The City's Ugliest Square

Clockwise from top left: Revolution Square, Maniu statue, Coposu bust, Hilton Athenee Palace, Kretzulescu Church, University Library, Ataturk bust, Carol I equestrian statue.
Post-revolutionary administrators of the capital city have managed to turn the birth place of the revolution into the dullest square in all of Bucharest. Lacking skill, culture and heart, determined to link their names to accomplishments meant to prove to the West our rapid rehabilitation, public servants of all ranks and political affiliations have played havoc with the middle section of the city's oldest street, burying it under a hotchpotch of statues and monuments.
 A jumble of monumentsAfter the post-war period deprived Bucharest of most of its exceptional monuments, the city has seen, after 1989, many an initiative born out of political vanities. While allegedly retrieving historical heritage, each political party left its mark in the shape of statues and street names echoing their respective aspirations. The idea was a felicitous one, but its coming to life was left to chance. The monument in Charles de Gaulle Square, known as Caramitru's "button" (since it was placed there during his office as minister of culture) was generally misunderstood and made it into urban culture as a haberdashery item rather than a Christian monument, as the minister explained its meaning to be at the unveiling. The monument dominated the square until the steel and glass beast started to grow out of the subway station. And the jumble does not end here: the adventure of moving the statue of Caragiale from Maria Rosetti Street to a new location in front of the National Theatre and then back to Maria Rosetti Street is yet another splinter (I was about to say spike) in the twisted logic behind our local urban planning. In the University Square, instead of having a statue of Bratianu, we planted a clock stuck at the hour when we joined the UE. Victoria Road, which Ceausescu left undemolished after the 1977 earthquake, because, as Alexandru Budisteanu, chief architect of the city at the time, confesses, he was not interested in the area (found it narrow, small, winding, unfitting for high aspirations and ideals) was thus historically fortunate. The most representative street in Bucharest was able to preserve untouched numerous splendid houses, buildings that are now part of the national heritage. Monuments, however, were not meant to last. The well-known equestrian statue of Carol I, the work of Ivan Mestrovici, whose sculptures were enjoyed in great American cities, in London, in Prague, Vienna, Paris, or Rome, was pulled down by the communists in 1948 and the bronze later recycled to be used for a statue of Lenin. After the revolution, the urban planning impetus of the city administration was unstoppable. Convinced that enthusiasm is enough make up for lost time and history can be revived with (mainly political) schoolboy zeal, people set to work and put up street furniture paying no heed to urbanism – plans or strategies. Not to mention the "commissions of the moment," like placing the bust of Ataturk (otherwise a prominent political figure, founder of modern Turkey) in front of the Odeon Theatre. That is on Victoria Road, of all places, a street whose name commemorates the Independence War against the Ottoman Empire. And what of it? A revenge of the Turks.  RIDDLE
And so we get to the Revolution Square, packed today with monuments the size of nouveau riches mansions, the kind that "store" a confused heap of "artistic objects" so people would take the owners for refined intellectuals. A square where, just underneath the now historic balcony there existed already a triangular monument (like a slice of cheese as a citizen of Bucharest, genuinely fond of Victoria Road, once put it) dedicated to the victims of the revolution. With its back to the "cheese" there sits Iuliu Maniu accompanied by a tree cast in bronze. No plaque, no inscription actually says it is Maniu who is depicted. It must be something for the initiates. What is more, no one seems to grasp the connection to the dead tree. Across the street from Maniu, a semi-bust of Corneliu Coposu, placed in total disregard of aesthetic rules next to the Kretzulescu Church. And now, to crown it all, "the spiked potato," as the memorial to the heroes of the revolution has come to be known, a masterpiece in the poorest of tastes according to specialists, a drivelling nonsense according to the people of Bucharest. The ensemble, designed by architect Alexandru Ghildus (comprising four architectural elements – the Victory Pyramid, the Memory Wall, the Triumph Path and the Remembrance Square) was erected with the blessing of presidents Iliescu and Basescu and Patriarch Teoctist. Rumours have it that the work of art was dear to president Iliescu's soul, who envisaged its location facing the University Library and the former Royal Palace. Thus dedicated to the unseen crowds, to the heavens and the rainbows, facing away from Maniu and his tree and completely ignoring Coposu. The ensemble includes a space for recollection, with benches where the drivers of the cars parked in the square now come to play backgammon. The monument has had its share of criticism and people have expressed disapproval of the shape, the materials, the costs and so on. But mostly of the style (plastic artists used phrases such as "utter kitsch" or "failed circumcision," while the populace minced no words: spiked potato, skewer, spear, stake) and the location. THE LOCATION. Try to picture the Revolution Square, with the skewered potato soaring towards the Athenaeum, its back turned to Maniu. Maniu sits with his back turned to the triangular monument and the balcony, but faces Coposu, himself lost in the vicinity of the Kretzulescu Church. On an area of barely several dozen square feet, as if randomly stored, an enormous monument, one flattened into the ground and two busts which are as far as can be from being artistic achievements turn Victoria Road into a sculpture summer camp, where each artist places his creation wherever there is a vacant spot. Looked at from this perspective there is still room for three or four monumental statues at the end of the former Onesti street, in the middle of the parking lot, in the courtyard of the Royal Palace, on the right and left side of the spiked potato and so on and the initiative could be followed by an ample movement among amateur artists. As the abundance of monuments gets more and more substantial, the traffic on Victoria Road, from the Athenee Palace (Hilton) Hotel to Videanu's building, a mastodon that tramples on the very notion of ambient, makes the centre of our little Paris the biggest town-planning failure in the post-revolution history of the capital. Had they been placed in a more suitable location, the monuments might have had a happier destiny. And, as if it weren't enough, there sprang up in front of the University Library the clay scale model of the equestrian statue of Carol I, a creation of sculptor Florin Codre. Before WWII Mestrovici's statue of Carol I used to have pride of place on the same spot. Communist history is full of recycled statues and, in a dialectic twist of fate, Mestrovici's masterwork became, for the following four decades, a political and artistic ideal in the shape of Lenin. Today, Codre's statue of King Carol – it is up to the specialist to decide whether it is a felicitous artistic achievement or not – fits the grandiose skewered potato like a shoulder of mutton a sick horse. The statue of the king is at home in front of the palace, it conveys personality and greatness to the pace. The rest of the monuments are from another story. Jurnalul national, June 21, 2008 Translated by Ariadna Ponta

by Răzvan Bărbulescu