Bucharest

Rediscover Bucharest: Bulevardul Magheru

more than a year ago

We have long had something of a soft spot for Bulevardul Magheru - possibly Bucharest's busiest street - even in its current, often chaotic, down-at-heel and haphazard state.

Considered by too many locals and visitors alike to be a poor-man’s Calea Victoriei, it might not have the glamour of its more famous (and parallel) neighbour, and at street level at least it is a fair bit sleazier (more sex shops than Gucci shops) but it certainly has more bustle, as well as packing something of a genuine architectural punch: almost every building along its length has some kind of story to tell, and if it’s art deco you are after, then this is the place to come.

Indeed, the street itself has an eventful, even bloody history. The nastier parts of the Romanian revolution of 1989 were played out along its length (the revolution’s first victim in Bucharest fell here), while the Mineriada of 1990 - in which miners from the Jiu Valley rampaged through the streets of the capital, beating anyone they didn’t like the look of - similarly took place here. Most recently, in January of 2012, the area in front of the National Theatre was the again the scene of rioting, as protests against the then government turned violent, protestors fighting over three nights with police and jendarmes.

First off, a quick note about what is, and is not, actually considered to be Bulevardul Magheru. For most people in Bucharest, Magheru in the vernacular refers to the entire stretch of road from Piata Universitate to Piata Romana. For the post office, Magheru in fact begins only after the intersection with Strada C.A. Rosetti. Up to that point, Magheru is officially Bulevardul Nicolae Balcescu. We have never liked the Romanian post office so for us - as for most locals - when we speak of Magheru we are talking about the full length of the street.

Magheru is named after General Gheorghe Magheru, a colourful military leader who fought in the Russo-Turkish wars of 1828-9, but is probably best known as one of the instigators of the Romanian Revolution of 1848. He was part of the short-lived provisional government that briefly led Romania in the summer of 1848, before the revolution was put down by Turkish forces. Magheru went into exile, in Trieste and Vienna, before returning to Romania is 1857 to become a deputy in the country’s nascent national assembly.

From the newly renovated National Theatre and modernist Inter Continental hotel at one end to the huge Coca-Cola bottle that pours itself all over a building at the other, there is a lot more to Magheru that we often realise at street level. The vast majority of the boulevard’s apartment and office blocks were built in the 1920s and 1930s, when a strict urban development policy required all buildings higher than eight storeys to have their upper levels slightly withdrawn from the street, invisible to passers by. Sometimes the law was not entirely respected but in most all cases, if you look closely enough (you might have to cross the road to do so) you will see that there are hidden levels set back from the street: Magheru’s blocks are almost therefore all far higher than they first look.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Any architectural tour along Magheru should begin with the theatre, first built between 1967 and 1970, to the design of three Romanian architects, Horia Maicu, Romeo Belea and Nicolae Cucu. Originally styled to honour the architecture of Moldova’s famous monasteries, it was ruined in 1984-5 when a concrete casing was placed over the earlier structure. However, rebuilding work completed in 2015 returned the theatre to a design not all that different to the original. The odd statue in front of the theatre is called the Caruta cu paiate, a tribute to Romania’s best loved playwright, Ion Luca Caragiale. It features characters from Caragiale’s plays, and was unveiled in December 2010.

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