Romanian Athenaeum, the famous concert hall in Bucharest, is located in George Enescu Square, right on Calea Victoriei, opposite the Royal Palace. The building was built between 1886 and 1888 according to the plans of the French architect Albert Gallero. It is made in a combination of neoclassical style with eclectic style. Currently, it also houses the headquarters of the “George Enescu” Philharmonic.
Since its inauguration, the great personalities and scientists of Romania have lectured here and artists from all over the world have performed. Also, there were organized the first large exhibitions, retrospectives of painting and sculpture of the masters of fine arts. In the Romanian Athenaeum, there were moments of historical significance for the Romanian people.
Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest – a short history
The Bucharest Athenaeum was built to be a palace of arts and sciences, a place where exhibitions, concerts and conferences could be organized in a magnificent atmosphere. The palace hosted a gallery (Pinacoteca Statului), a library and sometimes film screenings.
The place where the Athenaeum and the garden in front of it are located was in 1730 an orchard, owned by an important family at that time, the Văcărescu family. A church called the Church of the Episcopate was built on the site of the orchard, in the courtyard of which a school operated. After the destruction of the church and the school, on the remaining land, a garden was arranged, called the Episcopal Garden. The garden was incorporated into the Athenaeum only in 1888 and was later called the Athenaeum Garden.
At the moment when it was decided to erect the Athenaeum, the land behind the Episcopal Garden belonged to the Romanian Equestrian Society. Before buying the land, there were plans and even some concrete steps for building a circus on this land. The circular foundation, prepared for the circus, and the idea of using these foundations forced the French architect of the Athenaeum to design the building in a circular shape and to add a roof in the shape of a dome.
The Romanian Athenaeum was raised with the money from a public subscription, following the organization of a national lottery (500,000 tickets worth one leu), the appeal addressed to the citizens being: “Give a leu for the Athenaeum!” (Dati un leu pentru Ateneu, in Romanian). The idea of the call surprisingly turned into a lesson of unity.
In addition to the money obtained from the organization of the lottery, the scholar and boyar Scarlat Rosetti left, through the will of April 9, 1870, an important donation “for the restoration of a public library in the capital.” The donation was also used to build the Athenaeum.
The French architect Albert Galleron built the building according to the scientific research and the indications of Alexandru Odobescu. Inspired by ancient Greek temples, the building surprises at first sight with a historic colonnade that supports a triangular pediment.
Although in 1888 the construction was partially completed, due to lack of funds, the Athenaeum was put into use on February 14, and the works continued until 1897. From the very beginning, conferences, painting exhibitions and concerts of the Romanian Philharmonic took place in the halls of the Athenaeum.
Between 1919 and 1920, the Athenaeum building was used by the state authorities at the time as the seat of the Chamber of Deputies. In 1919, in the great hall of the Athenaeum, the Chamber voted to ratify the union of Transylvania, Bassarabia and Bukovina with Romania.
In 1935, George Enescu (the best-known Romanian musician) started a fundraising campaign for the construction of the concert organ, in the large concert hall. Only in 1939 Oscar Walcker built the impressive organ present today in the imposing concert hall of the Romanian Athenaeum. In order to raise the sums necessary to build the organ at the Athenaeum, Enescu performs both in Bucharest, at the Romanian Athenaeum, and in many cities in the province. He is joined by other Romanian artists.
Because it was severely damaged by the bombings of World War II, the Romanians mobilized again and donated to the call of the Athenaeum committee for its restoration.
Its next modernization took place in 1994-2004. In 2005 it was opened on the occasion of a new edition of the George Enescu International Festival.
Romanian Athenaeum Garden
In the pre-war period, the alleys of the Athenaeum Garden were adorned with busts representing great Romanian politicians or artists. Unfortunately, they were not preserved, because they were destroyed during the years of the communist regime. At present, in its place, in the Athenaeum Garden is placed the statue of Mihai Eminescu (the greatest Romanian poet), executed in bronze, in 1963.
Romanian Athenaeum visit
The Romanian Athenaeum concerts represent a perfect experience for those who love classic music. During these concerts, you can visit also the interior of the building. You can see the next concerts on the official website.
In the Romanian Athenaeum concert hall, the one that attracts attention is the fresco, 3 m wide and 75 m long. It includes 25 episodes from the history of the Romanians, symbolizing the “open book of national history”. The scenes are presented in a chained sequence, without being separated from each other.
Of the 25 scenes, the last two scenes represent the royal history of Romania and they were covered with red velvet during the communist period.
Another option to see the beautiful interior is during a guided tour in Bucharest. The tour includes a visit inside the Romanian Athenaeum. The guide will tell you all his known and less known stories about this architectural gem and will walk you through the beautifully decorated rooms.
The image of the building, the neo-Greek portico, located under the Ionic pediment, and the beautifully decorated dome, has long been the emblem of Bucharest. The Romanian Athenaeum is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Bucharest.
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