Yesterday, I toured Mogoșoaia Palace, a Romanian cultural landmark complete with lush gardens and a lake. It was a half-day tour with a small group.
There’s a vast amount of Romanian history associated with the fascinating palace, much more than covered in this post. When possible, I’ve learned to book half-day tours. I find full-day outings too fast-paced and a bit exhausting, because so much information is provided quickly.
Hiking Group and Adjusting to Bucharest
During the tour, I had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with our guide, Monica. She was fun and open, and spoke great English. We even discussed the current political situation in Romania. The Romanian system seems similar to Czech Republic, with the Prime Minister and President sharing power. It’s complicated to me, but foreigners must also find the US system confusing.
I asked about nearby hiking trails, and Monica shared contact info for a local hiking group called Oxygen Tour. Their hikes are about 6 hours round trip, with “small differences in levels”. They concentrate on enjoying Romanian landscapes and fresh air. I’ll book some hikes with them – exciting! I plan to stay here through most of December and maybe into January, when my 90-day max visa time expires. There’s plenty to explore!
I’m adjusting to Bucharest’s “rough edges,” typically found in former communist environments – although some locals might argue with the term “former”… The ambience is something you must experience firsthand to understand. I’ve become more straightforward and clearer in my communications and interactions with Romanians. They’re mostly polite but very direct and don’t waste time getting to the point.
Each country visited this trip has reacted differently to tourists, so, depending on the dynamics, I’ve had to adjust my interactions as well. Most people I’ve met like Americans, but some have a skewed idea of life in the US. Considering covid and other elements in play, when in a foreign country, it’s necessary to be open-minded and constantly remind yourself that not everyone thinks the same way you do – not always easy. I’ve also learned it’s important to stand up for yourself, but being patient and listening more, talking less is always wise. :o)
The most exciting news is that despite new covid restrictions, there will be an Outdoor Christmas Market this year in University Square – YEAH!!! No doubt, the 2021 crowd will be smaller, covid immunized, and wearing masks.
I adore European holiday markets! It’s a happy, energetic, festive scene with lights, music, shops, delicious food, and hot mulled wine to keep you warm! I spent Christmas 2018 in Berlin and enjoyed their outdoor markets!
Romanian Political Woes
Currently, opposing Romanian political parties are at a stone-cold stalemate. The centrist government has failed to win a confidence vote. This leaves the country with a temporary provisional government (think that’s the right term). It’s less than ideal and has been going on for a while. I may write a blog post about it, but not until I understand it better and can wrap my head around more of the facts and details. Sweden and other European countries are experiencing similar political dramas. Needless to say, it’s unpleasant and everyone hopes the issues are resolved soon!
In conjunction with the political loggerhead – between and within parties – there’s anxiety regarding forthcoming covid-19 and other Romanian government relief policies. Many Romanian businesses are suffering, while people await the implementation of the government’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR).
I inquired about a flu shot at a pharmacy here in Bucharest. After difficulty communicating with the pharmacist and a call to a doctor, they sold me a “flu injection” (the pharmacist won’t give you the shot). It took days to gain the courage to inject myself, but I did it. So far, I’m still alive!
Stricter Covid Prevention Measures
Romania recently imposed new covid rules:
- Face masks required everywhere – inside and outside
- EU covid digital certificate, proof of Covid infection in the past 180 days, or a negative Covid test required to access public institutions, non-essential stores, and performing arts venues – thankfully, they accept US digital vaccination proof, even though it doesn’t work with the EU system. I got a third covid shot in Prague, but have no documented proof, since I’m not a Czech citizen.
- Indoor entertainment, event, and recreation facilities are operating at limited capacity between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. – restaurants and coffee shops are at 50% capacity, with performing arts centres, movie theatres, fitness facilities, and playgrounds at 30%
- From October 25 until November 30, bars and clubs are closed with private events and gatherings prohibited
I have a ticket to the opera on Saturday night, and so far, haven’t received notification about it being cancelled or modified. It’s Faust – a notoriously long four-hour opera – so I’m hoping it won’t be necessary to walk home in the dark. Public transportation continues until 11 p.m. but at limited capacity. As a last resort, I’ll call an uber – with hesitancy.
Life is continually changing! On this trip, there haven’t been many dull moments! OK, that’s enough asides, back to Mogoșoaia Palace – one of the most beautiful monuments in Romania, only 6 miles from Bucharest!
The first evidence of Mogoșoaia Palace is said to date back as far as 1598. Its history includes the lives of great Romanian families. Mogoșoaia “bears the name of the widow of the Romanian Boyar Mogoș, who owned the land where the palace was built”. I purchased a small pamphlet that traces activities at the palace from 1681 – when Constantin Brâncoveanu bought it – to 2002. It’s a fascinating timeline of Romanian history!
The palace architecture is Romanian Renaissance, also known as “Brâncovenesc style”. It has elements of “Byzantine, Venetian, Italian, Renaissance, and Ottoman architecture”. The elegant style uses rock carved columns and porches for decoration. Romanian architect G. M. Cantacuzino led the renovation.
Between 1688 and 1714, Constantin Brâncoveanu, the wealthy ruler of Wallachia, bought land and houses near Mogoșoaia Village. He built Mogoșoaia Palace, also known as Brâncoveanu Palace, between 1698–1702. It remained under Brâncoveanu family ownership for 120 years, until the early nineteenth century.
Brâncoveanu Execution by Sultan Ahmed III
In 1714, Constantin Brâncoveanu and his family (wife, four sons, seven daughters) were executed by Sultan Ahmed III. Ahmed’s soldiers captured the Brâncoveanu family and “took them to Constantinople, where they were tortured for four months”.
“Prince Constantine was told that if he and his sons wanted to escape death, they had to convert to Islam and pay a large sum of money. Constantine didn’t have the money required by the Turks, and didn’t wish to convert to the Muslim faith. Since neither torture nor threats induced their prisoners to forsake Christ, the Turks sentenced them all to death. Before his execution, Constantine was forced to watch the beheading of his sons.”
Prince Constantine was later sanctified and declared one of Romania’s most significant leaders, martyrs, and saints.” His “deep Orthodox faith” led him to rescue “oppressed Christians in the Ottoman Empire” and maintain his heroic dignity in front of the “cruel sultan”. He’s considered “one of the brightest and greatest personalities of Romanian national history”.
The Brâncoveanu family’s wealth was confiscated by the Ottomans, and their palace was converted into an inn. Later, Romanian Prince Ștefan Cantacuzino bought the palace and returned it to Brâncoveanu’s grandson, Constantin.
Soon after the beheading of Prince Constantine, Mogosoaia Palace and its “luxurious decorations and interior painted walls, were devastated and robbed by the Ottoman armies”. Almost all of the furnishings were destroyed.
During the Russian-Turkish War between 1768 and 1774, and again throughout the social and political Revolution of 1821, the Ottomans repeatedly pummeled the palace. The last descendant of the family, Grigore Brancoveanu, escaped to Brasov.
Considered a ruin, years later Mogosoaia was regained by the Prince’s widow. Through a “dramatic matrimonial alliance, the palace eventually became the property of the Romanian Bibescu family”. Bibescu family members had unusual and fascinating lives, especially Antoine and Marthe!
In the 1830s, Prince Grigore gave the devastated palace to his daughter, Zoe Mavrocordat. Zoe married George D. Bibescu (Bibeşti), the Sovereign Prince of Wallachia. The palace remained within the Bibescu family and was renovated by Nicolae Bibescu.
“The Bibeşti family was purebred Romanian raised among the Oltenian elders. They gave the country two rulers, many political and cultural personalities, and fascinated the French!” Historia
“Gheorghe Bibescu, Prince of Wallachia, was elected as ruler in 1842. He reigned for six years. After the outbreak of the Romanian Revolution of 1848, Gheorghe preferred to abdicate rather than repress the rebellion”. He exiled himself in France.
Martha Bibescu is credited with the “amplest” renovation of Mogosoaia Palace“. She transformed the ruin into a “veritable work of art of the Brancovenesc style”. A rich aristocrat and talented writer, Martha received the palace as a gift from her adventurous, philandering husband, George D. Bibescu, Prince of Wallachia. Martha financed the reconstruction herself.
“In the late 1920s and 1930s, the palace became the meeting place for politicians and international high society.”
The “long and complicated renovation process” began in 1912, before WW1, and ended in 1935. Martha Bibescu lived in the palace and transformed it into one of the “trendiest aristocratic residencies from this part of Europe”. The renovation reflected the original plans of her ancestors. In 1945, Mogosoaia Palace was classified a historical monument.
During the WWII, Prince Antoine Bibesco (a cousin of George Bibesco) and his wife Elizabeth Bibesco refused to flee the country. When Elizabeth died of pneumonia in 1945, she was buried in the family vault on Mogoșoaia grounds. Neither George Bibesco’s wife, Martha, nor Elizabeth Bibesco’s husband, Antoine, could be buried beside them. Both died during the Communist Regime.
World War I
In 1914, before the outbreak of WWI, Romania was at odds with Austria-Hungary over Transylvania, which was ethnically Romanian but then part of Hungary. In 1916, Romania formally entered WWI, declaring war against Austria-Hungary. Later that year during the Romanian Campaign of World War I, the palace at Mogoșoaia was bombed by German air forces.
Communist Regime 1947-1989
“Like all other private property in Romania, the palace and its art collection were confiscated by the communist authorities”. Martha Bibescu was accused of being a German spy and forced to leave the country.
Since 1957, the palace functions as a museum and popular tourist destination. Other than a few rugs and tapestries, none of the original furnishings remain. Beautiful marble floors, hand-carved doors, and vaulted ceilings are the only elements that survived the communist takeover.