Communism vs. Religion in Romania: How churches were saved from demolition by a brilliant engineer

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The Communist regime in Romania, during its most repressive decade (the 1980s), became increasingly anti-religious. This movement, combined with the megalomania of the ruling Ceausescu family, meant that any monument that reminded the people of their traditions and past had to be razed to the ground or, at least, hidden from public sight. This was the case for churches, which carried a lot of symbolism for the deeply religious Romanian people, and which started to be demolished one by one, along with entire neighborhoods of old, bourgeois houses (such was the case of Uranus neighborhood — about this in a future article), in order to make room for North-Korean-style apartment blocks. Seeing the architectural massacre that was committed against dozens of centuries-old churches, a group of people from the entourage of the Ceausescu family tried to convince them that it is better to simply “hide” the churches from public view, behind the new soviet-style buildings. A major contribution to winning this argument was a technique developed by construction engineer Eugen Iordachescu, which enabled entire buildings to be literally moved in one piece hundreds of meters away from their original location. You can see glimpses of this technique in action in the following documentary (in Romanian language):

The idea came to Iordachescu while observing how waiters carry many glasses on a tray in restaurants. The principle behind it is simple: as long as there is a stable and rigid base, any number of objects can be safely moved around. Iordachescu’s technique involves several active and passive pumps which raise the building into the air, while hydraulic jacks are inserted underneath the building. The whole process is monitored using topographic devices. Once the building is stabilized into the air, train tracks are inserted underneath it, in order to facilitate the movement.

Moving technique (source: Adevarul.ro)

It is believed his technique was only accepted by the Ceausescu family because they wanted to prove him that it cannot be applied successfully. Mihai-Voda Church is one of 13 churches that were saved from demolition by applying this amazing technique. The price: the church had to be moved from sight, and hidden behind the new blocks of socialist apartments. With a history of over 400 years, the church was actually part of a monastery building complex, which used to be one of the landmarks of Bucharest in Medieval times, because it stood high above the city, on one of the hills of the city (Spirii Hill). The monastery is said to have been founded around 1591 by King Mihai (Michael) the Brave, while he was still just a local ruler. Later, he managed to unite the Romanian provinces in a short-lived country that exceeded Romania’s current borders.

There is very little that is left today of this medieval monastery: only the church and the bell tower survive, while the National Archives building (part of the monastery) and the monk houses have been demolished in 1984. Tourists must struggle to find the church, as it is not very easily accessible from the main boulevards of the city, despite being located very centrally, and it is no longer visible from other areas of the city.

church-front

How is it possible for a church that once stood high above the city, on a hill, to suddenly become hidden? The church was literally moved 289 meters to the East, and also lowered from the hill by almost 6 meters, despite weighing 3,100 tons. The same thing happened to the bell tower: it was moved 255 meters and lowered 5 meters, using the technique developed by Iordachescu.

Moving of Mihai Voda Church
Moving of Mihai Voda Church (source: Adevarul.ro)

Its new location is now on Sapientei Street, behind the blocks that were errected in 1985 and afterwards. The moving of the church actually took several months to complete.

Eugen Iordachescu filed more than 30 patents for various techniques and ideas, and is considered by many to be the “church savior” of Romania. He was born in 1929 in Braila (a city in Eastern Romania), and graduated the Institute of Construction in Bucharest. Throughout his life, he was a professor and author of several publications.

Eugen Iordachescu
Eugen Iordachescu (source: Adevarul.ro)

One thought on “Communism vs. Religion in Romania: How churches were saved from demolition by a brilliant engineer

    […] construction engineer, Eugen Iordachescu, came up with the proposal to move the building, and with a rather ingenious solution for how to do […]

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