We ended our Romanian adventure in Bucharest, and as learning nerds, we did multiple walking tours.

Views from our 19th floor hotel room

Communist dictatorship in Romania

The first was a tour highlighting the history of communism in Romania. I had not known much about communism in Romania or the years of dictatorship under Nicolae Ceaușescu, so this was a very interesting tour.

After WWII, Romania was occupied by the Soviet Union. By 1965, Nicolae Ceaușescu was the head of the Communist Party. During his dictatorship, thousands were imprisoned, and the severe rationing he introduced in the 1980s caused thousands to die of starvation. Ceaușescu also introduced aggressive policies which outlawed birth control and abortion in order to force thousands to have children in order to increase the birth rate. These policies lead to the deaths of thousands of women due to illegal abortions and huge numbers of children put in orphanages when their parents were not able raise them.

When he decided to build the presidential palace, “the Palace of the People”, entire neighbourhoods were destroyed. Around 9,000 houses, churches, synagogues, and other buildings were demolished to make room for this grandiose vanity project.

Recognising how vital cultural and historical buildings were being destroyed, Eugeniu Iordăchescu came up with the brilliant plan of relocating some of the buildings to preserve their history. He was apparently inspired by a server moving dishes from a table on a tray, and devised a system of lifting and rolling buildings using train tracks. The first church to be moved, the 18th-century Schitul Maicilor, weighing 745 tonnes, was relocated 245 meters away from its original site in 1982. The whole project took five months – the actual process of moving the structures would often take just a few days. There are even stories of some people staying inside their apartments during the move.

One of the re-located churches. This was only nudged over a few dozen meters to make room for the soviet apartment block in the background.

The largest church that was moved, technically a monastery, weighed 9,000 tonnes. It was shifted 24 meters from its original location.

A design for relocating a church.

In total, he saved 13 historic churches and two apartment buildings.

Number one scientist?

One of the more ridiculous stories of this government was that Elena Ceaușescu, Nicolae’s wife, decided she wanted to be the number one scientist (despite not having a degree – and being nearly illiterate!). By claiming the research of other scientists, forcing them to “translate” for her at foreign conferences, she racked up numerous publications and received many prestigious awards (many of which have not yet been retracted? Still dozens of papers have her as the first author!)

Bucharest today

Many families were forced to leave their homes and move into Soviet apartment blocks.

After the fall of communism, there was a complex issues of ownership. The original owners still had legal claims on their properties, but the families who were moved into those flats had also been paying into schemes to own the flats they were moved into. This has created a complex legal situation, and there are still 13,000 properties in Bucharest which are being contested.

A fascinating city well-worth a visit.


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