After sightseeing and listening to stories about the Old City Center, tourists often ask me where to go for some good old street wondering. My recommendations usually are Cotroceni Neighborhood especially if magnolia’s are in bloom, Dorobanti Neighborhood, the Jewish Quarter or, my favorite, the Armenian Quarter.
The Armenian Quarter has a certain charm. It’s quiet, the streets are still and has some of the most photogenic 19th century mansions in Bucharest. It’s also highly unknown to visitors and although locals know or have heard about it, the Armenian Quarter remains unexplored. And, in my opinion, it’s better this way. At least you don’t have to worry about crowds!
Armenians in Bucharest
Armenians form one of the oldest communities in Bucharest. Historians believe that they settled in these lands between 1400-1435. That means that the Armenian community is older than Bucharest itself -official dating of the city is the 20th of September 1459.
They were allowed to settle and build their own church in the outskirts of the city. By the late 1700s, the Armenians, hard-working people, had already become a prosperous community of tradesmen. As proof of their welfare, we have an 18th century document which mentions the Armenească (Armenian) street and a certain manorial house. When trading didn't go well anymore they switched to craftmanship and formed strong guilds. In 1821 Bucharest had 187 Romanian craftsmen and 37 Armenian.
Probably the most famous Armenian in Bucharest is Manuc-bei. If the name sounds familiar it is because he was once the owner of Manuc’s Inn, a landmark of the Old City Center. He is said to have been a double spy, working for both the Russian and the Ottoman Empires during the Russian-Ottoman war of 1806-1812. The inn was specially built for Manuc to conduct his spying activities.
Nowadays the Armenian community translates to roughly 1500 people, mostly in mixed families.
The present day Armenian Quarter revolves around the Armenească street. Most mansions are rehabilitated and look like actual homes. I’m saying this because 19th century houses are usually rented by embassies, restaurants and the likes. The ones in the Armenian Quarter have this cosy-hommie feeling.
Among the turn of the century style houses there’s this odd-looking house that is a mystery to everyone. It has a lot of Moresque elements, very uncommon for Bucharest. The building is now the headquarter of an advertising agency and a sort of Mecca for every instagramer in town. Ones gallery is not complete without a picture of the Moresque house. Who built it and why? No idea!
The Melik House
A! The superstar of the Armenian Quarter! At Spătarului Str. No. 22 you will find the notorious Melik House.
The Melik House, built in the 1750s is now the oldest tenantable house in Bucharest. Meaning that people could live in it if it weren’t a museum. You can try to live in it but I doubt the guards will allow you to.
The house was bought in 1815 by an Armenian tradesman called Kevork Nazaretoglu (no, we are not name-shaming him! maybe Kevork was a popular name in the 18th century). His real name was Nazaretian but he had to Ottomanize it to avoid problems with the Porte (aka Istanbul).
The house was later given as dowry to his granddaughter Ana, when she married architect Iacob Melik. Now things really start to get interesting!
In 1848 Romanians discover their rebellious spirit and start a pretty big revolution in all the Romanian lands (Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania). Animated by ideas of national identity and unity and by their newly found patriotism, people wanted to free the lands from foreign meddling in our internal affairs. Melik participated actively in the revolution, even offered his house as a hiding place for the leaders of the insurgency.
He was also a mason and rumour has it that the cellar of the Melik House is kms long and an actual tunnel that communicates with the mansions of other masons. His marriage to Ana Nazaretoglu/ Nazaretian was also no coincidence as grandpa Kevork was a high rank mason himself.
The couple never had children so through Ana’s will the Melik House was given to the Armenian Community to be used as a shelter for needful widowers. Afterwards it had a bit of a troublesome journey with disrespectful lodgers altered the interiors but by the end of the 1960s the story gets a new spin of events and the house becomes an art museum.
The house is not as big or as spectacular as other mansions in the Quarter but the carpentry, especially the wooden veranda is gorgeous. The paintings in the collection mostly belong to Romanian painter Theodor Pallady but you will also see some French, Dutch or English pieces.
The objects in the exhibition that caught my eye were two ebony cabinets inlaid with ivory, be sure not to overlook them!
This here, my roaring readers concludes the story of the Armenian Quarter! Let me know what you think of it and share your photo’s with Roaring Romania on instagram by tagging #roaringromania!
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