Romania had been on our minds for quite some time before deciding to plan a trip there after all. Besides the allure of the Transylvanian countryside, the prospect of visiting a country which still breathes recent history also fascinated us. Bucharest is like a huge living museum constantly recreating its troubled past. The best way to explore the capital of Romania is by taking a walking tour from many available. We wanted to learn as much as possible about Romania’s communist past. Therefore, we chose the Bucharest walking Tour of Communism.
Getting to the meeting point for this Bucharest walking tour, we couldn’t help but notice the intense contrast between busy and grey Union Square (Piata Unirii) and the tranquil, tree-lined cobblestone street which led us to the Patriarchy Hill. Marius, our guide, was waiting for us under the bell tower of the Patriarchy. Funny place to start a Tour of Communism, right?
Romania was a socialist republic from 1947 to 1989. However, when we talk about the country’s communist past, we mostly refer to the period when Nicolae Ceausescu was Romania’s leader, namely from 1967 to 1989. During our 3-hour Bucharest walking tour of Communism, Marius gave as an invaluable lesson on Romania’s history. Most importantly, we understood how the mentality of the Romanian people affected their choices and, consequently, their lives. He told us about when the seed of Communism was planted in Romania, how it grew and why it withered. At various stops along the tour, he explained how the Communist regime under Nicolae Ceausescu had a serious and, sadly, lasting effect on how Bucharest looks today.
First of all, during our Bucharest walking tour we noticed that most buildings in the Romanian capital were in bad shape. We could hardly believe that the dilapidated houses we saw were actually inhabited. More shockingly, we learned that this state of neglect doesn’t have to do with inability to cover repair costs but rather with the fact that there is no private property legislation. To put it simply, these houses belong to no one and everyone. People live in houses which may or may not belong to them. Therefore, they are reluctant to spend money on fixing them. Communism under Ceausescu may have caused many problems. However, current governments don’t seem to care much about putting things straight for the Romanian people either.
Bucharest offers many opportunities to witness the results of Nicolae Ceausescu’s extravagance. Yet nowhere is his madness so unmistakably evident than on this Bucharest walking tour of Communism. During his final years as Romania’s leader, Ceausescu ordered the demolition of the better part of Bucharest’s historic centre. The city formerly known as Little Paris was doomed to be buried underneath giant structures and soulless apartment blocks. At some point during the tour, Marius took us to a site which screamed abandonment and neglect. There he voiced the unspeakable truth. That was where the heart of the vibrant old town used to beat. Marius painted a picture of Bucharest full of beautiful architecture and quaint cobblestone streets. We would never have believed a word he said if not for the fact that we were actually standing on the remains of those very cobblestone streets that ceased to exist almost overnight.
We kept on walking wondering why on earth would a destruction of this scale need to take place? The answer was waiting for us just around the corner: the infamous Palace of Parliament. This was meant to be the centerpiece in Ceausescu’s vision to build his very own version of Pyongang. Upon return from his visit to North Korea in 1971, he became obsessed with this project that brought suffering upon his people and, ultimately, cost him his own and his wife’s lives.
One of the most impressive facts we learned during our Bucharest walking tour of Communism was how a lot of churches were salvaged from Ceausescu’s demolition folly. Eugeniu Iordăchescu was a Romanian civil engineer who came up with the idea of rolling entire buildings on metal tracks. Thanks to this brilliant idea several buildings were safely moved out of harm’s way between 1982 and 1989. Marius showed us impressive photos of this seemingly unbelievable task.
The tour ends at Revolution Square (Piata Revolutiei). On our way there, we shivered at the great number of bullet holes we witnessed on buildings. Once at the square, Marius didn’t just narrate the events that took place on December 22, 1989; the day the swift yet extremely violent Romanian Revolution peaked. He actually took us back in time with him. We could almost see the crowds of protestors gathering in the square. We could almost feel Ceausescu’s agony when his desperate final attempt to reach out to the Romanian people was an utter failure.
All in all, this Bucharest walking tour of Communism offered us an unforgettable experience. No matter how many books one may read, nothing beats visiting the actual spots where history took place. Especially when you get to see those places through the eyes of a local. You see, history is not just facts and dates put down on paper. History is feelings. Terror, sadness and hope. History is tastes. Like the sweet treats dating back to the Communist era that Marius offered us. History is first and foremost understanding and respecting our past so as to make the best of our future.
NOTE: This tour costs 19€ per person. The tour includes a stop at a café where we rested for about 30′. We appreciated immensely the fact that we actually sat and had a refreshment during this packed with new information tour. We also had the chance to chat with our guide about whatever it was that had caught our attention until then.
Disclosure: Tour of Communism kindly offered us 50% discount for this tour but, as always, we express nothing but our very own and honest opinion about the experience we had.