The Cotroceni Palace, the Presidential Administration’s head office, lies in an area with a history back to over three hundred years. Between 1679-1681, in the present location, western Bucharest, on the right side of the Dambovita River, on the Cotroceni Hill, Prince Şerban Cantacuzino founded a monastery, after having cleared out a heavily wooded area of the Wallachian Forests (Codrii Vlasiei)
The Church Dormition of the Theotokos („Assumption of the Holy Virgin” in western Christianity) and the magnificent princely palace, built in the Baroque style, specific to the western Europe of those days, were noteworthy within Şerban Cantacuzino’s foundation. In terms of architecture, some key moments are to be mentioned about the ensemble of Cotroceni: the first is related to the name of the founder, Şerban Cantacuzino (1678-1688).
The second dates from the reign of Barbu Dimitrie Stirbei (1849-1853, 1854-1856) who rebuilt and modernised it in 1852, redecorating the princely palace, which became his summer residence. Furthermore, to facilitate contact with the Capital city, Prince Ştirbey built a new road straight across the vast fields belonging to the monastery, separating the palace area from the later Botanical Garden, dated since 1860.
Important historical events took place at Cotroceni. In 1821, Tudor Vladimirescu, the leader of the rebellion, decided to camp here, Cotroceni thus becoming the centre of the revolution. The revolution in 1848-1849, in the south of the Carpathians, ended at Cotroceni where the Proclamation of the Sublime Porte was uttered to condemn it. Many revolutionaries and officials of the capital city were eventually arrested and imprisoned right within the palace itself.
During Alexandru Ioan Cuza's reign Cotroceni was turned into the core of Romania’s unification and modernisation and ensuing furnishing and upgrading, the palace gained the status of a European-ranking official residence.
Between 1893-1895 the new princely palace, designated to the Crown Prince Ferdinand of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, was built on the Romanian State’s expenses. In 1918 at Cotroceni the Central Powers and Romania signed the treaty known as the Treaty of Bucharest. Ensuing the Great Union, the palace was modified and enlarged by architect Grigore Cerchez. The Princess, later Queen Maria, gifted Controceni with her unique mark, a true testimony of her artistic vision and imagination.
After 1949 the Palace functioned as the Palace of the Communist Youth Organisation (the Pioneers). Heavily damaged by the earthquake in 1977, the palace was largely rebuilt by architect N. Vladescu, who is also responsible for creating a completely new wing, currently hosting the Presidential Administration.
Frontage of the Old Palace and of the New Palace
Throughout the years, the Cotroceni ensemble underwent a series of changes but it always kept its religious and princely residential function. The reign of Barbu Ştirbey (1849 - 1853) was a benefit for the surrounding area as the Prince rebuilt and redecorated the palace that later became his summer residence. Furthermore, to ease the link with the Capital city, Prince Stirbey built a new road across the wide domain of the monastery which separated the residential area from the what would become the Botanical Garden, which was set up in 1860.
The secondary inner yard of the Palace
The inner yard, view from Cotroceni Church Dormition of the Mother of God
The history of the royalty in Romania is connected to Cotroceni as Prince Carol I of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen, since 1866 used the palace as his residence. Between 1893 - 1895 the French architect Paul Gottereau rebuilt the palace to serve as a home for the Crown Prince Ferdinand and for Princess Maria. Ensuing World War I, under direct guidance of Queen Maria, the palace underwent changes and extensions designed by architect Grigore Cerchez.
The roundabout from the entrance towards Leu Square (The Square of the Lion) to the Cotroceni Palace courtyard
After 1949 the palace was the location of the Communist Youth Palace. Seriously damaged during the earthquake in 1977, the entire ensemble underwent a process of thoroughly rebuilding to serve as a residence for the country’s Presidency on which occasion a new wing was built (by architect N. Vladescu). The church was demolished in 1984 and rebuilt during 2003-2009. Since then, it has been used in religious service and as a touristic sight.
Entrance to Cotroceni Palace, The Hall of Honour
The Cotroceni Palace is connected to many historical events. In 1821 Tudor Vladimirescu, the leader of the revolution, settled his military headquarters here. During the revolution in 1848-1849 many revolutionaries were arrested and imprisoned in Cotroceni by representatives of the Supreme Porte.
The Hall of Honour
The Ambassadors’ Hall
During Alexandru Ioan Cuza’s reign, Cotroceni become the core of Romania’s unification and political emancipation and the palace gained the status of an official residence. In 1916, Cotroceni was the place where Romania decided to break neutrality and join the Entente (France, Russia, the Great Britain). Further in 1918, along with the Central Powers, the treaty known as The Bucharest Peace Treaty was signed at Cotroceni.
The Cotroceni Palace is an A-ranking historical monument (meaning of national relevance).
The West Garden in the interior courtyard of the Cotroceni Palace
Cotroceni Palace in Winter
The Cotroceni Palace Church
Architecturally similar to the outstanding cathedral established in Curtea de Argeş by Şerban Cantacuzino’s forefather, Neagoe Basarab, the church at Cotroceni stands centrally, sided by the princely palace, the ecclesiastical lodgings, the bell tower, the monastics’ cells, the dining-room, the kitchens and a chapel. In 1683 Şerban Cantacuzino dedicated the Cotroceni monastery to the whole monastic community in Mount Athos and decided that the superior should be sent from the Holy Mount and the monks there should receive part of the annual monastery’s income as an aid. Şerban Cantacuzino was buried in the crypt of Cotroceni church which later became a necropolis of the Cantacuzinos. Throughout the years the Cotroceni ensemble underwent several changes but it always functioned as a religious service location and a princely residence. The Cotroceni monastery, the most outstanding of Prince Şerban Cantacuzio’s foundations, was encircled in walls having as a core the beautiful Brâncoveanu style church patronised by „the Dormition of the Mother of God”(15th August) and „Saints Serghie and Vah”(7th November), celebrations chosen in connection with events of Prince Şerban Cantacuzino’s private life.
During its existence it went through difficult moments, suffering from military occupation, earthquakes and blazes with serious implication on its condition. The earthquake in October 1802 had disastrous consequences on all the buildings of the monastery, especially on the church which was rebuilt in great extent and repainted (1806). During the revolution in 1821 Tudor Vladimirescu had his military quarters settled at Cotroceni and, ensuing his settlement and during the revolution in 1848 as well, the monastery was occupied by the Ottoman troops, who arrested the revolutionaries.
In 1948, ensuing King Michael’s abdication, the Cotroceni Palace was administered by the public authorities and the church was closed to religious service out of ideological considerations. Seriously damaged in the 1977 earthquake, the church had initially been included in the restauration process. Unfortunately, in 1984 the communist authorities decided that the church was „incongruent” with the rest of the buildings, so they demolished it. In June 2003, following several interventions, especially by the Cantacuzino family, there were initiated building works on the existing foundation of the Cotroceni church as a „Cantacuzino Memorial” that supposed rebuilding the narthex and the porch only. Later, in May 2008 works of restoring were restarted when the nave and the sanctuary of the church were rebuilt so that the new building be as similar as possible to the original.
In October 2009 the church was sanctified as a place of worship and was included in the visiting tour of the Cotroceni National Museum. To entirely historically regain this remarkable monument, the liturgical treasure of the church was recovered – silver sacred objects, icons, sacred embroideries, sacred furniture, which had been hosted by the National Art of Romania since 1977. These objects of an inestimable patrimony value are now being exhibited in the Medieval rooms of the Palace after being fully reconditioned in specialised laboratories in Bucharest and in the country. These objects are the main exhibits of the permanent exhibition designated to the Cotroceni monastery within the Cotroceni Museum, opened to the public since October 2014.