• Sat
  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 9:48pm

Bucharest

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 March, 2008, 12:00am
 

Romania's ties with the legend of Dracula may draw those with morbid fixations, but the capital city is rich in other cultural attractions.

1. Vanity project

To demonstrate the power of the Romanian Communist Party, Nicolae Ceausescu - the country's leader from 1965 to 1989 - drained the national coffers to build the Palace of Parliament (below, bottom left). In 1984, one sixth of Bucharest, including neighbourhoods with churches, synagogues and more than 30,000 homes, was demolished to make way for this extravagant showpiece. The building is massive, with 12 storeys and 3,100 rooms, it covers an area of more than 33 hectares and has a subterranean nuclear bunker. Visitors can take a 45-minute guided tour of the building.

2. Lay of the land

In 1996, the Museum of the Romanian Peasant (below centre, bottom) was named European Museum of the Year. The institution aims to preserve and exhibit the culture and history of Romania's peasants. There are more than 100,000 objects on display, including folk costumes, ceramics, textiles, furniture and crafts. See www.muzeultaranuluiroman.ro.

3. An Orthodox approach

It is a miracle that a number of religious buildings survived the era of communism, with its obsession for box-like structures. If you only have time for one church, make sure you see the Romanian Patriarchal Cathedral (below, top left). It sits on Patriarchi Hill and is the heart of the Romanian Orthodox faith. The church was completed in 1658 but the only original icon remaining is that of Constantin and Helen, the cathedral's patron saints. The elaborate frescoes inside the church were painted in 1923 by Dimitrie Belizare. A small chapel links the cathedral to the Patriarchal Palace, home of the church's patriarch. Other religious sites worth a visit are the Prince Radu Monastery, Church of Bucur the Shepherd, Antim Monastery and Princess Balasa Church.

4. The art of the matter

Located in a glass-covered wing of the Palace of Parliament is the National Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum, which opened in 2004, has four floors of installations and video art created by artists from all over Europe. The exhibitions are thought provoking and controversial, and have been known to make good use of communist imagery. See www.mnac.ro.

5. Arch friends

The architects of early 20th-century Bucharest drew inspiration from France. Today, if you look between the stark soviet blocks, you will spot elegant French baroque buildings such as the Romanian Athenaeum and George Enescu Museum. The most obvious tribute to Paris is the Triumphal Arch, which was based on Paris' monument of the same name. It was built in 1935 to commemorate the reunification of Romania in 1918 and has names of first world war battles inscribed inside.

6. Around the nation in a day

The National Village Museum (below right and top centre) is a showcase of Romanian design and rural architecture. The museum's collection of peasant homes, barns, wooden churches and Transylvanian houses, relocated from around Romania, stands beside the tranquil shores of Herastrau Lake. The best time to visit is in summer, when artisans in traditional costume demonstrate rural trades such as painting, weaving and pottery.

7. Dracula's grave

The headless torso of Vlad Tepes (also known as Vlad III the Impaler or Romania's Dracula) lies in a grave on the island of Snagov. The island is on a lake 30km north of Bucharest. Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, was known for imposing cruel punishments during his reign. Legend has it he loved to dine while watching prisoners being tortured. Author Bram Stoker is believed to have named his main vampire character after Vlad III in his 1897 novel, Dracula.

8. The Holocaust remembered

The Jewish History Museum is dedicated to the members of the faith who suffered during the Holocaust. About half of the 800,000 Jews living in Romania in 1941 were killed. Today, there are fewer than 10,000 in the country. The Holocaust Room has photographs of atrocities committed in the concentration camps; 150,000 Jews were deported to hard-labour camps in Transdniestr, Moldova, and 200,000 from Transylvania died at Auschwitz, Poland.

9. Royal flash

The National Art Museum is housed in the Royal Palace, once the residence for the kings of Romania. The museum has displays of Romanian art, including oil paintings, several hundred icons and carved wooden altars saved from communist-destroyed churches. The European art section has works by Italian, Dutch and French masters.

10. Into the Inter

The InterContinental Hotel (www.ichotelsgroup.com) was an icon during the communist era. Then, the hotel - fondly referred to by Romanians as the Inter - was a bastion of western capitalist democracy. Although they were barred from it, ordinary citizens revered the hotel, which was allowed to operate because it made money from visiting businessmen and politicians, as a symbol of freedom. Its Luna Bar was a gathering spot for secret agents and spies. Some of the rooms overlook Piata Universitatii, where most of the action occurred during the 1989 revolution. From the hotel's balconies, television crews filmed tanks rolling over freedom fighters and soldiers shooting into crowds of protesters.

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