Herastrau, one of the lakes in the north, and the surrounding plots of land covering a surface area of 110 hectares were drained so as to create a very large park.
The northern part of Bucharest, which in the past had vast expands of greenery and lakes, used to be the favourite promenading place for the inhabitants of Bucharest. During the interwar period, Romania’s capital city began to expand following new constructions and town-planning works in the area stretching from today’s Victoria Square all the way down to the Baneasa forest. In the 1930s, Herastrau, one of the lakes in the north, and the surrounding plots of land covering a surface area of 110 hectares were drained so as to create a very large park. The initiative was linked to the urban transformation envisaged by King Carol II.
Cesar Buiumaci, a museographer at the History Museum of Bucharest, tells us more about the history of Herastrau park: “Herastrau Park was created by Carol II to rival with the Carol I Park located in the southern part of the capital city. Initially it was named the National Park but shortly after its inauguration it was given the name of King Carol II. In 1935, the municipality, with the strong support of King Carol II, decided to hold a festival called The Month of Bucharest, an urban exhibition aimed at highlighting the achievements of the city. It was first held in the Carol I Park, but, since the park was linked to the name of the previous King, Carol II wanted to have his own park in Bucharest. It was there that a second edition of the Month of Bucharest was staged in 1936, and from that year on, it was held every year until 1940. The area was a popular promenading place for the city’s high society, who used to have their walk in the area north of the city populated by the lakes along the Colentina river. The area, today home to the House of the Free Press and the Romexpo exhibition centre, was at the time also home to the Baneasa Hippodrome and the Jockey Club.”
In 1936, the Village Museum was also opened, also on the banks of the Herastrau Lake, being quite close if not merging with the new park. Architect Octav Doicescu was commissioned with the landscaping of the new promenading grounds. He designed the park as an immense garden with enough room for the celebrations and pavilions built for The Month of Bucharest festival.
Cezar Buiumaci explains: “Octav Doicescu designed the Zodiac Fountain in front of Carol I Park. He also designed several pavilions, some of which can still be found today, such as the Royalty Pavilion, the Little Entente Pavilion, the Cultural Pavilion, the pavilion of the National League, of Small Industries, and of Social Assistance. Apart from the exhibitions hosted by these pavilions, the Month of Bucharest celebrations also saw other events, such as football matches, a chess championship, aviation demonstrations and a literary event called The Month of Books. “
After the war the park was enlarged, inaugurated for the second time and transformed into the park we know today. However, many of the changes were not very inspired. Cezar Buiumaci tells us more: “Improvements were made every year. The Caryatid Alley ending with the Modura Fountatin was built at the park entrance in 1939. This was part of a propagandistic compound to celebrate the return of Carol II from his forced exile. This particular area was demolished when the communists took over to make way for a statue of Stalin. The entire park was in fact renamed the Josef Vissarionovich Stalin Culture and Relaxation Park. The main square in front of the park, today called Charles de Gaulle, was also named after Stalin. Everything was changed that was connected with the former regime. After the death of Stalin and the coming to power of the new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who accused Stalin of crimes, a de-Stalinisation process began across the entire communist bloc in an attempt to erase Stalin’s memory. In the early 1960s, the park was again renamed, this time as Herastrau Park. Stalin’s statue was demolished overnight, just like the communists had earlier destroyed the statues of political figures linked to the previous.”
Today Herastrau Park is one of the most popular places of relaxation in Bucharest, even rivalling with the Botanical Gardens in terms of the diversity and rarity of its shrubs and tree species. For example, the park is home to a unique species, a variety of the Japanese pagoda tree with its drooping branches and its leaves with white spots. The park also has an area for flower exhibitions and other themed areas such as the Rose Island, the Poplar Island and the Japanese Garden. Sculptures are spread throughout the vegetation, the work of well-established artists such as Ion Jalea and Filip Marin. Herastrau Lake is also used for leisure, angling, nautical sports and sailing.