There is an interesting story behind this landmark and how it finally reached the present stage. In the second half of the 19thcentury the powerful Austrian-Hungarian Empire increased its influence in Romania as the Ottoman Empire, the old regional hegemon, was in continuous retreat, with Russia, another important player in the affairs of the Romanian principalities, still reeling from defeat in the Crimea War. Consequently the Austrian-Hungarian diplomatic legation came to occupy a prime location in Bucharest, next to Romania’s seat of power, the Royal Palace, thus symbolically asserting its status within the country.
That situation changed dramatically after the First World War when the Austrian-Hungarian Empire disappeared from the maps and history. The new states that emerged from that body built new embassies in other Bucharest locations. Austria has now a beautiful early modernist building, while the Hungarian embassy occupies a grand classical villa, both buildings being located in the Icoanei Garden area.
During the communist period, the former Austrian-Hungarian embassy was used by the foreign intelligence section of the dreaded Securitate, the communist secret police of Ceausescu, Romania’s late dictator. It thus became a target of the population’s fury during the December 1989 Romanian Revolution and got burned down together with the nearby Central University Library in the course of confusion on the streets and chaotic gunfire exchanges. For more information about the Romanian Revolution see my review of Peter Siani Davis’ book, one of the best volumes researching the event.
The building was a ruin for years after the upheaval, until the architects Zeno Bogdanescu and Dan Marin brought her back to life with their design, together with the contribution of the construction engineering firm Popp & Asociatii . They innovatively managed to transform the edifice and thus give it a new personality within the city’s skyline. The controversial new shape superimposed on the old mid 19th century Central European architectural structure has inevitably raised many an eyebrow and even generated protests. In my opinion this architectural gem in its transformed shape is an excellent example of things that could be achieved in Bucharest’s diverse and substantial, but underinvested period property market.