A town of merchants, Bucharest has developed around a neighbourhood known today as the Historical Centre.
A town of merchants, Bucharest has developed around a neighbourhood known today as the Historical Centre or the Old Town, an area that has been boasting up to this day numerous shops, stalls and inns offering accomodation and good food. In time a commercial type of architecture specific to a merchants’ town developed here, which can still be seen today, as some buildings have been preserved up to present.
Art historian Oana Marinache gives us more details about this kind of shops:” We have some very deep cellars here, some dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. In time, new buildings were erected on top of these cellars. None of them is specific only to the 19th century or the second half of the 18th century. The various stages of construction works, some conducted in different periods, can be identified by studying the cellars. It is very likely that, at first, these buildings only had a basement and a ground floor, serving as shops where various produts were sold. In time, the new generations of merchants, as in Buhcarest we can speak of entire mearchant families from the 19th to the 20th century, decided they needed extra room for their business and added one or even two storeys to their buildings. The new storeys usually served as residence for the merchant family who worked downstairs or were rented out. There were also cases when the rooms upstairs served as offices for the building’s owners or for other people who rented them for the same purpose.”
In time, especially during the quick modernization process in the second half of the 19th century, the commercial activity in Bucharest also intensified. A number of new shops were opened and the buildings started being narrower and extend horizontally either because the space was too small or because the parcels of land were divided between heirs.
This is how things were in the Bucharest’s centre, as on its outskirts, close to the rural areas, these shops were no different from the ones specific to villages. They had the aspect of small cotages, of underground houses or low-rise houses with basements. On the outskirts of Bucharest, merchants’ houses had a porch, just like peasant houses did at the time.
In the center, however, the artchitectural influences were diffferent. Oana Marinache: “What we actually see here dates back to the years before the Great Fire of 1847. These buildings went through some radical changes chiefly in the second half of the 19th century. After getting contact with other trade centers, mainly with German-speaking centers in Brasov, Sibiu and even Vienna, the architecture of these buildings radically changed. Gradually, some of these merchants, mainly those belonging to the middle-class, but also those in the upper classes who were mainly of Jewish descent, could afford building some sort of department stores resembling those in Paris or Vienna, shops selling a variety of products. One of those high-end shops, mostly frequented by women, was ‘Au bon gout’ as most of the local shop owners used to borrow names from the French space.
The store was owned by Jewish traders. Ownership deeds include the name of a certain Mr. Ascher. In line with the trend of the time, he commissioned architect Filip Xenopol to design of one of the largest buildings in the old city, between the Lipscani and Stavropoleos streets, where the Chrisovelloni bank stands. Actually, the building stood up until 1925, and it was one of the largest stores in the city.”
Bucharest inns, as famous as the stores, have disappeared in time too. Those that have survived have been drastically made over, as compared to their original architecture, as historian Oana Marinache told us: “Definitely, many people have visited the ARCUB Cultural Center, where the old Hagi Tudorache inn used to stand or the famous ‘Hanul cu Tei’. These are examples of commercial architecture from the early 19th century, although they have undergone many refurbishing and restoration works, especially in the 20th century. Also, Hanul lui Manuc (Manuc’s Inn) is still standing, probably the best known landmark of the Old Center in Bucharest, which has been restored by preserving the characteristics of early 19th century architecture.”