Bucharest in the 19th century – From the Oriental City to “The Little Paris”
Starting with the third and fourth decades of the 19th century, the young sons of noble boyar families and of the new rising bourgeoisie made their studies in Western Europe, in Italy, Germany and especially in France, where they came in contact with the Western culture and ideas. Back home, they profoundly influenced the Romanian society by spreading the political ideas that prepared the Romanian Revolution of 1848, and later the Union of Principalities, and helped create the national consciousness. The changes extended to all social aspects, from attire and behavior to arts and fashion. In just one generation, almost overnight in historical terms, the Principalities made “a spontaneous and spectacular turn toward the West” (Neagu Djuvara).
The phenomenon of assimilating the Western civilization and way of life -after the French model- became even more powerful after Romania gained its Independence (1877). The elites made their studies and traveled to Paris, and the language spoken in high society, as well as in political and diplomatic circles, was French. French literature and culture enjoyed enormous prestige. After 1880 started the urban modernization of central Bucharest, by defining the East-West and North-South axes, based on the same scheme used by Georges Eugène Haussmann for the capital of France. Important buildings of the new modern institutions were commissioned to French architects, and also to Romanian architects formed at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, who brought to Bucharest the French architectural eclecticism. Mostly in the last two decades of the 19th century, the new Neo-Classical and Neo-Renaissance palaces changed the face of the city. By the beginning of the 20th century, the former Oriental city had been replaced by ” The Little Paris”.