Cotroceni Palace, Bucharest
This is a must see if you are in town. If you have time to visit just one place in Bucharest, make Cotroceni Palace the place! Make sure you have your passport with you, the security is tight here. Last time I was in Bucharest and visited the place, the admission entrance was about $7. It is closed on Monday. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, but you can take as many as you want outside :)
The palace is the official residence of the president. It was built by Carol I in the late 19th century. It has undergone many transformations since the initial designs were executed: During Ceausescu's dictatorship it was used as the "Pioneer's Palace," where young leaders were schooled in the ways of Communism, and -- after the devastating earthquake of 1977 -- restored as a guesthouse, although it never served this function.
You will pass through a host of reception rooms, sleeping quarters, and private chambers, each styled to a particular theme: the German New Renaissance dining room, private dining quarters of Carol I in Florentine style; Oriental painting room used by Queen Marie and her children; the hunting room which showcases trophies hunted by King Ferdinand, as well as bearskin rugs hunted by Ceausescu.
Set between Cotroceni Palace (host of the President of Romania) and River Dambovita, this quarter hosts many houses and villas settled between the two world wars. There are houses in different styles, and it is very interesting to walk along the streets in this quarter. There are some fine restaurants in the area, among which one of my favourite places, Silviu's (see my special tip on it).
The Cotroceni, which incorporates French, Romanian, Art Nouveau, and other styles of architecture, was constructed in the late 19th century as the home of Romania's royal family. After a devastating 1977 earthquake, it was rebuilt and a wing added where the president now has offices. The lavish furnishings, art, and personal effects afford a glimpse into the lives of Romania's former royalty. Guides are required (no extra charge) for the one-hour tour; call ahead to reserve a tour. Taking photographs is prohibited. Since the palace is a bit removed from other sights, you might want to take the Metro to the Politehnica station. COST: $1.85. OPEN: Tues.-Sun. 9:30-4:30.
During WW1, the palace was occupied by the German army and it also hosted between January and March 1918 the peace talks with the messengers of the Central Powers. After the liberation, on February 20, 1922, the palace and the old church hosted the marriage of Princess Marioara of Romania with King Aleksandar of Yugoslavia. After King Ferdinand and Queen Maria died (in 1927, respectively 1938), their successors – King Charles the 2nd and Michael the 1st – no longer used the castle.
On April 4, 1944, the palace was damaged once again by the air raids of the Allies. In September 1946 it was restored. After King Michael being forced to abdicate on December 30, 1947, the palace was virtually robbed by the communists. Most of the books from King Ferdinand’s library (about 6700 tomes bound in gold or silk) were burnt in the garden, sculptures and paintings were stolen or destroyed, while rare pieces of furniture were loaded on trucks and smashed in the south-east of Bucharest. Moreover, between 1949 and 1976 it hosted a pupils’ club, fact that continued its deterioration which was completed by the earthquake in March 1977.
The church built by Serban Cantacuzino was however turned into an old religious art museum that existed between 1968 and 1984. The palace was restored between 1977 and 1988 because President Ceausescu wanted to turn it into a luxurious hotel for diplomats. This way, the palace was given back it splendor, but with a quite high price: in June 1984 Ceausescu ordered the demolition of the church which had just celebrated 300 years of existence because it “spoiled the view”; only the cells survived and nowadays they shelter a few elements extracted from the former church (the portal, several columns, Serban Cantacuzino’s tombstone). On the July 12, 1991 a part of it was turned into a museum, while the rest was meant for the president.
In May 1679 Serban Cantacuzino started to build Cotroceni Monastery, made of a church, cells for the monks and a voyevodal court. Constantin Brancoveanu also used the settlement as a residence and Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the ruler that had two of the Romanian kingdoms unified, developed the court, bringing fine pieces of furniture. When he got on the Romanian throne in 1866, Charles the 1st of Hohenzollern was given the Cotroceni as a summer residence. However Charles the 1st preferred as a summer residence the new palace in Sinaia.
In 1893 the Romanian Government decided to demolish the old voyevodal court and raise on the same location a Royal Palace, preserving Cantacuzino’s church in the middle. The design was done by the chief architect of the Romanian royal house, namely Paul Gottereau, and the palace was built between 1893 and 1895. Prince Ferdinand and his wife, Maria, moved into the palace in March 1896. Between 1900 and 1910, respectively between 1913 and 1915, Maria started to redecorate the interiors, especially the Golden Hall, the Green Hall, the Silver Bedroom (which she redecorated in a blend of Byzantine and Celtic style), the Norwegian Hall and the Paintings Hall. This way, the old Romanian architectural lines Ball Room met the Secession or Norwegian halls and the Neo-Romanian White Hall. The northern façade was added two new structures with obvious influences from Hurezi Monastery in Northern Wallachia. The furniture was ordered in Vienna and Paris.