Rediscover Bucharest: Cotroceni

more than a year ago
Cotroceni Palace

Cotroceni is perhaps the most authentic district in Bucharest, an area which - like Bucharest itself - is rediscovering its pre-World War II elegance. The streets are lined with Linden trees and provide welcome respite from the summer heat. To explore Cotroceni is to explore a Bucharest which has all but ceased to exist. Home to Romania’s president, the city’s Botanical Gardens and a mix of architecture as eclectic as you could hope for, from the starkly modernist to Art Deco, cubist to neo-Romanian, many with well-tended gardens and courtyards, Cotroceni is often overlooked by visitors to the Romanian capital. We intend to put that right.

Begin the walk at the Romanian National Opera, on the far side of the enormous Piata Eroilor. Any bus heading west from Universitate will get you here: you can also take the metro to Eroilor.

The opera was built in the early 1950s, opening in 1954 with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades (political interests at the time insisting that a Russian composer have the honour). Vaguely neoclassical in design the building is elegant if rather plain - on the outside at least. The interior is a different story. The main auditorium is richly decorated and a superb place to see either opera or ballet (the building hosts both). The season is currently in full-swing, and not without scandal: read about that here.

Cross the square and head for the unmistakably Byzantine New St. Elefterie Church, distinctive with its red and white stripes. Construction on the church - designed by Constantin Iotzu - began in 1935, but was not completed until 1971. The impressive wooden altar was carved by Grigore Dumitrescu and Aurel Obreja, while the stunning paintings are the work of Iosif Keber and Vasile Rudeanu. One of the largest churches in the city (it is 36 metres high at its tallest point) the church was built to complement the much smaller yet far more charming Old St. Elefterie Church, which had by the 1930s become too small for the number of people wanting to attend services here. It was at this time that Cotroceni was becoming one of the capital’s smartest districts, after work on consolidating the embankments of the Dambovita river had created a suburban, green area where the city’s wealthy began building homes.

Bucharest - indeed Romania as a whole - was at the avant garde of architectural movements throughout the 1920s and 1930s, a fact which explains the extraordinary number of superb buildings found in Cotroceni.


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