1. The centre that is not central What strikes one who takes a look at the map of contemporary Romania is its total asymmetry: the capital, that is to say the political, cultural and economic center of the country is way too removed from the geographical center of the national territory. Of course, the notion of the capital as center is a pure convention; few are the states whose capitals lie at the very heart of the national territory. However, Bucharest seems to be thrust in Southern Romania, to the effect that its vicinity to the 45° North latitude parallel* (i.e. half way between the Equator and the North Pole) is a mere surrogate. The distance between the capital and the north-westernmost and north-easternmost cities of Romania is, in a straight line, longer than that between Bucharest and Sophia (the capital of Bulgaria) or the frontiers of Greece and Turkey. However, one should note that Bucharest is un-centered only with regard to contemporary Romania; centuries ago, it was relatively central to the region of medieval Wallachia.
Those who claim that Bucharest is a "Balkan city" disregard these elements of topometrics. During my university years I was in friendly polemics with a fellow student from Cluj, and, in an attempt to put an end to a discussion that left him no honourable means to take the upper hand, he told me, I know your sort, you Southerners! My first intention was to argue that I was a Bucharest man only as a student, that my hometown was Craiova, but then I realised that his rebuff covered that area as well.
 2.  Waters, coins and oak-trees Let us leave meta-history behind and come back to history as such: according to available data, contemporary  Bucharest and its surroundings have been inhabited from times immemorial. That should come as no surprise, since the place has always been drenched by two watercourses,  Dimbovita and Colentina (although they must have been clearer during the Paleolithic age than they are today). Main occupations included hunting, fishing and breeding and, probably, given the surrounding forests and the abundant vegetation, bee-keeping too,  as was the case everywhere along the left bank of the Danube. Time passing by, crafts and commerce became, as we shall see, prominent, since Bucharest was situated on one of the trading roads that connected the Ottoman Empire to the Western world, passing through Brasov and other Transylvanian cities. The contemporary Romanian attempt to foreground the country as one stop along the wondrous trajectory of Eastern oil towards the Western car-reservoires has, as one can easily see, a considerable tradition.
Historians have also discovered traces of habitation in the Dacian period, during the last centuries B.C. The sites of Straulesti, Popesti-Novaci or Crasani etc. are still there in the archaeologists' academic reports and in the nightmares of high-school students who prepare their graduation exams.
A noteworthy detail are the treasures discovered this century on the site of the city: in 1931, at Fundeni, urns copied after Greek originals were dug up; in 1938, near Herastrau, jewellery and silver coins from the 2nd century B.C. copied after Greek tetradrachmas were found; the same holds true for subsequent discoveries of treasures in Colentina, Bragadiru or Popesti-Leordeni - all copies of Greek coins from the 4th or 3rd centuries B.C. or of Roman coins. Those who marvel today at the wealth of Exchange Offices on the boulevards of Bucharest will understand now that their ancestors were as cosmopolitan as they are in point of financial passion; one could even argue that the fake dollars to be found on today's market are themselves part of some kind of tradition.
The Bucharest area was also inhabited in the first centuries A.D., even if evidence of important habitats is not attested; as was the case with the whole Romanian territory, Bucharest proto-inhabitants pulled through after the centuries of migration, enriching their genetic endowment yet preserving ascendance thanks to their Latin origin. Slavic and Romanian cohabitation resulted in several Slavic etymons, for instance the name of the river Dimbovita, which is probably a reminder of the river-side landscape, one covered by thick oak forests that surrounded the whole city (dimb - Slavic for oak), while the name of the river Ialomita comes from ialov (Slavic for deserted area), as it ran across an area of untilled land. However, strictly Romanian toponyms outnumber these influences; most of them end in -eni or -esti, a clear reference to names of landowners or rulers of the epoch, which could ultimately indicate that the Romanians have had from the very beginning an acute sense of ownership.
As an example, we could take the very name of the capital, Bucuresti. There is a legendary aura to its moment of foundation, which has always been well received, all the more so as the strictly documentary mention of the city comes rather late. The legend has it that the name of the city comes from a certain Bucur who lived in the whereabouts and was either a wealthy shepherd or an influent merchant and landowner. Others believe that the foundation of the city is coeval with the foundation of the Romanian Principality or Wallachia - which, in its legendary version, is due to the equally legendary Negru Voda (The Black Prince), whose actual historical existence is quite insubstantial. At any rate, chronicles of the latter half of the 14th century gloss the existence of a "city of Dimbovita" - a possible early settlement in the area now called Bucharest. 3. More legends than there are documents All mentions made so far remain however under the all-reaching spell of legends. On the one hand, it should be made clear that the name of Bucuresti is by no means unique as reference in early Romanian toponimy, as there are other sites known under the name in Wallachia, Moldavia and even Transylvania. It is not likely that their relation is coincidental, but it is indeed likely that all are generated by a founding Bucur whom many recognized as their ancestor. On the other hand, we know that the status of a capital was granted to the city of Bucharest only at a later date.  Its first documentary mention is September 20th 1459, under the form of a legal act in the time of Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler, prince between 1456 and 1462 and for a shorter while in 1476, a figure mainly known abroad as the prototype of blood-thirsty Dracula). At that time, the Principality had as its center the city of Tirgoviste and, before that, the city of Curtea de Arges. However, Vlad spent most of the time in Bucharest (where, according to some historians, his grandfather, Mircea cel Batrin - Mircea the Old, ruler between 1386 and 1418, had built a princely residence), so as to keep an eye on the banks of the Danube and watch the way on which the Ottoman troops used to come and invade the country.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, there was still competition between the cities of Bucharest and Tirgoviste for the status of residence of the Princely Court, but due to a more pronounced dynamism, the future belonged to the former. In 1476, Mathias Corvin, the Magyar prince, described Bucharest as the most powerful citadel of the Romanian Principality in a letter addressed to Pope Sixtus the Fourth. Fifty and more years later, another ruler of the Romanian Principality, another Vlad, confirms the statement made by Mathias indirectly and unawares. In 1532, after a two-year reign (and after an epoch-making banquet, or so the story goes), he drowned while trying to cross Dimbovita on horse-back (hence his historical cognomen, Vlad Inecatul - Vlad the Drowned One). This unfortunate event also certifies to the quality of Romanian wines and to the vicinity of Bucharest to renowned vine yards of the country. The tradition of the Romanian ruling élites' passion for wine-drinking neither begins nor ends with the tragic fate of Vlad the Drowned One: for many medieval rulers of the country, even for the most outstanding ones, wine was at least as praised as nectar was among the gods in Olympus.
The first prince to be concerned with city planning avant-la-lettre was Mircea Ciobanul (Mircea the Shepherd, 1545-1554). During his reign, the city boundaries grow more clearly defined, by oaken walls; within the city, properties and terrains are also delimited by stone marks. This prince was also an advocate of Orthodoxy, being the founder of the Church of the ancient Princely Court, among others. However, the religious fervour did not spare him the misfortune of being disavowed by the Turks in 1554, for reasons that remain unclear. Afterwards, the Ottoman army that entered the city murdered all the courtiers, looted the city and set it on fire. As we will see, such events were not rare during the ensuing century.
Bucharest is also stricly related to the reign of Mihai Viteazul (Mihai the Brave, 1593-1601), the ex-Ban of Oltenia, who will live to be the first prince who achieved national unity. Mihai preferred to reside in Tirgoviste and that for a cause: in November 1594 he sends for Turk creditors at the Bucharest treasury to acquit his debts and he murders them one by one - we have to agree, it is quit: an efficient, if radical, manner to settle one's accounts.
Thereon, his relations to the Ottoman empire become rather tense, and Bucharest bears the costs at their hardest. In the summer of 1595, though victor over the Turks at Calugareni (South of Bucharest), Mihai is contrived to retreat in the Carpathians, while Sinan Pasha, the ruler of the Turks, takes Bucharest over. The first measure taken by the Turks is to fortify the citadel and prepare for a lengthy stay. Mihai, with support from the army troops of Sigismund Bathory (prince of Transylvania), recuperates the city, but the Turks set it on fire before leaving it. No sooner had households been rebuilt than, in the fall of 1596, the Tartars unexpectedly strike as well and Bucharest is set on fire. From a historical perspective, these tragedies have an interesting morale: the city already manifested a remarkable dynamism tightly related to its regenerating force. All evidence points to the fact that after all the looting and setting on fire, houses and shops were restored in no time. It was more difficult to do the same with churches, because funds were not that easily raised in this case. Even if, generally speaking, Bucharest dwellers were in awe of God and in the habit of church-going, they were also practising, without even knowing it, the philosophy of liberalism.
A quite benefic and prosperous period was the reign of Matei Basarab, around the middle of the 17th century (1632-1654). The two decades of this reign consisted in a change for the better in the way the city looked, even if the prince spent but the first half of his reign in Bucharest (and eventually withdrew to Tirgoviste). The Princely Court is redone and bridges (actually large wooden plancks) are set on roads and marketplaces, as an elementary measure against rainfalls and the overflowing of Dimbovita (inconveniences that are also part of a tradition, even if Dimbovita is no longer a real threat). Let us also remember that, considering all past and future princes, Matei Basarab was also the greatest church-founder and no matter how hard Nicolae Ceausescu tried to demolish the traces of such heritage centuries later, he simply could not be entirely successful. 4. Great fires and beautiful girls  To the extent that recapturing it is possible, the life of Bucharest dwellers of the epoch had its charm. The city was surrounded by woods and the banks of the rivers were splendid, in spring as well as in autumn. Hunting in the nearby forests and angling in rivers and ponds were accessible almost to everyone. Dimbovita was the chief course of household and drinking water and it continued to be so for quite a while, even when means of filtering and treating it (in an early stage with alum) were developed in time (it is not clear, though, if the quality of drinking water was improved). Traditionally, spring in Bucharest is short, while autumn lasts longer. Winters were and remain cold and harsh, while summers were hot and droughty. The winter star has always been the Crivat (a North-West wind), while the one cherished by Bucharest dwellers is the Baltaret (a South-East, rain-bringing wind). In the summer drought the ponds run dry and gave off a quite unpleasant odour and the swarms of mosquitos were a familiar presence.
 The successor of Matei Basarab, Constantin Serban (1654-1658), continued the tradition of founding churches and one of the monasteries he had built became in 1661 Metropolitan Seat. Constantin Serban inherited another, less fortunate tradition, too: in 1658 he was called to Constantinople and guessing what was to become of him there, he withdrew in Transylvania, while his arri?re-garde troops set the city on fire, so that the Turks should have nothing left to loot. Consequently, his successor to the seat of the Romanian Principality, Mihnea III, preferred to reside in Tirgoviste. Only a few years later, the city of Tirgoviste will be set on fire too, only this time by Turks and Tartars alike, and that was the last time it served as capital. However, a sort of nostalgia for Tirgoviste as voyvodal city lived on - even the communist voyvod Ceausescu toyed with the idea of transferring the capital to Tirgoviste, while Bucharest would remain the economic-industrial center. As is probably known, Tirgoviste was not only one of Ceausescu's fantasies, but also featured as a dramatic episode of his real life - of his last living hours, to be exact; but that is another story.
 Set on fire in 1658, struck by drought and famine in 1660 and almost simultaneously by the pest, Bucharest was therefore once more on the brink of total disaster; and once more its regeneration force proved stronger. Here is what Evlia Celebi, a Turk traveler, wrote around 1666: "The houses (...), built of stone or brick (...) are not numerous and seem to be born under a bad omen, for every seven or eight years their owners start another uproar and the Turks and Tartars set the city on fire. However, the dwellers rebuild their small, one-storied, but vigorous houses within the same year." As this description has it, the city had then about 12,000 houses (i.e. 50-60 thousand inhabitants), about one thousand shops (kept by "beautiful girls", says the Turk traveler), each of them furnished with a wine cellar, and about seven inns for the travelers. One thing is certain: nowadays the number of inns has increased (and they are known under different names), and the same goes for houses and shops. Wines are no longer as sought for as they used to be, but what remains the same, judging by the appearances, is the attraction of Turk visitors for the just as beautiful girls of the city. 5. Between the dagger and "Caragea's bladder"  After going through great fires, famine and pest, Bucharest enjoyed a few decades of regained peace and prosperity under the reigns of Serban Cantacuzino (1678-1688) and Constantin Brincoveanu (1688-1714). Signs of modernity evolve in the most diverse forms: at the printing press of the first printing center of the city (settled in 1678 at the Metropolitan Seat) the splendid 1688 Bible of Bucharest is published. The number of schools increases due to Brincoveanu's dilligence (for instance the St. Sava school or the school near the Coltea church, which was inaugurated almost simultaneously with the homonymous hospital). In 1692, the Mogosoaia Bridge, which was to become the main road of the city, is covered with oak tree beams. Brincoveanu also redecorates the Princely Court, without sparing a cent, using by and large stone and marble. 1702 sees the completion of the Mogosoaia Palace, meant as a gift to the second of his four children, Stefan, and nowadays a touristic attraction of the area. With a population of 50 thousand inhabitants, Bucharest was, according to data, the most important city of South-Eastern Europe in the epoch. As had been the case before with his predecessors, Brincoveanu's passion for church-founding did not change his worldly destiny: on the 15th of August 1714, he is beheaded by the Turks in Constantinople, together with his four sons. 
Afterwards, Bucharest, the undisputed economic and political center of the country, enters the century of Phanariot domination - a century that is so heterogenous in point of personalities and achievements that a complete anlysis of it is still to be done. The first decades are, once more, dramatic: in February 1718 the city falls prey to a great fire; immediately after, a much too draughty summer results in famine, while the Turkish armies bring in the pest, as they had done before. A cynical observer could say that the epidemic was a democratic one, since Ioan Mavrocordat, the prince himself, perished because of it. Heavenly grace, invoked at church inaugurations (as, for instance, that of the Vacaresti Church, founded by Nicolae Mavrocordat, father of Ioan), did not show its face. In 1737, under the reign of Constantin Mavrocordat, the city was set on fire first by the Turks and then by the Tartars. A pest epidemic, caused again by the Turks, left behind approximately 10 thousand dead, while in 1738 a violent earthquake shook the foundations of the city. As if all that had not sufficed, in summer-time a locust invasion brought about the familiar spectre of the famine. A decade or so later, in 1756, a new pest epidemic settled in and in 1769 Turkish troops coming from the Danube area (in the context of the Turkish and Russian wars of the epoch) looted the city and set it on fire.
 However, Bucharest dwellers (or part of them) survived through all these events. The Phanariot prince Alexandru Ipsilanti (1774-1982) proved to be more dilligent than any of his predecessors in his concern to reorganise the city: not only did he build a new Princely Court, but a new delimitation of the city was thought of. Also, channels were built to mitigate the overflows of Dimbovita and several drinking water springs were channeled into the city. According to some sources, towards the close of his reign, the population of the city mounted to around 80 thousand inhabitants. Nicolae Caragea, Ipsilanti's successor, was not as propitious to his contemporaries. On the one hand, he levied taxes (and he established thus a tradition) and on the other, the pest epidemic visited the city again. And such disasters will swarm in during the ensuing decades (Ion Caragea's pest in 1813-4, with 70 thousand dead all over the country; famine in 1795; another earthqauke in 1802; another great fire in 1804; and the overflowing of Dimbovita in 1805), while the war was going on between the Turks and the Russians. The city and its dwellers clang on to life, again, and some of the residents of the 93 mahala* streets inventoried in 1798 would even find life charming. In November 1789, under the conditions of the Russian - Austrian - Turkish war, Bucharest is besieged by Austrian army forces, under the lead of the prince of Coburg. Several fancy balls thrown by local boyards followed, even if the sartorial differences between them and the Austrian officers still spoke of the East-West scision. In the summer of 1818, the mahala inhabitants were astonished to witness the first balloon to take off from the city ground; to them, the balloon bore a striking resemblance to the pig bladders that children would gonflate at Christmas time. That is why the balloon came to be historically known as "Caragea's bladder". 6. Revolutions and city engineering  Bucharest had shyly entered the 19th century, without knowing that it had set for a time of rapid and all-encompassing changes, just like the entire country.
 The revolutionary decades followed. In the times of Tudor Vladimirescu, Bucharest was the starting-point and somewhat later the apogee of the social movement led by Vladimirescu. Towards the close of his misadventure, he set off to Tirgoviste, where he was murdered by his former companions. Nowadays there still are people who obstinately see a certain similitude between his death and the last living days of Nicolae Ceasescu who also set off for Tirgoviste in search of aid and was murdered there by some of his former companions. Anyway, coming back to Tudor's death, Bucharest was immediately after conquered by the Turks. Inhabitants and passers-by could then see on the Mogosoaia Bridge one of the most dramatic episodes of that revolutionary movement, i.e. the murdering of Sava Bimbasa, the military leader of the Eteria. Thereafter, Bucharest will experience at least five more revolutions, so called by contemporary regimes, but it had not yet experienced a velvet revolution.
 The 1821 Revolution put and end to Phanariot domination and was followed by the reign of Grigore Ghica, who was also concerned with embellishing the city: the wooden bridges are consolidated, there are signs of stone-paving and city lights become a reality, at least for the center of the city. A new Russian and Turkish war causes the Tzarist armies to enter the Romanian Principality and advance to Bucharest in May 1828. That autumn, two terrifying epidemics, the pest and the cholera, concurrently strike Bucharest again. But the period is not totally unfortunate: one of the figures that is of definite historical importance to the city at the time is the Russian general Pavel Kisseleff, governor of Moldavia and of the Romanian Principality between November 1829 and April 1834. To Bucharest, Kisseleff's presence was providential. Only a few months after his setting in Bucharest, he ordered an 8-member commission for "embellishing the city", two of them being, not at all by accident, doctors. Kisseleff's projects were ambitious - the mapping of the city, the creation of large boulevards with shadowy trees on each side, the draining of ponds that caused the swarms of mosquitos, street lights and even the building of a theater house. A Committee of the City was formed, its members being elected by the wealthy citizens. The first People's Council of the City was to be elected in November 1831.
 Kisseleff's dreams promptly become real: the city perimeter is set at 19 kilometers, while entrance to and exit out of the city is possible through one of the 10 military outposts. For the first time, streets are given names and houses are numbered systematically, the city center is paved in stone and a boulevard connecting the Mogosoaia Bridge and Baneasa (North of Bucharest) is designed in 1832. In 1831 and after, a population census is completed; according to 1831 statistics, Bucharest had about 70 thousand inhabitants, out of which 58 thousand permanent and 10 to 12 thousand temporary, which testifies to a remarkable dynamics of population (to be compared with Sophia and Athens, which had merely 20 thousand inhabitants each).
 In April 1829, due to the efforts of the local intellectual élite, the National Courier periodical appears (Curierul National), to which the local authorities add, in 1832, the Official Monitor, another influential periodical; a noteworthy success is reported by the Walbaum bookshop, so well-furnished with books that Russian officers would purchase here books forbidden in Tzarist Russia. In the early 1830's, the National Archives are raised, taking over from the Metropolitan Seat the task of keeping ancient acts and documents. Later on, towards the close of the century , more exactly in 1882, the impressive building of the Official Monitor (later to become the locale of the National Archives) is positioned opposite to the Cismigiu Garden.
 Due to these cosmopolitan imports and to an obvious urge to change as well, Bucharest initiates an accelerated a process of westernization that is noticeable in terms of fashion, mores, and even the sound of the streets, where all Eastern European languages could be heard (it is true, however, that the most refined would hear French exclusively). The attraction of the city was still represented by the dazzling coexistence of windswept shacks and always more impressive and daring palaces.
 Under the reign of Gheorghe Bibescu, the raising of a National Theater began in 1846, supervised by Austrian architect Hefft. Inaugurated on New Year's Eve in 1852, with the participation of Barbu Stirbey, the prince at the time, the National Theater was the third largest theater house of Europe; its destruction caused by the German bombing after August 23rd 1944 deprived the city of one of its best designed buildings.
 After 1830, Bucharest witnesses the first systematic planning of parks and gardens, which had initially been private properties of more or less aesthetic value. In the first half of the century, Braslea Garden was a gathering place for workers and merchants; afterwards its place was taken by Ioanid Garden (known thereafter as the Puskin Garden, then again as Ioanid Garden). After 1844, the planning of the Cismigiu Garden starts, with the superintendence of German horticulturist Meyer (one more example of the attraction the city had on Western architects and engineers as well as on Balkan craftsmen). The garden, which was of about the same size as today, was finished in 1852. Kisseleff had also dreamt of acclimitizing the garden, and the elderly inhabitants still remembered that on one side of it had been a lake owned by a certain Dura, a local merchant. In both Cismigiu and Dimbovita waters angling was successful up until the close of the century; there are still some who do it unsuccessfully, more for the sake of poaching than out of nostalgia.
 Although determinedly on the road of modernizaton, the city was not spared the cataclysms that were by then part of its tradition and history: a powerful earthquake in January 1838; in the spring of the following year, the overflowing of Dimbovita; and at Easter time, in 1847, a fire that overpowered the firefighters' efforts (who had become organized in a modern institution only in 1845). The fire had been set by childish play and devastated 1,142 shops, 686 houses, 12 churches and monasteries and 10 inns. The houses, the shops, even the inns were rapidly rebuilt; once again, the churches fared worse.
 Towards the middle of the century, Bucharest was once again a revolutionary stage due to the enthousiastic 1848 revolutionists. A new generation, more Europeanly-minded than all former generations, was about to take over. The Romanian Infant, as C.A. Rosetti's periodical was called, issued in the summer and autumn of 1848, can be taken as a quite adequate metaphor.
 In September 1848, after the muffling of the revolution, Bucharest is subject to amphibious occupation, both Turkish and Russian (the latter grasping, as usual, the lion's share). But the tranformation zeal of the epoch could no longer be hindered by such temporary details (the occupation troops retreat completely after only a few years). In 1850, a new committee for the embellishment of the city is elected. In order of priority, a new bridge over Dimbovita is planned, while new and modernized cemeteries are acclimatized; of these, Bellu (as a garden, it had been the stage of sonorous fancy balls and parties, half through the century) and Ghencea went down in history thanks to figures who went out of it (Ceausescu, for instance).
7. Highschools, tramways and dorobanti*
 In 1859, Bucharest becomes, and only naturally, the capital city of the United Wallachia and Moldavia during the reign of Alexandru Ioan Cuza. Not that Iasi (in Moldavia) did not have its charms, but Bucharest had twice the former's population, a more vivid economic life and a very dynamic cultural life - while the entertainment dimension, oscillating between flirtation, fancy balls and orgies, was establishing a name on the continent. (Incidentally, let it be remembered that the night of February 11th 1866, when plotters entered the premises of Cuza, they did not catch him in his bedroom with his lawful wife, but with Maria Obrenovici, his beautiful lover.) Starting with 1853, the celebrated Assan's mill ground autochthonous wheat by means of imported steam engines; starting with 1854, street lighting was oil-based and only three years later Bucharest was the world's first city to use petroleum for lamp-posts (Vienna would resort to the same method as late as 1859). Thereon, gas is introduced in 1868, while in 1882, the first few electric bulbs made their appearance in Bucharest, lighting the façade of the Royal Palace. Starting with 1855, anyone could send a wire at will and after 1890 the well-to-do could even communicate by telephone. 
 The 1860 population census speaks of a city with more than 120 thousand inhabitants, one sixth of which were merchants. The city totaled 2000 wooden houses, some 5 thousand earth buildings and already over 16 thousand brick houses. Also in 1860, street paving was given a start, a sign of modernity that pleased the lovers of carriage strolls (or coach strolls for those who had a sense of nostalgia) - thus they would be safe from mingling too closely with "all those merchants" in the tram-and-horses that appeared in a quite impressive number after 1871. Somewhat later, in 1894, a new company, later known as BTC (Rom. STB), The Bucharest Tramway Company, will introduce electric tramways, without eliminating the former type or the carriages. The habitual destination of a respectable Bucharest dweller was the center, or one of the public gardens. Or the "bulivar", since the city was never in need of provincial master Goe's*, coming to visit the capital. After 1872, one of the frequent destinations was the Tirgoviste station (called, from 1888 on, "the North Station", ? la parisienne). The first station had been Filaret, where in 1869 the first railroad was festively inaugurated; pomposity was not discouraged by the pettiness of the railroad, which merely connected the capital to Giurgiu (60 km). But it didn't matter, the first step had been taken and that made all the difference. Railroad expansion would later on engender several important disputes. We could say that, in the recent history of Bucharest, these political-fashionable scandals got themselves noticed just as the great fires, the pest and the Turkish invasions had done previously, without causing as many victims, though - in other words, such scandals didn't lead to any clear changes or results.
 The 1860's are a good time for education, itself modernized as the Zeitgeist demanded: in the cityscape, highschools such as "Gheorghe Lazar" or "Matei Basarab" become notable landmarks, and from 1865 on, "Mihai Viteazul" is as notorious. From their earliest days, highschool students added some colour to the streets of the city, even if they were easily told apart because of their rather sombre uniforms. It was bon ton to be seen as a student carrying around a pack of books from one of the city's bookshops, be it Hachette, Socec or others; without a uniform, a student could also be seen on less respectable streets, or in public houses, but people were generally tolerant and would turn a blind eye on such off-track behavior that went with the young age.  The summer of 1865 welcomes the presence of the majestic building of the University, and the more and more active involvement of the teachers, professors and intellectuals in the cultural life of the time will lead to the establishment, in 1866, of the Literary Society - the future Romanian Academy (starting 1878).
 In 1864, the ancient City Council will be replaced by the Municipality Hall (following the example of important European capitals); thereafter, the mayor will be a key character in urban life and the truth is that there were some remarkable mayors towards the close of the century, without whose determination the planning of major roads (going from East to West and from North to South, after 1890) would probably have been delayed. Mayor Pache Protopopescu was one of the keenest in these matters.
 When on May 10th 1866, Carol I, the future king, arrived in Bucharest, Romania had officially adopted the International Standardization System for two years (so to say, people were growing accustomed to the meter,  the liter, the kilogram). Of course, old standard units were still in use in markets, as were unbalanced scales, never turning in favour of the customer. The calendar was a special issue - it took several decades for the Gregorian calendar to be adopted, and the 13-day lag as to the Western calendar to be recuperated. To this day, there are people who claim that it was not days, but decades we lagged behind the West, and not simply in point of calendars, but in every way...
 Starting May 10th 1877, in the context of new Russian and Turkish wars, Romania becomes independent from the Ottoman empire and, naturally, the jubilant capital could not neglect the event, in which the Romanian army had behaved in a quite honourable manner. On October 8th 1878, the victorious Romanian troops marched on the Mogosoaia Bridge (hereafter to be known as the Victoria Road), while several streets were named in memory of the Independence War (for instance, Plevna Road, Grivita Road, Rahova Road, Dorobanti Road, Smardan Road, etc.)
 Bucharest population will increase constantly from now on; totaling 177 thousand inhabitants in 1877, it will have 381 inhabitants in 1916, i.e. more than twice as much in less than fifty years. Above all, they were spared one important trouble thanks to the first watershed on Dimbovita, the overflowing of which will no longer be a danger. Instead, though, ever new dangers came to threaten the capital. Whatever Bucharest lacks, it is not problems.
At any rate, besides the whole lot of modernizing changes in the way streets looked and people behaved,  the 20th century was being welcomed by a Bucharest that proved contagiously optimistic. Naturally, as is always the case, a retrospective understanding of that state of mind is the privilege of the inheritors - i.e. ours, today's people - rather than of the people who lived back then. There are, certainly, several histories of Bucharest apt to reflect the urban dynamism of the first decades of the century. I believe that one of the most faithful reflections can be found in the literature of the time - since, contrary to what one might think, Bucharest easily became a city that proved quite deft in playing the role of a literary muse. The privileged century for Bucharest is born with Ion Luca Caragiale's pen and grows vigorously in such prose as was written by Mateiu Caragiale, Hortensia Papadat Bengescu, Cezar Petrescu, George Calinescu and so many others. Yet few managed to capture the gist of it as well as the first in this series - the playwright who was born a little to the north of the city and became a Bucharest man by adoption and who was to die, against his heart's desire perhaps, in the German capital. Caragiale's streets are trod by cabmen, scandalmongers and costermongers, the alehouses of his city host local clerks and merchants, just as the salons welcome officers and ladies of good families. Today it seems hard to believe that Caragiale's city was the same place where, at precisely the same time, a building like that of the Athenée was being raised, to the glory of the city. The building took twelve years to be finished (1886-1897) and just about as much to be renovated, a century later. Had the Athenée been the only thing in Bucharest, the city around should have been invented for its sake; for the various successive ends this splendid construction, designed by French architect Paul Albert Galleron, was destined for are more significant to the city than to the building itself. Raised on the ground initially meant for a man?ge of the "Romanian Equestrian Society", then functioning as picture gallery, audition hall, exhibition hall, library and cinema house, the Athenée was also, for a short while, at the beginning of the '20s, the meeting place for the House of Deputies - as a sort of acknowledgement of the supremacy politics held in the city life of the first decades of the century.
It was relatively late that Romanians discovered politics - in the modern and democratic sense of the term; yet, when they did, they were not long in making a virtue out of it. People in Bucharest have lived politics with maximum intensity; and so has their city, along with them. The city landscape is replete not only with historical monuments but also with politically relevant dwellings - such as the shaded house on Enei street that saw the birth of the Liberal Party, in 1875, or the room on Dealul Spirii, a place fit for the workers' balls, which witnessed the birth of the Communist Party, in May 1921. Bucharest has always been the favourite shop window of Romanian politics; no serious observer will take into account the political turmoil of the provinces, for whatever really matters will only happen in the capital. In the first half of the century, two other buildings were raised here that were almost ostentatiously meant to serve the political sphere. First, the house of the present Town-hall, built in 1906-1911, between the Cismigiu Park and Splaiul Dimbovitei, and designed by the distinguished architect Petre Antonescu; the building stood admirably through the German bombing of August 1944, yet nearly collapsed in recent years when a mayor who emerged out of the bubbling waters of December 1989, had the idea to plant two cement lions (a gift coming from China) at the entrance of the building, in sheer contradiction with the style of the whole. Second, there was the Victoria Palace (at one end of the Victoria Road - main axis of the city), built later on, starting with 1937; headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then of the Government of the country, the Victoria Palace has been from the very beginning a symbol of a town that will always re-emerge out of the ashes of its own tradition. It was erected close to the former Sturdza Palace, which was demolished shortly after the new building was finished. Itself damaged by the 1944 bombings, the Victoria Palace remained, in both literal and figurative senses, at the center of our political life, even after December 1989. It was to become the witness of what everybody else in Bucharest and in Romania witnessed in this period: people "emanated" from the revolution, luxury cars and ambulances, protest movements and miners; the façade of the palace was long afterwards left to bear the traces of those days.
During the first decades of the century, Bucharest was one of the European towns that became famous as centers of modernist art and literature; the taste for innovation and experiment that seems to be the enduring hallmark of the city did reach then its peak. Yet it was not only the modernists who felt at home in Bucharest; just like Caragiale or Mihai Eminescu in a previous epoch, a whole intellectual generation was to make the streets, parks, flavours and rhythms of the city part of their own destinies. Mircea Eliade's reveries, the readings and passions of women like Jeni Acterian or Alice Voinescu, the joys and pains of Mihail Sebastian, all speak of a young generation ready to taste both the apparent spleen of their town and the unmistakable wine of its underlying dynamism. In the summer of 1940, Rosie Waldeck, an American journalist gifted with the finesse of a German countess (or a countess with journalistic insight and sharpness, it's quite the same thing), comes to Bucharest and feels the pulse of the whole country simply by closely observing the life on the Victoria Road. She was persuaded that this boulevard was the most important avenue in South-Eastern Europe, just as the hotel she was staying in - the Athenée Palace - was, in a way, not only the unofficial core of the country, but the diplomatic center of the Balkans too. She was quite right.
What Rosie Waldeck could not tell at that point, though, is that the fate of the inter-war generation will go hand in hand with the fate of the city: both them and it will be forced, after 1945, swept by the communist wave, into a conflict with their history, memory and tradition, setting up once again, in this endless series of rehearsals, the stage for the Romanian catastrophe.
The city in the title, that will never again be what it used to, does not trigger nostalgia or a longing for times past; it is fine with me to say that Bucharest will never be what it was up until 1940 or at any point before that date.
Saying that is not necessarily the confession of a regret. There is a morale to it all: the computing of the disasters undergone by this city could go on for ever. The more important thing is, I believe, its fantastic capacity of regeneration, all the more so as it never lacked mortal enemies. No matter what one might think at a first sight, the spirit .of Bucharest pulsates with an almost tangible tension; sometimes, it is a joie de vivre; most of the times, it is an obstination to live. It is this tension, rather than history, that makes one appreciate its charming, if dramatic, past and foresee for it a powerful future.