Calea Victoriei, which translates as Victory Street, crosses Bucharest from north to center, on the bank of the Dambovita river, being not only Bucharest’s main street, but also its oldest.
Calea Victoriei, which translates as Victory Street, crosses Bucharest from north to center, on the bank of the Dambovita river, being not only Bucharest’s main street, but also its oldest. The street’s history starts at the end of the 17th century and its importance in Romanians’ social and cultural life has grown ever since. It is here that several major government and cultural institutions, newspaper headquarters, pastry shops, restaurants and hotels are located and Calea Victoriei has even become a fictional character, with several writers setting major scenes from their books here. But how did the Calea Victoriei myth start?
We find that out from historian Dan Falcan: “In 1692 Wallachian prince Constantin Brancoveanu decided to build a road that would link the princely court (currently Bucharest’s Old Princely Court) and his old palace in Mogosoaia, a small commune in northern Bucharest. That is why the road was named Mogosoaia Bridge. It was called “bridge” because of the wood trunks laid transversely on the road, which resembled a bridge. Apart from Mogosoaia Bridge, there were also other roads with the word ‘bridge’ in their name. There were also the Bridge of the Outside Fair (called this way because the fair was held outside of Bucharest), the Poor Men’s Bridge (today’s Rahovei Road). But Mogosoaia Bridge is in fact Bucharest’s first street. In October 1878, after Romania gained independence from the Ottoman Empire, several streets were renamed. Mogosoaia Bridge changed its name to Calea Victoriei and it is down this road that the victorious troops returning from the independence war marched. On this occasion other Bucharest streets had their names changed. For instance the German Street became Smardan Street and Herastraului Road became Dorobantilor Road.”
The length of Calea Victoriei has changed across the years and followed the city’s development. Today the street starts in Victory Square- Piata Victoriei, where the Romanian government headquarters are located and ends on the Dambovita bank, close to Bucharest’s Old Town. Its current length dates back to the middle of the 19th century and some of the important buildings that line Calea Victoriei are from the same period. At the time it became fashionable for the aristocrats to build their homes there.
Historian Dan Falcan invites us to take a tour of Calea Victoriei’s historic buildings: “If we take a walk down Calea Victoriei starting from Victory Square towards Splaiul Dambovitei, we can see the current Enescu Museum, formerly known as the Cantacuzino Palace, which was erected between 1901 and 1904. Across the street is Dissescu House, then comes Cleopatra Trubetzkoi’s House, both of which were built around 1850-1860. Further on are Houses Vernescu, Manu and Romanit, which have survived to this day and are used for different purposes, such as a casino or the Museum of art collections. Calea Victoriei has not been very much affected by the urban disaster of the communist years, when a lot of historic buildings were demolished. If the Bucharest inhabitants from the 19th century were to walk down today’s Calea Victoriei, they would not notice many changes. Most of the buildings are still there. One of them is Biserica Doamnei (The Lady’s Church), named after its founder, lady Maria Cantacuzino, born Ghetzea. Close by is Doamnei street (The Lady’s Street), which has kept its original route. This is the oldest street in Bucharest to have maintained its original route since 1792.”
Two more famous buildings can be found on Calea Victoriei: The Romanian Athenaeum, which was completed in 1888 based on the plans of French architect Albert Galleron and the Royal Palace, which currently hosts the National Art Museum, whose construction started around 1906 and finished as late as during WW II. It is also then that the first modernist building on Calea Victoriei appeared.
The same Dan Falcan talks about it: “The only modernist building was the Telephone Palace, built in 1931 by American telephony company ITT. Its construction caused a lot of controversy at the time. They found it hideous and said it did not fit well with the specific architecture of Calea Victoriei, that it made the street look narrower. Even worse, in order to build the Telephone Palace, one had to demolish the famous Otetelesanu restaurant, which used to draw Bucharest’s artists. At the time, the Telephone Palace was the tallest building in Bucharest. Now, almost 80 years on, it has entered the public consciousness and we cannot even imagine Calea Victoriei without it.”
So, a walk down Calea Victoriei is in fact a walk into Bucharest’s past.