Romanian Athenaeum. Opera House in Bucharest, Romania

Romanian Athenaeum

Opera House in Bucharest, Romania

Romanian Athenaeum Photo © Brigitte Djajasasmita

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Romanian Athenaeum

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Romania - Romanian Athenaeum
Romania - Romanian Athenaeum. Photo by Gary Romanuk
Built as a palace for art and science, the Romanian Athenaeum is the main host for classical concerts, movie projections, sumptuous conferences, and fancy exhibits in Bucharest, as well as that of the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra. Its unique architecture, featuring the neo-Greek portcullis (Wikipedia Article) under the ionic columns, and the richly enhanced dome has consecrated the Athenaum as the emblem of Bucharest. Currently, the edifice is an important architectural landmark for the esthetic of the Romanian capital city, and a notable touristic landmark.


In 1865, on the initiative of Constantin Esarcu, Vasile Alexandrescu Urechea, and Nicolae Kretzulescu, the literary society "The Romanian Athenaeum" was born, with the educational purpose of promoting useful knowledge among the middle class by means of public courses and conferences. In that period, before the Athenaeum was built, the society's activity was taking place in a salon of the Ministry of Education. In 1885, at the group's initiative, construction for a more suiting location begun.

Atheneul Roman, Bucaresti, Romania -
	Romanian Athenaeum
Atheneul Roman, Bucaresti, Romania - Romanian Athenaeum. Photo by Gaspar Serrano
The cost of the project was very high, and the Literary Society was far from achieving the necessary sum. Lacking the support of the authorities, they initiated a public subscription to complete the funding. The public slogan was “Daţi un leu pentru Ateneu” (“Give a leu for the Athenaeum”), a catchphrase still famous to this day.

When construction was approved, the terrain was already planned to host a circus, and the round foundation compelled the architect to design the building with a circular dome roof.

In 1886, the blueprints were designed by a team of renown architects led by Albert Galeron and Constantin Băicoianu. Although in 1888, the construction was not completely finished due to lack of funds, the Athenaeum was opened on February 14th, and events started to take place at once. Several discussions regarding painting and interior decoration takes place, with the most famous painters of the time proposing projects depicting Romania's history, but due to lack of funds the project is again stagnated.

The building was finished in 1897, and after a long period of unfulfilled planning, the internal decoration was granted to the painter, Costin Petrescu. He proposed a fresco depicting 25 important episodes in the history of Romania, which was finished in 1938, again with public funding. In 1935, at the initiative of the composer, George Enescu, a public funding campaign was started for the concert hall organ.
In 1919, the building was used by the state authorities as a chamber for the Senate. It was here where, on December 29th 1919, in the Great Hall, the final union of Romania was voted.

In 1944, when Romania switched sides, the German planes stationed in the Bucharest airport, commenced a raid upon the city, affecting several edifices, including the Athenaeum.

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Romanian Athenaem Exterior. . Photo by Brigitte Djajasasmita


The edifice is built in the Neo-Classical style with romantic influences. It is 41 meters tall, with a concert hall which is 29 meters wide, 16 meters high, and a 794 seat capacity. The facade stands out with its six ionic columns, which make it seem like a Greek temple.
The peristyle wall, placed above the doors, presents five mosaic medallions, depicting historical figures: Alexandru cel Bun, Neagoe Basarab, Vasile Lupul, Matei Basarab, and King Carol I.

Romania - Romanian Athenaeum
Romania - Romanian Athenaeum. Photo by Gary Romanuk
At the ground level, there is a circular vestibule, known as the Atheneaum Rotunda, doubled by a 12 column ring with a coating that imitates pink marble. From here, four stairs and the Stair of Honor, made of Carrara pink marble, form the rotunda balconies and lead to the great concert hall.

The concert hall contains 600 armchairs, 52 lodges laid on double rows. At the behest of Alexandru Odobescu, the ceiling was adorned with anthropomorphic elements, in golden polychrome relief, inspired from Romanian fairy tales. Above the lodges, Costin Petrescu's three-meters-wide fresco spreads from one part of the stage to the other, like an "open book of national history for the ones who look upon it". The fresco represents, in order, Emperor Trajan's first war against Dacia (Wikipedia
	Article), its colonization; the mix between Romans and Dacians, the arrival of the migratory tribes and their wars with the Romans; the beginning of Romanian life, the first Romanian military states; the Romanian crusades, the reign of Stephen the Great and that of Michael the Brave who unified the Romanian provinces; the anti-feudal revolutions, and the monarchy era.


Visits can be made from 1:30 PM to 5 PM Tuesday to Sunday, and from 10 AM to 4 PM on Mondays. The price of a ticket is 10 RON ($2.50) ( €2 ($2.30)) for adults, and 5 RON ($1.25) ( €1 ($1.15)) for seniors and students. Concert tickets are sold at the beginning of every Tuesday for the week of the concert.

How to Get There

The Athenaeum is placed in the center of Bucharest, in the Revolution Plaza, right next to Calea Victoriei Street.

Other Attractions

Right across the Athenaeum is the Royal Palace, the former residence of the Romanian Royal Family, which functions today as the National Art Museum*.

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Author: aelumag. Last updated: Sep 17, 2014

Pictures of Romanian Athenaeum

Romanian Athenaeum
Romanian Athenaeum. Photo by David Leventi

Romanian Athenaeum
Romanian Athenaeum. Photo by Yonca Evren


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