ARCEN is an organization that tries to preserve the old architecture of Bucharest. A difficult task considering the immense pressure of many interests in destroying the old buildings, many left in disrepair for lacks of funds, and replacing them with glass towers that look completely out of place in the present urban landscape. Their website arcen.info is a treasure trove of activities and events, all weaved together by the love of the city and its deep rooted history.
One of the organization’s initiative is a tour in Bucharest pinpointing old architecture gems and their amazing history. Starting in front of the Romanian Atheneum right in the vicinity of the famous hotel Athenee Palace used by both spies and journalists during the war, the tour happens twice every weekend and is guided by two charismatic and talented guys. Wearing top hats they perform a large script with juicy details of the history of the city center offering a scent of a world long gone, Bucharest between the two world wars, a sort of “les anee folles” (the crazy years) of the city.
Using pamphlets and poems of famous Romanian writers and poets weaved in descriptions of historical facts, events and gossips of the time and lots of historical elements, the tour is absolutely spectacular aggregating an incredible large number of people that move with the two top hats guys like a large funeral procession through the streets where the old architecture is on the verge of destruction.
The tour is neither sanctioned nor approved by the Bucharest City Hall ruled for decades by cronies of the of the old Securitate and Communists eager to issue any approval for the right bribe in spite of the fact that many projects break the law or the urban code. The current Government of Romania, named by the ARCEN guides, “the sewage of the remnants of the Communist regime”, a pretty accurate description otherwise, is formed by very doubtful characters that are not capable to understand or interested to preserve the traditional values, values that their “red” grandparents fought against anyhow.
After two and a half hours of touring in a perfume of old time of carriages, dancing halls, cafes and elegant laced hats where we got extensive details about the history, the owners and the life style around and inside many buildings the 200+ participants applauded frenetically the initiative of the organization and the two charming guides’ top hats were filled with voluntary donations for their organization but also for a well deserved cold beer.