Thursday 4 June 2020

The lost art of aimless urban walking

The time I love Romania most is probably walking along the crumbling streets of Bucharest's allegedly historic centre. In fact it is late nineteenth century, so not very historic, but it has the patina of dereliction you get in cities that were allowed or forced to decay because of Marxist anti-economic policies: like Havana and, before tourism, Tbilisi. 

It feels half as old as time, while really old places in other countries are highly restored and look as if they were just built. People who read the Narnia books as children can think of the petrified city of Charn in The Magician's Nephew.

During the lockdown I took up my old hobby of aimless urban walking again and since the lockdown ended I continue the habit.

The first picture is of the church of St Nicholas Udricani, which I discovered today for the first time in a small uninteresting little street some way east of Piața Unirii.

The exterior wall painting dates from the late eighteenth century and miraculously escaped the Great Fire of 1847, so the priest told me. He gave me some delicious coliva, baked to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon yesterday.

He told me Udricani means inhabitants of Adrianople, a city that the Turkish republic renamed Edirne. It is graced by beautiful mosques and was capital of the Ottoman empire until Constantinople fell. The emigrants for whom this church was built would have mourned the previous Christian Adrianople.

Stavropoleos convent is my favourite church in Romania despite being restored. 

Cismigiu Park,  in Olivia Manning's day and now 'for servants and soldiers'

Radu Voda church yesterday

The Church of St Nicholas Built in a Day

The new unfinished cathedral is a welcome counterpoint to Marxist-Ozymandian sterility

The Radu Voda Church's garish interior. It is said to be early 17th century but I suspect it dates from 1969.

The Church of the Good Shepherd (Biserica Bucur Ciobanul), possibly 16th century but some say it is much older. It was on the same hill as the Radu Voda church until a road was built dividing them. Legend says Bucur the shepherd. who is the mythical founder of Bucharest. founded the church. The better view is that it was  founded by Mircea the Shepherd (Mircea III), Voivode of Wallachia three times between 1545 and 1559.


  1. What lovely photographs! External painting is a delight of other people's cityscapes - the UK is far too wet. And Scotland is very poor in external decoration of any kind, apart from pre-Reformation cathedrals. Presbyterians consider it frivolous and ostentatious to spend money on decoration - give it to the poor instead.

  2. Lovely .. I have such happy memories of Bucharest.. especially the museum with all the houses very lovely

    1. I must pop over to the Village Museum. Thanks for the reminder, Dana.

  3. '...coliva, baked to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon'

    Nice touch.

    1. Send them some coliva... Don't forget the candles and red, yellow and blue ribbons.

  4. In "The History of the Founding of the city of Bucharest - the Capital of the Kingdom of Romania - from 1330 to 1850" (Istoria fondarei orașului București - capitala Regatului Român - de la 1330 până la 1850) collected from many early writers and gathered together in 1891 by Dimitrie Papazoglu, are recorded many texts which assert that the church was built by the shepherd Bucur. Papazoglu himself has doubts about this, suggesting that the church was built in 1568 by Alexandru II Mircea, known as Mircea Ciobanu, “Mircea the Shepherd”.

    Until 1974, many of those who had studied the history of the church felt that the builder of the church could not be the shepherd Bucur, as Bucur himself appeared to be purely legendary, first appearing in a book on the Principalities by the British Consul William Wilkinson, published in London in 1820, but a manuscript by the Catholic Missionary Blasius Kleiner, written in 1761, has been discovered, which mentions the legend. Professor Marcel Dumitru Ciuca, in his notes to a recent edition of Dimitrie Papazoglu’s work, feels that Papazoglu has misdated the building and that the legend of Bucur could be true.

  5. BUCHAREST, it is said, is paradise for old bachelors.

    PAUL MORAND JUNE 1, 1937

    1. "For me, he's obviously the best writer after Proust and Celine."

      Philippe Sollers about Paul Morand

  6. Delightful. Beautiful images. Stavropoleos is also my best Romanian church and it is the first place I visit after arriving in Bucharest.