Bucharest- urban layout and the role of city centre

Within the urban layout, the role of city centre is crucial.  The distinct central clusters, their spatial configuration are their evolution in different periods of time, offer a meaning to the existing urban structure of the city of Bucharest.

In an organically developed city spatial configuration, the city centre has the crucial role of providing a compulsory basis for the functioning of the city as an economically sustainable centre; However, the socialist modernizations through which Bucharest went through, caused a power relationship between centre and the governmental buildings, where the ideology was the force that overcame space as a generator of social boundaries.

The socialist urbanism had the most significant role in developing the nowadays Bucharest urban layout as the spatial configuration of Bucharest was directed from an instrumental use where social necessity shaped the city, towards a symbolic use where ideology was reflected.

Bucharest manages though to portray the character of two environments: the Civic Centre (a district in central Bucharest which was completely rebuilt in the 1980s as part of the scheme of systematization under the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu) and the historic centre (represented by few streets, reminiscent symbols of pre-communist Romania).

The tenant blocks of the Civic centre, alongside Ceausescu’s Palace are the most outstanding memories of the socialist era. The 3 km long boulevard (Bulevardul Unirii – centrally located) has the function of linking “important destinations” (The People’s House and a car park) by giving structure and comprehension to the city. However, neither the boulevard itself, nor its strategic position encourages participation; people prefer other boulevards for evening walks since this one isn’t going anywhere.

On the other side is the remaining historic core of the city which was build on the ruins of the Princely Court (Curtea Veche) and represents an archaeological reservation. Most of the historic centre’s buildings date from the 19th century and many of them are in a bad condition, but they are significant as they symbolise the country’s survival. The public and the private domains have a close relationship which resonates through the multiplicity of entrances sporadically located between residences, passages, restaurants or shops. There is close communication, people shouting from window to window, recreational areas, and all of these gives the people the feeling of a private yard.

centrul vechi

 

 

Marina Gogeanu

 

 

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The Romanian Athenaeum

The Romanian Athenaeum is one of the few pre-communism symbolic buildings of Bucharest which wasn’t modified or demolished during the communist era.

Ateneul_Roman

The building is inspired by ancient Greek temples and it was designed by the French architect Albert Galleron under the scientific research and guidance of Alexandru Odobescu, revised and supplemented by the Romanian specialists Al. Orăscu, Ion Mincu, Ion Socolescu, Grigore Cerkez, Cucu Starostescu.

The circular building made use of the existing foundations of the Grădina Episcopiei which were initially meant to serve as a foundation for the construction of a circus. Downstairs, the impressive marble lobby incorporates 12 Doric columns which support the concert hall. Connecting with the audience and the anexes (offices, rehearsal rooms, cabins for soloists and conductor and so on), there are four monumental spiral staircase of Carrara marble (Baroque type), carried by intermediate floor balconies.

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Arranged in the form of an old Greco-Roman amphitheatre, the nearly 1,000 seats (three areas downstairs and two circular rows with 52 boxes in the middle with a central lodge) offer a perfect view from any corner and a perfect audition. The sound perfection is due to the huge domes (richly decorated) which “absorb” the instrumental and vocal background of the podium, in order to distribute the reverberation to the auditors, with the full range of harmonics up to the finest timbre and tone colour. It seems that the exceptional acoustic cavity of the Romanian Athenaeum Hall places the building among the most successful constructions of this kind not only in Europe but worldwide.

Its global reputation and significance for Romanians have not gone unnoticed with Ceausescu who decided not to interfere with this marvellous building.

Marina Gogeanu

The Roman Arenas, Bucharest, Romania

When the communists came to power after World War II, they wrote another page in the history of the Arenas. Since 1966, for two years, Roman Arenas entered into a process of restoration and modification, any badge or ornament resembling the monarchy era being overthrown. They had to erase the memory of a glorious past from the minds of the Romanians and make them associate the “Roman Arenas” with the communist era, so they closed the amphitheatre and raised and covered the scene. They poured concrete over grass and built offices for the administrative staff behind the scenes. The porch has been closed to new large glass windows, while the royal box was increased from four rooms to six rooms. The roof of the lodge was also rebuilt, and under its terrace they arranged a room for film screenings.  At the Roman Arenas were held now, folk concerts, theatre performances or movie screenings.

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After the Revolution, the arenas have been forgotten and their function of amusement and recreation state was replaced with a more practical function, that of a textile production and storage.

 

Marina Gogeanu

Romania’s communist architecture

During its entire existence in Romania, the communist regime was able to see its political message perhaps the best expressed in the architectural planning of Bucharest.

Architecture, seen as a science that designs buildings, both residential, as well as the institutional, could (as could any other scientific or cultural field) not have another faith than the one subordinated to the communist totalitarian system, which was a perfect mindset defined by the Orwellian formula of “double language” – meaning the difference between the official discourse and the real one.

The intentions of the country’s leaders in that period were to uproot the inhabitants of Romania in huge apartment blocks districts. This action was meant to accomplish several objectives: alienation, homogenization, the transformation of the Romanians into “automatic machines of modernity” in order to finally fulfil their evolution towards the “new man” (the socialist type)(connection with The futurist’s manifesto)

A second aspect of communist beliefs included the institutional buildings constructed in a megalomaniac way – specific to the totalitarian regimes, serve as an expression of prosperity and welfare of the state. 

Finally, one last way to put in practice the Communist totalitarian ideas was the destruction of monuments of historical value which served as memorial places for people, in order to erase the memory of a previous period regime off their minds.

Bucharest wasn’t literally torn down, but it was destroyed.  All the communist tenant blocks that were constructed during that time destroyed the air and elegance of “The little Paris”. Those constructions are connected to The Futurists Manifesto, as the tenant blocks were constructed in order to provide equality among the romanians, but they also provided lack of individuality and Romanians had to forget who they used to be.

Photo source: reptilianul.ro

Photo source: reptilianul.blogspot.ro

Marina Gogeanu

 

The Decree and The New Man of Romania

Ceausescu had a big dream for Romania – to create a pure communist generation – to create “The New Man”.

Marinetti suggests in his Futurist Manifesto (1909) the need for the “New Man” – an aggressive, animalistic merging of machine and human body, in the future of the human society. For example, while he notes that “Woman does not belong to a man, but rather to the future and the race’s development,” he also points out that this “future” is one entirely devoid of “every emotional morbidity, every womanly delicacy” (M 86). So women are bound to animalistic feelings and impulses which Marinetti’s “new man” is capable of overcoming. In order to overcome humanity’s physical and emotional limitations and recreate humanity, Marinetti must first recreate creation: namely, women’s “animalistic” power to reproduce. In short, Marinetti’s conception of Futurism requires that he both stigmatize and vilify that female body to achieve his prescribed vision of the future.

Ceausescu understood very well the role of women in the development of Romania’s economical system and especially for the procreation of “The new man”, so he gave the 770 Decree which forbade women to do abortions. This documentary illustrates the demographic and the psychological disasters provoked to the almost 2 millions of people born because of the decree. It is a truly terrifying documentary about “the crimes of communism in Romania” and more specifically about all the women murdered by the clandestine abortions and all the “malfunctioning” children declined by the system and then exterminated. “The new man” ideology also led to a racial purification in Romania, as unlike Romanian women, the gipsy ones were allowed/obliged to do abortions.

The Decree was one of the largest social experiments in the human history.
The Romanian Government banned abortions in 1948 to legalize them in 1957, after the Soviet model, because of the effects on women’s health. Statistics had shown that diseases caused by illegal abortions or inadequate conditions for pregnant women led to the damage of the Romanian women’s health.
Between 1959-1965, only one out of five pregnant women gave birth whilst the others were provoking themselves abortions.
So, Ceausescu put the issue of abortion ban just a year after arriving in the management of PCR.
On the 1st October of 1966, Ceausescu gave the 770 decree, banning all women to interrupt pregnancies with few exceptions: if the pregnancy endangered the woman’s life, if one of the parent suffers from a communicable hereditary disease, if the mother presents serious disabilities, if the women were over 45 years and have already born four children or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
Women who worked were obliged to go to regular gynecological controls; the company doctors were obliged to do even 60 examinations a day;

Ceausescu also banned the sex education; books about human reproduction were classified as state secrets and used only as medical textbooks.
Contraceptive methods were not longer imported in Romania. The only women who have had access to them were just the wives of the party members, the athletes and the athletes’ wives.
This led to clandestine abortions which killed thousands of Romanian women.
According to data from the ‘Centre for Statistics and Medical Documentation’, there were 9452 women who died between 1966 and 1989 due to clandestine abortions.

But the decree has reached its goal, at least initially. In 1967, the number of births has almost doubled, from 14.3 per thousand in 1966 to 27.4.

The sociological effects of Decree 770 decreased gradually, and in 1983 reached the same figure as in the 1966 birth rate. At the same time, the number of maternal deaths due to abortion rose from 64 in 1966 to 192 in 1968.
The number of births increased but not proportionally with restrictions.

In 1989, the birth rate had risen to 16 per thousand inhabitants, but the mortality rate increased up to 170 maternal deaths recorded per hundred thousand births, which is ten times more than the highest rate ever recorded in Europe, according to a study.

The first government after the fall of the communist regime annulled the decree 770.  On December 26, 1989, Romanian women were free to do whatever they wanted with their pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the abortion liberalization triggered a demographic catastrophe: there were a million of abortions done in 1990 which led to a decrease in population, which can still be felt.

Marina Gogeanu

Interview with a 57 year old Romanian woman – perceptions of the communist era in Romania

What do you think was good about communism?

Maybe the fact that the kids with poor families benefited from free camps and that the kindergarten taxes were cheap. You were able to give your children an education without being wealthy.

What was bad about communism?

What I hated the most during the communist era was the lack of privacy and the in-existent access to information. Me and my husband used to lock up in the kitchen in order to listen to “Free Europe”, a radio station with international news which was forbidden during communism. We would do the same to listen to rock music which we enjoyed, but was really hard to find. My husband used to invite his friends over, and listen together to those foreign radio stations, even though they weren’t allowed to do that. We lived in a building with lots of flats where all the other owners were working for the security, so we had to be very careful each time we were doing that.

When it comes to food, I don’t even want to remember how much time I spent waiting in queues in order to buy some. At one point, they introduced queue tickets. But you couldn’t find food any-more  People would do anything for food; they were capable of anything because they had to eat and there was nothing at the markets.

Besides that, we didn’t have heating in our homes. Me and my husband had our first kid in the ‘80s when we didn’t even had any heat in the apartment, so we got hold of a diesel oil heater. We used to steal fuel every day from our workplaces in order to heat up the baby’s room, but it was very risky because we could start a fire in the building and everyone would have been in danger, so we had to be very careful who sees us when coming back from work.

It was a time when they wouldn’t allow curtains in restaurants. All the restaurant owners were instructed to take off all the curtains as they had to be aware if there was someone drinking alcohol early during the day or late during the night. The communist party’s observers had to watch closely people coming in restaurants and interrogate the ones choosing to drink alcohol.

Because Ceausescu’s wife, Elena, hated how churches looked, many were either demolished, moved away or surrounded by blocks of flats. People didn’t have to believe in God, but in Ceausescu and communism.

If you wanted to buy yourself a book, you were obliged to buy another 5,6 books with Ceausescu’s discourses.

Ceausescu’s portrait was on each first page of the textbooks. You weren’t allowed to destroy that page or draw/write on it. Also, every classroom had a painting with Ceausescu.

When watching television, all we could see were communist films. They would start broadcasting at 6,7 in the evening with a cartoon programme and afterwards start the news which lasted 2 hours, until 10 o’clock when they also switched off the electricity. All the news were about Ceausescu and his discourses, walks, controls. And all of these were lies.

We had to watch all the time on the news, Ceausescu “having fun” while hunting. His results were always remarkable for the camera, even though the boars were bounded in order to stay still. We all knew this, but we used to find it funny, especially because we found out that Ceausescu always had someone else shooting in the same time with him to be sure he was successful.

His visits to various workplaces (refineries, industrial warehouses, etc.) were also lies, as we were all rehearsing everything before his arrival. I remember that it was very annoying when he was coming in control because we would work full weeks in order to clean and re-paint the place, to write down messages and to create expositions with everything that we had in the enterprise.

I remember that one time he visited an apple orchard. The president of the co-operative declared that he had the biggest production of apples in the orchard’s history and when Ceausescu decided to control it, he asked his employees to tie apples in the trees, so the first 3 rows of trees would have lots of apples. And this was not a one-of-a-kind situation. The farms did the same as cows, pigs, sheeps were moved from a place to another depending on Ceausescu’s controls.

How do you think communism affected Romania?

I definitely think that Romania would have been better now if it wasn’t for the communist era.

In the inter-war period, Romania was well rated by Europe because it was much evolved culturally and industrially. We would have been a very rich nation.

My grandmother used to tell me that before the communist era, everyone in the country had a house and all kinds of animals, so they didn’t feel the need for food. The entire surplus was going to the citizens which were able to buy everything they wanted to. Romania used to be known as “Europe’s granary” during that time. We had petroleum, salt, iron, ore, coal. Also, the relief favoured us: rivers, mountains, fields, seaside so the Romanians had everything they needed for a living. The industry was very developed and people used to live well.

In the inter-war period, Bucharest (Romania’s capital) was known as “The little Paris” of the Balkans, because the wealthy people of the city constructed for themselves really nice houses. The communists said that they are going to modernise it, but actually, they destroyed it.

Ceausescu demolished everything they built, and constructed lots of grey block of flats, which we called “boxes of matches”.  Many of the rich people from the pre-communist era were obliged to move out of their house for various reasons (“enemy of the state”, “traitor” and so on). Because of this, entire families lost their homes, their possessions and it led to exasperation and even to suicide.

There were many people who killed themselves because they lost their houses. Ceausescu’s strategy was to put all the people at the same level in order to control them. People would have little to no freedom in a building full of flats as most of the neighbours actually worked for the police and if someone would do anything out of the ordinary, he would be classed as “a threat” for the party and he would end up really bad.

I met a family which used to be very wealthy, but because the communists took everything they had, they ended up living in a basement. The woman, Florence still had her old dresses and she used to wear them and talk by herself on the street. Her husband was one of the few still wearing hats and tailcoats – from aristocracy  they became the laughing stock of everyone else. She ended up getting a job as a “shopper” for anyone willing to give her a few coins. She would wait in long queues for hours to get someone else’s food and she ended up carrying lots of bags everywhere she went. That’s how we started sarcastically to compare ourselves with Florence every time we had more than 3 or 4 bags in our hands.

Marina Gogeanu