Bucharest, whose foundation is related either to the legend of Bucur the shepard, who set up a settlement on the bank of the Dâmboviţa river, or to Negru Vodă voivode, who set up the ground to a residence and an exchange centre – it is set on a place with a significant historical value (archaeological discoveries attest an age of the human settlements of over 150,000 years: Fundeni, Dudeşti, Pipera, Dealul Spirii and the Mihai-Vodă monastery – the latter was found in the vicinity of the Palace of Parliament).
The story of the building of the Palace of Parliament and of the area in which it was placed is strongly interconnected with the initial years of Bucharest city, but also with its years of glory, when it was known as the ”Little Paris”.
Bucharest, as other European capitals, was established on the banks of a river, named Dâmboviţa, which caused serious floods for hundreds of years. In 1862, ”the water rose so high, that it reached the higher floor of the houses, and people got out of the houses through the windows”. The birthplace of Cetatea de scaun a Ţării Româneşti, as the city was called in the past, is the Palace and the Old Court1, situated near Hanul lui Manuc2, not far from the place where the Palace of Parliament is located now.
Bucharest image, until the transformation into ”Little Paris”, as appeared in old panoramic photos, can be summed up as follows: ”a green wide space, from which only church towers rose as vertical forms” or a city with ”tight and sinuous alleys, with those famous roads boarded with wooden beams – so-called bridges”3.
29 Romanian architects graduated the ”Ecole des Beaux Arts” in Paris, between 1840 and 1894; they represented the first generation of architects who, together with a group of French architects, started the transformation process of Bucharest into a European capital.
The birth of the city’s identity as a Western city is connected to the period between 1859 – the Unification of Principalities and 1877 – the year when Romania gained its independence.
The ”Little Paris” collocation started to be used during the last days of the 19th century and it became a public expression around 1900 years. Elegant buildings in the French and Italian Renaissance style, orthodox churches in Baroque style, villas in Second Empire style are still partially preserved in the inner circle of the city: houses, stores, palaces, public edifices etc. Bucharest took over the model of imposing public palaces from the francophone world, on a small scale. More than the special architecture buildings, Bucharest has become the „Little Paris" due to the atmosphere, French being spoken frequently on the street and on certain social levels.
Andre Bellesort, being in Bucharest at the beginning of the last century, said about the Palace of Justice that it was so large, it could include „the barristers and lawyers from all the five parts of the world”, about the National Bank that it was „the most beautiful temple built to worship the blind luck” and about the Palace of the Postal Offices that, whenever the high dignitary Sturdza passed by, he was making the sign of the cross, knowing how much it cost.
Bucharest was the first city in the world to be lit with lamp oil (1856), followed by Vienna, where the first lamps were installed only in 1859.
The journalists from ”The New York Times” wrote about the ”Little Paris”, with Calea Victoriei as its main road, that it lit ”a giorno” and that is was crossed by the most modern taxis at that time, being the only street in Bucharest that had the power to attract tourists as if a magnet was placed under the asphalt.
The years following the Second World War, with hardships of all sorts, led to the instauration of the Romanian communist regimen, representing another period of multiple architectural transformations in Bucharest, amongst which the construction of the Palace of Parliament building, but none of these brought back the endearment of ”little Paris”.
The Palace of Parliament rises on the place where there once was the old Uranus neighbourhood, a district with hill sided, small streets paved with cubic stone, with old and quaint Romanian houses with bohemian glamour, many of which brought to light by architects from that time. The people living in those houses formed the middle class of the society. They were traders, craftsmen and owners of small businesses.
The old inhabitants still have living memories about the routes of certain streets, the image and the colour of certain houses or buildings, the trams which could barely climbed up the Uranus hill, the games from the A.N.E.F. stadium, with thousands of people filling the streets with their hustle and bustle and murmur of comments, images used and preserved in the movie ”Angela merge mai departe” (1980), little time before the district was demolished.
Shortly after the earthquake from 1977, when multiple old buildings in Bucharest were collapsed, Ceauşescu convoked a meeting with specialists and architects at the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, who were presented the plan to build a new political-administrative centre in Bucharest – a new civic socialist centre. The specialists confirmed that the Uranus area would be the safest for the construction of new buildings, compared to the lower part of the city, where 28 old buildings collapsed causing over 1400 human victims.
3Gheorghe Leahu, Bucuresti – Micul Paris, the Official Gazette