Following the union of the principalities of Moldavai and Wallachia, Ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza implemented radical reforms with the help of his wife, Elena Cuza.
On January 24, 1859, following the union of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, Alexandru Ioan Cuza became the ruler of the new state. To modernize the country he implemented radical reforms with the help of other statesmen and of his wife Elena Cuza. The first lady of the United Principalities did not remain in the shadow of her husband. She got involved in the setting up of many charitable institutions in Romania, some of which still exist today. In Bucharest, near the Cotroceni Palace, the present headquarters of the Romanian Presidency, you will discover one of the institutions Elena Cuza set up. "Princess Elena Home" was not just a foster home for the poor girls in Romania's capital, but also one of the first education institutions for women.
Stefania Dinu, the interim director of the Cotroceni National Museum, talked about the history of this place:
"Doctor Carol Davila had set up a home for orphaned girls in his wife's villa, located on the Cotroceni Hill. Princess Elena Cuza took over his idea and helped the doctor develop the project. Thus the 'Princess Elena Home' was set up on July 18, 1862, ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza signing the setting-up decree. Princess Elena donated 32,000 lei to get the institution up and running. She also called on the high society ladies to make money donations for the building of the institution. Even Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza gave 1,600 gold coins for the home, not to mention the poet Vasile Alecsandri who donated the entire proceeds from the sale of one of his poetry books."
The architect appointed to design the construction was Carol Benisch. He later made the blueprints for the chapel built in the home's courtyard, a chapel that can be seen today on the outskirts of the Cotroceni neighborhood. In time, 'Princess Elena Home' developed, becoming a school for teachers. The institution continued to develop even after 1866 when Alexandru Ioan Cuza was removed from power and sent into exile with his family.
However, the home was not abandoned, as Stefania Dinu told us:
"The mission to carry on Elena Cuza's work was taken over by the next queen, Elisabeth, wife to King Carol 1st. Because she saw the home needed a chapel, the queen commissioned one. She also donated an amount of money for its construction and later through public subscription she had the chapel erected. This building, which we today call Elisabeth Chapel, has an interesting, even strange architecture. It's a double steeple rectangular building with the indoor painting made by famous Romanian painter Gheorghe Tattarescu. The chapel's story is a sad one, because after 1947 it was turned into a warehouse. A blaze destroyed its paintings during the communist regime, but through some collective efforts it has been refurbished and turned into a university chapel, because the premises of the Princess Elena retirement home have become the property of the University of Bucharest. It's a students' chapel but also open to the public at large."
Unfortunately the other buildings designed by Carel Benisch that are part of the compound, haven't been restored like the chapel. They are in an advanced state of decay at present, although there are still classrooms and offices that belong to the Faculty of Psychology and Pedagogy with the University of Bucharest. Queen Elena, who gave her name to the compound, accompanied her husband in exile to Germany, but she returned to Romania where she died in 1909 at the age of 82.