A Unique Museum

The 24th of May, 1908 was a memorable day for Bucharesters. At 11 a.m., the harmonious building of the ZoologyMuseum was inaugurated with great pomp. Erected at one end of Kiseleff Avenue, a fashionable promenade, in only one year (1904-1905), on the initiative and under the direct supervision of a dynamic scientist, Grigore Antipa, it was the first building ever in Romania destined from the very beginning to accommodate museum collections. The blueprints had been drawn by engineer Mihail Roco, and the façade, with its elegant Corinthian columns, designed by architect Grigore Cerchez. At the suggestion of Minister Spiru Haret, Dimitrie Paciurea had carved in 1906 an allegorical group symbolizing the science of zoology on the fronton.Seemingly no other institution of the kind ever enjoyed more attention from state rulers, as upon the inauguration of its 16 halls participated, beside King Carol I, Prince Ferdinand, and Princess Maria, Dimitrie Sturdza, President of the Council of Ministers, Ion Brătianu, Spiru Haret, Dimitrie Carp and other ministers, Anghel Saligny, President of the Romanian Academy, Ermil Pangrati, Dean of the Faculty of Sciences, university professors, higher-ranking officials, the intelligentsia.Newspapers published ample comments upon this major cultural event, and Bucharest people simply stormed in to see the wonders collected and arranged by Grigore Antipa in the large, well-lit halls. The wealth, beauty and rareness of the exhibits, their original arrangement, the unprecedented charm of the dioramas aroused their admiration, and the fame of the institution soared. Old statistics recorded incredible numbers of visitors, 6,000 up to 10,000 on Thursdays and Sundays, when the museum was open to the public. Indeed, attendance was one of the highest in Europe, exceeding that of museums with much longer tradition in big cities on the continent.A century elapsed from the old foundation of Governor of Oltenia Mihalache Ghica (a great scholar, collector and minister of internal affairs), hosted in two rooms at St. Sava School, that became a National Museum through princely order signed by Alexandru Ghica in November 1834, to the decree signed by King Carol II on May 23rd, 1933, which transformed the "museum on the promenade" into the Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History. The institution had its good days and bad days, was on the brink of extinction several times, shaken by earthquakes, hit by bombs, yet survived all the changes of fortune, to the great joy of Bucharesters in search of useful moments of leisure.

by Alexandru Marinescu