Historical Monument presentation:
The Old Princely Court – Bucharest
Code in the Historical Monuments List: B- I-s-A- 17896
Location : between Covaci Street and French Street; carou cadastral: 13-14.
Date of construction : XIV-th century to XVIII-th century
The history of the Old Princely Court’s construction can be grouped in four main stages:
1. BUCHAREST STRONGHOLD or the STRONGHOLD OF THE DÂMBOVIŢA was built by Vlad Ţepeş [Vlad the Impaler], between 1458 and 1459. This is the core of the future princely court and, at the initial stage of construction, it will take the shape of the stronghold’s grounds.
It had a ground floor with a rectangular shape, a courtyard and a basement with the same rectangular shape. During a siege in 1470, it was partly destroyed.
The foundations are kept in their entirety, as well as the lower side of the basement’s perimeter walls, on the east, west and north sides.
2. THE NEW STRONGHOLD was built on the ruins of the stronghold built earlier by Vlad Ţepeş, between 1476 and 1480 by Laiotă Basarab.
The stronghold largely preserves the shape of the one built before it. The walls, partly kept only at basement level, are used to rebuild and keep the shape of Vlad’s stronghold. The masonry contains large boulders placed between rows of bricks.
In the middle of the following century, during the construction of the princely court, all the interior walls were dismantled to the foundations, and in the XIX-th century, when the area was restructured, the south wall was completely dismantled.
In the XVI-th century, during the construction of his palace, Mircea the Shepherd will build on the inside of the perimeter walls of the former two XV-th century strongholds, adding another row of masonry, and so, today, we can only see the remaining west and east side, as well as behind the masonry of Mircea the Shepherd, the east bays of the north side.
During the reign of Radu of Afumaţi, half a century later, another row of masonry is added to the longer walls of the stronghold, with rough features and made up of bricks and boulders of various sizes. We can see the north side, the part above today’s ground level.
3. THE PRINCELY PALACE – THE TIMES OF MIRCEA THE SHEPHERD
The construction of the palace is initiated by Mircea the Shepherd, during his first rule (1545-1554). He uses the grounds of the former strongholds, but, by covering the inner courtyard and expanding the basement across the whole perimeter of the palace we can say he significantly altered the plans of the building.
The masonry of the walls, columns and pillars, expressing special aesthetic features, is made up of riverbed boulders, carved stone blocks or stone slabs between brick rows. The masonry of the vault system contains brick exclusively.
The north-west side of the basement structure is the best preserved. Nothing of the ground floor masonry survived to this day.
4. THE PRINCELY PALACE – THE TIMES OF PĂTRAŞCU THE GOOD.
During the times of Pătraşcu the Good (1554-1557), the princely palace attained a princely manor, placed beyond the grounds of the extension carried out during the rule of Laiotă Basarab in the middle of the former century. The princely manor was constructed in a rectangular shape with an area of 25 m x 6 m in the interior. The walls were made of brick and carved boulders, but the masonry did not match the quality of the one used during the reign of Mircea the Shepherd.
The north side of the princely manor can be found under the Mociorniţa block of flats, while the south side was demolished in the XIX-th century.
A part of the west and east wall, and four out of seven columns of the basement are preserved.
5. THE PRINCELY PALACE – THE TIMES OF MATEI BASARAB.
The palace kept the appearance it attained during the reigns of Mircea the Shepherd and Pătraşcu the Good until the end of XVI-th century. Still, events of the time, some of them quite aggressive in their nature and frequent – war and plundering, noticeably make their mark on the building.
During the reign of Matei Basarab (1632-1654), the palace was nearly a ruin. He rebuilt, most probably, the ground floor and reinforced, the vaulting system in the basement, here and there. On the outside of the palace perimeter, a few rooms with wooden beams roof are built, between the walls of the two strongholds and princely manors built by Pătraşcu the Good, and to the north, a building with several brick tanks, water pipes and a furnace used to heat the water, was built.
Only traces of these constructions are to be found.
6. THE PRINCELY PALACE – THE TIMES OF GRIGORE GHICA.
After fire the 1660 Ottoman pillaging of the palace, the gravely damaged construction is repaired and partly altered.
The precise changes are not known, but we can see traces of the walls, partly reconstructed, of a chapel, built at ground floor level in the main area of the palace towards the north-western boundary.
Underneath, a new transverse arch, made entirely out of brick, beside the one built in the rule of Mircea the Shepherd, reinforces – right in front of the east wall of the altar’s apse – the vault of the basement. It still exists, today.
7. THE PRINCELY PALACE – THE TIMES OF ŞERBAN CANTACUZINO (1678 -1688).
Ever since he was the steward of Gheorghe Duca, Şerban Cantacuzino was responsible for building a new building north of the palace. At the beginning of the XVIII-th century, a fire largely damages the palace and it’s partly abandoned. Traces of a ground floor tiled with bricks still exist.
Within his reign, Şerban Cantacuzino completely restructures the built area of the palace, dating from the XV-th century of Laiotă Basarab. These are the times when the Star Spangled Spatharios Hall is built – The Lesser Spatharios Hall – vaulted with a drilled cylinder, and it is for this reason that it is named The Lunette Room, within the present day museum circuit. South of the buildings raised by Pătraşcu the Good, there was another construction of which only the foundations remain today.
Şerban Cantacuzino had the greatest of care, concerning the palace building, taking into account all the rulers that made it their home, even as far as aesthetics is concerned. Unfortunately, only written sources attest to these facts.
8. THE PRINCELY PALACE – THE TIMES OF CONSTANTIN BRÂNCOVEANU (1688-1714).
When Constantin Brâncoveanu came to rule, he already had an imposing construction to serve him. However, this fact didn’t stop the ruler to improve the palace.
The façade is met with two gazebos united by a corridor in the south. The traces of the great gazebo are now highlighted on the west side of the palace. Recovered stone fragments (where a column was placed, relatively in recent times, on the present day terrace, in the area of the former corridor) are a sign of elegance. In front of the corridor, in the south side of the palace, the throne room was placed and accounted for much of the space, from which only a fragment of the north wall is kept, to the east lies the Lesser Spatharios Hall, built in the time of his predecessor, and to the west a small princely room was placed, but now it’s no more. Beyond the great throne room, there was a passage way leading to the entrance of Grigore Ghica’s chapel, to which Brâncoveanu adds a tower and refinishes it. The building boasted a new floor as well, but the data about this feature are incomplete. Only two walls are kept (one above the great throne room, the other one above the Lesser Spatharios Hall). Adding this level accounted for changes in the basement, where new masonry meant to augment the capacity of the vaulting system partly merged with the long discharge arches, complete the cross-shaped columns and widen the transversal arches that were already there.
Before the changes made in the palace perimeter, Brîncoveanu constructed a new princely manor “on stone column” (that were used afterwards at the ground floor of a XIX-th century living quarters that still exists today). The east wall of the princely manor, of which only a fragment is preserved, was also the east boundary of the building complex that was the Brancovenian style palace.
9. THE DECLINE OF THE PALACE. THE TIMES OF THE PHANARIOTES
The fires of 1718 and 1719 (after which the empty spaces of the Lesser Spatharios Hall’s east wall were changed and the richly decorated stone frames from the times of Şerban Cantacuzino or Constantin Brâncoveanu were replaced by simple stone frames), the Russian-Austrian-Turkish war between 1736 and 1739, the earthquake of 1738, the Russian-Turkish war of 1768-1774, but even more significantly the lack of funds and the carelessness specific to the times of the Phanariotes lead to the decline of the Princely Court.
After 1775, when Alexandru Ipsilanti builds his new houses on top of Spirii hill, next to Mihai Vodă’s monastery, the Princely Court on the shore of the Dâmboviţa river will be called the Old Princely Court.
A last attempt at rehabilitating the palace was carried out by Nicolae Mavrogheni (1786-1791). Still, he never achieved more than completing small changes in the basement, which amounted to reinforcing a few weak arches.
In 1798, Constantin Hangerli brakes down the constructed space, as well as the open space of the Old Princely Court, into lots in order to sell them. From now on, for some years, the site will know only of demolition and construction in a random and erratic manner.
In 1847, after the great fire which burned much of Bucharest, of the old constructions of the Old Princely Court, only the Annunciation church remains.
In the second half of the XIX-th century, the area is penetrated by new streets. Their commercial nature makes the area appealing and lights up the atmosphere. Still, in the interwar period, the shops are one by one replaced with storage rooms and the area falls, again, into decline.
Between 1967 and 1972, the princely palace was restored. The restoration works, lead by architect N. Pruncu were aimed at establishing a museum for the remains of the palace.
The Old Princely Court Museum boasts an approximate 3500 square meters surface, in the north of the French Street.
The Museum finds itself next to the Annunciation church, in the east, built in the XVI-th century by Mircea the Shepherd, south-east to the Inn of Manuc, and north-west to the Princely Wine Cellars and the Glass Blower’s Courtyard.
Curtea Veche Museum - The Voievodal Palace
Direcţia Judeţeană pentru Cultură şi Patrimoniul Naţional București