Paris of the East

Also known by the locals as the “Paris of the East” or “Little Paris”, Bucharest, capital of Romania, is host to a new wave of cultural development.

Few people think of Eastern Europe when culture is mentioned, unaware of the flourishing community of artists, entertainers, composers and more, making a name both for themselves and for the city.

Deep in the heart of the city is the refined quartier of Lipscani, locally known as the Old Town. Fitting for its location, the Old Town is a sprawling complex of baroque architecture and the central attraction for all visiting tourists. In previous years, following the fall of the ruling communist regime, the Old Town was largely ignored and seen only as the historical district of the city, relegated to being the glorified remnant of what Bucharest used to be. Flanking the wide, cobbled streets of Lipscani Boulevard are buildings that have been erected several hundreds of years ago. Despite claims of the buildings posing a danger to all travelers on account of their condition, the locals (and tourists!) have vehemently refused to tear them down, arguing in favour of their long-lasting historical value.

In recent years, however, the residents of Bucharest, encouraged by the Ministry of Culture, have taken up the task of reinventing what, two hundred years ago, was the most popular boulevard in town. Currently, the myriad of cafes, bakeries, clubs — and pubs, adopted from the British and molded into a truly Romanian experience — attract thousands of both teenage party-goers and overworked adults every weekend.

What is most enthralling about the Old Town is not its architecture, nor its venues, nor its talented public performers, but the concept of it. Having recently escaped its own personal limbo, where the Soviet state of mind was prevalent, Romania is rediscovering itself; shedding its own ideals and notions behind, the Romanian people as a whole are working together, unknowingly, to establish a new, modern cultural identity.

At the forefront of this movement is the Old Town. No other area in town can boast of such a reputation, for no other place harbors amateur painters, singers, comedians and actors with such a passion. Deep in the heart of the city is not only the physical aspect of the Old Town, but the place where people go to eschew stress and worries.. and mantle novelty and artistic freedom.

Vlad the Impaler is said to judge all recent arrivals.

One worthy example of these historical locations is the Old Princely Court. Overlooking the intersection between Selari street and the French street is a bust of the legendary Vlad the Impaler, planted amongst the pathways of the place known as the Old Princely Court. Everyday, hordes of captivated tourists stop to take pictures and learn more about the figure said to be the world’s most famous vampire. Most visitors, following suggestions from the residents of the city or their tour guides, often first stop by the intersection, which tends to be the base of all ventures into the city’s core.

Through the commendable efforts of the Princely Court staff, everything is kept in a pristine condition. Rows of sculpted pillars, both of stone and porphyry, wind around the gravel pathways of the palace, often placed as to accentuate the importance of the marble slabs which carry not only words, but the events of the past. These slabs, carefully worked and translated in several languages, detail the history of Vlad the Impaler’s reign, a chronicle that sends shivers down every visitor’s spine.

Tourists are not only enticed by beautiful architecture, however, being invited to explore the palace’s underground catacombs, where the legacy of the latin Voivodes rests. Visiting the Old Princely Court is not akin to visiting just any castle; it is a unique experience, thanks to the palace guides, who delve into the topic with unmatched passion and love for national history.

The Old Princely Court is not the only point of interest in the Old Town, however. The Museum of Natural History is only a few blocks away from the entrance to the Lipscani Boulevard. In the Old Town proper, there are countless art galleries and theatres, some grandiose, some niche, establishing the district’s reputation as the city’s most faithful proponent of Bohemianism.

Not content with only being the city’s cultural phenomenon, the Old Town is also the club scene itself. When the people want to party, they visit the Lipscani Boulevard, which is home to the most fresh, innovative clubs in all of Romania.

One example worthy of mention is Club Goblin, most famous with the young people of Bucharest, who visit the locale not to dance or get drunk, but to experience expressing themselves. In a country where the communist ideal of normality was cemented into everybody’s mentality, Club Goblin is a pioneer of Romanian culture, drawing inspiration from the Occident and helping evolve a stagnating identity into one which is not so artificially constructed as before, but built by the collective personality of Little Paris.

The club scene is not only the focus of the youth, however, being frequented, unsurprisingly, also by the aged citizens of the city, who are seeking to socialise and expand their horizons through meeting new people and discovering new facets of their personality. El Comandante Junior is an example, where senior citizens drop their facade of stern wisdom, letting go of maturity and unleashing who they truly are: people, with needs, desires and wishes. In a bout of intentional irony, the club management has seen fit to attribute a communistic theme to the establishment, decorating its red-bricked walls with pictures of Che Guevara. This move was not met with criticism, but with hysterical laughter, embodying the Romanian way of treating disaster with a hint of irony.

Lipscani is not only famous for its nightlife, however. The library of Carturesti is always busy due to its loyal customers, who are, more often than not, students. It is not uncommon to see two people who have not met each other discussing literature over a cup of tea in the public library, where the code of silence is often broken.

The Old Town is, in essence, a place of true contrast. What used to be the forgotten part of town, represented by broken-down shanties, muddy streets, decaying buildings and silence, has slowly but surely turned into the new centre of attention, screaming its novelty in the guise of clean streets, topiary wonders, avant-garde works of art, and the voices of the people, who are learning to experience and understand individuality and push to expand the Romanian boundaries of open-mindedness.

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