While exploring the concrete mess along Bulevardul Unirii in Bucharest, you’ll realize there’s not much of interest along the way. You have to go behind the buildings to really explore. Why? The blocks of buildings located in Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Centrul Civic (Civic Center) project were also meant to hide churches. He hated looking at churches while driving through the city, so he ordered many to be destroyed in the process of carrying out his ridiculous plans. Some civic planners tried to save historically significant churches by moving or “hiding” them.
Several monasteries and churches that survived the demolition process are located in the nooks and crannies behind these concrete monstrosities, some of them picked up from their former locations and moved. It’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of streets and alleys behind the concrete buildings, but searching out these historic churches can be fun and rewarding. You’ll also get to see a gloomy yet interesting side of Bucharest at the same time. It’s quite a contrast from the rest of the old city not affected by this project.
Just to the west of Piața Unirii is Biserica Domnița Bălașa (1881), which is the fourth church on the site since 1744. Inside is the tomb of Lady Bălașa, which is on the list of historical monuments in Bucharest.
Antim Monastery, built in 1715, is to the block to the southeast of the Palace of Parliament. The buildings were restored in the 1950s, but only a few monks live there.
The Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate is located on a path running southwest of Piața Unirii leading to Dealu Mitropoliei (Metropolitanate Hill). The complex wasn’t hidden because it actually played an important role in government (see below). It includes a few buildings and a 1698 bell tower. The Patriarchal Cathedral, built in 1654, is dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helen. A Patriarchal Chapel on the site was built in 1723.
The Patriarchal Palace, opposite the cathedral, was built in 1688 and rebuilt over time, most recently in 1932. The Palace of the Chamber of Deputies was built in 1907 and used as the Parliament building until 1997. Since then, it has been used by the Patriarchate. It’s easily recognized by the copula with the eagle on top.
Sfântul Spiridon Nou (St. Spyridon the New) was built in 1852 and is on a road heading directly south of Piața Unirii. It wasn’t hidden.
In the block to the southeast of Piața Unirii is Biserica Bucur Ciobanul (Bucur the Shepherd), built in the 17th century. It served as a chapel for the nearby Radu Vodă Monastery, which was founded in 1568. The monastery contains the remains of a fortified Dacian settlement dating back to 100 BC.
Finally, one site I was unable to visit was the Jewish Museum. It’s located in the block directly east of Piața Unirii in an old synagogue and chronicles the fascinating history and contributions of Romania’s Jews. The Centrul Civic project destroyed much of Bucharest’s old Jewish Quarter, which was one of the most vibrant in Europe. Other old synagogues are “hidden” as well.