Saturday 17 November 2012

I finally visited the Cotroceni Palace

I finally visited the Cotroceni Palace after 14 years in Bucharest. I cannot imagine why I did not do so before or rather I do understand - I imagined it was merely a museum within the palace which was open to the public, but in fact the museum is most of the palace. 

Prince Serban Cantecuzino built the original palace-monastery and, sadly, King Carol I rebuilt in the late nineteenth century. Unlike in President Constantinescu's time, the section where the President has his offices is not open to the public and nor are the seventeenth century monastic quarters or the cellars which date from the same period.

It is a dull house, although the rooms decorated by Queen Marie are pleasant, unlike those furnished in dark and heavy Wilhelmine taste by King Carol I. I am a passionate monarchist and wish everywhere in the world was a monarchy, excepting ancient republics like San Marino and Venice, but I have little interest in monarchs or princes. It is the monarchy as institution and principle which commands my assent. I therefore am not terribly interested in knowing what King Carol I's and Queen Elizabeth's bed is like. Though my interest awoke. The bed was rather short and the guide, Anca, told us that this was because the royal couple slept sitting down, resting their heads on big cushions, rather than lying down.  This was considered to be healthier. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown indeed.

buduoarul reginei maria
Queen Marie's oratory is decorated with icons, but also with figures from Norse mythology.
Here in the council chamber in 1914 Carol I was unable to persuade his ministers  to honour their secret alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary and go to war on their side. This decision was said to have broken the King's heart and caused his death later in that year. Here too, in 1916, Ferdinand and his ministers took the fateful decision to go to war against Germany and Austria-Hungary, a decision which resulted in the defeat and occupation of Romania, a great loss of Romanian blood and treasure and, according to Norman Stone, allowed Germany to continue the war for another two years. 

After King Carol I and Queen Elizabeth, King Ferdinand and Queen Marie lived in the palace. Queen Marie wrote that she loved the odd combination of palace and monastery. King Carol II and the present King did not live there. After his enforced abdication, it became a 'palace' for children, meaning the 'Pioneers' (the Communist youth organisation) and then, in the 1970s, a palace for Nicolae Ceausescu.

The skins of the bears he shot adorn some of the floors. Apparently the hunts were carefully staged so that the president could kill the bears, something that journalists asserted was done for Mr. Adrian Nastase when he was Prime Minister between 2000 and 2004. One of the more tasteful rooms, very surprisingly, was designed by the Communists in the style of Louis XIV, because they expected that Queen Elizabeth II would repay the state visit by Nicolae Ceausescu. When we told Anca about how, during that visit, the Romanians stole innumerable objects from Windsor Castle (British diplomats warned Giscard, before Ceausescu went to stay at the Elysée  not to leave things lying around) Anca gave a cry of pain and said that this made her feel very bad about her countrymen. I started to tell her that this did not reflect on them and then I realised that it did and I felt for her. There is so much beautiful idealism in Romania, which is confronted with an often very dirty reality.

I felt an urge to leave before the tour ended but I stayed for the church, which is the best reason for visiting the palace. It was built twenty years ago as a replica of the monastery church built by Prince Serban Cantecuzino and demolished in 1984. It contains handsome pillars from the old church, made in a style which pointed towards the Brâncovenesc style of a few years later, and some (far too few) very lovely wall paintings that survived from the old church. I loved the use of space in the inner courtyards, especially the square  around the church. The trees could not have looked lovelier than on a cold bright November afternoon. I found the church, though new, very beautiful and of course very, very sad. 

biserica palatului


  1. You saw the owl?

  2. Paul, I understand the visit at the church interested and pleased you most. I wonder, were you able to see the new bell with the name of President traian basescu engraved on it?