Bucharest is widely seen as a city break destination. Two days give you the opportunity to see all the popular attractions and experience a night out too. For the ones that spend more time here and would like to discover more about the city, to tap a bit further into its history and culture then exploring some of the neighborhoods is a start.
Today’s subject is Dorobanti, a neighborhood that bears a bit of controversy. Some see it as home base for the rich and superficial and others appreciate it as a part of Bucharest that holds on to its past charm.
The neighborhood appeared along Calea Dorobantilor (Dorobantilor Boulevard), a rather uneventful street, historically speaking. Dated in 1831, it received its present name in 1878. During the Romanian Independence War (1877-1878), infantry soldiers (called dorobanti) used this street to go out of town for military training, hence the name.
Dorobanti is divided in three main segments. The first is located between Lahovari Square and Stefan cel Mare blvd. It’s the oldest part of the neighborhood and, at the beginning of the 20th century, here lived some of the finest Romanian noble families. Unfortunately only a few buildings managed to survive either the 1977 earthquake or the regime.
Continuing our journey we have the second part of the neighborhood between Stefan cel Mare blvd and Dorobanti Square. This area belonged to wealthy families but not of noble descent. Houses in this part were one story villa’s with a small yard.The large estates appeared in the third part of Dorobanti between Dorobanti Square and Charles de Gaulle Square. To be fair, this has always been a luxurious neighborhood, built especially for the wealthy families of Bucharest.
If we leave aside the main road, from Dorobanti Square begins The Capitals-the jewel of Dorobanti.
The Capitals is a maze of streets where we have some of the best preserved houses in the city. This area has been built mainly in the 1930s’ as a neighborhood for wealthy people and embassies.
Properties here had to abide strict rules: maximum height was 14m, owners had to plant trees and keep the area green, they were not allowed to keep their cars parked on the streets and had to make sure that the water pouts wouldn’t freeze during winter. Besides these, only houses were allowed, no commercial buildings.
The name Capitals comes from the streets that carry the names of different capital cities around the world: Paris, London, Tirana etc. Before this system, the streets were named after the richest man that lived there. If he moved then the street would get the name of his follower. That must have been a mess from an administrative point of view therefore it was decided to name the streets after the capital cities of the countries that were going to have their embassies there.
Nowadays this entire area is protected so we do not have any malls or tall apartment buildings to disrupt the view. Most of the buildings have been built in Neo-Classic and Neo-Brancovenesc (Neo-Romanian) style that combines Byzantine or Venetian elements with Ottoman and vernacular features. This unity is broken form time to time by houses with a different architecture just to keep us guessing what we’ll see around the next corner. On one street we have a wooden house typical for the mountains and on another we see a house cropped out of Disney’s Aladdin. Some of the houses have fancy details like embroidered window frames or girdles or doors with spectacular shell-shaped sun blinds.
Probably due to the fact that this neighborhood is somewhat new compared to other parts of the city it doesn’t have any fabulous legends. Nor did it have any high-profile families as residents like the first section of Calea Dorobantilor. However it does have some highlights to look for.
On Paris street number 43 and 45 there are two mansions designed by the first Romanian woman architect (period 1920-1930) and the house at no. 57 has something labeled as strange in Romania: a statue of Madonna and Child on its wall. Statues of saints are extremely rare here, the reason being that they are forbidden by the Orthodox Church.
Another curious presence is the house with the lion and the buffalo. This combination of lion-symbol of royalty and buffalo-symbol of Moldavia (unusual for Bucharest) plus the fact that no one knows anything about it gives the house a degree of mystery.
Two less famous but interesting museums are located in the Capitals: The National Museum of Maps and Old Books and Zambaccian Art Museum, both worth a visit.
For the short version of the tour-meaning the Capitals, start at Piata Victoriei metro station and go up Aviatorilor blvd, turn right on this street: Cpt. Av. Gheorghe Demetriade and you’ve entered the Capitals. On this route you will pass by the Filipescu-Brancoveanu Villa. The Capitals were built on the property of boyar Filipescu.
For the ones who prefer long walks and wish to see the entire neighborhood, Lahovari Square is the starting point. After wandering the streets of Dorobanti for enough time there are two possibilities to cool off. One of them is an overpriced but chic cafe in Dorobanti Square where you can observe local socialites and wannabes or walk to Herastrau Park for a beautiful sunset over the lake.
- Lahovari Square is near Piata Romana metro station
- From Piata Romana (Romana Square) the following buses take you to Dorobanti Square: 131, 301, 331
- The National Museum of Maps and Old Books: Londra Str. no. 39, opening hours: from Wednesday to Sunday between 10am and 6 pm, ticket: 5 RON adult/ 1.25 students and pupils
- Zambaccian Art Museum: Zambaccian Str. no. 21A, opening hours: May through September from 11 am to 7 pm, October through April from 10 am to 6 pm.