Bucharest Of Yore

A thousand years ago on the spot where Bucharest stands today there rose a town called Perun; this Perun was the god of fire and thunder with the ancient Slavs, featured with a golden face, silver hair and beard. It replaced the Greeks' Zeus and the Roman Jove. The fact that a big town rose on the Dâmboviţa river to the glory of a pagan god means that before converting to Christianism the populations in these parts had worshipped divinities that our neighbors in the south and east had also venerated until the baptism unto Christ (the Bulgarians in the 9th century, and the Russians a century later).Traces of the Slav pantheon can be detected in the Romanians' present-day parlance, too. The word "Svarog", quite frequently used in Moldavia, is the name of the supreme god. The case of the goddess of life and arts is mentioned in many folk refrains, and the Caloian horse is the prolongation of the customs of Morena, the goddess whom in spring the lads and the wenches mourned mockingly, letting a dummy float down the river, happy, in fact, that the cold and the frost were gone.The old map where I found Perun, not far from the mouth of the Dâmboviţa, on the territory of the present-day Capital, shows the exact locations of Sibiu, Brasov, Deva and Severin in their actual names. There can be no error or confusion about this. The name of Bucharest does not come from Bucur the Shepherd but from Abu-Kureish, a chieftain of the Kureish tribe, rebelled against caliph Omar, the selfsame who founded Djebel in Syria. This is what muezzin Evliya Cilibi says, who crossed three times the empire of the sultans, up to Vienna, passing by the Romanian Lands, mentioning clearly and exactly other towns, too. The travel memories of this muezzin, the nephew of a grand vizier turned pasha at Nikopol, are laid down in ten volumes, eight of them published recently under the care of the Ankara officials. We know too little – not even as a legend – about grandpa Perun and father Abu-Kureish of our Capital, Bucharest, mentioned only for four centuries now. The first prints owed to foreign travelers do not go further than the 17th century. Two hundred years ago – if we judge things according to the fanciful illustration of the time – Bucharest was an agglomeration of Swabian houses perched on hills, with towers resembling those on the Sibiu walls, with exotic trees, palm-like, with a big Dâmboviţa river and camels drawn by dwarfish Turks. Another print of the time depicts Bucharest with four big hills on the background and a lot of houses, donjons, churches and djamias, crammed together like pomegranate seeds under the skin of a citadel wall. In 1790 (only 150 years back) we are presented a Bucharest where we do not recognize anything of the city we know, mounted on high hills and looking like an Oriental Sighişoara.German drawers, accompanying marshal prince Saxa Coburg who entered Bucharest in 1789, redid from memory the landscape and the costumes, leaving for the posterity images that cannot be other than deceitful because the hills at the horizon and the consistency of the surrounding water could not have been sucked in by anything over such a short period. And the monumentality of walls, towers, churches and public edifices does not grace any memory or reality, though any relevant ruins. It was only a hundred years ago that the vision of a genuine Bucharest started to be circulated in the west. French A. Raffet published sketches after nature in the illustrated magazines of Paris. M. Bouquet and G. Doussault continued his endeavors after ten years. In 1866 Le Tour du monde published a rich, and detailed drawing of Manuc's Inn, owed to painter Lancelot. At the same time, the admirable Carol Pop de Szathmary, the father of our unforgettable friend, painter Alex. Satmary, created drawings and water colors presenting the most variegated, most authentic and most artistic image of the princely residence which after fires and earthquakes began to settle and acquire the looks of the big Balkan capital that we knew until ten years ago.The St. Spiridon church and the metropolitan church become landmarks in the time prints just as over the centuries the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saint Jacques tower do not fail to appear in any lithograph featuring a panorama of Paris. The other day I went to Plumbuita Monastery, on the outskirts of Bucharest and my heart wept seeing the palace, there hundred years old, such a harmonious and beautiful construction, a model of old national architecture, falling to pieces of which there will be nothing left soon. It's the only construction from the time of Matei Basarab still standing in the ruthless Danube plain. Can it be that nobody cares about saving this artistic vestige of the past that is crumbling in the Colentina district?(1935)

by Victor Eftimiu (1889-1972)