The Archive of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989

A Catch-22 December 1989, Groundhog-Day Production. Presenting the Personal Research & Scholarship of Richard Andrew Hall, Ph.D.

The BATTLE SCAR PEDIGREE of Bucharest’s period buildings: relics of the 1989 Revolution (14/03/2009 Valentin Mandache)

The BATTLE SCAR PEDIGREE of Bucharest’s period buildings: relics of the 1989 Revolution

I often notice when strolling through central Bucharest or around Gara de Nord (Northern Train Station) area the many bullet and gun shell scars on various old beautiful buildings. These damages were inflicted two decades ago, during the December 1989 Anti-communist Revolution in Romania. I have here an illustrative example of a Neo-Romanian style house from Gara de Nord area, photographed a couple of weeks ago, that still bears the marks of imprecisely fired machine gun shells sprayed around its windows by the poorly trained army conscripts in those momentous days.

(©Valentin Mandache)
Machinegun shell scars on Neo-Romanian building, Gara de Nord area, 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)

The scars are usually clustered around the window frame or on the roof edge area, as from those places snipers belonging to the communist regime’s secret police were targeting the crowd bellow on the street and the armed forces responded with machine gun fire.

(©Valentin Mandache)
Bullet marks on a 1930s block of flats, Cismigiu area (©Valentin Mandache, 2009)

The citizens were also given weapons by the army to fight the dictatorship loyalists and in the ensuing mêlée and confusion many buildings were damaged or even destroyed by fire generated from bullet impact (see my previous post on the reconstruction of a landmark Bucharest building damaged in the 1989 street fights). I was a participant at the events as a student activist and witnessed how the architectural details of many period buildings were damaged in the chaotic gunfire exchanges. For a brief analysis of the events, see my review of Peter Siani-Davis’ book, one of the best written accounts of the Romanian Revolution.

(©Valentin Mandache)
1891 Little Paris style building hit by gun fire, Cisigiu area (©Valentin Mandache, 2009)

One of the most damaged public buildings was the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum of Arts. Its façade, fronting the former Republic Square, now named the Revolution Square, is completely repaired, with the bullet holes plastered over and painted. However, as the picture bellow shows, the back walls of the building still bear the intensely visible battle scars, looking as they were inflicted yesterday.

(©Valentin Mandache)
Back wall of the Royal Palce bearing bullet and shell marks, 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)

Other building façades had a complete make up repair after the events, such as the National Archives edifice (built in an early Neo-Romanian style), though the bullets traces can still be detected in the darker plaster patches on the wall.

National Archives building facade - repaired bullet marks (Valentin Mandache)
National Archives building facade – repaired bullet marks, 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)

The Romanian Revolution of December 1989 was an extraordinary social upheaval and marked the end of nearly five decades of one of the most cruel and isolationist communist regimes in the world.

In my opinion these battle scars on Bucharest’s period buildings are a pedigree mark and in subsequent renovation and repair work, a small area on the façade containing these wounds should be preserved. They mark a momentous event in the history of this country and deserve to be conserved as a reminder for the generations to come. A telling example is seen in the following two images of a beautiful Little Paris style building, next the Athenaeum, in the Revolution square area that still bears the bullet and machine gun shell marks. The most serious damage is the area of the roof platform banisters and rail, where the elusive loyalist snipers perhaps stood and were targeted by the army and citizens.

(©Valentin Mandache)
Athenaeum area Little Paris style building hit by gunfire, 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)
(©Valentin Mandache)
Detail of Athaeneum area Little Paris style building hit by gunfire, 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)

There are many old buildings in Europe that still preserve with pride cannon balls encrusted in their walls from the past famous battles. I even saw something similar, but historically much older at Pompeii, in Italy: tracks left by the ancient stone throwing artillery on the city walls when it was conquered by the Roman general Sulla. It conveyed to me a tremendous sense of communion with those long ago passed events.

In Bucharest, such a special significance has the Magheru – Nicolae Balcescu thoroughfare, where the first confrontations in December 1989 between the revolutionaries and repressive forces took place, close by the University building. The area still contains examples of grand period buildings that display the battle scars of the Revolution, as is seen in the following photograph of a 1930s travertine lined building on Nicolae Balcescu boulevard, one hundred and fifty meters away from the University.

(©Valentin Mandache)
Nicolae Balcescu boulevard building hit by gunfire, 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)
(©Valentin Mandache)
Detail of Nicolae Balcescu boulevard hit by gunfire, 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)

Two decades after the events, in 2009, many of these facades are not yet repaired due to the property owners’ lack of funds or lingering property disputes. The lack of resources comes as quite paradoxical in a city that saw prices for period houses, during the property bubble of the last four years reaching fantasy levels, on a par with those from Paris or even London. However, slowly an increasing number of these facades are being mended, although many such repairs are low quality, botched renovation work. Those planning to undertake renovation/ restoration work on these battle scarred buildings would do a great service to the identity and history of Bucharest by preserving for posterity some of these traces reminding the pivotal events of December 1989, an action which would also enhance the historical and cash value of their property.

(©Valentin Mandache)
1920s building hit by gunfire, Cismigiu area (©Valentin Mandache, 2009)

©Valentin Mandache

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