Eugeniu Iordachescu, the saviour of Bucharest's churches
The construction of Bucharest's largest and best-known avenue in the 1980’s nearly obliterated dozens of centuries-old churches. Fortunately, the timely response of civil engineer Eugeniu Iordachescu, ”the engineer of heaven”, saved many of them from destruction. Iordachescu devised a system whereby the churches could be lifted from their foundations and relocated by rail tracks to a safe place without having to be dismantled. Pay attention when you visit Bucharest because you may find these saved churches where you least expect them.
Half-hidden behind two blocks of buildings, the New St John's Church is just a short walk from Unirii, Bucharest's main commercial square. The building was erected in 1756 by Ionita Croitorul, leader of the old furriers and dyer guilds. It has a rectangular-shaped nave with two towers and exterior mural paintings. Its interior is richly decorated. It underwent several restorations in the 19th and 20th centuries. On 30 May 1986, the church was moved 25 metres from its original location, to save it from the urban planning of the communist regime.
Olari Church was built in 1758 and was originally surrounded by walls and cells. Its name “Olari” (pot) refers to the main commercial activity in the neighbourhood where the church was built. The church keeps an icon of the miraculous work of the Mother of God, covered in gilded silver and with 24 medallions representing some of the miracles she performed. In order to save it from the urbanisation plans for the centre of Bucharest, it was moved approximately 80 metres away from its original location, ending up behind a block of buildings near Calea Moșilor.
The current St Stephen's Church dates back to 1898 and was built to replace an older ruined church. St Stephen's Church is also known as the "stork's nest" as the roof of the church was often chosen by these birds to build their nest. Shortly after its renovation to repair the damage caused by the 1977 earthquake, the church was included in the list of buildings to be demolished as part of the urban redevelopment of the centre of Bucharest. In 1986 Iordachescu's team decided to move the church 20 metres southwest in order to save it from destruction.
Not far from the Antim Monastery there’s another jewel of the Brancovan style. The church was part of a fortress-like convent founded by Tatiana Hagi Dina, a nun captured and enslaved in her youth by the Ottoman Empire, who decided to dedicate her life to God after her liberation. The original complex was surrounded by cells. The church was moved 245 metres east, standing now behind the SRI headquarters. Some secret restoration works took place during Ceausescu's dictatorship.
The church of the Antim Monastery is a masterpiece of the Brancovan style, characterised by its combination of the Orthodox and Ottoman styles with some Renaissance elements. It was built by Georgian monk Antim Ivireanul, after whom the building is named. The sculptures that decorate the double wooden doors were made by Antim himself. Today, a museum is located on the east and south sides of the cells of the monastic complex. Following the Romanian “Systematisation” to renew the historic centre of Bucharest, the church was relocated 25 metres away from its original location.
The Apostle's Church was built in the 17th century under the reign of Matei Basarab. The church was seriously affected by the earthquakes of 1802 and 1838. In the 18th century, the bell tower was rebuilt and the wall paintings in its interior were restored. It was part of a monastery which no longer exists. It has a large porch supported by stone columns with ornate capitals. The ceiling of the porch has paintings from the 19th century. The interior also features frescoes that were restored between 2007 and 2014.
Another chapel miraculously saved from the destruction of the “Systematisation” was the Lady’s Church. Originally built to be part of a palace, it functioned as the chapel of a boyar house. The chapel is well hidden in the middle of a block of buildings, which makes it impossible to find for those who don’t know its exact location. Only a small, discreet alleyway reveals its arches.
The communist regime ordered the destruction of the complex in 1980’s in order to make room for a new civic centre. Thanks to the intervention of Iordachescu, the St Nicholas church was placed on rails and moved 285 metres eastwards, to its present location. Unfortunately, the rest of the monastery didn't meet the same fate and was demolished. The church has mural paintings inside that bear witness to the events of the First and Second World Wars.