The Cultural And Intellectual Life Of Bucharest

As a princely seat Bucharest was once, for the Romanian authorities, "a citadel watched over by God" just like Byzantium was for the Eastern Christian world. Then, naturally, it was also the place where scholars needed by the Prince's Chancellery made their studies. They exercised themselves in calligraphy, book illuminating and Slavonian grammar from which the necessary knowledge for a correct and elegant drawing up of books and parchments in Romanian style was derived.Thus, this city of many beauties and crafts was, what can be called with extreme leniency, a "cultural center".Towards the end of the 16th century, at the time of Michael the Brave, people wrote in the same foreign idiom of scholars, as seemingly did chancellor Teodosie at the court of the valiant prince although we do not have anything actually written by him but a Latin remake by a Silesian; furthermore, in the beautiful Romanian of those times brief notes or even animated stories were written, with a moral and penchant, and elements of moving lachrymosity, as, for example the chronicle of the Buzeşti family; and it was on the same banks of the Dâmboviţa river that the historical writing of the Wallachian principality began.Masters of churches, painters worked here – where for such a long time their praiseworthy accomplishments were engulfed in the unforgiving disdain of the new civilization, copied after Western models – at the time when up there on the hills apt to defend themselves, and then down on the banks of the wide whimsical river the first abodes were erected. No doubt, there had been a church on the Radu Vodă hill or on the Mihai Vodă hill, before the constructions of the following epochs, and there the Princess and her daughter, just as beautiful as her father, Prince Radu the Handsome, must have worshipped, not thinking that of the prince's defeat in Bucharest by Stephen the Great, and the capture of the royal family would result in an honorable kinship with the glorious Moldavian. It cannot be that a Prince so religious as Vlad the Monk, a former priest, like the generous founder unto the glory of Christ, Radu, called by the clergy "The Great", did not have a place of worship, in the city where he stayed so long. And to Mircea Ciobanul – or better said to his wife Chiajna, the daughter of Petru Rareş who brought the trebled artistic tradition of Stephen, her grandfather, and of the Serbian Brancovans, the ancestors of her mother, so desirous of things of beauty dedicated to God – is due the solid and graceful construction that the Commission of Historical Monuments has just finished repairing: The Old Court. Coming from a rival kin, the son of a pretender with the same name, Mircea Alexandru, the husband of Levantine Ecaterina – yet another lover of beauty, having received gifts from the Pope in Rome and from the Sinai Mount, "the mount upon which God climbed" – erected a little church that grew and grew and was mighty decorated, named after her son's nephew, Prince Radu. The offspring of Petraşcu the Kind, hailing from a kin opposed to the Mirceas on both sides, Michael the Brave built on another hill top his church dedicated to the glory of God to protect the valiant heroes who safeguarded freedom and justice. We ignore the name of the older painters who preceded by centuries the great wizard Nicolae Grigorescu, at first an icon maker and then a church painter, but we know that Michael the Brave sent envoys to Venice to bring painting material, just like Moldavian Alexandru Lăpuşneanu who looked there for painters and even for modern cartons. Of that epoch we are familiar with two artists: Petru Grigorovici The Armenian, having a brother in Iasi, who also served as a diplomat, and Nicolae The Greek, from the island of Crete from where the painter of genius Theotokopoulos, called El Greco, went to Italy and Spain, and perhaps even one Mila who went for colors as far as to the Venetian lagoon.An artistic movement had been taking place and continued for over two centuries, doing proud the Seat City although eventually it fell completely into oblivion. We shall always regret the disappearance of Sărindar, the basilica of Matei Basarab which in the clay pits at the edge of the citadel where it was sitting not far from old Târgovişte, had acquired strength through the force of arms. From then on until Nicolae Mavrocordat, in so many regards so little of a Phanariot prince, there was no other ruler who did not try to make his memory eternal though such beauteous dedications. Thus, Constantin Şerban built, on a still empty hill, the Metropolitan Church, Şerban Cantacuzino worked at Cotroceni to hide from those who chased him because of a love not permitted. His Lady, Maria is mentioned in an elegant little church that bears her name. Brâncoveanu erected, through princess Marica, the one-day Church, Şerban Cantacuzino and lady Păuna built the Holy Apostles, the first of the Mavrocordates erected a vast monastery at Văcăreşti at the edge of the city. Next to them came the boyars, and then the merchants who tried to have a church dedicated to their respective guilds, and there were also priests who built taller walls where they once served on a more modest shrine.This is culture, lofty culture, at least as high as the literary circle and clubs of mutual admiration of today.At the time of Brâncoveanu a Court was enthroned for the spiritual development of the city, something that had not existed until that time. And not only the old one, quite imposing, which is described a little before the moment Prince Mircea first erected a church at the foot of the hill by a French traveler, Lescaloppier, in such an interesting manner. Or the dining hall where the first cup was raised "to God's health", these very words being reproduced by the French traveler. We ignore the shelter found by a certain Petru Earring, brother to Michael the Brave who, little befriending the Turks, preferred to erect his small palace and church at Târgovişte; or the residence of the pompous Prince Leon and of princely patriarch Matei. We cannot tell where and how the imperial Şerban Cantacuzino lived – at Cotroceni there were monks – but his brother, Constantin Cantacuzino the High Steward, who had seen palaces in Venice and the villas of the Venetian aristocracy on his way to Padua, could come with his advice which resulted, according to the remote French example of Louis XIV, in a plentiful life, in the companionship of boyars, who erected for themselves spacious residences amidst orchards and well tended gardens; then Prince Constantin and his Lady, their family, with numerous sons and girls. The foreigners who passed through Bucharest at that time had to acknowledge them. Radu Greceanu drew up an official chronicle of the reign, which the Prince wanted to see in order to ask for alterations according to his interests, while in the boyar's homes other notes were made in keeping with the events of the time.Metropolitan Teodosie loved books, which became the actual trade, in matters of contents and elegance of the printing signs, of his follower Antim Ivireanul, the Georgian who also made printings (that the splendidly ambitious prince proved so generous with) at the monastery of Neagoe Basarab and of Mircea Ciobanul, where the figures the founders from Snagov have been preserved to this day, and then in the very princely residence where the church printing house would operate later on.The Bucharest school is, naturally, quite old in its first form, Slovenian, and on the side, timidly and meekly, Romanian, a language that cannot be learnt without masters if it comes to writing. This school of stewards was preserved and in front of it the learned High Steward Cantacuzino erected an imitation of the Padua University as early as the times of Prince Şerban, which became the core that inspired our Faculty of Letters, a school all the Phanariots would take care of, as well as the Romanianized Greeks and the Romanians more or less learned in the ways of the Phanar, the desk of science and of French being added, under Alexandru Ipsilanti in the second half of the 18th century. Thus the sons of the big Romanian boyars during the rule of Brâncoveanu, instead of going to study abroad on the money of their parents, felt honored to take courses at home. From them we still have a few note-books.In that Phanariot epoch, meager in substance and very hectic and troubled, but preserving a love for imposing forms of Byzantine origin, inspired by the Istanbul of the Sultans, Bucharest life was instilled with a growing western spirit and adding to the traditions borrowed from the Orient. When the princes brought Italian and French secretaries and professors for their children, the palace of Alexandru Ipsilanti at Mihai Vodă, different from what was later called the Burnt Court, was erected by a Greek schooled in the West. And this trend became stronger and stronger without abandoning what from all times ought to have been understood as respected and acquired tradition. In 1780 there emerged the consuls with all their tasks of intervention and influence, the Austrian Agency having a post bureau for letters, newspapers and books.Such spiritual life could be seen in the Wallachian capital in the early 19th century. For a while, before 1821, with formal Slavonism being dead and buried, local Romanian scholarship stood side by with the highfalutin Greek culture, influenced by French philosophy, also connected to the Hellenic origins that delight the new Greeks. At the time of prince Caragea the Second, a Greek nationalist there was talk of a new Hellas on Romanian land and a renewed Athens that Bucharest could represent for the "Vlacho-Hellens".The Haeteria revolution and the uprising of Tudor Vladimirescu, the little boyar once a Russian officer traveled to Transylvania and Vienna, with staunch memories of the Serbian revolution of Carageorge, spread the seeds of this short-lived dream. There emerged then a capital of Romanian national faith. For the success of the new credo – which, through scholars and politics of several hues in various epochs, brought us the broad and strong Romania of today – there worked the sons of boyars born in the countryside, now turned patriots, those making up the lively new army, the apprentices of Lazar and his successor, Eliad, with a printing house at Moşilor turnpike. The prince himself presided it, the noble Alexandru Ghica whose remains were to be laid at Pantelimon, while his brother, more old-fashioned, was buried in the little church of Tei, near the Colentina Palace of his princess, who had seen various foreign lands.With prince Bibescu there opened another period in the life of Bucharest. The west prevailed with various overwhelming, commanding influences of so much use, up to the point that should never be crossed of the original national spirit. The man who wore the robe of Michael the Brave and was hallowed at Dealu, near the tomb of his glorious forerunner, tried to give a French tinge to the Sf. Sava School. Luckily, the professors of the national school put up a strong opposition, Eliad being followed by Petru Poenaru, a good connoisseur of the West who did not imitate it servility, though. Then the traces are still vivid left in our souls by fanatic Transylvanians with their craving after Rome, the common mother, to name only Aaron Florian and Laurian.The 1858 Union moved the seat to Bucharest under a Moldavian prince who could not win over a proud society of Wallachian boyars who mixed with extreme difficulty with the Moldavians. The center of Romanian life had started to draw the hopeful eyes of Transylvania. A University was born out of the Sf. Sava School and its tendency was obviously national. But for a good period of time great professors could not be found, literary production was meager, inferior to that of Iaşi, especially in point of selection of the topics and the feel of the language.In 1880, Iaşi, after having trained and developed many scions, was superceded by the capital that concentrated the entire political life, and also an indigenous economic life, drawing in many riches. Under this replete mixture of talents there lurks, hidden yet all-powerful, a sort of coffee-house mocking Phanariotism which, fanned by the Western spirit, takes things lightly and spreads now skepticism now base instincts.I have fought against it my whole life, as well as in favor of a national and moral credo, so much laughed at by all those impudent persons. I now want to conclude that as Iaşi has a mission to Bessarabia and Bukovina, still permeated by so much foreign influences, then especially today it is absolutely necessary for Bucharest to attract and engulf in a generally Romanian culture the stubborn reluctance of a Transylvanian localism tinted with foreign influences.

by Nicolae Iorga (1871-1940)