The early 19th century Bucharest simply lacked town planning.
A trade, randomly-developed city, early 19th century Bucharest simply lacked town planning and was teeming with vast gardens and orchards, which were private property. May be that is why Bucharesters did not feel the need to arrange public areas for promenade before the idea of urban settlement itself was modernized. It was not until 1830 that the Organic Regulations (an early version of the constitution in Romanian Principalities) ruled the setting up of three gardens, public squares and promenade areas.
Works started in 1832 for only one such area, the so-called Big Alley that is the Kiseleff Road of today, in Bucharest’s northern end. For those initial attempts to make public space more beautiful, foreign experts were hired. Actually, the first public gardeners and horticulturists were also foreigners. They are two Swiss brothers, Louis Adolphe and Samuel Leyvraz, who in 1841 opened the first nursery garden on the Filaret Hill. However, it is German landscape architects who left their mark on the layout of the parks that to this day are still iconic for Bucharest.
Art historian Oana Marinache tells us who those landscape architects were: ”Alongside the Swiss, we find Prussian landscape architects, engineers and gardeners. And here I should like to mention the name of Carl Friedrich Meyer, a landscape architect from the first half of the 19th century. Sadly he died in 1852 in an accident. Had he lived, he would have had a much greater contribution in Bucharest, as well as elsewhere across the country. It is to him that we owe the first public gardens in Bucharest, such as the Cismigiu Gardens, the Main Road Gardens, and the Gardens of the Summer Princely Palace in Cotroceni. In the second half of the 19th century, we find another imperial architect who went on to serve the Crown. His name is Wilhelm Knechtel. He used to be in the entourage of the emperor of Mexico, Archduke Maximilian of Hapsburg who ascended the throne of Mexico. Knechtel was subsequently hired by Prince Carol of Hohenzollern and brought to Bucharest. Knechtel would be naturalized and would settle in our country, founding a new professional dynasty. His descendants were active in the same field. Actually, it is to Knechtel that we owe the main gardens surrounding the royal palaces. Also, he went on to become the director of public gardens, working under the supervision of ministries in Romanian Government.“
The Main Road Gardens, close to today’s Kiseleff Road, north of Victoria Road, were inaugurated in 1847 in line with Meyer’s plans. For the Cismigiu Gardens to be set up, a had to be drained. According to Carl Friedrich Meyer’s plans, the swamp was turned into a pond, and the area’s sewage system was designed. It was also Meyer who designed, for the future public gardens, lawn areas, bushes, hillocks, caves and winding alleys. Meyers sadly died in 1852, and did not get around to attending the inauguration of Cismigiu Gardens in 1854. The present look of the garden is due to German landscape architect Friedrich Rebhuhn hired by Queen Marie, who was saddened by some derelict parts of the garden.
Oana Marinache elaborates on the contribution of landscape architect Friedrich Rebhuhn: “He practically transformed a relatively wild area, where no big changes had been operated. What Meyer did was to drain the swamp. Rebhuhn placed ruins and pergolas on certain sites, built the rose alley, raised the director’s house. He devoted his whole life to public gardens and lived in a cottage near the Cismigiu Gardens and Gh. Lazar High School.”
It is to Friedrich Rebhuhn that we also owe the look of the Herastrau Park, the biggest park in Bucharest. Lying close to the Village Museum, which was opened in 1936, the park was first called “The Carol II Park”; the planning works started in the 1930s. As the park was located in an area surrounded by water, draining works had to be carried out so that alleys, meadows and the lake could be laid out. Inaugurated in 1939, Herastrau Park, as designed by Rebhuhn, stretches over a surface area of about 189 ha, the lake included.