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Romanian Athenaeum

Bucharest, Romania

The Romanian Athenaeum, dubbed the Romanian temple of arts, is an architectural jewel the uniqueness and merits of which have been acknowledged by the fact the building was classified as a historical monument in 2004 and part of the European patrimony in 2007. Located on the Victory Avenue, the Romanian Athenaeum is a tourist sight the importance of which does not come down exclusively to it's being one of the most eye-catching architectural marvels of the capital, but also to the fact it is home to one of the oldest and most important cultural institutions in Bucharest, a major contributor to the artistic scene of Bucharest: the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Romanian Athenaeum was built between 1886 and 1888, designed to accommodate the specific activities carried out by the back then called the Romanian Philharmonic Society (an institution founded in 1868). It is to those times that the famed saying “Daţi un leu pentru Ateneu” (Give one leu for the Athenaeum) dates back, since, indeed, the building was erected at the initiative of Constantin Esarcu who made a public appeal for the raising of the necessary funds. The Athenaeum was built on the already existing foundations of the riding school laid by the Romanian Equestrian Society.

The chief architect was a Frenchmen, Albert Galleron, who designed the building by following the useful guidelines provided by a team of Romanian architects. The circular shape of the structure is owed to the already laid out foundations but, instead of being a drawback, this feature ensures the originality and singularity of the edifice. The façade is guarded, so to say, by 6 monumental 12 meters high columns, and the entire structure is overtopped by a monumental dome which rises to 41 meters above the ground level. Five medallions, each of them rendering the figure of a historical prince of the Romanian Principalities, decorate the peristyle.

The inside of the athenaeum has a capacity of almost 800 seats, and its highlights refer to the 12 Carrara marble hallway columns and to the four monumental Gothic stairs which make the connection between sundry sections of the venue. The Great Fresco, which covers the entire dome, was painted by Costin Petrescu, and given its size (amounting to 75 square meters), it was completed in no less than 5 years (1933 to 1938). The fresco consists of 25 sequences, each of them describing a certain significant episode of the history of the Romanian people. Another highlight of the interior refers to the organ built at the initiative and with the support of George Enescu himself.

The Romanian Athenaeum used to accommodate in the course of history a wide range of cultural activities, including exhibitions of paintings and sculptures, but given the fact the structure excels by its extraordinary acoustics, it became obvious the venue should be put to use chiefly to capitalize this wholesome feature. In time, the athenaeum was the launching and affirmation platform for countless figures who have contributed to the history of the Romanian music, and it was included in the concert tours of numerous international artists.

At present, the Romanian Athenaeum is one of the chief venues involved in organizing the celebrated George Enescu International Festival. It is, furthermore, opened to tourist visits.

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