here is not a capital in Europe
that rewards exploration more than Bucharest. A booming, energetic city
emerging from decades spent behind one of the darkest parts of the
Iron Curtain, Bucharest has shaken off earthquakes, Communism and a
bloody revolution to recapture the glories of its rich past.
Founded, legend has it, by the shepherd Bucur, the city was first documented in 1459 but remained a provincial kind of place until it was made
the capital of Romania— a country forged from the crumbling Ottoman
Empire — in 1862. Immediately Bucharest bloomed. The world’s finest
architects were commissioned to create a city in the image of Paris, and
despite a 1977 earthquake and the demolitions of the early 1980s (when
a fifth of the city center was destroyed to make way for the dictator
Nicolae Ceausescu’s follies, the Casa Poporului and Bulevardul Unirii)
much of their work survives.
And yet in a country in which more than half the population still
chooses to live in the countryside, any visit to Bucharest should begin at
the open-air Village Museum in the north of the city, where Romania’s
worthy rural traditions are not merely preserved but brought to life.
The Village Museum comprises more than 100 houses, churches, farmsteads
and windmills, brought to this site from all over the country. Throughout
the summer, the Village Museum hosts a wide variety of craft fairs, folklore
displays and markets selling traditional wares, as well as food and drinks.
Year round, its shop stocks an outstanding selection of original handicrafts. Look out for traditional Romanian blouses, peasant art, colorful
wooden Orthodox icons and painted eggs —all are the real deal.
Shopping aside, the true pride of the Village Museum is its hugely
distinctive wooden church. Dating from the late 18th century, the church
was brought to Bucharest from the village of Barsana, located in the
almost mythical Maramures region in the far northwest. Its high belfry
is both characteristic of the region and a nod to the similarly tall towers
of Western Europe’s Gothic churches. The contrast with the ostentatious
Byzantine and Russian-inspired churches couldn’t be greater—you won’t