I love exploring urban ruins. In Berlin I snuck into Spreepark, I jumped the fence into an 800-year-old church in Prizren and I still have the Ghost Tower of Bangkok on my bucket list. When I heard about the Beautiful Decay Tour of Bucharest offered by Interesting Times Bureau, I jumped at the opportunity.
Urban Ruins in Bucharest
The history of Bucharest goes back hundreds of years. Established nearly six hundred years ago, it’s now the six-largest city in the EU (possibly soon to be fifth when Brexit is finalized). It became the capital of Romania in 1862, and since then has been a playground of architects and artists. Even the communist era saw the construction of the second largest governmental building in the world by the dictator.
But not all the development has endured. Once known as the “Little Paris of the East,” many historic monuments are a shadow of their former glory. A significant portion of the city was even razed to the ground in the 80’s to build the aforementioned Palace of the Parliament, which is currently 70% empty.
Yet, some of the more rundown locations offer a wonderful adventure of exploration, and some incredible street art as well. Here’s a list of the locations we saw on the Beautiful Decay Tour.
The Palace of Truth. Originally opening in 1898, this was the headquarters of the largest newspaper in Romania – Truth Press. After World War II, the Germans took over and printed the Bukarester Tageblatt (Bucharest Daily Sheet). Then Communists took control of the facilities to print their Stea (Star) paper. In 1989 after the fall of Communism, buildings in Bucharest were returned to their original owners, but many couldn’t pay for the continued upkeep. Thus, many fell into disrepair. The Palatul Adevarul is a great example of this.
The building is located at Strada Constantin Mille 15, behind the National Military Circle (Ballroom). An old guard is at the entry to prevent intruders, but he can be bribed. Just stay away from the windows on the lower floors, and don’t get hurt. Obviously, you explore at your own risk. Shoes, preferably thick soled, are absolutely mandatory with the amount of broken glass throughout the building.
It’s nearly impossible to feel like you’re in the center of a major capital as you explore this building. The decrepitude begins as you enter the building, and gets worse as you ascent the banister-less stairs. On the first floor is a foyer decorated with the original logo of Truth Press. Here you can explore various rooms, the use of which can only be vaguely guessed at. Shattered windows open up to courtyards rife with foliage and doorways leading to empty air.
Skip the next couple levels. The guard doesn’t want people visible in the windows from the street, and there’s not much of anything different on those floors. Instead, head up to the top levels. The rubble here is a bit less, and there is a new addition to the building – lot and lots of street art. Some is the usual graffiti, but you can also find some really good pieces. There’s also the occasional deep message, such as “Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy! I have Alzheimer. Hey, I just met you!”
A couple of the rooms caught my attention. One was a darkroom used by the newspaper. Another was an auditorium, now redecorated with a street art mural.
Take your time and explore. This palace is absolutely massive. With the guard in place, it doesn’t get looted like other places have…or rather, the pillaging has ceased. It’s certainly hard to find anything of value left in the structure.
Grand Hôtel du Boulevard
Perhaps the Grand Hôtel du Boulevard isn’t so much of an urban ruin as it is an urban relic. The Grand Hôtel was the first luxury hotel in Bucharest, originally opening it’s doors in 1873. It later became an office building. Then in 2006, 15 million Euro were spent to restore the hotel. Renovations were completed in 2013, but to this day the hotel has failed to open. The true urban ruin here is what stands behind, and it’s the reason why this hotel can’t open it’s doors…for now.
Rising several stories above the hotel is a decrepit apartment building which looks to have been constructed by half a different contractors over a century of design. It’s held together with duct tape and silly putty, which is not the smartest idea in a region prone to large earthquakes. The building has essentially been labeled “due to collapse at any moment,” but the occupants refuse to move, regardless of how much money the hotel has waved at them.
With the looming menace of the deathtrap above, the hotel can’t get insurance for its building or guests. It stands fully renovated, furnished and empty. A true testament of a city stuck in a time warp.
The English Passage
Built in 1885, the English Passage takes it’s name from the English Hotel, located at one end of the passage. It was later turned into a luxury brothel, and eventually converted into apartments.
Located between Victory Avenue and Academy Street, it is sometimes confused with the umbrella passage next door. As far as iconic photos go, the umbrella passage is far more attractive, but this is a blog post about urban ruins.
There isn’t a lot of exploring you can do here, as the apartments are still occupied. One man has weathered the changes in the building since 1967! On the ground floor is Palarii “La Mesterul Nico” (Hats of “The Craftsman Nico”). I got to meet Mr. Nico himself, who truly belies his 90 years. For 50 years he has worked in the shop with his wife and daughter, crafting beautiful hats of all design.
I can’t resist commenting on an incredible article I found by Hodina Maria Otilia about the remodeling of the English Passage. One thing I see above all else in Bucharest is how much potential the city has to become a truly world-class tourist destination.
The Macca House was built in the late 1800’s by colonel Petre Macca and his wife Elena, and designed by renowned architect Ion D. Berindey. Unable to finish funding the project, the house was turned over to the state at the turn of the 20th century, and later became an archaeological museum.
The house is certainly has the potential of a masterpiece. Art Nouveau and baroque can be seen throughout the construction. I’ve never claimed to be an expert in architectural design, but there are some features in this place which seem to really stand out. For instance, there are skylights originally installed through three floors to illuminate the bedrooms.
Recent efforts have been made to restore the house, and they were even installing a new roof while I was there (beneficial as the house has been waterlogged for decades). However, the fluorescent bulbs illuminating the interior make it difficult to enjoy the design or get good photos.
Perhaps more interesting are the dozens of archaeological artifacts scattered around the grounds of the house. Most countries would have these on display in a museum, but here they are left to weather the elements. Some of them have been placed under a makeshift, dilapidated roof in the back yard, but others are just pushed to the side of the driveway.
Macca House is located at Henri Coandă Street 11, 2 km north of the old town. Admission is free. Opening hours are unclear, so best is to just jump on the Interesting Times Bureau Beautiful Decay Tour and learn more about the house from your tour guide.
Chimopar is an abandoned chemical factory on the outskirts of Bucharest. By factory I mean industrial village. Dozens of buildings dot the 80-acre property, which dates back to 1896. Explosions leveled several buildings in both 1923 and 1979. Even the current Google Earth image for the property is nothing like the current state of affairs.
This is the kind of place that simply has to be experienced to be believed. Entire buildings are folding in half as walls are weathered away. The land is also under constant looting, with locals carting away anything of the slightest value. While I was there, I watched an old man pick a wall apart brick by brick. He spoke no English, and I have no idea whether he intended to sell the bricks or use them for his own home.
The biggest use of the abandoned location now is as a street artist paradise. Walls throughout the compound are covered in murals and designs, some of which are really impressive. Other uses of the facilities include regular paintball and airsoft matches, and I even found a tale of the location being used for a porn film.
Located next to the Dedeman Home Improvement Center on the E81 Highway. At the time of this writing, there are no restrictions to visiting Chimopar beyond the obvious safety advisory.
This in no way is a full summary of all the urban ruins in Bucharest. There are over 2000 buildings in the city classified as historic monuments, and only a fraction of these are renovated. Many were abandoned in 1989, and plenty have been deteriorating since long before that.
The next urban ruin I plan to visit is the Bazilescu Summer Theater, an abandoned opera house in the center of Bazilescu Park, built in 1953 for a youth festival. Everyday I walk around the streets of Bucharest and find more buildings boarded up, but perhaps with a colorful history. Recently I found an abandoned hotel across the street from Palatul Adevarul. Yes, I did try to find an entrance. No, I didn’t succeed.
Perhaps this isn’t the safest city to explore urban ruins, what with all the Romas (gypsies) hanging around. But the urban ruins covered above are ready to explore, especially with an Interesting Times Bureau tour. Just let them know that I sent you, and have fun!