Sunday, April 28, 2013

Atheneum, Palace and Arch

Yesterday I went on an outing with all the kids and teachers who are here for the international music program that Dave and his eight students are attending. While I've been tromping around Bucharest the last couple of days, they've been pretty much confined in a school working on rehearsals. So it was a welcome break for them to get outside and see some of the city.

We loaded a couple of buses and went to visit the Romanian Atheneum (above), Bucharest's historic performing arts hall. It's an incredibly ornate structure built in 1888 by a French architect, and one of the buildings that helps give Bucharest a Parisian air.

The ceiling in the performance hall was mind-blowing.

We also went to see the Palace of Parliament, the colossal folly I pictured near the end of my post on Friday. Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania's longtime Communist dictator, razed about 9,000 buildings -- historic churches, homes, you name it -- in order to build this behemoth of a building in the 1980s, as well as the surrounding avenues and other structures.

Maybe because of that history, it seems like a rather bleak building. The halls are vast and not at all to any human scale, with gold leaf, carved wood, marble inlaid floors and other features. In an old building like the Atheneum, ornamentation seems authentic and beautiful, but in a 20-year-old white elephant it's a bit much. (Apparently the Romanians, after overthrowing Ceausescu in 1989, had a referendum to decide whether to finish the palace, and because it was already so close to completion they saw it through.) The building also seems dark, and our tour guide turned lights on and off wherever we went. I can't imagine what the power bill would otherwise be for those 4,000-plus chandeliers.

The view from the palace was impressive, but very Communist. Again, no sense of human scale at all. Apparently Ceausescu was inspired by visiting Pyongyang, in North Korea. He may be the only person to ever find Pyongyang appealing enough to warrant imitation.

After this excursion I split from the group. (Because I'm here on my own dime I'm not obligated to rehearse!) Back in the shadow of the Atheneum, I had a blissfully quiet lunch at a funky little restaurant with zebra-striped chairs, and then walked north through town to the Arcul de Triumf, Romania's answer to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The walk involved a long stroll along the leafy Avenue Kiseleff, which is lined with parks, embassies and expensive villas.

As I understand it, the arch commemorates military victories that led to a unified Romania, as well as the nation's role in World War I. It was originally built in 1878 of wood, which must have been something to see, but was rebuilt in marble in the early 1930s.

Here's some of the history I've been learning: Romania is a relatively new nation, having been formed in the 1800s from the principalities of Moldavia, Wallachia and (later) Transylvania. But of course people have been here for thousands of years, through various feudal governments and empires. The Romans under Trajan conquered the region shortly after 100 A.D. and governed it briefly as an outpost of the empire known as Dacia. Modern Romanians trace their roots to those Romans and the conquered Dacians and other tribes. Our tour guide told us that today, of all the Romance languages, Romanian most closely resembles the original Latin. Who knew?!

Last night, the students performed the concert that concludes their international band gathering. I took a cab out to the international school to see the show, and spent a lot of my time photographing it at the request of the organizers. I don't usually shoot events so I didn't know what the heck I was doing, but I think I came away with some pretty good photos.

This morning we're returning to London. Olga awaits!


  1. Amo, Amas, Amat
    There. That's all the Latin I remember.
    Wow. I now know a hell of a lot more about Romania than I did before. Which was nothing. At all.
    Communism was weird, wasn't it?
    Thanks. Safe travels home. I'm sure Olga misses you horribly.

  2. I, too, know a bit more about Romania than I did before. When I visited the international spy museum in Washington, D.C. and learned a bit about the great intelligence apparatus that supported communism in the eastern bloc, I was blown away by the madness of it all.

  3. Thanks for the tour and the history lesson. Actually, I guess we shouldn't be surprised the Romanians are descended from Romans. Right? I had never thought about it before.

    It's hard to shoot events--not my thing either but I'll be curious to see what you came up with. I'm sure they're great.

    Welcome back home. Olga will be glad to see you.

  4. Wow, Folly is right! What a WASTE.

    I enjoyed learning a little more about Romania - like Ms. Moon says, I didn't know anything at all.

  5. It looks familiar and yet alien. Wow.

  6. Just catching up on your trip and truly enjoyed your posts/pictures/info. Excellent!