The Old Center of Bucharest it wasn't always the one we know today. Its history is as long as it is full of lesser-known stories.
Lipscani Street, one of the most famous streets in the Old Center, has existed since the 17th century, when it was known as Lipscanilor Street. In the past, it was the main artery of Bucharest
The name of the street comes from the Lipscans, the merchants who bought goods from the German city of Leipzig - or Lipska, as they called it. Here you could find Venetian mirrors, Danzig knives, Flemish dishes, clothes, clocks and cutlery. However, they were not brought easily, sometimes the expeditions of Romanian merchants to Leipzig and back required whole months.
Lipscani is the only street where there are no residential apartments, only shops or institutions.
Covaci Street has its name, like all the streets in the Old Center, inspired by a certain job. In this case, the name comes from the Slavic "kovaci" which means "blacksmith". On this street, at the end of the 19th century, the "La o idee" restaurant of Iordache Ionescu was born. The idea of the name belongs to the pamphleteer at that time, Nicolae Orasanu, who had an original "idea" in composing the restaurant's menu. Thus, the ice was called "Siberian cream", the red pepper was called "torpedo", and the wine case, "battery".
Legend has it that the "To an idea" restaurant was the cradle of the appearance of the famous Romanian "mici". This is how, on a busier evening than usual, the restaurant would have been left without the mats necessary to prepare the sausages. Iordache, who did not want to lose the opportunity to sell, chose to add a drop of bicarbonate to the meat mixture and throw it directly on the grill. Their success was so great that "micii", as they were found on the restaurant's menu, became the specialty of the house and have remained one of the most popular local dishes to this day.
It got its name from the occupation of the sepcari masters who had their workshops here. It is interesting that the term "prison" in the sense known today was born on this street. At that time, on Sepcari street there was "Puscaria", a tower whose purpose was to store the cannons and rifles owned by the Royal Court. This arsenal was used not only in conflicts, but also on the occasion of various holidays that were celebrated with cannon or rifle volleys. With space left unexploited in the building, it was decided that thieves would be imprisoned in the cellar, and the nobles would be imprisoned in the belfry.
Opposite the University, on the place where the statues are now, was the Saint Sava Monastery, built at the end of the 16th century. The first higher school in Bucharest, known as the School of Saint Sava, founded in 1679 by Serban Cantacuzino, functioned in the rooms of this monastery.
Also in this building was opened the first high school with teaching in the Romanian language, founded in 1818 by Gheorghe Lazar. Here, those with a helping hand could study philosophical sciences and mathematics. The statue of Gheorghe Lazar still stands there today, as a tribute to the extremely important role he played in the progress of Romanian education.
The monastery complex was demolished to make way for the new building of the University inaugurated in 1869, but designed since 1857. The University has undergone many changes over time. Among other things, in 1944, it was damaged by the American bombings, and the building that today houses the Faculty of History was completely rebuilt in the 70s.
It is one of the oldest streets in Bucharest, with documents that place it in the 16th century under the name "Ulita Mare". It has had several names over time. In the 18th century, for example, it was known as the "Great Bridge from the Old Court". The name it still bears today originates from the fact that the French consul in Bucharest once had his residence on this street.
The famous Leo Tolstoy also lived on French Street for a short time. He arrived in Romania with the Russian troops in 1854. After having a coffee at Capsa or a beer at Smardan, Tolstoi retired to an apartment on French Street, at number 12.
In 1878, the street was named Carol I, because it was one of the favourites of the king. This name was kept until 1947, and in 1949, as an irony to the monarchy, it received the name December 30. After 1989, the street bore the name of Iuliu Maniu, until 2007, when it returned to the name "French".
The place that today is a stronghold of hookahs in Bucharest has a very interesting history, in turn. The full name is Macca-Villacrosse and it is given by two foreigners: Xavier Villacrosse and Mihalache Macca, the former's brother-in-law.
In 1830, Villacrosse married Polixenia, one of Seraphim's daughters. Her father was a dragoman at the French Consulate, Napoleon's translator and interpreter in the campaign in Russia. The profession of dragoman was a prestigious one in the Ottoman Empire and involved especially diplomatic attributions. It is thus easy to understand where Seraphim had houses to give as a dowry. In turn, Macca married Anastasia and that's how a French, possibly Spanish, came to be in the same family with a Greek and leave a legacy over the centuries.
On the properties of the married sisters, in 1891, the architect Filip Xenopol built a unique building at that time, in the shape of a horseshoe, with a glass-covered passage. Known after the 90s in urban folklore as the "Valley of the Kings", after the name of the first hookah cafe in Bucharest, the Macca-Villacrosse Passage is a unique building in the capital.
Love to see and learn more about the Bucharest's Old City Center? Here you can register for a guided walking tour.