So, here is part two of a guide to some of the lesser known, more overlooked and I would say underrated museums of Bucharest. The larger museums here in Bucharest are ok but I am suggesting that it is the petite and latent collections that are the more enchanting. As with many things here in Bucharest the really interesting stuff is not delivered to you on a plate, you have to go out there and dig around a bit.
by Giles Eldridge
The National Museum of Maps and Old Books makes it onto the list for being a grown up and well put together museum, albeit with some quirky idiosyncrasies of course. It is situated within the splendid Capitala streets area of Bucharest, north east of Piața Victoriei and housed in a 1920’s Neo-Romanian style building; the architecture that is rather like revivalist Scottish Baronial, in the sense that it looks somewhat fortified. In this instance the interior also benefits from the addition of specially commissioned contemporary stained glass windows and painted ceilings that complement the collection in a surprisingly good way.
Magnifying glasses are available at the reception should you want to get as close as possible to the detail of these beautiful objects. If you do start to look closely you become only too aware of the continually shifting shape of Romania and the surrounding countries. Coming from an island I always find the idea of borders intriguing and the thought that Romania, as we know it today, were demarcated as recently as 1947 seems really quite exotic. Within the exhibition space itself there are English text panels in each room and of course a huge number of maps, diagrammatically depicting Eastern Europe from the 16th to 20th Centuries. In addition to these there are some other miscellaneous maps, including one of Ireland, rather ill-advisedly placed under the section heading Anglia! Curiously there is also another Irish map donated by that country’s former Prime minister, Bertie Ahern, which is physically but not politically displayed in two halves.
In addition to the permanent collection there are regularly changing temporary exhibitions on the ground floor of books or graphic art and there is the added merit of a decent website at www.muzeulhartilor.ro
So the next place of special interest is the Technical Museum. If you haven’t ventured beyond the northern regions of Bucharest you may well not know of Parcul Carol, south of Piața Unirii. It is dominated by the colossal war memorial at the top of the park, which is itself worth walking up to if only to see the eternal flame and get shouted at by the guards if you get too close. However, less conspicuous is the Muzeul National Tehnic, Dimitrie Leonida, which is sited on the left just after you enter from the main park entrance. Now clearly this is a Technical museum displaying and presenting objects of engineering and physics but in a way it is also a museum of a museum, meaning that it is an old skool communist era institution and is entirely unrenovated. What you see and feel are the methods of display of another time. This does not get in the way of the fact that there are some fantastic items here. Some of them well displayed but plenty that are in the dark or just stacked in a corner making viewing and photography rather difficult. Among the best items here are a number of transport related contraptions by Justin Capră (1993-2015) the inventor of odd shaped vehicles and unlikely looking flying machines and, famously, the 1956 jet pack, that thing from sci-fi that never came true. As bonkers and eccentric as Capră’s designs were he went on to develop an elegant modular sustainable/zero energy/off-grid house called the Soleta, which is in production today – www.soleta.ro
Another very important exhibit is Aurel Persu’s extraordinary Raindrop car. In 1922, Persu filed a patent for the vehicle that had a drag coefficient of only 0.22. I’m no aerodynamic expert and don’t really know what that means but apparently this is incredibly efficient, still more so than 99.9% of today’s road cars. The design is literally based on the form of a falling drop of rain and most importantly sites the wheels within the body of the car. Persu drove it for 120,000 kilometres demonstrating it to potential manufacturers but could not find anyone willing to put it into production. It is very poorly displayed at the Technical Museum and should really be the central exhibit in a place with more space and light.
Maybe sometime in the future, when the government have stopped filling the boots of the wealth of this country there might be a project to have a National Museum of some kind that could house the best objects presently hidden away. In the meantime we will just have to seek out the the small museums and stumble across extraordinary things – more next month.
Muzeul Hărților și Cărții Vechi
National Map and Old Books Museum
Strada Londra 39
8 Lei Entrance
Weds. to Sun 10 – 6pm
Muzeul National Tehnic, Dimitrie Leonida
Strada Gen. Candiano Popescu 2
at the entrance to Parcel Carol
10 Lei Entrance and 10 Lei for photography
April-October Weds. to Sun. 10.30am – 6pm
November-March Weds. to Sun. 9.30am – 5pm