For a dark culture connoisseur Bucharest is a hidden gem. With the Macabre and Uncanny as our companions, I invite you – my dear darkly inclined fellow travellers to unravel the gloomiest secrets of Bucharest. Welcome to the dark side, we’ve got tragic love stories, haunted hotels, witches ponds and gothic stores for the hellish fashionista in you.
Bellu Cemetery with its Shakespearean tragedies and lonely artists
I think this is the first place I visited when I moved to Bucharest back in 2016. It is really sinister in a weirdly romantic way. Bellu Cemetery was built in the second half of the 19th century when Romanian authorities decided to move all cemeteries to the city’s outskirts due to an increased risk of cholera – speaking of cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel Love In The Time Of Cholera would make a great read for any of your future trips to Bucharest. Barbu Bellu, a Romanian aristocrat of that time, donated an immense vineyard to serve as the land for the new cemetery.
Since 1858 until today, Romania’s greatest artists, actors, painters, writers, singers, doctors, lawyers, professors and political figures have been buried here, turning this cemetery into a collection of impressive funeral stones and tragic events. As you walk down the narrow alleys between the graves you can see entire life stories carved into the marble, statues that seem like they want to talk to you and tales that will silently unfold before your eyes.
Bellu Cemetry is an intense experience as it feels like all the people who were laid to rest here still had things to say and do when Death decided it’s their turn to go. For example, you will pass by the grave of Romania’s most famous and influential poet of all times, Mihai Eminescu, who died when he was only 33 years old. Aurel Vlaicu, the famous Romanian aviator and inventor lies a few graves away. He died in 1913 at the young age of 30 while attempting to be the first person to fly across the Carpathian Mountains.
Among the most impressive and probably the scariest – if you visit the cemetery at dawn – are some of Rafaello Romanelli’s sculptures. The Florentine artist was commissioned to create life-sized sculptures depicting tragic stories of people resting in the cemetery.
One of them tells the story of the Poroineanu family – a tragic Shakespearean love story. A young couple, Mirabelle and Constantin Poroineanu, decided to kill themselves after they found out they were brother and sister and were not allowed to continue their relationship. Their father hung himself a few days after the terrible incident. The monument shows a man mourning a woman on her death bed and it is astonishingly beautiful as well as slightly terrifying depending on your mood.
The second sculpture that caught my attention is The Lady with the Umbrella. This delicate life-sized statue tells another love story that is hard to overlook. Her name was Katalina Boschott and she was a Belgian teacher who worked as a governess for an aristocratic family. She had a secret affair with her master who took her to a geothermal resort in 1906. There she suffered from an acute disease called peritonitis and the doctors did not manage to save her. Her last words were engraved on her funeral stone saying: “This animal of a doctor killed me”.
Although now just a speculation, her gaze is directed to a doctor’s grave – Dr. Mina Minovici, the founder of Romanian Forensic Medicine who was her contemporary. Is he the one who let her die? Who knows? It’s only Katarina and her long dead lover who could answer the question and they’re not around anymore to do that. However, her character is a mystical one and sometimes it feels like she’s ready to join you for a walk down the alley. Quite creepy I’d say…
Cool Things To Do In Bucharest
The Witches Pond
This one is an all-time favorite Romania tourist attraction if you’re into witchcraft! Located in a forest just outside Bucharest, the pond has dark magic engraved in its stones, water and vegetation. History indicates that this is where Vlad the Impaler a.k.a Dracula was beheaded and its terrifying silhouette is still wandering around the pond.
Romanian Gypsy witches gather here every year to perform magic rituals and draw power from the pond’s great energy. Animals are said to always avoid this little body of water which seems to never dry out no matter what the weather conditions are. Legend has it that pregnant women who did not wish to become mothers would come here and bathe in the pond. After this, the pregnancy would be terminated and they would have lost the baby.
Bucharest’s Hotel Cismigiu
You can’t miss this grandiose hotel located on the main Queen Elisabeth (Romanian: Regina Elisabeta) Boulevard. Built in 1912, it served as a hotel for a few decades and then, due to the communist regime’s negligence, it slowly fell apart. In 1990 it became a hostel for the Theater and Film Academy students. This is when a big tragedy occurred. One night, a Moldovan student lost her life as she fell down the elevator shaft. Apparently she did not die right away, but laid there asking for help for about three hours. There was nobody around to rescue her.
These days the Hotel Cismigiu is renovated and considered one of the most luxurious accommodation options in Bucharest, but legend has it that sometimes late at night you can still hear her cry for help.
One of Romania’s most famous rock bands, Vama Veche, sings about this tragic story. They made a cover after the Eagles song Hotel California and renamed it Hotel Cismigiu. You can listen to it here.
P.S. I’ve actually stayed at this hotel myself but found out about the story afterwards. I did not hear a thing but that could also be Bucharest’s awesome nightlife’s fault.
Mircea Eliade’s House aka The House of Black Blood
Probably the most famous historian of religions, the author of extraordinary books such as The Sacred and The Profane or Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Mircea Eliade is one Romania’s most beloved writers. He was also a professor at the University of Chicago for most of his life and died in the United States in 1986, at the age of 79. While living in Bucharest, he rented a house on Mantuleasa Street which you can still see today. The house is supposedly one of the strangest places in the capital, as neighbours claim to hear something like a gurgling sound from the yard. In the morning they see dark stains around the gate that appear to be black blood.
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As for the identity of the spirit(s) inhabiting the place there are multiple theories: one of them states that the ghost is called the Tramper and it is actually the spirit of a young prostitute who was brutally murdered here. It is said that this gloomy presence is the one who inspired Eliade to write his horror novels. Another theory is that the ghost may actually belong to Eliade himself.
Gothic Shops and the International Tattoo Convention
Want more of the macabre? After you’re done hunting demons and ghosts or performing your magic rituals, you can go ahead and complete your Gothic wardrobe from one of the stores in the old city. I found some really fashionable items at Gotica and Gothic Fairy. Also, if you’re around the city at the end of October – beginning of November, there is an International Tattoo Convention happening in Bucharest every year. Lots of cool (and still living) artists are waiting for you there.
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