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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Bucharest Travel Guide
Bucharest Travel Guide and Bucharest Travel Information - TravelPuppy.com
Bucharest (Buchuresti), located halfway between the Carpathian Mountains and the Black Sea, in southeastern Romania, has not earned the nickname ‘Paris of the Balkans’ by accident. Its astounding range of architecture – from Wallachian wooden and bell-towered mansions to Byzantine-style chapels, neo-classical buildings, striking 1930s modernism and even the post-Stalinist absurdities of Ceaucescu’s megalomaniac regime – cannot help but leave the visitor in awe at the diversity of vision that have taken place in this city, over the centuries. But Bucharest has also been the epicentre of the country’s many cataclysms, with the stages of the country’s history like vivid tattoos etched across the city’s surface, each telling a different chapter of the story.

The first reference of Bucharest is in a document from 1459, signed by Vlad Dracula, then ruler of the first Romanian state of Wallachia. Known as ‘Vlad the Impaler (or Tepes)’ – for leaving his enemies to die slowly on stakes – he became the inspiration for the renowned vampire of literary and celluloid fame. Yet among his countrymen, he is something of a folk hero, famous for standing up to the Ottomans, Saxons and Wallachia’s noble families. The ruins of one palace accredited to him can still be seen in old Bucharest, where trendy bars and clubs also capitalise on his image, with cobwebs and dank underground dancefloors.

After the Turkish conquest, Bucharest sustained as a scene of rebellion and was burnt by the Ottomans, in 1595. A century later, it was made the seat of the Wallachian government, by Sultan Mustafa II. The city was caught in the crossfire of conflicts between the Ottomans, Russia and Austria– the city was repeatedly occupied and destroyed until 1862, when it became the capital of a unified Romania. But after liberation, Bucharest began to create a different identity, with French architects called in to remake it in the image of Paris, with long, tree-lined boulevards and a forging of classical and new Romanian architecture. Between the world wars, influenced by modernist trends from native artists who had lived abroad, such as Constantin Brancusi, Bucharest began to rejoice in a fusion of styles that would make it totally individual and produced some of Europe’s most beautiful residences for the elite.

This ‘romantic’ chapter came to a close when Communism took root in 1946. Although never heavily bombed by the Allies, in World War II, Socialist Realism ushered in dreary Stalinist apartment blocks, many of which remain today. When Nicolae Ceausescu became president of Romania’s Communist Party in 1965, however, he was so determined to create a replication of Champs Elysee in the ‘civic centre’ that he destroyed many historic buildings, including 26 churches. His plans were never completed but the strange combination of neo-Stalinist architecture nevertheless gives a nod towards the city’s futuristic tradition. Strangely, all of these architectural incongruities afford an added dimension to the city today. And as the city looks hopefully to foreign investment and closer ties with the EU, historic buildings and parks are being restored, fashionable shops, trendy bars, restaurants and Internet cafés are popping up all over and the sense of a new dynamism is evident.

Presently, however, the almost total lack of tourism infrastructure or facilities can be exasperating. There is no tourist office and even basic brochures in museums can be hard to find, leaving one to fend almost completely on one’s own. Although Bucharest enjoys a temperate climate, tourists should avoid mid-summer visits, since temperatures soar, air conditioning is rare and much of the city shuts down, as students return home and locals head for the coast.