Tradition has it the origins of Bucharest come from a certain shepherd named Bucur that, around year 1400 AD, settled down in this area and founded a village that bore his name (Bucureşti meaning “belonging to Bucur”) and built a church of timber on the shore of Dâmboviţa that was later (1743 AD) rebuilt in stone. Archaeological evidence shows that the surroundings of nowadays Bucharest had been inhabited long before the Roman occupation, taking in account only the Dudeşti Culture (4000-3500 BC). Its population underwent the process of Romanization that typified Dacia, the Roman province. The area was surrounded by Roman camps and lay on a Roman trading route. After the Romans withdrew from Dacia in 271 AD to 275 AD there followed a period marked by invasions of migratory tribes, Goths from the North West and Sarmatians from Mesopotamia, with the Slavic tribes that came later being assimilated into the local population. The period ended with the invasion of the Turkish tribes, probably the Tartars in the 9th – 13th century AD. Dimitrie Pappasoglu, the first inhabitant of Bucharest to write a history of his own, maintained it that it had been founded in 1328 AD, following the victory of its inhabitants over invaders from South of Danube.

After the foundation of Wallachia in the land bordered by the Danube and the Carpathians, the settlement located in the area of present day Bucharest was mentioned in historic deeds. On the 20th of July 1420 Prince Mircea the Old called Bucharest as “Our Court”; stories tell that Mircea the Old built here a castle or the Princely Court. However only on the 20th of September 1459 we have the first historic record that was issued in Bucharest by Prince Vlad the Impaler and remained until the present day. Actually, after supposedly being founded by Mircea the Old, the fortress in Bucharest was developed by Vlad the Impaler between 1448 and 1476, who is also considered as founder of the city. At that time, the capital of Wallachia was Târgovişte, but official deeds were issued both in there and in Bucharest, as they were both alternative residences for the voyevode. It was only later, when the town developed, that the capital moved to Bucharest and took a major role in Wallachia, which then stretched to the Carpathians in the north, River Olt in the west, rivers Siret and Milcov to the east, and the Danube to the South.

Until the 19th century Bucharest experienced long periods of fighting and civil disturbance. Since the 15th century the Ottoman Empire had been a constant threat, and in the early 18th century Bucharest became dominated by the reign of the Fanariot families, who encouraged the city’s Oriental culture and mentality and remained in power until 1821. In 1859 Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected ruler of Moldavia and of Wallachia, hence the unification of the two principalities; Bucharest became the capital of the United Principalities in 1862. Subsequently, Prince Carol of Hohenzollern – Siegmaringen became ruler of the United Romanian Principalities and arrived in Bucharest on the 10th of May 1866, enacting a modern electoral and parliamentary system; he was crowned as King of Romania in 1881. Once the country independence obtained, the city had even more reasons to develop. A young generation of artists, writers and technicians became engaged in the modernization of national culture, after studying abroad and having traveled extensively. Architecturally, the city flourished as an appealing blend of Oriental sites (such as the Turkish inns that used to exist and of which one can see today only Hanul lui Manuc, Manuc’s Inn), bazaars and newer buildings in the French school academic style, while a new trend developed, i.e. the Neo-Romanian style, as an adaptation of the forms of historic church architecture to secular building programs. On the 7th of October 1883, the first Orient Express train pulled in at Bucharest, making – a record at the time – 5 days between Paris and Constantinople. After the establishment of Great Romania, Bucharest had one of the greatest periods in its entire history, especially in the interwar period. Its population developed from 380,000 in 1918 to 650,000 in 1930, respectively 870,000 in 1939, while its territory spread from 5,600 to 7,800 hectares within the same period. The glorious era soon ended, with the beginning of the Second World War that found Romania on the side of Germany. As a consequence, Bucharest suffered from the British – American bombings that took place on the 4th of April 1944 (about 3400 dead), starting again in the end of July 1944.

After the head of the pro-Hitler government was arrested, on August 23rd 1944, Romania was taken over by the communists and fell into the shade of the USSR. The city found itself into a period of physical stagnation and of cultural going backwards, with many of the people forming its former elite being arrested or even executed and some others leaving the country. It saw a period of relative re-opening and development in the end of the 60s – 70s, but its disaster soon started, with the beginning of the so-called “systematization” introduced by the 1974 Law for the Territorial, Urban and Rural Systematization, that had as a bottom line the nicely put “judicious organization of the entire country’s territory”. In other words, this meant – in the case of Bucharest – the demolition of most of the area that originated the “Paris of the East” calling in the interwar period, including 16th-20th century churches and monasteries (of which, to say the least, Văcăreşti Monastery and St. Vineri Herasca were some outstanding works of art, unique in terms of architectural value), public buildings, old houses, monuments of art. Some churches were moved from their original sites and surrounded by concrete clocks of flats (e.g. the 1726 Church from the Nuns’ Convent was moved in 1985 at 245 m. to be taken off the view on the main street; the church of Mihai Vodă Monastery was moved 227 meters in 1985, being nowadays completely screened off by concrete buildings etc.), to make place for the “great socialist” avenues. Hundreds of thousands of people were moved from their houses, a total of 22 churches were destroyed, translated or mutilated, a fifth of Bucharest’s old area was destroyed, while most of the other old areas were hidden and brought to ruin by putting gypsies to live in, important architectural achievements such as Unirea Hall, Brâncoveanu Hospital, the Central Military Museum, the Operetta or Mina Minovici Institute were razed off during the late 70s and – especially – during the 80s, when a simple “working visit” made by President Ceauşescu meant the razing of an entire quarter and the raise of useless, as huge as possible and as square as possible buildings disregarding of the implications these actions could have.

The coup d’état in 1989 found Bucharest and its inhabitants in chaos and misery (read here an eye witness’ account of the events in 21-24 December, 1989). The first 15 years that went by afterwards saw little and very slow change as far as the city was concerned, given the huge impact that Communism had had over the community mentality. The Old Town has been almost entirely restored, the streets are in a far better state than the dark nightmare they used to be in the 1980s and major infrastructure have been done, even though in a far from perfect - or sometimes efficient - manner. However Bucharest is changing, as always, to both the better and worse at the very same time. Fortunately, it shall never become once again a jewel on the Orient Express track, as this city could not care less about pretending to be comme il faut or nice. Deo gratia!

Some history