The weather in Bucharest has been perfect for exploring, so yesterday I enjoyed rambling through backstreets. Bucharest is unique, in that some of its most extraordinary attractions are almost hidden away next to deteriorating or abandoned buildings. The maze of narrow cobblestone lanes in Lipscani District and Old Town are known as “Bucharest’s true heart”.
Streets aren’t crowded right now, so exploring is special and unrushed. With endless cafés and patisseries along the way, you can stop for espresso and linger to your heart’s content.
Monasteries are among my favorite places, so I decided to visit beautiful Stavropoleos Monastery Church. It’s in Lipscani, along a sidestreet near Caru ‘cu bere’, a popular restaurant and historical monument with a 130-year history.
Caru ‘cu bere’
Caru ‘cu bere’ brewery was established in 1892 by brewer-merchant, Nicolae Mircea. The spectacular neo-gothic building has a vaulted ceiling and is decorated with stained glass, mosaics, gorgeous chandeliers, and exquisite wood-carved paneling. I had lunch there, and the dynamic ambience is captivating, yet comfortable. I’m sure to return!
“In Lipscani, the true character of Bucharest is revealed through the area’s overt contrasts of old and new, east and west, developed and decrepit, chic and shambling, brassy and bohemian. If any area of Bucharest has the potential to be a viable tourist draw, it’s Lipscani.” Garrett Van Reed Local Life Bucharest
Stavropoleos was originally an Eastern Orthodox monastery for nuns. It’s built in Brâncovenesc style, “combining local, Oriental, Byzantine, and late Italian Renaissance elements. Archangels Michael and Gabriel are the church’s patron saints.
“The name Stavropoleos comes from the Greek word Stavropolis, meaning city of the cross. The monastery is known for Byzantine music, expressed through its renowned choir, and the largest collection of Byzantine music books in Romania.”
The church was built in 1724, during the reign of Nicholas Mavrocordatos, Prince of Wallachia between 1719 and 1730. Greek monk and architect, Ioannikios Stratonikeas built the monastery and named it after the metropolitan area he served.
In the 19th century, the church was damaged by earthquakes and fires. Its dome fell. At the beginning of the 20th century, the church, its dome, and paintings were restored. Between 1904 and 1940 Stavropoleos was closed for religious services, and now only functions as a museum. The church’s collection of rare icons, iconoclastic objects, historical and religious books, and interior and exterior frescoes was partially preserved. I sat for some time admiring the beautiful interior and peaceful atmosphere.
Father Dumitru Iliescu-Palanca
Stavropoleos was the home of Father Dumitru Iliescu-Palanca who worked on the church’s restoration. He was arrested several times between 1942 and 1945 and imprisoned for a month in the communist internment camp at Tismana Monastery.
Father Iliescu-Palanca joined the Vlad Țepeș Anti-Communist Resistance Organization. He was arrested for this, and “after a tough investigation sentenced to 20 years of forced labor and 10 years of civic degradation”. He died in 1963, at a communist forced labor camp in Salcia.
Created in 1994, the Stavropoleos Byzantine Choir is led by Archdeacon Gabriel Constantin Oprea. He “officiates and chants at the Stavropoleos Church and teaches Byzantine music at the National University of Music Bucharest“. The choir performs in Romania and abroad. They sing neo-Byzantine music, a “rare occurrence for churches in Romania”.
Library and Courtyard
Today, Stavropoleos Church is “engaged in renovating old books, icons, and sacerdotal (priestly) clothing”. The monastery’s library contains over 8,000 books of theology, byzantine music, arts, and history. Books include catechetic writings, language dictionaries and textbooks, studies on Byzantine art and Orthodox iconography, and 18th century Romanian history and civilization.
The monastery began a virtual library project to digitize its old books. Some of them are from the personal library of Romanian art historian Vasile Drăguț, former rector of Bucharest University of Arts. A special feature of the monastery is its small courtyard with an open-air collection of unique stone crosses and fragments of churches that no longer exist.