Piața Revoluției (Revolution Square) in Bucharest was the site of brutal dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s infamous final speech on December 21, 1989, during the Romanian Revolution. At the time it was known as Piața Palatului (Palace Square). Over 100,000 people were forced to go to the square in a “show of support” for the dictator and to condemn a recent uprising in Timișoara. They were given flags and banners and were told when to cheer and what to chant. It didn’t work out the way authorities planned and the crowd quickly turned against Ceaușescu. Most of the country was watching on TV and state broadcasters cut to Communist propaganda and videos praising the dictator, but it was too late. The revolution was now in full swing.
Soon after, Ceaușescu responded to the crowd by attempting to crush the uprising with tanks and bullets. Many were killed or injured. The next morning, he tried to address the crowd a second time, but again, they were clearly against him. He fled via helicopter from the rooftop of the Central Committee building at 12:08pm on December 22, 1989, and was later arrested and executed.
Visitors can still see the building that played a role in the demise of Ceaușescu. The Central Committee of the Communist Party is where the speech took place. Ceaușescu stood on the balcony. The building was the location of the Senate from 1990 until 2006, when it became the Ministry of Interior Affairs.
In the center of the square in front of the old Central Committee building is the Memorialul Renașterii (Memorial of Rebirth). It was erected in 2005 as a monument to the 1989 revolution. The names of the 1,104 killed are listed on the walls surrounding the 25m high spire. It’s been criticized heavily, being called “the potato of the revolution”, “an olive on a toothpick”, and “a potato on a stick”. The sculptor was Alexandru Ghilduș.
Next to the Central Committee is an interesting glass building with an old brick façade. This was the hated Securitate headquarters, one of the most brutal secret police organizations in the world. It was destroyed by protestors during the revolution, and in 2003 the Romanian Architecture Union built their new headquarters into the shell.
Across the square is the huge former Royal Palace, completed in 1937. It now houses the National Art Museum. It’s open Wednesday to Sunday. Admission is 20 lei for a combined ticket to the National Gallery and the Art Collections Museum (as of November 2016). Historical spaces can be seen for an additional 20 lei.
On the north side of the square is the Central Library for the University of Bucharest. It was completed by French architect Paul Gottereau in 1893 and it nearly burned down during the 1989 revolution. The statue of King Carol I out front is a replica. The original was erected in 1930 by Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović and was destroyed by the Romanian Communist Party in 1948.
On the south end of the square is the Crețulescu Church. This small Orthodox church was built in 1722 and has some amazing frescoes. The ones at the entrance are originals from 1722 while the ones on the interior were painted by Gheorghe Tattarescu in 1860. The church was damaged in the 1989 revolution. A bust of Corneliu Coposu, an anti-Communist activist who spent 17 years of prison, sits outside of the church near the back.
In an extension of the square to the north is the Ateneul Român (Romanian Athenaeum), perhaps the finest building in Bucharest. Built in 1888, it’s a stunning concert hall and where the great Romanian composer George Enescu made his debut in 1889. It’s home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra. A statue of Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu stands out front in a small garden. Visit the official website to learn more and for tickets. The only way to see the interior is to attend a concert.
The small hotel on the corner of the northern end of the square and Calea Victoriei is the famed Athénée Palace. It opened in 1914 for passengers on the Orient Express but became a favorite for notorious spies from around Europe and later the Securitate. Hilton bought the hotel in 1994, renovated it, and reopened it in 1997.
Just to the northwest of the square behind the Royal Palace is the German Lutheran Church. It was founded in 1778 and still holds mass in German.