1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bucharest

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BUCHAREST (Bucuresci), also written Bucarest, Bukarest, Bukharest, Bukorest and Bukhorest, the capital of Rumania, and chief town of the department of Ilfov. Although Bucharest is the conventional English spelling, the forms Bucarest and Bukarest more nearly represent the correct pronunciation. The population in 1900 was 282,071, including 43,274 Jews, and 53,056 aliens, mostly Austro-Hungarian subjects. With its outlying parts, Bucharest covers more than 20 sq. m. It lies in a hollow, traversed from north-west to south-east by the river Dimbovitza (Dâmbovita or Dîmbovita), and is built mainly on the left bank. A range of low hills affords shelter on the west and south-west; but on every other side there are drained, though still unhealthy, marshes, stretching away to meet the central Walachian plains. From a distance, the multitude of its gardens, and the turrets and metal-plated or gilded cupolas of its many churches give Bucharest a certain picturesqueness. In a few of the older districts, too, where land is least valuable, there are antique one-storeyed houses, surrounded by poplars and acacias; while the gipsies and Rumans, wearing their brightly coloured native costumes, the Russian coachmen, or sleigh-drivers, of the banished Lipovan sect, and the pedlars, with their doleful street cries, render Bucharest unlike any western capital. Nevertheless, the city is modern. Until about 1860, indeed, the dimly lit lanes were paved with rough stone blocks, imbedded in the clay soil, which often subsided, so as to leave the surface undulating like a sea. Drains were rare, epidemics common. Owing to the frequency of earthquakes, many houses were built of wood, and in 1847 fully a quarter of the city was laid waste by fire. The plague visited Bucharest in 1718, 1738, 1793, when an earthquake destroyed a number of old buildings, and in 1813, when 70,000 of the inhabitants died in six weeks. From the accession of Prince Charles, in 1866, a gradual reform began. The river was enclosed between stone embankments; sewerage and pure water were supplied, gas and electric light installed; and horse or electric tramways laid down in the principal thoroughfares, which were paved with granite or wood. The older houses are of brick, overlaid with white or tinted plaster, and ornamented with figures or foliage in terra-cotta; but owing to the great changes of temperature in Rumania, the plaster soon cracks and peels off, giving a dilapidated appearance to many streets. The chief modern buildings, such as the Athenaeum, with its Ionic façade and Byzantine dome, are principally on the quays and boulevards, and are constructed of stone.

Bucharest is often called “The Paris of the East,” partly from a supposed social resemblance, partly from the number of its boulevards and avenues. Three main thoroughfares, the Plevna, Lipscani, and Vacaresci, skirt the left bank of the river; the Elizabeth Boulevard, and the Calea Victoriei, or “Avenue of Victory,” which commemorates the Rumanian success at Plevna, in 1877, radiate east and north, respectively, from the Lipscani, and meet a broad road which surrounds all sides of Bucharest, except the north-west. The Lipscani was originally the street of merchants who obtained their wares from the annual fair at Leipzig; for almost all crafts or gilds, other than the bakers and tavern-keepers, were long confined to separate quarters; and the old names have survived, as in the musicians', furriers', and money-changers’ quarters. Continuous with the Calea Victoriei, on the north, is the Kisilev Park, traversed by the Chausée, a favourite drive, leading to the pretty Baneasa race-course, where spring and autumn meetings are held. The Cismegiu or Cismigiu Park, which has a circumference of about 1 m., is laid out between the Plevna road and the Calea Victoriei; and there are botanical and zoological gardens.

The Orthodox Greek churches are generally small, with very narrow windows, and are built of brick in a modified Byzantine style. They are usually surmounted by two or three towers, but the bells are hung in a kind of wooden porch, resembling a lych-gate, and standing about twenty paces from the church. The cathedral, or metropolitan church, where the metropolitan primate of Rumania officiates, was built between 1656 and 1665. It has the shape of a Greek cross, surrounded by a broad cloister, with four main entrances, each surmounted by a turret. The whole culminates in three brick towers. Standing on high ground, the cathedral overlooks all Bucharest, and commands a view of the Carpathians. Other interesting churches are St Spiridion the New (1768), the loftiest and most beautiful of all; the Doamna Balasa (1751), noteworthy for its rich carved work without, and frescoes within; and the ancient Biserica Bucur, said, in local traditions, to derive its name from Bucur, a shepherd whom legend makes the founder of Bucharest. The real founder and date of this church, and of many others, are unknown, thanks to the frequent obliteration of Slavonic inscriptions by the Greek clergy. The Protestants, Armenians and Lipovans worship in their own churches, and the Jews have several synagogues. Bucharest is also the seat of a Roman Catholic archbishop; but the Roman Catholics, though numbering nearly 37,000 in 1899, possess only three churches, including the cathedral of St Joseph.

Bucharest is a great educational centre. Besides the ordinary ecclesiastical seminaries, lyceums, gymnasia and elementary schools, it possesses schools of commerce, science and art institutes, and training colleges, for engineers and veterinary surgeons; while the university, founded in 1864, has faculties of theology, philosophy, literature, law, science, medicine and pharmacy. Students pay no fees except for board. The national library, containing many precious Oriental documents, and the meeting-hall of the Rumanian senate, are both included in the university buildings, which, with the Athenaeum (used for literary conferences and for music), and the central girls’ school, are regarded as the best example of modern Rumanian architecture. Other libraries are those of the Nifon seminary, of the Charles University Foundation (Fundatiunea universitara Carol), which endows research, and rewards literary or scientific merit; the central library, and the library of the Academy, which also contains a museum of natural history and antiquities. Among philanthropic institutions may be mentioned the Coltei, Brancovan, Maternitate, Philantropia and Pantelimon hospitals; the Marcutza lunatic asylum; and the Princess Elena refuge (Asilul Elena Doamna), founded by Princess Elena Couza in 1862, to provide for 230 orphan girls. The summer home of these girls is a convent in the Transylvanian Alps. Hotels and restaurants are numerous. There are two theatres, the National and the Lyric, which is mainly patronized by foreign players; but minor places of amusement abound; as also do clubs—political, social and sporting. Socially, indeed, the progress of Bucharest is remarkable, its political, literary and scientific circles being on a level with those of most European capitals.

Bucharest is the winter residence of the royal family, the meeting-place of parliament, and the seat of an appeal court (Curtea de Apel), of the supreme court (Curtea de Casatie), of the ministries, the national bank, the bank of Rumania, many lesser credit establishments, and a chamber of commerce. The railway lines which meet on the western limit of the city give access to all parts, and the telephone system, besides being internally complete, communicates with Braila, Galatz, Jassy and Sinaia. Bucharest has a very large transit trade in petroleum, timber and agricultural produce; above all, in wheat and maize. Its industries include petroleum-refining, extraction of vegetable oils, cabinet-making, brandy-distilling, tanning, and the manufacture of machinery, wire, nails, metal-ware, cement, soap, candles, paste, starch, paper, cardboard, pearl buttons, textiles, leather goods, ropes, glucose, army supplies, preserved meat and vegetables, and confectionery. An important fair is held for seven days in each year. The mercantile community is largely composed of Austrians, Frenchmen, Germans, Greeks and Swiss, who form exclusive colonies. Bucharest is the headquarters of the II. army corps, and a fortress of the first rank. The fortifications were constructed in 1885–1896 on a project drafted by the Belgian engineer, General Brialmont, in 1883. The mean distance of the forts from the city is 4 m., and the perimeter of the defences (which are technically of special importance as embodying the system of Brialmont) is about 48 m., this perimeter being defended by 36 armoured forts and batteries. There are barracks for over 30,000 cavalry and infantry, an arsenal, a military hospital and three military academies.

The legend of Bucur is plainly unhistorical, and the meaning of Bucharest has been much disputed. One account derives it from an Albanian word Bukur, meaning joy, in memory of a victory won by Prince Mircea of Walachia (c. 1383–1419) over the Turks. For this reason Bucharest is often called “The City of Joy”. Like most ancient cities of Rumania, its foundation has also been ascribed to the first Walachian prince, the half-mythical Radu Negru (c. 1290–1314). More modern historians declare that it was originally a fortress, erected on the site of the Daco-Roman Thyanus, to command the approaches to Tîrgovishtea, formerly the capital of Walachia. It soon became the summer residence of the court. In 1595 it was burned by the Turks; but, after its restoration, continued to grow in size and prosperity, until, in 1698, Prince Constantine Brancovan chose it for his capital. During the 18th century the possession of Bucharest was frequently disputed by the Turks, Austrians and Russians. In 1812 it gave its name to the treaty by which Bessarabia and a third of Moldavia were ceded to Russia. In the war of 1828 it was occupied by the Russians, who made it over to the prince of Walachia in the following year. A rebellion against Prince Bibescu in 1848 brought both Turkish and Russian interference, and the city was again held by Russian troops in 1853–1854. On their departure an Austrian garrison took possession and remained till March 1857. In 1858 the international congress for the organization of the Danubian principalities was held in the city; and when, in 1861, the union of Walachia and Moldavia was proclaimed, Bucharest became the Rumanian capital. Prince Cuza, the first ruler of the united provinces, was driven from his throne by an insurrection in Bucharest in 1866. For the subsequent history of the city see Rumania: History.