A “must do” for visitors to Bucharest is a tour of the grand Cotroceni Palace – the once royal residence and the now the official residence of the President of Romania and the Cotroceni Museum.
Street entrance to grounds ...
Visiting the Palace is a very controlled procedure – first one must email and request a visit – then on an allotted day at an allotted time we gather at the security check point where we hand over our passports to be kept by security until we leave – pay our entry fee and photography permit fee – go through airport-style x-ray and scan – then assemble with our tour guide. In my case there were four other tourists and our excellent guide was Adrian ( the tour is in English … ).
We then make our way through the gardens to the Palace entrance where we don plastic covers to our shoes ( to protect the carpets ) and start the journey – at all times under the watchful eyes of the guards.
The site – Cotroceni Hill - was originally dedicated to a monastery ( completed in 1682 ) and then became the place of residence of many of Romania's rulers until 1883, when King Carol I of Romania took over the Hill and had plans drawn up for a much larger edifice which would serve to house the future heirs to his throne.
Construction of this new royal palace was commissioned to begin in the year 1893, the project being placed under the direction of French architect Paul Gottereau.
During the rule of King Ferdinand I and Queen Marie ( 1914 to 1927 ), further improvements were made to the royal palace. At the request of Queen Marie, the north wing of the palace was completed with the space that would be used to house the maids of honor and adjutants in duplex apartments.
The European Royals - it's all about cousins and religions ... In 1893, Prince Ferdinand of Romania married his distant cousin, the Lutheran Princess Marie of Edinburgh, daughter of Anglican Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and the Orthodox Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia. Marie and Ferdinand were third cousins in descent from Franz Frederick Anton, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Marie's paternal grandparents were Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Her maternal grandparents were Alexander II of Russia and Marie of Hesse and by Rhine. The reigning Emperor of the neighbouring Russia, at the time of the marriage was Marie's uncle, Tsar Alexander III, who would be succeeded by his eldest son, Marie's cousin, Tsar Nicholas II, the following year.
The marriage produced 3 sons: Carol, Nicholas and Mircea ( one of whom, Mircea, died in infancy ) and 3 daughters: Elisabeta, Maria (Mignon) and Ileana. The marriage was unhappy and the couple's two youngest children, Ileana and Mircea, are generally acknowledged to have been sired by Marie's long-time lover, Barbu Știrbey ( and presumably the king also had his mistresses ... ).
Upon his death, Ferdinand was succeeded by his grandson Crown Prince Michael, who sat on the throne until the 30th December 1947 when he ( now King Michael I ) was forced to abdicate by the communists. At that point, the new government took control of the palace and expelled the royal family.
On May 26 1948, decree number 38 was issued, in which the Presidium of the Grand National Assembly of the People's Republic of Romania has decided that "all goods and estates that were found from the date of March 6, 1945 in the possession of the former King Mihai and other members of the former royal family shall be passed into the possession of the Romanian state." Finally, on June 18, 1948, the Council of Ministers has decided that the Cotroceni Palace, its "five bodies, 150 rooms, park, the property of the state" would be placed under the administration of the Ministry of Interior. The same decree stipulated that other valuables found within the palace would be redistributed among various ministries.
After the new administrator of the palace had settled in, around 1,000 objects, including paintings, sculptures, icons, furniture, rugs, draperies, dishes, and other decorative items were missing. They were taken by the Ministry of Art and Information at the proposal of a special commission "to take objects of art from the Cotroceni Palace." The majority of the remaining objects were redistributed to various institutions and organizations.
In April 1949, a school children's program called the "Pioneers" was about to receive its first group ceremony, which would mark a moment in the Cotroceni Palace's history in which it would be re-purposed for the use of these children who were preparing to become "dignified citizens devoted to their homeland and The Romanian Worker's Party." It was around this period of time when the Cotroceni Palace took on another name — Palatul Pionierilor, known in English as The Pioneers' Palace.
The retrofit was to take place in four stages, during which the building would allocate rooms for a bigger library and centres or workshops for chess, miniature aircraft, automobiles, radiophony, photography, painting, choreography & dance, history, and ceramics. In addition to the retrofits, the palace was also to be used as a cinema and auditorium.
Diana - Jaeger Goethilf
Regina Maria - Gheorghe Popovici
Regele Ferdinand 1 - Gheorghe Popovici
After the abdication of King Michael I, the new government made several changes to the palace that included destroying much of the decorative mouldings and plastering and painting over the ornate marble and timber structures.
Peasant Scene - Ernst Barbarini
In 1977, an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale struck the region and damaged several buildings in Bucharest. The Cotroceni Palace was among these buildings, and suffered such extensive damage that a project had to be commissioned for restoration and consolidation.
King Carol 1 - Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz
Tempest - Emile Carlier
The Lovers - unknown artist
In more recent years, the Palace has undergone extensive restoration and refurbishment. Much of the “lost” furniture and decorative art has been recovered and many of the rooms have been furnished to reflect their original grandeur …
My time here in exciting Bucharest is just about up – so in my next post I’ll take you on a quick wander around the city before I head of to my next destination …