In the very center of Bucharest there is a place where one can take a break from Bucharest for a few hours. Cismigiu is located close to Universitatii Square, across the City Hall building. It is Bucharest’s oldest park and a great place to stroll and enjoy the peace that one can feel finding such a place in the middle of a hectic city. Among the lawns and trees and the winding paths you’ll find a lake with rowboat rentals, a beer garden, a playground for children, a chess area where old people play tournaments and plenty of park benches for relaxing and people watching. Sometimes there are Sunday concerts at the gazebo. Cismigiu was first designed and laid out in 1830 by the German landscape architect Carl Meyer, on the commision of Prince Gheorghe Bibescu, but it wasn’t completed until 1860. More than 30,000 trees and plants were brought in from the Romanian mountains to be planted on the 17 hectares park. Nowadays a skating ring is put in place and thousands of people come everyday during the holiday to spend their time.
One of Bucharest’s erstwhile parks is still enchanting visitors with its beauty. Cismigiu is the capital’s oldest public garden. Its unique charm has won the hearts of the inhabitants of Bucharest who have strolled along its paths throughout the years.
The main entrance into the 17-hectare park is along Regina Elisabeth Boulevard, guarded by the imposing building that house the capital’s City Hall. To the left is another boulevard, Schitu Magureanu. At the crossing of these two arteries one finds the National Gheorghe Lazar College, an ancient seat of culture. As one walks along Schitu Magureanu Boulevard, one reaches Magureanu Church, adjacent to the old secret entrance into the subterranean gardens. Cismigiu has yet another entrance along Stirbei Voda Boulevard, near Cretzulescu Palace, whose stone steps descend into the park.
Around 1779, the Prince of Valachia, Alexandru Ipsilanti, desirous of good drinking water, ordered the construction of two fountains. The first was built near today’s entrance on Stirbei Voda Boulevard, behind which the construction foreman and the great manager of public fountains (cismigiu in Romanian), Dumitru, built a house. From here comes the name of the park that is still used today, Cismigiu. Cismigiu was known as the Garden or Pool of Dura, the Merchant, until the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, and it was far greater then than it is today. Here was a mud pool, with subterranean springs, that never dried up. In it grew reeds and rush that provided protection for wild ducks.
When it rained heavily and the Dambovita River over flowed, the waters of the Cismigiu ran as far as the walls of Sarindar Monastery, the site of today’s National Military Circle. Around 1830, General Pavel Kiseleff, ordered Baron Borroczyn to dry up the pool and make a public garden. This project was completed later, during the reign of Gheorghe Bibescu, by the Viennese landscape architect Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer. The talented and hard-working youth fairly fought a battle with Cismigiu’s swamps, subduing these and managing to transform this unsightly place into a veritable jewel.
Meyer used the pool, transforming it into a beautiful lake, with full canalization to allow for easy drainage and cleaning, and installing an artesian well in its midst. In winter, to the great delight of the people of Bucharest, the lake becomes a huge ice rink. It was this same man who carved out the paths, using every elevation for a more beautiful view of the whole. There are over 30,000 indigenous trees, some very rare ones. Artificial grottoes, floral carpets, and bridges were created, and benches were installed.
Meyer estimated that he would remain in Bucharest for a short time. Fate would have it otherwise: enchanted with Bucharest and its society, that received him with extraordinary warmth, and as a result of new contracts he was assigned by the Prince, Meyer kept postponing his departure. The young man was often seen in the company of the Chancellor Sutu, Prince Bogation, and other prominent persons of Bucharest society. The Otetelesanu and Cantacuzino Families received him with great delight. In the Salons that he frequented, he met and fell in love with Elena Lazarescu, the beautiful daughter of the Calvary Commander Manolache Lazarescu. The young woman’s perents consented to their relationship.
In 1852, he suffered much grief at the loss of his 17-year-old sister and died two weeks later, at the age of 38. He was buried in the cemetery of the Protestant Church, and his remains were later moved close to the Mavrogheni Church, near Cismigiu Park that he had loved so dearly.
Cismigiu was not created all at once, but rather in phases. Its size was increased with a parcel purchased from the Cretzulescu Family garden. Exotic fish, swans and pelicans were brought in. Much later a small zoo was established with bears, wolves, foxes and beavers. In 1852 the entire park was enclosed.
The Inner Minister took special care of this garden, issuing a series of provisions. Walks along the paths were permitted from sunrise to 10 p.m., and on bright nights until midnight. No one was allowed to enter the park on horseback or in a carriage, nor were dogs and other beasts permitted access. Street vendors were also prohibited, and fines were issued for anyone walking on the grass or picking the flowers. Even excessive noise was sanctioned.
The beautification of the gardens was completed in 1854, at which time the official inauguration took place. The lake, lawns and flowerbeds, trees and shrubs, hillocks and flats, grottoes and paths were all enticing by their exquisite grace. Military music and folk music fiddler bands were always present.
Another Viennese man, Ludwig Angerer fell in love with Bucharest, as had Meyer, and stayed to become one of its inhabitants. He was one of Bucharest’s first and Vienna’s finest photographer. In 1860, he was awarded the title of Imperial Court Supplier. Cismigiu Park was one of his favorite subjects.
This park was also the place for outdoor cultural shows, especially those put on to help the needy and victims of disasters, such as fires and floods, that occurred relatively often in those days. Prominent women dressed up as peasants, vendors or florists to sell sweets, delicacies, citric fruits and other souvenirs at specially equipped kiosks.
Romanian and foreign traveling actors performed in Cismigiu for a fee, especially in summer. One foreign acrobat, the name of “the Niagara Hero” is remembered from 1880.
In 1889, Leona Dare, a Frenchwoman, offered a series of shows in which she rose quite high in a balloon to which was attached a trapeze. Holding on to the trapeze with her teeth, she performed various acrobatic stunts. Spectators from all parts of the capital were crowded in to see this “wonder”.
During the summer there were boat rides and swimming races on the lake, while in winter the same lake turned into a veritable ice rink, on which mostly young high-society people organized races, whose winners received monetary or material rewards.
One of the capital’s first newspaper stands was established at the main Cismigiu entrance, opposite City Hall, at the end of the Nineteenth Century. Today, this kiosk can still be admired on the right-hand side of the Park.
One of Cismigiu’s greatest attractions was a Romanian-style restaurant built by the Architect Ion Mincu, which was named Monte Carlo. Bombed during the War, the restaurant was restored and has kept the same name. Its terrace on the shores of the lake continues to attract customers eager to be served in a wonderful setting.
The area along Schitu Magureanu Boulevard has been developed as a green area, with a rotunda that can still be admired today: Roman Round. Inaugurated in 1943, the round shelters stone-sculpted busts on high pedestals of our great cultural personalities: Mihai Eminescu, Alexandru Odobescu, Titu Maiorescu, I. L. Caragiale, George Cosbuc, St. O. Iosif, Ion Creanga, AL. Vlahuta, Duiliu Zamfirescu, B. P. Hasdeu, N. Balcescu, and V. Alecsandri.
Other statues are found along the paths, Mother Smara, George Panu, the Monument of the French Heroes, and the Sissi Stefanidi Fountain – a mother distraught over the death of her daughter pours water from a pitcher. Another attraction in this park is the Eminescu Fountain, whose water people still come to drink today.
The first snowdrops, the colors of autumn and not least, the summer’s sun glittering like a diamond on the lake, tempt our steps along the paths of this garden. We want to see it over and over again, to fill our souls with joy, goodness and beauty.
by Victor Lupu
Photo: http://www.xplorio.ro/ cismigiu-cismigiu