One of Bucharest’s districts that underwent a sweeping change during the communist regime, a change deeply regretted by then city dwellers, was the Uranus district, which was completely demolished for the present Parliament Palace and the adjacent buildin
The Uranus district, made up of several smaller districts, belonged to the old Bucharest, lying in the southern part of the Dambovita River, an extension of the Princely Court area and of today’s historical center to the hilly area in the southwest of the capital. Apparently, the place was appropriate for the construction of official buildings.
Another Princely Court was built on top of one the area’s hills in the 18th century. Unfortunately, the Court was destroyed by fire, making room for army buildings, such as the Army Arsenal, built after 1863. The hill was called the Arsenal Hill, later on known as the Spirii Hill. It is around that hill that the future Uranus district developed, being laid down in the 1847 blueprint of Bucharest. At that time, there were buildings in the east of the district, the remaining area being covered by vineyards. Architect Costin Gheorghe, who is fond of digital reconstructions and of Bucharest’s history tells us more about the Uranus district:
Costin Gheorghe: “Houses were first raised here and there in the midst of vineyards; the streets were actually dead ends. The architectural style was typical of Muntenia. They had a stone foundation, a mezzanine and one storey. They were either mud houses or brick ones. They also had a verandah or a porch. The area developed a lot after 1900. The neo-Romanian style appeared in those empty spaces around the 1930s. The dwellings in neo-Romanian style were real gems.”
In Bucharest, a city of contrasts, houses in a rural architectural style stood side by side with luxurious villas in slums taking the shape of small towns included in a bigger city, with their own schools, shops, pubs and cinema halls. The Uranus district was kept unaltered until the late 1970s when the first rumours about demolitions were spread. Architect Costin Gheorghe is back at the microphone with details:
Costin Gheorghe: “In the late 1970s, especially after 1977, there was talk about the reorganization of the city. The first call for projects was launched in 1979. There were tens of projects aimed at changing the area completely. In the early 1980s, they started demolishing the district. The Arsenal Hill was cleared and leveled for the basement of the People’s House to be first built there. The official version, which was made public, was that the area had to be cleared to make it more salubrious and unitary. Actually, they tried to delete history and the characteristics of the place, which was the hub of Bucharest. They tried to build a new city.”
According to the urban planning of the old neighborhood, in the center there was the huge Palace of Parliament, surrounded by blocks of flats and official buildings, everything being designed as an ensemble. Added to that was the extension of the nearby boulevards. The systematization meant razing all the old buildings on a radius of several kilometers, and the forced uprooting and displacement of all the inhabitants. To tell us about it, here is Costin Gheorghe:
Costin Gheorghe: “Worth mentioning as part of the old neighborhood is the Army Arsenal building, which used to lie where we have now the back section of the People's House, which houses at present the Contemporary Art Museum. Another remarkable monument used to be the Spirea Veche Church, where now we have the Senate parking lot. Four more churches were demolished, and one was moved. It is the Nuns' Skete Church. Also, from the Mihai Voda Monastery, the church and the church bell tower were saved, and were moved behind the ministry area close to Constitution Square. Also demolished were schools built in a superb Neo-Romanian architecture, such as the Romanescu School. The surface occupied now by the People's House did not have many houses because it was mostly occupied by the old Arsenal platform, which didn't have any buildings. Very few streets of the old neighborhood are now under the People's House. For instance, at the northwestern corner of the People's House there used to be the Red Flag Bread Factory.”
The old Uranus district was recently reconstructed as part of a project initiated by Costin Gheorghe, including historical photos, as well as a series of drawings by a former inhabitant, Traian Bădulescu Sr. Thanks to him and to digital reconstruction, the Uranus neighborhood came to life in a virtual space.