The Nuns’ Convent: the first church to be moved during Ceausescu’s Communist regime

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This rather inglorious little church, painted in white and with its beautifully-carved pillars covered by modern plastic windows is actually an important Medieval relic that has reluctantly survived Communism. Ironically, it’s hidden behind the headquarters of the Romanian Intelligence Service, the follower of the reputed “Securitate” (Romania’s secret police during Communism).

The Nuns' Convent
The Nuns’ Convent

Well, this church deserves more glory, so we decided to include it in the Tour of Communism and tell its story, because of several reasons:

  • it’s much older than it looks
  • it’s actually not in the original location where it was built
  • it has survived Communism in a rather spectacular way

So please read further!

The Nuns' Convent before being demolished
The Nuns’ Convent before being demolished (photo: Gheorghe Leahu)

The church is actually only a small surviving piece of a larger monastery — the Nuns’ Convent — which was built during the 18th century (most likely, prior to 1726) by Tatiana Hagi Dina, a nun who escaped slavery under the Ottoman Empire and wanted to thank God for this. The monastery (including its church) was doomed to be razed to the ground by bulldozers in what was to become the greatest peace-time demolition of a city: the “systematization” of Bucharest during the 1980s. This was essentially dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s vision to rebuild the entire historic center of Bucharest into a socialist civic center full of administrative buildings, the largest of them being the People’s House.

As you can see from the photo below (photographer: Andrei Pandele), the demolition of the monastery was well under way, when a brilliant construction engineer, Eugen Iordachescu, came up with the proposal to move the building, and with a rather ingenious solution for how to do that.

Partial demolition of the Nuns' Convent
Partial demolition of the Nuns’ Convent

The proposal was reluctantly accepted by Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu, but soon the Communist authorities decided to use it as propaganda, thus covering up the demolitions, and bringing into the spotlight only the great technical achievement of moving buildings to “better” locations. The lack of proper housing for the working class, the devastating effects of the 1977 earthquake, and the need to develop a great civic center worthy of a Socialist power were also used by the Communist propaganda to explain this massive construction site in the middle of Bucharest, thus counteracting protests from Western media.

The Nuns’ Convent during its moving

The church was originally located near the current South-Eastern entrance to the People’s House, on a picturesque street bearing its name.

Old street near the Nuns' Convent (photo: Dan Vartanian)
Old street near the Nuns’ Convent (photo: Dan Vartanian)

The street was part of a intricate network dating back to Medieval times, all of which would disappear under the blades of bulldozers during the 1980s:

Network of old streets
Network of old streets

One of the conditions for allowing the church to be moved was that it would not be visible from any of the newly-built grand boulevards. Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were notoriously anti-religious, and would not tolerate seeing a church when looking through the windows of the Palace of the Parliament. Hence its current location, squeezed behind the Soviet-style buildings that would host the Romanian version of KGB.

Partial demolition of the Nuns' Convent
Partial demolition of the Nuns’ Convent (photo: Dan Vartanian)

Sadly, after being moved in June of 1982, the church was only allowed to function for one more month, and then it was completely shut down until 1995, when it was officially re-opened.

Enjoyed this article? Listen to more Communist stories and see Bucharest’s landmarks in one of our upcoming walking tours!

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