Known to most locals as Centru Vechi (the Old Centre), Bucharest's Old Town is defined by the area bordered by the Dambovita river to the south, Calea Victoriei to the west, Bulevardul Brătianu to the east and Regina Elisabeta to the north. The area is more or less all that’s left of pre-World War II Bucharest. What the war didn’t destroy (and it destroyed a fair bit: allied bombing was fierce during the early part of 1944) communism did, most notably in the form of the grandiose Civic Centre project that saw almost a fifth of the total area of the city flattened to make way for Bulevardul Unirii and Casa Poporului. Indeed, that anything survives at all is little short of a miracle.
While much of Bucharest has changed beyond recognition over the past two decades, nothing compares to the recent transformation of Old Town/Lipscani, which in the past two years has turned what was very much a no-go area with almost nothing to offer into the Romanian capital’s liveliest entertainment district.
The area is still something of a work in progress, but it’s a rewarding place to explore, one of the few areas of the capital that is. You will certainly not want for things to do, to see, or for places to eat, drink and dance.
The Bucharest Old Town area is historic for this is where Bucharest was founded. Kind of. According to legend, Bucur the Shepherd founded the city in the 1300s when he built a church somewhere on the eastern bank of the Dâmboviţa river: nobody is sure exactly where this church was (or even if it actually existed). What we do know is that by the first reign of Vlad Ţepeş (1459-1462) there was a palace and court (the Palatul Curtea Veche) in the area we today call Old Town, and that the city grew quickly around the palace.
Old Town / Lipscani: A Brief History
By the middle of the 17th century the area was Bucharest merchant district, which it to all intents and purposes remained until the end of World War II, when many of the rightful owners of the houses and businesses which lined the area’s streets were arrested by the communist authorities, and their property confiscated and left to rot. The entire area - viewed as being far too bourgeous for communist tastes - was then neglected for decades, with many of the empty buildings being occupied over the years (legally or otherwise) by Gypsies. Many of these Gypsies remain today, and add real colour to the area.