Short History of Bucharest: From the Medieval Centuries to Communism

Interested in the history of Bucharest? Check our tours on

The history of Bucharest has come a long way before the capital became the city it is today. The legend has it that Bucharest was founded by a shepherd named Bucur, but historical sources indicate that it was most likely established at the end of the 14th century by the medieval prince Mircea the Old on the grounds of a small fortification. Bucharest was first mentioned in a written document issued, in 1459, by the legendary prince Vlad the Impaler. Two hundred years later it became the capital of Southern Romania, a separate province until 1859 when it united with Moldavia.

Bucharest City

The history of Bucharest as a royal capital

Bucharest developed quickly in the second half of the 19th century after the arrival in 1866 of the Hohenzollern prince, Carol the 1st, who substantially modernized Bucharest with the help of the political elites. The capital reached its glory between the two World Wars when it was known throughout Europe as the ‘Little Paris’ for its architecture and the capital’s elites’ use of French language.

The Second World War marked, however, the abrupt end of this period in the history of Bucharest. The capital was bombed by both by the Allies and the Germans in 1944. Many of its landmarks were destroyed or severely damaged, not to mention the thousands of local victims. But, this tragedy only preceded the event that completely changed the history of Bucharest in the 20th century, the coup d’état that brought the communist regime to complete power in 1947.

old town bucharest

The actions of the communist governments put an end to Bucharest’s interwar atmosphere, private property was nationalized and the elites died imprisoned. A grey architecture, typical for Eastern communist regimes invaded the capital, reaching its peak during Ceausescu’s time when many emblematic constructions were demolished and tens of thousands of people relocated to make room for the World Record House of the People.

In late December 1989, Bucharest witnessed massive anti-communism manifestations with over 1,000 victims among the participants. The first year after the fall of the communist regime brought other manifestations, this time against the new neo-communist government and violent civil clashes. For much of the 90’s, the capital was marked by a transition process, followed by a rapid development beginning with the 21st century.

Symbolically, contemporary Bucharest is perhaps the best representation of today’s Romania, stuck between a conflicted past and a future it can’t decide upon. Visiting it is without a doubt a great way to better understand European history as few other capitals have been marked by so many events as Bucharest.

Interested in the history of Bucharest? Check our tours on

About the author

Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer, focusing on sustainable tourism practices and destinations. You can find Diana Condrea on Twitter and Google+

Back to the top