Houses from old neighborhood Cotroceni, Bucharest

by Victor Grigore, Webphoto.ro

This is one of the oldest and best preserved neighborhoods of Bucharest, preferred by the upper class of the last century. Like the city itself, it started as a forest on the banks of Dâmbovița river, passing through the stage of a modest village. The forest was thick and housed robbers and fugitives, its name coming from a popular perm for „searching in depth”. According to Vlad Ignat, such was the case with prince Șerban Cantacuzino, who hid into the dark forest for a short while, as he was followed by his rivals. To give thanks for his survival, the prince built here the Cotroceni Monastery, of which only part of the church survives, in what is today the Presidential Palace Cotroceni.

The royal palace of Cotroceni was a magnet for nobility and courtiers to build homes here, while the gardens of the palace were later developed into a separate Botanical Garden. During the reign of prince Cuza, another future landmark of the neighborhood appeared, the athletic domain, on which were to be built much later the tennis courts and the football stadium with the same name.

A spectacular personality influenced largely the place in the second half of 19 century, the military doctor Carol Davila. The Italian born Frenchman, Carlos Antonio Francesco D’Avila (Charles Davila) was invited by the local monarch to organize a medical system in the young principality of Valachia. The short stay turned to be for life, with spectacular results, as Davila created the first Romanian medicine, pharmaceutical and veterinary faculty, created the first ambulance service and helped the progress in other fields of science and society. The large Medicine University, that bears his name and has his statue in front, is still one of the most important buildings in the neighborhood of Cotroceni, that later developed on a domain acquired and donated by Carol Davila.

Because of this, many streets in the area have names of famous Romanian or French doctors. Also, since Davila served in the army, during the Independence War (1877), receiving the general rank, many officers used to live here or give their names to various streets. A monument, honoring the heroic deeds of military doctors during the first world war, was created by Italian sculptor Raffaello Romanelli. Next to the Medicine Faculty there is more recent bronze statue of Nicoale Paulescu, the Romanian discoverer of insulin.

In the late 1930′, the large Military Academy building appeared, work of modernist architect Duiliu Marcu. In 1957, a statuary group was dedicated to Fatherland Heroes, work of military sculptors: Marius Butunoiu, Zoe Băicoianu, Ion Dămăceanu, Theodor Ionescu and Vasile Barabas. The boulevard that opens in front of this statue and of the Military Academy is still one of the large boulevards of the city, with an elegant design, underlined by the two rows of short blocks, in the minimalist style, popular between the wars, that is also employed in the center of Bucharest.

In 1949, the Cotroceni football stadium was ready to host the Progress FC, later named National FC. In 1953, across the Dâmbovița river, over the Cotroceni bridge, was built the National Opera House, according to plans by architect Octav Doicescu. It has a large park, featuring the statue of George Enescu, the greatest Romanian composer. The loan in front of the Opera House is used annually for open air concerts.

In 1978, the large University Hospital was ready, serving as one of the most important emergency hospital, now even featuring a helicopter landing spot. For many years, the hospital, which is the tallest building around, was managed by current mayor of Bucharest, doctor Sorin Oprescu.

For more than a century, Cotroceni was a place chosen by local bourgeoisie, for its calm and natural look. Buildings of great architectural value were erected, combining several styles, from the Romanian Romantic style, that was reinterpreting folkloric elements from peasants’ houses, to Gothic and minimalist houses. The general two stores high profile was only broken in recent years, when higher buildings were approved.

Great names of Romanian culture lived in this neighborhood, especially writers, doctors and officers: literary critics Eugen Lovinescu, Șerban Cioculescu and Vladimir Streinu, poets Ion Minulescu and Corneliu Vadim Tudor, sculptor Oscar Han, scientist Emil Racoviță, composer Vasile Vasilache. After the Soviet occupation that followed the defeat in the second world war, the communist bourgeoisie took over the „nationalized” homes of those sent to prisons and working camps. Many communist leaders, starting with exterior minister Anna Pauker, that was really in charged of the first communist government, high rank communist party members and Securitate (the political police) officers moved here. After the Revolution, from these spoiled members of the Communist regime emerged a new capitalist upper class, that maintains Cotroceni as one of the most expensive areas of Bucharest. Crime rate and pollution are low, compared to other areas of the Capital, while prices tend to be a little higher.

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