Bucharest Centennial: The Old Court, the oldest medieval monument in Bucharest

Romania-Insider.com has started a series of articles about Bucharest landmarks of architecture or history, which have witnessed the last century of what is now the Romanian capital, and noteworthy people who have helped build the Romanian capital as it is today. This project is supported by the Bucharest City Hall through the Public Monuments and Touristic Heritage Administration (AMPT), within the cultural program Bucharest-Centennial.

Check the full series of articles dedicated to the Centennial on Romania-Insider.com here. 

Before it became a capital of Wallachia, and then of the Great Romania, following the Great Union of 1918, Bucharest served as a residence for the Muntenia rulers. Testimonies of that period and of the subsequent transformations are well kept at the Old Court, the oldest medieval monument in the capital. Parts of these ensemble exist even today and can be visited in the Old Town of Bucharest.

An important milestone in the development of the future princely court and of Bucharest was the building of a fortified court by ruler Vlad Țepeș (1456 – 1462). He expanded the surface of an existing brick fortress from the second half of the 14thcentury and surrounded it with stone walls. Vlad Țepeș was also the one who issued, on September 20th1459, the first princely act in Bucharest, considered the oldest documentary mention of the Town of Bucharest.

Later, in the 16thcentury, a palace with extensive cellars was erected, as was the Buna Vestire (Annunciation) or the Old Court Church, considered the oldest church in the capital. In the 17thcentury, ruler Matei Basarab (1632 – 1654) reconstructed the Princely Court, which had expanded its surface considerably but had been affected by the passing of time. Thus, Bucharest remained the residence of the rulers of Wallachia in between 1459 and 1660, alongside Târgoviște. After 1660, it remained the only one.

The Old Court ensemble was transformed again during the time of princes Constantin Brâncoveanu (1688 – 1714) and Ștefan Cantacuzino (1714 – 1715). The period of the rule of the two coincides with the period of maximum development of the ensemble. Then, the palace and the gardens covered 25,000 sqm, bordered to the south by the Dâmbovița river, to the west by the Smârdan and Șelari streets, to the north by Lipscani, and to the east by the I.C. Brătianu Boulevard. The Princely Court included the Princely Palace, the Buna Vestire Church, later known as the St Anton – Old Court Church, houses with reception halls, the princely chancelleries, stables and gardens.

The Old Court Church, which is in use today, was erected by Mircea Ciobanul, towards the end of his reign. Petru cel Tânăr (Peter the Young), the son of Mircea Ciobanul¸ and his brothers, Mircea and Radu, finished the construction.

The church is modeled after the one in Cozia. The facades are decorated by the alternation of horizontal stripes of brick and of narrow ones of plaster. A chapel also existed on the premises of the old court but the church was the main religious place of the Court and the site where the rulers were crowned.

The portraits of the founders of the church are painted on the entrance wall: Mircea Ciobanu and Lady Chiajna on one side, and Ștefan Cantacuzino and Lady Păuna on the other. During the reign of Ștefan Cantacuzino, in 1715, the entryway was decorated with sculptures in stone.

In 1775, the Phanariot ruler Alexandru Ipsilante erected a new Princely Court, on the Mihai Vodă hill, in the area of today’s Izvor Park. The old palace had deteriorated following an earthquake, several fires and damages produced during various foreign reigns. Later, in 1798, ruler Constantin Hangerli put the old princely residence out for sale.

Thus, the princely court received the name of Old Court, to stand apart from the one erected by Alexandru Ipsilante, and which came to be known as the New Court or the Burnt Court, because it was destroyed in a fire in 1812.

After the old place was abandoned in favor of the new court, several houses, workshops and stores were built in the area, many times using the old walls as foundations. The constructions on the surrounding streets in the area of the Old Town include even today a part of the remains of the old princely court. At the same time, these also speak of the role the court had in the development of the city, which expanded around it.

Several archeological excavations performed beginning with 1967 brought to light fragments of the 14thcentury brick wall, the basements of the Princely Palace but also various objects, such as pottery, loom weights, burnt clay dolls, iron tools or clay candlesticks.

The Old Princely Court Museum was set up in between 1969 and 1974. It keeps wall fragments from the time of the reign of Vlad Țepeș, the foundations of the first 14thcentury residence, and the historical print from the 18thcentury.

A bust of ruler Vlad Țepeș can be found on the premises of the old court of today, honoring the memory of the ruler who recognized the importance of the settlement, the future capital of the Great Romania.

The Old Princely Court Museum is located at 21-23 Franceză Str. Access: Piata Unirii subway station; bus lines: 14, 21, 40, 232, 104, 178. It is included among the tourist landmarks covered by the Bucharest City Tour line, at the Unirii Square station.

Silvia Colfescu. București. Ghid turistic, istoric, artistic (Bucharest. Tourist, Historic, Artistic Guide). Vremea Publishing House, 2006
Dan Berindei, Sebastian Bonifaciu. București. Ghid touristic (Bucharest. Tourist Guide). Sport – Turism Publishing House, 1978
Bindar Cristian. Istoria Bucureştiului. De la aşezare medievală la capitala Ţării Româneşti la (The History of Bucharest. From Medieval Settlement to the Capital of Wallachia) at historia.ro
Palatul Voievodal Curtea Veche (The Old Princely Court)at muzeulbucurestiului.ro
Biserica Sfântul Anton (The St. Anton Church) at www.biserica-sfantul-anton.ro
Alin Ion. Cum a devenit Bucureştiul capitala României. Vlad Ţepeş a emis primul act domnesc din oraşul ce avea să ajungă celebru (How Bucharest became the capital of Romania. Vlad Ţepeş issued the first princely act from the city that was to become famous) at adevarul.ro

Photos: Adobe Stock, Shutterstock