Compared to other European cities, the history of Bucharest, the Romanian capital, is quite short, less than 600 years old. In these centuries, Bucharest went through many hard times. Earthquakes, floods, fires, wars, sieges, all these have severely damaged the city. But without such disasters, Bucharest would not have reached its current complexity, the variety of architectural styles, the many buildings from different eras …

Bucharest in the early 18th century

The city’s history officially began in 1459, when Vlad Țepeș lived in a fortress on the edge of the river Dâmbovița, in the so-called Bucharest Fortress. At that time, Bucharest wasn’t the capital of Wallachia yet, but Târgoviște.

In the early 16th century, Mircea Ciobanu, the ruler of Wallachia, built the Ruler’s Palace, known today as the Old Princely Court. During this time, two of the oldest churches in the city were built too, the St. Anthony’s Church and the Old St. George’s Church.

The Great Market - watercolor by Preziosi
The Great Market – by Preziosi

The central market of Bucharest was first mentioned in 1563 as the Great Market. It was located in the northeast of today’s Union Square next to Dâmbovița River.

In 1595, the capital was occupied by the troops of the Ottoman Empire by Sinan Pasha. He strengthened the city and transformed the churches into mosques. In the same year, the Turks were expelled from Bucharest by Michael the Brave. They left the city looted and burned.

Bucharest in the 17th century
Bucharest in the 17th century

Beginning with the reign of Radu Șerban in 1601, Bucharest has been renovated and modernized until 1640, when Târgoviște became Wallachian capital again. Here began a hard time for Bucharest, as the city was first burned, then sacked by Tatars and left in a terrible famine.

Austrians troops entering Bucharest
Austrians troops entering Bucharest

The capital of Wallachia moved in 1659 back to Bucharest. Under the reign of Grigore Ghica, Bucharest was renewed and strongly developed. In this period, most of the inns of Bucharest were built, but also many churches and monasteries arose. In 1689, the city was sacked by the Austrians.

In the 18th century, a strong Oriental influence began to pervade Bucharest, the hierarchy in the Bucharestian society started to base on the Greek model. During the Russo-Turkish War, Bucharest was twice occupied by Russian troops, then for two years by Austrians.

The revolution of 1821
The revolution of 1821

In 1821 started a revolution against the domination of phanariots, after which the Turks occupied Bucharest for one year. Then Bucharest was occupied by Russia, under General Pavel Kiseleff. During this period, Bucharest was massively organized and modernized. To Kiseleff’s memory, in Bucharest was built the Kisselef Avenue, which still exists today. In the 19th century, occidental influences equalized the oriental influence from the phanariots’ time.

The Revolution of 1848
The Revolution of 1848

After the revolution of 1848, Bucharest was again occupied by Turkish troops. Then also Russian troops marched into the capital, and it started a double control of the city, which lasted until 1851.

Additional sieges of Bucharest by Russians, Turks and Austrians between 1851 and 1859 laid to the foundation of a strong industrial and cultural development. The US military doctor Oscar James Noyes wrote 1854 about Bucharest: “I’ve never seen lack and luxury, beauty and ugliness, pride and poverty put in such a striking contrast.”

The Romanian Parliament in 1862
The Romanian Parliament in 1862

In 1859, the union of the Romanian principalities Wallachia and Moldavia took place under Alexandru Ioan Cuza. In 1861, Bucharest was declared as the capital of the United Romanian Principalities and a year later, here opened the first parliament of the country.

Entry of Charles I in Bucharest, 1866
Entry of Charles I in Bucharest, 1866

Between 1881 and 1914, Charles I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was king of Romania. During this time, Bucharest experienced a spectacular development and approached more and more the Western European cities. Because of the architecture and the luxury similar to Paris, Bucharest also received the nickname Little Paris.

Bucharest in the interwar period
Bucharest in the interwar period

The largest and also the last administrative and cultural bloom of Bucharest happened during the interwar period. In this period it was built much in different styles, especially in the center, while the peripheries stayed at rural conditions. For the first time appeared modern modes of transport, theaters, cinemas, libraries and modern hotels and luxury restaurants. In addition, many urban systematization projects took place.

In 1940, Bucharest was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.4 degrees on the Richter scale and in 1944, the city suffered a series of bomb attacks from the side of the Allies.

House of the Spark (1957)
House of the Spark (1957)

After World War II, a Communist regime on the model of the Soviet Union was installed in Romania. Firstly, until 1965 (during the rule of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej), the city’s situation has not been seriously affected. From an architectural point of view, it has been attempted this time to harmonize modern architecture with the older buildings, so demolitions were relatively rare.

The Draper's White Church during demolition
The Draper’s White Church during its demolition

The total decay of Bucharest took place during the rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu as dictator of Romania. After the earthquake of 1977, which has heavily damaged many buildings of the capital, began the realization of megalomaniac projects, which required the demolition of whole neighborhoods, both at the edge and in the center of the city. During this time, many religious buildings were blown up, including the Văcărești Monastery (the largest monastery in South East Europe), the Mihai Vodă Monastery and most of the synagogues of the city. Other churches were hidden between new prefabricated buildings.

Even after the fall of communism in 1989, the decline of Bucharest has not stopped. Many historical monuments are in danger of collapsing. In 2012, the Old Town of Bucharest opened as a pedestrian zone, on this occasion, a series of old building renovation started, which is still ongoing today.