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Home The Romanian Atheneum The Romanian Atheneum &qu...
The Romanian Atheneum "The Heart Of Romanian Culture"

Romanian Athenaeum DomeRomanian Athenaeum Dome

Symbolic edifice of the national culture, the Romanian Atheneum, built in the heart of Bucharest 120 years ago (1886-1888), has become the architectural and spiritual landmark of a whole nation, not just of a Capital city. It was here that great Romanian personalities and scientists have lectured, that both established and young professional musicians have given concerts, numerous orchestras and soloists of international level have performed, it was from here that masterpieces of the national music literature have been launched; the first ample exhibits were organized here, great painting and sculpture exhibits by the national masters of fine arts; kings and queens, as well as political personalities and important guest from abroad have walked through its halls in order to participate in events of national and international importance in one word, moments of historical importance, which have found their place in the golden book of the Romanian people, have taken place at the Romanian Atheneum.

Few people know nowadays that the Palace of the Romanian Atheneum was built with money collected publicly, following a national lottery (500.000 tickets were issued, costing one Leu each). The natural scientist Constantin Esarcu (1836-1898), founder of the Society of the Romanian Atheneum, addressed an appeal to the citizens, which sounded comical and banal at the same time: "Give one Leu for the Atheneu(m)!" - and which, surprisingly, became a lesson in unity and awakening of the national conscience. Drafted by the French Architect Albert Galleron, following the research and guidelines of Alexandru Odobescu, revised and completed by an a group of Romanian specialists (Al. Orascu, Ion Mincu, Ion Socolescu, Grigore Cerkez, Cucu Starostescu), the circular-form building owed its existence to the fact that it was built on an already existing foundation in the Diocese Garden, which was meant to be used to build a... circus. The facade of the building is inspired by the architecture of ancient Greek temples and consists of a row of columns which support a triangular pediment. On the ground floor, the impressive marble hall incorporates the 12 Doric columns which support the concert hall. Four monumental spiral staircases, made of Carrara marble, enlarged into balconies at the intermediate floor, establish the connection with the main hall and the annexes (offices, rehearsal halls, rooms for the soloists and the conductor). Arranged after the model of an ancient Greek-Roman amphitheatres, the almost 1,000 seats (three ground floor zones and two circular rows comprising 52 boxes, with one central box in the middle), the concert hall provides a perfect view from any corner and impeccable sound distribution. The sound owes its perfection to the immense cupola (amply decorated), which "absorbs" the sound of the insturments and voices from the stage and redistributs it through reverberation to the listeners, including the whole gamut of harmonies and the finest "colours", sounds and nuances. It seems that the exceptional acoustic qualities which characterize the concert hall of the Romanian Atheneum, have placed it among the best buildings of the genre, not just in Europe, but worldwide. The fresco, evoking the history of the Romanian people in 25 episodes, was created in the course of five years by the painter Costin Petrescu. The organ, installed in 1939 with the financial support of George Enescu, the numerous technical improvements necessary after earthquakes and after the 1944 bombing at the end of World War II, but especially the changes undertaken in the years 1966-1967 (installation of air conditioning, refurbishing of the ceiling, new seats, redistribution of the boxes, enlarging the proscenium, etc.) have transformed the Romanian Atheneum into a singular architectural complex in the heart of the Capital. For over half a century it has been the home of the "George Enescu" Philharmonic and in 1958 it became the headquarter of the "George Enescu" International Festival.

While it was the starting place of the careers of famous Romanian musicians such as: George Enescu, Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil, Cella Delavrancea, Ion Voicu, Lola Bobescu, Radu Aldulescu, George Georgescu, Dimitrie Dinicu, Eduard Wachmann, Alfonso Castaldi, Ionel Perlea, D.G. Chiriac, Constantin Silvestri, Elena Teodorini, D. Popovici-Bayreuth, Zina de Nori, Theodor Rogalski, Alfred Alessandrescu, Iosif Conta, Cristian Mandeal, Erich Bergel, Horia Andreescu, Valentin Gheorghiu, Antonin Ciolan, Ion Nonna Otescu, Mircea Basarab, Mihai Brediceanu, Egizio Massini and others, the Romanian Atheneum also provided the Romanian music lovers with opportunities for unforgettable encounters with Pietro Mascagni, Vincent d'Indy, Richard Strauss, Bela Bartok, Igor Stravinski, Serghei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Felix Weingartner, Hermann Scherchen, Erich Kleiber, Pierre Monteux, Clemens Krauss, Hermann Abendroth, Vaclav Talich, Herbert von Karajan, Carl Bahm, Wilhelm Bakhaus, Claudio Arrau, Marguerite Long, Wilhelm Kempff, Henryk Szeryng, Alfred Cortot, Arthur Rubinstein, Pierre Fournier, Zino Francescatti, Jacques Thibaud, Pablo Casals, Walter Gieking, David Oistrach, Yehudi Menuhin, Monique de la Bruchollerie, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonid Kogan, Ruggiero Ricci, Daniil Shafran, Dmitri Bashkirov, Christian Ferras, Nikita Magaloff, Sviatoslav Richter, etc.

A temple of Romanian art and culture, at its 120th anniversary, the Romanian Atheneum remains not just a building of universal value, architecturally representative for Romania and the Balkans, but also a symbol of the spiritual tradition of a whole nation. And even if its founders, architects, and constructors never dreamed that the circular form would be ideal for an architectural monument (there were voices raised at the time who criticized the unusual technical solution), time has granted the inheritors of the ancient Dacian culture a place which has become a turning stage, not just of history but also of the arts in the European context. The Romanian Atheneum has widely opened its doors to enlightened minds in the whole world who came to Bucharest in order to meet the native people at the mouth of the Danube. And although it was the dream of its founders that all related arts find their home under the cupola of this cultural forum, it seems that just a few have realized that the exceptional acoustics of the building offer the natural climate in which only music can thrive, and so the Atheneum became the home for the great musical personalities and talents of the world. To give a concert on the stage of the Romanian Atheneum in Bucharest, is equivalent today with singing at the Scala Theatre in Milan. The temple in the heart of the Romanian Capital, built 120 years ago, has become the everlasting calling card of contemporary Romania.

A text by Viorel Cosma