Romania: Bucharest’s Village Museum
by Recep Peker Tanýtkan
An extraordinary life-size village in the heart of Bucharest graphically displays the country’s rural past. At the same time, the Village Museum’s own history reflects the intellectual, cultural, political and commercial changes of the past eighty years.
In the heart of Bucharest, Romania, stands an entire rural village - 322 buildings in all including 47 houses, outhouses, windmills and wooden churches. These are not fakes or reproductions but real houses with real working agricultural equipment, dismantled and put together again by authentic village workmen. It is the ultimate open-air museum – a curiosity, perhaps, but also a testament to the ethnographical research of a by-gone era.
It all began in 1925 when a group of ten sociology students under Professor Dimitrie Gusti headed for the village of Goicea Mare in the Oltenia region (Gorj province) carrying forms bearing titles such as “cosmological dimension”, “biological dimension”, “historical dimension” and “psychological dimension”. Starting from sample villages, the aim was to generate an accurate sociological map of the entire nation. This may not have been achieved, but the experience and articles produced certainly helped to draw international attention to the Romanian sociology school.
The research took on new dimensions in 1936, when the sample houses were dismantled and brought to Bucharest. The houses displayed traditional features not only from the villages but also from other settlements, indicating that the study was intended to cover the whole of Romania.
In 1932, efforts had got under way to change the courses of the Colentina and Mostistea rivers. It was as a result of this project that the lakes and parks around the northern part of Bucharest were formed. Weighing 471 metric tons in all, the building elements were loaded onto 56 wagons. They included valuable items such as carved pillars and precious paintings from the wooden church of Maramures. The houses were taken to pieces and reconstructed in Bucharest by 130 village workmen aided by hundreds of workers, stonemasons, dyers and carpenters from the capital itself. King Carol II visited the site to observe the reconstruction work.
Made to feel at home
At first, the houses in the museum were occupied by their original inhabitants. The families in the Village Museum lived a rural existence, making use of the 4,000 inventory items in the museum and even keeping animals on some of their property.
The Village Museum was later enlarged in three phases. Initially occupying an area of 4.5 hectares in 1936, it reached nearly 9 hectares in 1948 and today covers 12 hectares. In 1937, there were no restaurants between the Triumphal Arch and Hippodrome but in view of the growing number of visitors a restaurant had become essential. To solve this problem, an inn was opened within the Village Museum, with six rooms, a cellar and a garden.
More recently, the village has survived numerous threats. During the Ceausescu era, when all traces of rural life were barred from city limits, plans were made to move the museum to Tineretului Park or to Magosoaia. But after the 1977 earthquake, the money allocated for the move was used for other aims. As of the 1980s, the museum was obliged to pay for itself. An inexperienced new director was appointed. In 1997 fire broke out.
Every year, a total of 300,000 Romanians and foreign visitors visit the Village Museum. In all, Romania has 16 open-air museums including Cluj, Timisoara, Sighetul Maramatiei, Baia Mare, Bran, Suceava and Foscani. But most of these exhibit features of the regions in which they are located. Bucharest’s Village Museum is one of only two constructed in such a way as to represent the whole country.