The modernization of Bucharest was a complex and dynamic historical process, spanning roughly the interval between 1848-1948, a period when the process of modernization of the Romanian society in its totality revolved around the town of Bucharest and, implicitly, its varied ethnicity. Interesting, complex and dynamic. Interesting in the way the modernization process unfolded – namely with the help of a diversified foreign population; complex due to the means the modernization process assimilated in order to be achieved; dynamic given the relatively short time it took for the distinct traits of European modernism to melt into the Romanian society in general, and that of Bucharest in particular.
The current approach attempts to capture the essential aspects of the modernization of the Bucharest society from the perspective of the foreign population, which was responsible for lending a considerably dynamic character to the process. Foreign communities, generally urbanized elements from the point of view of mentality, cultural model and socio-professional achievements, gave modern Bucharest its cosmopolite character. The ethnic affiliation of these segments of the population was exceptionally varied, thus creating a propitious backdrop for modern Bucharest's multicultural environment.
Thus Greek, the fashionable salon language in the early 19th century, is gradually replaced by French; bourgeois families speak, apart from their native tongue (which differs according to ethnic origin), other fashionable or widely circulated languages like English, German, Italian and, of course, Romanian. Our approach will focus on the presence of multiculturalism and ethnic pluralism in the Bucharest society in its totality, a reality indissolubly linked to the process of modernization / Europeanization of Bucharest society.
The passage from old to new in Bucharest society is very obvious in the day-to-day routine and the limited space of private life. New fashionable habits, from clothing and codes of conduct to the art of conversation required by a certain circumstance, mark from the very start a rupture between the old / the elderly and the new / the young. While the former are conservative and loyal to the Greek-Eastern cultural model, the latter, dynamic, radical and unpredictable, make use of the European model as a weapon against the old and in favour of more or less moderate change.
Early 19th century Bucharest presents itself as a huge "melting pot of contrasts", reflecting the way each family or social structure understood the passage from old to new. For outside visitors not familiar to this reality, Bucharest was striking by the unharmonious juxtaposition of wealth and opulence, on the one hand, and poverty and filth, on the other. Asia and Europe were at once present in Bucharest. You would come across "palaces, clubs, theatres, couturiers and dressmakers, newspapers and carriages," but as soon as you "set foot outside the town" you became immersed in the "wilderness".
Nonetheless, the town was rapidly changing in a radical and complete manner, so that by the mid 19th century the old town of the boyars began to "turn, on the outside, into the stage of modern Parisianism," while on the inside its intimate structure continued to boil with "harsh barbarity". This barbarity was, in turn, associated with the "utmost immorality" and countless "other monstrosities", like the almost complete lack of a "seriousness of life".
Also in everyday life a fracture between form and substance manifested itself in the fullest.
Brief demographic landmarks
The population of the town grew constantly between 1848 and 1948. The demographic rate of increase was fed by successive waves of immigrants from the villages and market towns of Wallachia, later from Moldavia, Transylvania and the South-East European space. Bucharest's location at the crossroads of three empires before 1918 ensured its economic predominance in the region, which consequently attracted foreign elements from the South-East European region, Russia and, to a certain extent, the West. After 1918 Bucharest establisheed itself as an urban centre with strong European specificity, becoming a constant factor of attraction and absorption for Balkan populations.
The total number of people living in Bucharest was always in tight competition with other South-East European towns and, to a lesser extent, with urban centres in Central Europe. In the early 19th century, while travelling to Bucharest, Batthyany reckoned the town's population to be "larger that 80,000", while towards 1820 the Prussian consul Ludwig Kreuchely deemed 100,000 a fair approximation. General Langeron gave a similar estimate around 1824, while the Russian consul Iakovenko counted 80,000 reckoning without the "foreign boyars, tradesmen and servants". A counselor with the Danish legation, who passed through Bucharest in 1824 on his way to Constantinople, pointed at approximately the same number.
How many of these were foreigners and who were they?
Greeks were the most numerous, most active and most ambitious at that moment, constituting a "relative majority at the heart of the trade community", despite their going through a constant process of assimilation in the 18th and 19th centuries. They seemed to be particularly fond of the town of Bucur – according to Ionescu Gion: "it is a sort of fanaticism for them to live in Bucharest or at least to visit it". Dapontes sang the greatness of the town, "which was famous all the way to Jerusalem, while its prosperity poured out over the Holy Mount". After 1821 the numbers of Greeks living in Bucharest began to dwindle, although all through the 19th century and later the Greek colony "continued to be considerably powerful and well-to-do" with its own school, church, printing house and newspaper.
A significant layer in the social structure of Bucharest was represented by the Slavs from the south, who settled in successive waves throughout the modern period. Generally known at that time as "Serbians", their ethnic composition was in reality much more varied: Bulgarians, Serbians, Bosnians, Croatians etc. We mention here some of the southern-Slavic ethnic communities which distinguished themselves by certain trades: the Raguzzanis, the Kiprovicians, those from Arnautchioi and the Gabrovenians. The Raguzzanis, renowned merchants, were originally a mixture of Slavs and Italians and came from Raguzza; the Kiprovicians came from Kiprovat and Cobilovat and were merchants and silversmiths; those coming from Arnautchioi or Arbanashi settled in Bucharest around 1810-12 and set up a trade "company" to which many southern Slavs became affiliated; finally, the Gabrovenians came from the Bulgarian market town of Gabrovo. They were cloth merchants. Their commercial headquarters were on today's Gabroveni street, around the homonymous inn, today in ruins. Southern Slavs were equally good at gardening and had "their own appointed stalls in the main market place"; others were dairymen.
Armenians seem to have been the first to settle down on Romanian land – they were first mentioned in documents in 1421 at Cetatea Alba. In Bucharest they are a community to be reckoned with, both by numbers and economic power. Armenian immigration to Bucharest had two routes of penetration: one from the Asian Ottoman space and the Balkan towns, and the other from Podolia and Moldavian towns.
The oldest documents that make reference to Armenians date back to 1649 – a shop and a house which one century earlier had belonged to Stanca Elezian, a merchant's wife.
Alongside Armenians, Jews were a numerous, active and influential community in modern-age Bucharest. The first to arrive were the Spanish Jews, the Sephardim, who came from Mediterranean countries. Jews living in Bucharest are first mentioned in records in 1550, at the time of Mircea Ciobanu: eight Jews are referred to, two of whom had their own shops: Isac Rufus and Habib Amato. In 1810 their numbers were estimated around 10,000 in Walachia. Jewish "chronicles" in the early 19th century record 127 names, with the following distribution by trades: money-changers; two jewellers; two silversmiths; a number of "petty goods peddlers"; one "merchant that sold goods from Lipsca"; one "meat cutter"; spirits distillers; tinsmiths; shoemakers; tailors; glass blowers; haberdashers, huckster or petty goods dealer; two old clothes peddlers, money lenders or usurers; one seal engraver; one pipe maker, etc.
Jews' numbers rose all through the latter half of the 19th century. Thus, in 1824 Clausewitz counted around six thousand. In 1839, according to the reckonings of two Scottish missionaries, there were around seven thousand Jews. In 1904 Frederic Dame estimated the Jewish community to be around 50,000 strong out of a total population of 290,740, while in 1956 the official number was 44,202.
As for the other foreign populations in Bucharest, the Hungarians are the most numerous. Their numbers augmented particularly in the 19th century – in 1899 there lived in Bucharest 38,000 "Austro-Hungarian subjects", including Romanians of Transylvanian descent. Apparently, Bucharest provided the population surplus from the Szekler-inhabited regions with employment and opportunities for professional development.
The German colony is the second most important, first mentioned in records as far back as the 14th century. In 1824 Clausewitz reckoned their number to be around 4,000, the same as at the end of World War II.
The German community kept relatively close ranks, attending their own churches, religious schools, sports associations (Turnverein), and their own newspaper (Bukarester Deutsche Zeitung). Most of them were acknowledged as skilled craftsmen, professionals in quite a few fields. It is to them that beer consumption in the country is owed, and they also built the first brewery.
Albanians played a special part in Bucharest life, as they were always used as soldiers in the dynasts' personal guard, mercenaries in the regular army or armed guards at big manors and boyars' estates.
Starting with the 18th century and well into the next, the Albanian mercenary was a permanent member of important households, always accompanying the master at the rear of the carriage. While the direct connection between this duty and their ethnic origin gradually disappeared in the 19th century, the Albanian community remained active enough in the Bucharest social life due to the significant number of merchants, tradesmen and craftsmen.
Where it concerns the Turks, the serious decrease in their numbers in the 19th century had major political and economical consequences. After 1878 numerous Turkish-speaking Mohammedans (354 individuals to be precise) were brought over from Dobrudja (especially the area around Mangalia). They were Mohammedan gypsies, under the authority of a captain, and they set up home in the southern part of the town, to where in 1906 the mecet (Turkish holy place or cemetery) was also moved from the eastern periphery. In the 17th century other Ottoman subjects were also recorded as living in Bucharest: Arabs, Egyptians or Syrians like a certain Hagi Gheorghe Halepliul (from Alep) who signed his name in Arabic. Their numbers in the modern age must have been small enough.
Russians make up a constantly growing community in the modern age. They first arrived during the repeated Russian-Turkish wars that spanned the 19th century (1806-1812, 1828-1829, followed by the Russian occupation of 1830-1834 and 1877-1878), but the most important wave of Russian immigrants came after 1917 when the civil war in Russia caused many refugees to leave for Europe or America. Alongside the Russians arrived Ukrainians (including some from Austro-Hungary), Cossacks, etc. As soon as 1820 there took shape in Bucharest a colony of "castrated" or "immaculate" Lipovans who were fleeing religious persecution in Russia.
Italians are mentioned in Bucharest as far back as 1632 by Paul Strassburgh, an envoy of the Swedish king travelling to Constantinople. The Italian colony in Bucharest grew in time – the 1889 census recorded 593 Italians who had their own school and were in the majority on the Italian Street. During the inter-war period the Italian community built a church on the main boulevard that crossed the town from north to south. Most Italians arrived in the 19th century and trade-wise were particularly employed in traditional Italian occupations: mosaic building, masonry, bricklaying, marble cutting, pharmacy, etc.
The French community was a great influence on the cultural evolution of Walachia in general, and in Bucharest in particular. Their numbers increased in the 19th century, especially between 1820-1866. 285 Frenchmen are known to be living in Bucharest in 1860, while 1890 their number reached 732. After 1918 they were as many as 2,000. Despite their inferior numbers, the influence of French culture was to be momentous: the French language replaced Greek in fashionable salons in Bucharest as early as the beginning of the 19th century, while the French model would pervade both the institutional organization of the young Romanian state and – especially – the society's efforts to create a new urban space with a specifically French atmosphere: restaurants, coffee houses, soirées, public festivities, architecture, dress code etc. With the exception of merchants, many Frenchmen were professional people: teachers, doctors, tutors, secretaries, boarding house headmasters, cooks, schoolmasters, etc.
English people were present in far smaller numbers and devoted themselves mainly to business and trade. There were also quite a few free-lancers and governesses. Command of the English language was sought after in the Bucharest high society; a German named Weber was teaching it around 1785, while towards 1831 the two daughters of Raimondi the apothecary deemed it more beautiful than Hungarian. At the dawn of the 20th century the small English colony built a church in the Icoanei Gardens, then a boarding house, and the British Council opened an office before 1939.
The Poles, or inhabitants of Lehia (the old, Ukrainian-derived name for Poland), formed another small community. Their numbers grew considerably in the 19th century, as a result of several trying periods the Polish nation went through: 1815, 1830, 1849, 1860 or 1939. Most of them settled along a roadway that was later named after them – the Polish Street.
Gypsies were a somewhat distinct category in the social landscape of Bucharest. Slaves of dynasts, boyars or various monasteries up to mid-19th century, they continued to live on the margin of the urban society, both literally (they inhabited peripheral areas like Colentina, Tei, Plumbuita) and conceptually. Their numbers grew constantly and the 1831 census recorded 3,386 gypsies in servitude on boyars' estates. In 1860, the French painter Lancelot reckoned the number of gypsies to be around 9,000.
Thus the foreign population of Bucharest formed an extraordinarily varied ethnic, religious, but particularly occupational panorama. This heterogeneous human fauna is mirrored in literature, whose transition to modernity was strongly influenced by western cultural models, especially the French and German ones.
The change. The transition from old to new
To what extent did this foreign population give Bucharest the necessary push to make the transition from old to new? First and foremost, trade in Bucharest was controlled in the 19th century (but also in the preceding centuries) by foreign communities, particularly Greeks, Armenians, Southern Slavs, Jews and Macedonian-Romanians. Those of central or western European descent, who were not as much into trade or crafts, came with their own modern, urban mentality and helped create, and later enrich, the bourgeois middle class absent throughout the 18th century. Most free lancers were Germans, Austrians, French, Italians, Hungarians and later Greeks, Armenians, Southern Slavs or Macedonian-Romanians.
This is how Nicolae Iorga described the occupational landscape in Bucharest at the dawn of the 20th century: alongside doctors Schaffend, Marco, Rizu, Gheorghiadi, Breton, Constantin Caracash, Wenert, the "surgeons Kolimeyer, Meschitz-Mesici, Krebs," we find 14 apothecaries among which Raimondi, mentioned by the Szekler painter Barabas Miklos; the barber Rosenheim, the bakers Serafim and Stefan Babic, the bookbinder Stroe Neagoe, the jeweller Eliazar the Samdangiu, the grocer Kramer, another eight Hungarian bakers and only one Romanian, the silversmiths Golea of Fagarash and Angelo Sforza the Venetian, the clockmakers Jekelius (Saxon from Transylvania), Fuchs (German) and Vincenzo Savonier (Venetian), the confectioners Panaioti Gheorghevici of Neoplanta (Serbian) and Antonio Burelli (Venetian), the house painters Topler, Uhr, Petrovici, Vasile Radu, Nicolae Pabin, the Hungarian and Czech musicians and Kopony of Brasov, teachers Bozenhard (from Vienna), Vasile Popp, Ladislau Erdeli followed by "a Greek from the archipelago, two Hungarians, one Serbian and two orthodox Bulgarians." To this assortment were added numerous merchants, 86 to be precise, and they came from Transylvania, Banat, Macedonia, Vienna, Greece; there was one who came from Trieste and there were also Bulgarians, Albanese and one Dalmatian. Their numbers were completed by 50 Jews.
In order to grasp the real significance of the contribution these populations had to the development of the town, we will focus on a rather specialized field: medicine. In Bucharest, "before the 19th century, there was not a single Romanian doctor; most of them were Transylvanian Saxons, but there also used to be several Italians and even a couple of Frenchmen. Among the Easterners, there were Greeks who had studied in Italy, in Bologna, Sienna, Florence and particularly Padua." (Nicolae Djuvara)
The latter replaced the so-called doctores circulatores of the 15th-16th centuries, who believed they could cure disease with the help of "a multitude of healing stones" which they carried around everywhere. In the 18th century, the records mention Iacob Pilarin (1680-1695), publicist and court doctor, Ioan the Comnen and Pantaleone "known as the great".
Between the two world wars, the picture did not change much and professional trades remained the prerogative of foreigners. Lawyers, doctors, architects, bankers and even professors and teachers of all categories continued to be mostly non-Romanians (Jews, Saxons, Hungarians), followed by assimilated elements of the "old Balkan guilds of merchants and civil servants": Greeks, Albanese, Bulgarians, Serbians.
The chapter from the Romanian Encyclopedia dedicated to Bucharest of 1938 gives the final picture of this extraordinary multicultural variety and the homogenous social and economic mechanism behind it:
The peoples that make up the population of Bucharest are not equally represented in all trades or on all levels of professional achievement. Transportation and agriculture are, for instance, almost exclusively Romanian (92%). In public institutions, food and tobacco processing industry, they are the most numerous (89% and 80% of the total active population, respectively). Trade and finance employ a smaller percentage of Romanians (only 60% and 58% respectively). They are also not very well represented in constructions and textile and manufacturing industries (69% and 68% respectively). Jews work mainly in finance, franchises, agencies and trade. Hungarians are more numerous in construction, timber industry and metallurgy (9%, 7% and 6% respectively). Germans are employed particularly in mining, metallurgy and finance, franchises and agencies (6% and 4% of the entire active population respectively). Romanians prefer public administration, transport and trade: 18% of the active Romanian population in the capital is employed in public institutions, 13% in transport, 10% in trade. The rest are fairly evenly distributed among the other professions."
All the details mentioned above reflect the social, economic and, consequently, cultural contribution of a sum of urban-minded ethnic communities, each with its specific input, to the development of a modern society.
The foreigners are deeply rooted in all the structures of day-to-day life in Bucharest, structures that were ultimately created by them.
The input of modernity as an institutional, social and cultural model was not achieved exclusively through appropriation and imitation by the Moldo-Walachian and, later, Romanian aristocracy, but rather through the multi-ethnic coexistence in Bucharest (and the resulting multiculturalism) becoming permanent. Without this coexistence Bucharest would have had none of the cosmopolitan, European traits it evinced in the 1930's.
Early in the 19th century, the inhabitants of Bucharest – either foreigners or not – grow rapidly keen on the model of the western town, which leads to the development of a specifically modern urban ambient: new architecture; hygiene; new fashion; new codes of behaviour; different day-to-day preoccupations, with the individual leaving the private space for several hours every day; a new relation between public and private space; a new meaning of intimacy and feminine imaginary through the legitimation of flirting, courtesy and kindnesses of all kinds favoured by private soirées; private rendezvous are transferred, almost completely, from the private to the public space with the emergence of public gardens, garden-restaurants, coffee shops, theatres and, later, cinemas; all these, in turn, define the street as the central axis of the public space in a modern sense.
Women achieve more freedom and become almost the equals of men in the private space, participating in decision-making, and at the same time obtain a gradually more central position in the public space, where they are admired, wooed and showered with kindnesses.
The centre-periphery relation takes a new dimension. Periphery is transformed, from an exclusively marginal space, into a transitory one; from a suburban into a pre-urban space, where modernity rears its head, albeit clumsily, but the model of the centre becomes an ideal of deportment to the "peripheries".
There is an urban hierarchy, a central model, constantly changed and renewed, which the periphery adopts and imitates, not always unsuccessfully. As a result of these changes the periphery becomes urbanized, modernized and the inhabitants of the marginal areas assimilated by the town acquire, little by little, an urbanized conscience.
Those who come "to town" obey the models as much as possible: the suit with white shirt and the handkerchief showing itself out of the breast pocket, personal hygiene, censorship on peripheral manners, vocabulary, a liking for cinema, theater, university education, libraries, etc.
The ethnic and multicultural diversity, which endured thanks to social and religious tolerance, were undeniable presences in modern age Bucharest which, while being "the same as ever" due to its oriental characteristics born two centuries earlier, owes to modern urbanity its other essential component – cosmopolitanism and the freedom of expression and of choice.
by Adrian Majuru (b. 1968)