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Possibly the finest building in the city, the Romanian Athenaeum, with its sublime baroque cupola, stands proudly at the flux of the city's busiest public square, competing with the Athenee Palace Hilton hotel, the Royal Palace and the old national library for attention. The work of French architect Albert Galleron, who also designed the National Bank of Romania, the building was inaugurated on February 26, 1888, and was built almost entirely with money donated by ordinary citizens of the capital, when a campaign called 'Give a penny for the Atheneum' rescued the project from folly after the original patrons ran out of funds.
Today the seat of the Romanian Philharmonic George Enescu, the auditorium can seat 800 spectators comfortably, and is renowned worldwide for its outstanding acoustics. The Romanian Athenaeum, dubbed the Romanian temple of arts, is an architectural jewel the uniqueness and merits of which have been acknowledged by the fact the building was classified a historical monument in 2004 and part of the European patrimony in 2007. Located on the Victory Avenue, the Romanian Athenaeum is a tourist sight the importance of which does not come down exclusively to its being one of the most eye-catching architectural marvels of the capital, but also to the fact it is home to one of the oldest and most important cultural institutions in Bucharest, a major contributor to the artistic scene of Bucharest: the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra. The Romanian Athenaeum was built between 1886 and 1888, designed to accommodate the specific activities carried out by the back then called the Romanian Philharmonic Society (an institution founded in 1868).
The chief architect was a Frenchmen, Albert Galleron, who designed the building by following the useful guidelines provided by a team of Romanian architects. The circular shape of the structure is owed to the already laid out foundations but, instead of being a drawback, this feature ensures the originality and singularity of the edifice. The façade is guarded, so to say, by 6 monumental 12 meters high columns, and the entire structure is overtopped by a monumental dome which rises to 41 meters above the ground level. Five medallions, each of them rendering the figure of a historical prince of the Romanian Principalities, decorate the peristyle.
The inside of the athenaeum has a capacity of almost 800 seats, and its highlights refer to the 12 Carrara marble hallway columns and to the four monumental Gothic stairs which make the connection between sundry sections of the venue. The Great Fresco, which covers the entire dome, was painted by Costin Petrescu, and given its size (amounting to 75 square meters), it was completed in no less than 5 years (1933 to 1938). The fresco consists of 25 sequences, each of them describing a certain significant episode of the history of the Romanian people. Another highlight of the interior refers to the organ built at the initiative and with the support of George Enescu himself.
The Romanian Athenaeum used to accommodate in the course of history a wide range of cultural activities, but lately, the athenaeum was the launching and affirmation platform for countless figures who have contributed to the history of the Romanian music, and it was included in the concert tours of numerous international artists. At present, the Romanian Athenaeum is one of the chief venues involved in organizing the celebrated George Enescu International Festival. It is, furthermore, opened to tourist visits.
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