The Romanian Athenaeum, built at the heart of Bucharest, on Victoria Road, is a symbol not only for the capital but for the entire country. The Romanian Athenaeum was built between 1886 – 1888, according to the plans of the French architect Albert Galleron and it currently hosts the headquarters of the “George Enescu” Philharmonic.
In 1865, on the initiative of Constantin Esarcu, Vasile Alexandrescu Urechea and Nicolae Kretzulescu, the Literary Society “Romanian Athenaeum” was born. The aim of the cultural institution was educational, namely by spreading knowledge useful to the people, especially to the middle classes, by means of public courses and conferences. At that time, before having built today’s Athenaeum, the activity of the society took place in a room of the Ministry of Instruction, a ministry residing at the residence of Prince Constantin Ghica. Then, on the initiative of the group of intellectuals within the society, the decision of building the Romanian Athenaeum was taken, such as it is known nowadays.
At the Romanian Athenaeum great personalities and men of science of Romania held lectures; here, world class bands and singers climbed on the stage; here, masterpieces of local musical literature were heard “in first audition”; here all of the country’s consecrated and young artists held concerts; here, the first extensive exhibitions, painting and sculpture retrospectives of the great masters of national plastic arts were organized; here came visiting kings and queens, political men and high officials across borders to participate at national and universal level events; in one word, the Romanian Athenaeum witnessed events of meaningful historical importance.
The building of the Athenaeum has a height of 41 metres and it is built in the neo-classical style, with ornaments specific to the end of the century of French architecture. The construction at the central plan features an eclectic style. The facade of the building consists of a peristyle, made up of six Ionic columns, conferring the edifice the specific aspect of an antique Greek temple. The wall of the peristyle, located above the entrance doors of the palace, displays 5 medallions in mosaic, representing Alexandru cel Bun, Neagoe Basarab, Vasile Lupu, Matei Basarab and King Carol I. Currently, the great concert hall has a diameter of 28.50 m, a height of 16 m and an approximate capacity of 794 seats.
The fresco, 3 meters-wide, spreads to one side of the stage, along 75 m and contains 25 episodes of the history of the Romanians, symbolizing “the open book of national history for those looking at it”. The scenes are depicted in a chained succession, without being separated in between.
Since the funds allocated for the building of the Romanian Athenaeum were insufficient, this was built with the money of a public subscription, ensuing the organization of a national lottery (500,000 tickets with a value of 1 RON each). Constantin Esarcu, the founder of the Romanian Athenaeum Society, launched an appeal to the people, via a slogan absolutely comic and common: " Give one leu for the Athenaeum! ". The idea of the appeal surprisingly turned into a lesson of unity and awakening of national conscience, and thus was built the Romanian Athenaeum.