Bucharest, the “ Little Paris ”

Why is Bucharest nicknamed "Little Paris" ?

      To a seasoned  traveler, Bucharest would probably seem like a mix between Cairo and Warsaw. It surely is a strange cross between communist buildings and the chaos of orient, so one cannot stop and wonder :

-Why on earth is the capital city of Romania nicknamed the “Little Paris”?

      Well, lets; see..the short answer would be that the nickname was given by it's visitors and its inhabitants  sometimes in the late 1800 and  the beginning of the 20th century. It stood for the way the city’s atmosphere, architecture, and aspirations  were perceived back then.

     Mind you, not all of it is lost today. But that is the long answer , and since you've read this far, perhaps you won't mind me telling it.


 A short pseudo-history lesson is about to follow! Read at your own risk. And I will only briefly cover the last two centuries , or better still , the period after the city became the Capital of the United Principalities in 1862 til...well, now.

Bucharest  - Capital of the United Principalities,and Capital of the Romanian Kingdom

      The new status as the Capital of the United Principalities in 1862 and Capital of the Romanian Kingdom in 1881 brought a rapid pace of development in all aspects: streets were paved  with granite, carved stone and river stone, sidewalks were constructed  on the main streets, the botanical garden is arranged, several gymnasiums are founded  including the University of Bucharest, the School of Belle Arts. 

      During the reign of King Charles I (1881-1914), Bucharest underwent an impressive change, trying to look more like the capitals of Western Europe, which is why the city gets to be called "Little Paris". The link with the French town is deeper than just the name, as Paris served as the model for most public works carried out in Bucharest this period.

With the influence of different population groups arriving from Urban Europe, Bucharest changes in it’s most detailed urban landmarks, and also the clothes, the gestures, the every day accessories are the same as the one in Paris. French was the language spoken frequently on the streets of Bucharest , and also the language used by upper class and a large part of the middle class.

Adrian Majuru

      Cafes, boutiques, window shops, and even large houses with balconies were built during the aforementioned period, and began to be part of city life.  The city's vibrant multicultural landscape appealed to people from all over the world,  and the city began to develop  it's demographic profile. 

       If you stood in the streets of Bucharest at the beginning of the 20th century, you were more likely to hear „Bonjour, cherie" rather than „Bună ziua" (good afternoon- in Romanian).

      The new capital city of Romania,  with horse-drawn trams, wide streets, and buildings of several floors situated near rich gardens, was still a city of contrasts and scandals, a mixture of cultures, a copy of "Paris", yet at the same time an original creation itself.​

Bucharest - 100 years ago

In his book Bucharest, published in 1935, Paul Morand states:

Is Bucharest a beautiful city, like a beautiful girl? Not really: stepping on the platform at the North Railway Station, an upside down smile might pop-up on a traveler's face.

Is it an ancient city? Not quite. The king of France and his twelve vassals were living in Louvre when the legendary shepherd Bucur was building his hut.

Is Bucharest a vital international hub where the faith of empires is decided? It could be, but as it turns its back to Hungary and thus to Western Europe, and as it puts the Danube between its influence and Bulgaria, thus isolating from Eastern Europe, and between the capital city of Romania and Moscow, lies only vast planes, that won’t stop the wind nor the people, and that are just like a corridor of invasion

Does Bucharest own deciding geographical advantages for its history– same as Wien or Istanbul? Not even that seems to be so. The wallachian rulers have tried at least three other residences before establishing the capital here; they could and they should have created it elsewhere, but here.

Finally, is Bucharest a capital city that synthesizes and expresses an entire nation? Romanians will tell you that Bucharest is not Romania; more often it is quite different.

Bucharest is a city with cars and radio, cinemas and sky towers; while Romania is floral embroidery, archaic ceramics, wild nature, wonderful popular costumes that the railway is about to kill, same as the sparks from the locomotive are burning the grass. Bucharest is plaster applied in haste, it is fashion, the latest craze; Romania is the wood and the most important treasure of mankind: time, the father of old faiths and old crafts, it is the country where nothing is deceptive veneer, where the ( fur) coat is wore with the hair inside, not outside…

…. however the city is a wonderful mixture of nations, faces, manners and adventures. Top hats and Scythian hats, American cars and old carts wonder around cheerfully.

Inter-War Bucharest 

      Bucharest's development continued during the 1930s. That was one of the most prosperous times in Romanian history. In Bucharest,  after 1928, the population increased by 30,000 inhabitants per year, and the total area of the city reached 78 km² in 1939, as many new peripheral boroughs were added.

      Under King Carol II, the city skyline began changing. Numerous art deco- and Neo-Romanian - style buildings and monuments were added, including:  

  • The new Royal Palace
  • The Military Academy
  • Arcul de Triumf
  • University of Bucharest' Faculty of Law
  • The new main wing of Gara de Nord
  • Palatul Telefoanelor
  • The ANEF Stadium
  • Victoria Palace
  • Dimitrie Gusti's Village Museum
  • The Museum of the Romanian Peasant.

     It was during this period that the nickname of "Little Paris"  turned  into a recognizable brand, as Bucharest became known as "Paris of the East" , due to  the elaborate architecture and the city's status as a cosmopolitan cultural center.

Bombing of Bucharest in World War II

      The Bucharest World War II bombings were primarily Allied bombings of railroad targets and those of the Oil Campaign of World War II, however in the 17 bombings of Bucharest between April and May 1944, countless buildings were destroyed,  and more importantly  5.524 people were killed, 3.373 wounded, and  another 47 974 were left  without homes. It was the beggining of a  a mass destruction of Bucharest

bobmbarded railwaystation

Railway station after bombardments in Bucharest , 1944

(Photo courtesy of:  Arhivele Naţionale Istorice Centrale şi Arhivele Militare Române).

   A few months later, the city was also the center of King Mihai I's August 23 coup, which took the country out of the Axis and into the ranks of the Allies; consequently, it became the target of German reprisals - on August 23–24, a large-scale bombing by the Luftwaffe destroyed the National Theater and damaged other buildings, while the Wehrmacht engaged in street-fighting with the Romanian Army.

On August 31, the Soviet Red Army entered Bucharest.

However, the war didn’t break the city’s spirit as one might expect and some of the buildings were reconstructed after it ended. But that was also the time Communists rose to power as a firmly established regime.

Bucharest in the ​Communist era

      The Communist regime was firmly established after the proclamation of a People's Republic on December 30, 1947. One of the major landscape interventions by early Communist leaders was the addition of Socialist realist buildings, including the large Casa Scînteii (1956) and the National Opera. As a tendency for the entire period of Communist rule, the city underwent massive geographical and populational expansion: it began extending, westwards, eastwards and southwards, with new, tower block-dominated districts such as Titan, Militari, Pantelimon, Dristor, and Drumul Taberei.

      Most of the population that moved in the city in that period was of rural origin, the  middle class foreigners that didn't left  during the war, were banished, and the the communist propaganda started to take it's toll on the  city spirit. 

​      During Nicolae Ceauşescu's leadership, much of the historical part of the city, including old churches, was destroyed, only to be replaced with the immense buildings of Centrul Civic - notably, the Palace of the Parliament, which replaced about 1.8 km² of old buildings.

      Alongside buildings characterised by a continuation of Socialist realism, Bucharest was home to several large-scale ones of a more generic modernist style (Sala Palatului, the Globus Circus, and the Intercontinental Hotel).

      By the time it was toppled, the regime had begun constructing a series of huge identical markets, commonly known as "hunger circuses", and started digging the never-finished Danube-Bucharest Canal. The Dâmboviţa River was channeled for a second time, and the Bucharest Metro, noted for its compliance with official aesthetics, was opened in 1979.

Further destruction - the 1977 earthquaqe

    In 1977, a strong 7.4 on the Richter-scale earthquake in Bucharest claimed 1,500 lives and destroyed many old lodgings and offices. Although an official report was never made public, about 33 large buildings built before the World War II,  (thatwere not reinforced) collapsed. 

Building collapsed during the 1977 earthquake

       Uhmm... Let us end the sad part of the story here.  

 Bucharest  today

      Nowdays, following the advent of Romania's economic boom in the new millennium, the city has slowly but steadily modernized and several historical areas have been restored. Bucharest has an ever growing community of expats, and  it welcomes business and trade,  and as you will discover it is one of the most vibrant cosmopolitan city in tne region...well it i said that it offers a cosmopolitan lifestyle not unlike any large Western city. 

      Bucharest offers tourist a range of indoor and outdoor destinations to explore, interesting cuisine, fantastic cultural sights and opportunities, and a jumping-off point from which to explore a meeting-point between Eastern and Western cultures.

     Hopefully, you'll soon discover with the help of our site too. 

​ The sights of Bucharest, Romania in 1930

     I'll end the article here, inviting those of you that were patient enough to read  until now, to  take  a couple of minutes and watch a couple of movies. The first one entitled "The sights of Bucharest, Romania,  in 1930", is from the Huntley archives. It shows a time when Bucharest was rightfully called  the Paris of the East. 

 The Movie transcript:

      A pan shot of Bucharest , Romania, from above. Very good shots throughout.
      A silhouette of a lady looking through the window, she leaves the frame, the roofs of Bucharest are seen through the window. Out on a main road, big buildings, cars, two statues, people walking on a summer's day, horses and carriages, modern buildings, 2 ladies in a carriage.

A man balancing two big fruit baskets on his shoulders, he puts them down next to a fruit display on the pavement, the seller weighs them on old fashioned scales.

A girl comes and tastes the grapes. Modern buildings from different angles, a tram on the move.

A woman carrying a basket full of flowers on her head. A church seen from the outside, decorations. paintings of saints, antiques. A collection of hand-made carpets, hanging side-by-side outside. A man with a music box.

The marketplace, a stall of embroidered shirts. Customers are stopping to look. Close up of a horse's face. Horse and carriages parking place. A man gets on a carriage and goes. We follow them into town centre, a busy street, many pedestrians. Shops on either side. A car. A policeman. An open-top bus. A highly decorated octagonal building with pillars at the front, overlooking a garden, children selling newspapers, 2 women seen from the back, another man with fruit baskets on his shoulders. Cafe - people sit outside.

The King's palace, the guards marching down the street from above. Lots of carriages seen from above. Peoples faces as they walk in the street. A newsvendor, shoe cleaners. The great park, fountain in a pond, fish. Bell towers of the English Metropolitan..... all pillars and walls decorated, a museum.

The capital's symbol, public building, Carol Park, the military museum, tomb and burning torch (eternal flame?) fountain coming out of sculptures, people bathing, musicians playing pan pipes, strings and percussion, close up of musicians, the marina is seen in the background.

People on the beach, on the swings, in the pool, diving & swimming, playing, women looking at the men, men showering, boats, musicians.

​ The sights of Bucharest, Romania in 1960

The second movie displays a  "modern" neighbourhood in mid 60's.  

  If you are interested a movie  including  more recent Bucharest Sights, we have a wonderful one from Mihai Doarna!  Cheers!

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