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Bucharest: The National Museum of Art of Romania

On a visit to Bucharest one might consider to add the National Museum of Art of Romania to their must-see list. It is not a place that pops immediately to your mind when you think about what to see in Bucharest but rather a hidden treasure of the city.

The museum is located in the former Royal Palace that belonged to the Romanian Monarchy. The story starts in 1812 when a Romanian nobleman built a 24 chamber manor that in time proved to be too expensive to maintain so he sold it to the Wallachian ruler (Romania as a country was formed later in the 19th century). The manor became a Royal Residence from that moment on.

Years later, Prince Karel of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen accepted the throne of Romania and gossip has it that he was not deeply pleased with what was supposed to be his winter Royal Palace. He wrote in his personal journals that when he was taken to the palace he looked to his right then looked to his left and asked one of diplomats: ”Where exactly is the palace?”. One must mention that the Prince did come from powerful German nobility and knew that he needed a palace suitable for a strong monarchy. The work to extend it began and the central and the right-wing were built next to the old manor reaching in the beginning of the 1900s the shape and size that we see today.

The interiors bear mostly the mark of Queen Mary and her son King Karel II. The queen was involved in the decoration of the Royal Dining Hall. Her passion for flowers and Romania’s natural beauty is captured in the pastel colors and paintings that were used to dress the walls. She mixed foreign and local elements: the ceiling is decorated with English inspired dome cases (Robert Adam style 1760-1800), the pavement is a mix of French and Belgian marble and for the chimneys Romanian-Ruschita marble was used. All of these blended to create a Dining Hall that in spite of its size (it can accommodate up to 250 people) and opulence still keeps a warm and welcoming feeling.

national museum of art of romania
The Royal Dining Hall photo credits: ID 32409242 © Diana Zaharia | Dreamstime.com

The Throne Hall was remodeled during the reign of King Karel II after being almost completely destroyed in a fire in 1926. The king carried on the tone started by his mother and used only soft pastel colors to create a continuity between the two rooms. The highlight is the ceiling that gives the impression of embroidered lace, very fragile and delicate but at the same time practical as it masks the ventilation system

The tour continues with a small annex next to the Throne Hall where you can see objects that belonged to the royal family such as: the steel crown of King Karel I, photographs, drawings, sculptures and paintings with all the Romanian kings and queens. The painting showing Queen Mary as a young princess is my favorite in the collection. She was said to be one the most beautiful European princesses of her time and through that painting one can see why.

The Communist Regime did not by-pass the Royal Palace that was nationalised in 1948 and transformed partly in the seat for the State Council of the Communist Party and partly was open as the National Art Museum. In 1989 during the December Revolution the building was caught in the crossfire, bullet holes still visible on its walls. Restorations took over 10 years but unfortunately approximately 1000 art pieces were destroyed or damaged. Nowadays the Palace is Romania’s biggest and most complex art gallery. It has two permanent galleries: the National Gallery and the European Gallery.

national museum of art of romania
The Throne Hall ID 32409070 © Diana Zaharia | Dreamstime.com

The National gallery is split between Medieval Art featuring mostly Orthodox religious art work like icons, old bibles, carved altars, caftans. The Modern Art section exhibits pieces of Romanian masters such as paintings by Nicolae Grigorescu, Stefan Luchian, Nicolae Tonitza, Theodor Pallady or early sculptures by world-famous Constantin Brancusi.

The European Gallery was formed around the private collection of King Karel I. It is a display of works that belong to Old Masters organized chronologically in art schools. My personal favorites are the Flowers Bouquet by Jan Brueghel The Elder of the Flemish School for its beautiful explosion of colors and The Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco, Spanish School.

The Museum is located in the heart of the city on Calea Victoriei blvd. in Piata Revolutiei (Revolutiei Square) and there are several transportation options: • By metro: you get off at either Piata Romana or Universitate station and walk. Piata Romana is a better option since it is nearer. • By car: address is Calea Victoriei 49-53, parking is available in Piata Revolutiei (in front of the museum), Sala Palatului (at the back of the museum) or at Hilton Hotel (also in front of the museum) • By bus: Sala Palatului, Ştirbei Vodă - 178; Luterană - 126, 368; Bd. N. Bălcescu - 122, 268, 300, 368 Grădina Cişmigiu, Universitate - 122, 137, 336, 601 • by Trolleybus: Grădina Cişmigiu, Universitate - 61, 66, 69, 70, 85, 90, 91, 92

If you are not in a hurry and do like to explore places by foot my advice is to get off at Piata Victoriei metro station and walk down Calea Victoriei to the museum. It is a 30 minutes’ walk, very enjoyable and you get to see one of the most popular and busy boulevards of Bucharest. The museum is open as follows: Wednesday to Sunday 11.00 a.m. - 19.00 p.m. (May - September) 10.00 a.m. - 18.00 p.m. (October - April)

Closed: Monday, Tuesday, 1st and 2nd of January, the first and the second day of Easter, the first and the second day of Pentecost, 1 May, the 15th of August, 30 November, 1, 25 and 26 December

Entrance fees: The Gallery of European Art 8 LEI The National Gallery (the Gallery of Romanian Medieval Art, the Gallery of Romanian Modern Art and the Treasure) 10 LEI Combined tickets - The Gallery of European Art + the National Gallery 15LEI

• First Wednesday of the month: free • Students and retired citizens: 50% discount (with valid ID) • Holders of Euro 26 cards, aged up to 26 years: 50% discount (with valid ID) • Groups of over 20 people, requesting guided tours: 50% discount off the ticket price

The Museum offers guided tours as well: 1-25 persons and the fees are 70 LEI/hour for Romanian speaking guide and 150 LEI/hour for English or French-speaking guide. Audio guides are also available for 10 LEI/person, languages: Romanian, English, and French.

The Royal Dining Hall and the Throne Hall can be visited every third week-end of every month. It is a guided tour and the ticket is 20 LEI/person. Photographing is possible after paying a fee of 100 LEI.

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