industrial, and financial centre. It is located in the southeast of the country, on the banks of the Dâmbovița River, less than 60 km (37.3 mi) north of the Danube River and the Bulgarian border.

Bucharest was first mentioned in documents in 1459. It became the capital of Romania in 1862 and is the centre of Romanian media, culture, and art. Its architecture is a mix of historical (mostly Eclectic, but also Neoclassical and Art Nouveau), interbellum (Bauhaus, Art Deco and Romanian Revival architecture), 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 'Paris of the East' (Romanian: Parisul Estului) or 'Little Paris' (Romanian: Micul Paris). Although buildings and districts in the historic city centre were heavily damaged or destroyed by war, earthquakes, and even Nicolae Ceaușescu's program of systematization, many survived and have been renovated. In recent years, the city has been experiencing an economic and cultural boom.

It is one of the fastest-growing high-tech cities in Europe, according to the Financial Times, CBRE, TechCrunch, and others. UiPath, a global startup founded in Bucharest, has reached over $35 billion in valuation. Since 2019, Bucharest hosts the largest high tech summit in Southeast Europe (Romania Blockchain Summit). In 2016, the historical city centre was listed as 'endangered' by the World Monuments Watch. In 2017, Bucharest was the European city with the highest growth of tourists who stay over night, according to the Mastercard Global Index of Urban Destinations. As for the past two consecutive years, 2018 and 2019, Bucharest ranked as the European destination with the highest potential for development according to the same study. Another study estimates Bucharest to become Europe's richest city by 2050.

According to the 2011 census, 1,883,425 inhabitants live within the city limits. Adding the satellite towns around the urban area, the proposed metropolitan area of Bucharest would have a population of 2.27 million people. In 2020, the government used 2.5 million people as the basis for pandemic reports. Bucharest is the fourth largest city in the European Union by population within city limits, after Berlin, Madrid, and Rome, just ahead of Paris. Economically, Bucharest is the most prosperous city in Romania. The city has a number of large convention facilities, educational institutes, cultural venues, traditional 'shopping arcades' and recreational areas. The city proper is administratively known as the 'Municipality of Bucharest' (Municipiul București), and has the same administrative level as that of a national county, being further subdivided into six sectors, each governed by a local mayor.


Bucharest Historical Significance

Bucharest's history alternated periods of development and decline from the early settlements in antiquity until its consolidation as the national capital of Romania late in the 19th century. First mentioned as the 'Citadel of București' in 1459, it became the residence of the Voivode of Wallachia, Vlad III the Impaler.

The Ottomans appointed Greek administrators (Phanariotes) to run the town from the 18th century. The revolution initiated by Tudor Vladimirescu in 1821 led to the end of the rule of Constantinople Greeks in Bucharest. The Old Princely Court (Curtea Veche) was erected by Mircea Ciobanul in the mid-16th century. Under subsequent rulers, Bucharest was established as the summer residence of the royal court. During the years to come, it competed with Târgoviște on the status of capital city after an increase in the importance of southern Muntenia brought about by the demands of the suzerain power – the Ottoman Empire.

Partly destroyed by natural disasters and rebuilt several times during the following 200 years, and hit by Caragea's plague in 1813–14, the city was wrested from Ottoman control and occupied at several intervals by the Habsburg Monarchy (1716, 1737, 1789) and Imperial Russia (three times between 1768 and 1806). It was placed under Russian administration between 1828 and the Crimean War, with an interlude during the Bucharest-centred 1848 Wallachian revolution. Later, an Austrian garrison took possession after the Russian departure (remaining in the city until March 1857). On 23 March 1847, a fire consumed about 2,000 buildings, destroying a third of the city.

In 1862, after Wallachia and Moldavia were united to form the Principality of Romania, Bucharest became the new nation's capital city. In 1881, it became the political centre of the newly proclaimed Kingdom of Romania under King Carol I. During the second half of the 19th century, the city's population increased dramatically, and a new period of urban development began. During this period, gas lighting, horse-drawn trams, and limited electrification were introduced. The Dâmbovița River was also massively channelled in 1883, thus putting a stop to previously endemic floods like the 1865 flooding of Bucharest. The Fortifications of Bucharest were built. The extravagant architecture and cosmopolitan high culture of this period won Bucharest the nickname of 'Little Paris' (Micul Paris) of the east, with Calea Victoriei as its Champs-Élysées.

Between 6 December 1916 and November 1918, the city was occupied by German forces as a result of the Battle of Bucharest, with the official capital temporarily moved to Iași (also called Jassy), in the Moldavia region. After World War I, Bucharest became the capital of Greater Romania. In the interwar years, Bucharest's urban development continued, with the city gaining an average of 30,000 new residents each year. Also, some of the city's main landmarks were built in this period, including Arcul de Triumf and Palatul Telefoanelor. However, the Great Depression in Romania took its toll on Bucharest's citizens, culminating in the Grivița Strike of 1933.

In January 1941, the city was the scene of the Legionnaires' rebellion and Bucharest pogrom. As the capital of an Axis country and a major transit point for Axis troops en route to the Eastern Front, Bucharest suffered heavy damage during World War II due to Allied bombings. On 23 August 1944, Bucharest was the site of the royal coup which brought Romania into the Allied camp. The city suffered a short period of Nazi Luftwaffe bombings, as well as a failed attempt by German troops to regain the city.


Travel to Bucharest

*taken from Lonely Planet*

Romania’s capital sometimes gets a bad rap, but in fact it's dynamic, energetic and lots of fun. Many travellers give the city just a night or two before heading off to Transylvania, but that’s not enough time. Allow at least a few days to take in the very good museums, stroll the parks and hang out at trendy cafes and drinking gardens. While much of the centre is modern and the buildings are in various stages of disrepair, you'll find splendid 17th- and 18th-century Orthodox churches and graceful belle époque villas tucked away in quiet corners. Communism changed the face of the city forever, and nowhere is this more evident than at the gargantuan Palace of Parliament, the grandest (and arguably crassest) tribute to dictatorial megalomania you’ll ever see.


Must See Sites

Romanian Athenaeum; The exquisite Athenaeum is the majestic heart of Romania’s classical-music tradition. Scenes from Romanian history are featured on the interior fresco inside the Big Hall on the 1st floor; the dome is 41m high. A huge appeal dubbed ‘Give a Penny for the Athenaeum’ saved it from disaster after funds dried up in the late 19th century. Today it’s home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra and normally only open during concerts, but you can often take a peek inside. The peristyle is adorned with mosaics of five Romanian rulers, including Moldavian prince Vasile Lupu (r 1512–21), Wallachian Matei Basarab (r 1632–54) and King Carol I (r 1881–1914). It was built in 1888, and George Enescu made his debut here in 1898, followed five years later by the first performance of his masterpiece, Romanian Rhapsody.

Bellu Cemetery; The city’s most prestigious burial ground houses the tombs of many notable Romanian writers – a map inside the gate points out locations. Many Romanians pay their respects to national poet Mihai Eminescu (1850–89) and comic playwright and humorist Ion Luca Caragiale (1852–1912), who are separated only by a bloke named Traian Savulescu; go to Figura 9 (to the right after you enter).

National Village Museum; On the shores of Herăstrău Lake, this museum is a terrific open-air collection of several dozen homesteads, churches, mills and windmills relocated from rural Romania. Built in 1936 by royal decree, it is one of Europe’s oldest open-air museums and a good choice for kids to boot.

Jewish History Museum; The Jewish History Museum is housed in a colourful synagogue that dates from 1836 (rebuilt in 1910). Exhibits (in English and Romanian) outline Jewish contributions to Romanian history, which not all Romanians know about. In 1941, 800,000 Jews lived in Romania; today only 10,000 remain. You need your passport to enter.


Must Try Food & Drink

Ciorbă de burtă; Ciorbă de burtă is a creamy, sour and garlicky, yellow-colored Romanian soup containing strips of beef tripe and slices of red pepper. Although considered a rare delicacy and an acquired taste due to its main ingredient being the lining of a cow’s stomach, ciorbă de burtă is a rather simple dish. It is basically tripe soup seasoned with vinegar, sour cream, and mujdei – a spicy garlic sauce made from crushed garlic cloves, salt, and oil. Various ingredients are used for the broth, including onions, carrots, celery, parsley and parsnip roots, lovage, bay leaves, and peppercorns. Ciorbă de burtă is traditionally served piping hot with spicy green peppers and a dollop or two of sour cream on the side. Just like many other hallmarks of Romanian cuisine, ciorbă de burtă has its origins in the Ottoman Empire.

Drob; Drob is a traditional Romanian Easter dish made from lamb offals, soaked bread, green onions, and eggs. It is flavoured with plenty of dill, lovage, parsley, and garlic. This mixture is baked either in lamb's caul or a sheet of dough. Sometimes, a boiled egg is inserted in the middle of drob for added flavor. It is served cold at the Easter table and savoured on its own or with mustard.

Amandine; Amandine is a traditional Romanian chocolate cake that's filled either with chocolate or almond cream. The cake has four components – the sponge cake, the syrup, the filling, and the glaze. The sponge cake is made with eggs, sugar, water, flour, oil, and cocoa, the filling (chocolate buttercream) consists of eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, and cocoa, the syrup is made with water, sugar, and rum, and the glaze is made with chocolate and whipping cream. Of course, there are many recipes for this cake, so the ingredients may vary in some cases. Amandina has been popular in Romanian confectioneries ever since the 1960s, and it's usually decorated with a bit of the cream and a thin, diamond-shaped chocolate piece on top.

Țuică; Țuică is a traditional Romanian plum brandy. Often dubbed as Romanian moonshine, this potent spirit is produced from fermented plums, and it is traditionally once or twice distilled in copper stills. Țuică is a clear and colorless spirit with an alcohol content that can range from 20 to 60 percent ABV. After it is distilled, it can be aged in wood. During maturation, it becomes mellow and attains light caramel color. Țuică is the most popular Romanian liquor, and it is traditionally served as an aperitif or a welcome drink. It is a staple on every special occasion, and it is usually served neat in shot glasses. During winter, it can be heated before serving. The term țuică is only reserved for fruit brandies distilled from plums, while the varieties distilled from other fruit are generally called rachiu, palincă, hornică, jinars, or fatatas.


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