A magnificent concert hall, the Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Roman) is the true symbol of Bucharest. Had such a postcard been printed, it would certainly represent this building. Opened in 1888, the ornate, domed, circular building is the city's main concert hall and home of the "George Enescu" Philharmonic and of the George Enescu 3-annual international music festival.
In 1865, cultural and scientific personalities such as Constantin Esarcu, V. A. Ureche, and Nicolae Creţulescu founded the Romanian Atheneum Cultural Society. Since its inauguration, the Romanian Philharmonic Society intended to create its own building that would serve as a monument to Romanian art, science, and culture. C. Esarhu states: “The building shall be exclusively dedicated to art and science and the architecture shall comply with this purpose”. Based on this concept, a national subscription list was created in order to collect funds (“Give 1 leu for the Athenaeum”), and in 1886 the French architect Albert Galeron proposed a project together with the greatest Romanian architects of his times: G. Cerchez, C. Olanescu, I. Mincu, I. Gr. Cantacuzino. In 1888, the new building was inaugurated even though work continued until 1897 due to the lack of sufficient funds. The Romanian Athenaeum Society used the building for different purposes, such as organizing conferences, symphonic concerts of the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as painting exhibitions (beginning with 1894, the official belle-arts salons were held in this hall). Since its inauguration in 1888 and up to present, the Philharmonic Orchestra has had regular concerts in the concert hall of the Athenaeum.
On December 29, 1919, the Atheneum was the site of the conference of leading Romanians who voted to ratify the unification of Bessarabia, Transylvania, and Bukovina with the Romanian Old Kingdom to constitute Greater Romania. Among the biggest names, which have evolved on The Atheneum stage, we have to remember: Sergiu Celibidache, Ionel Perlea, Herbert von Karajan, Dinu Lipatti, Arthur Rubinstein, Pablo Casals, Erich Kleiber, David Oistrah, Igor Strawinsky, Richard Strauss, Paul Robeson. Extensive reconstruction and restoration work has been conducted in 1992 by a Romanian construction company and restoration painter Silviu Petrescu, saving the building from collapse. The 9 million Euro required were contributed in equal shares by the government and the Council of Europe Development Bank.
The overall style is neoclassical, with some more romantic touches. In front of the building there is a small park and a statue of Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu. Built in a neoclassic style, the building of the Athenaeum has a rather eclectic style, with many end-of-century and typical French decorations. Twelve columns with embossed ornaments support the central part of the ground floor. From the rotonda, one can reach the hall by four monumental Carrara marble stairways, one of which, the honorary stairway, is reserved for special occasions. Inside, the ground floor hosts an ornate conference hall as large as the auditorium above; the auditorium seats 600 in the stalls and another 52 in loge seating. A remarkable piece of work is a 75 m-long and 3 m-wide painting, created between 1933 and 1938 by Professor Costin Petrescu, who used the “al fresco” technique. The painting represents “an open book of national history” for its admirers. Painted using the al fresco technique, the piece depicts the most important moments of Romanian history, starting with the conquest of Dacia by Roman emperor Trajan and ending with the realization of Greater Romania in 1918.
Recognized as a symbol of Romanian culture, the building has been inscribed in 2007 on the list of the Label of European Heritage sights.
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