The House of the Free Press (Casa Scânteii), Bucharest’s Stalinist Relic

The building’s main façade

photography by: Omri Westmark

Throughout its history, Bucharest witnessed countless rulers over the city’s municipal territory. Nevertheless, none of which was as influential relative to its time in power as the communist regime. In merely 42 years, the communists flattened and rebuilt much of the Romanian capital, including a series of extant monuments that today serve as a vestige of the city’s bygone era. Constructed in the mid-1950’s, the House of the Free Press is a massive soviet-style building which offers a distant glimpse into Bucharest’s communist past as well as its transition to democracy.

Similar to dozens of communist capitals, Bucharest underwent a series of massive demolitions and redevelopment projects throughout Romania’s forty years under a socialist regime. Standing about 1.5 kilometer north of Arcul de Triumf along the Kiseleff Road, the House of the Free Press is perhaps amongst the city’s most conspicuous testimonies of its past communist building frenzy.

 

To make room for the mind-bogglingly large edifice, a popular horse racing hippodrome was demolished. Completed in 1957, the building replaced the equine beasts with the headquarters of the communist party’s main newspaper, Scânteia (Spark), hence its former name – Casa Scânteii. At its heyday, the building’s 5000 employees published a whopping 3 million copies of newspapers and 160,000 brochures every day, enough to easily dominate the political sphere.

 

Modeled after the Lomonosov University‘s Stalinist building in Moscow, Casa Scânteii was designed by the local architect Horia Maicu, who also incorporated various traditional elements into its façade, many of which were borrowed from Orthodox monasteries across the country. In fact, this communist relic is awash with classical arches, columns and most notably, a glut of circular ornaments, depicting national and communist motifs alike.

 

Though hardly noticeable from afar, the edifice’s main and monumental segment is accompanied by two side-wings, each of which is crowned by a pair of iconic spires and features a colonnade along its entire ground floor.

 

Following the 1989’s Romanian Revolution and the ensuing regime change, the building was aptly renamed the House of the Free Press (Casa Presei Libere), reflecting the replacement of the state sponsored propaganda with independent journalists who flocked in droves to its premises.

 

At 104 meters (91.6 meters excluding the television antenna), the edifice was Bucharest’s tallest skyscraper up until 2007, when the Tower Center International was constructed. With a total floor area of 32,000 square meters, it is also one of the largest office buildings across the capital, mostly accommodating printing houses and privately-owned media outlets which now enjoy a true freedom of press.

 

Interestingly, Casa Presei Libere went through another cultural transformation when a nearby statue of Lenin was toppled in the aftermath of the revolution. According to some urban legends, the statue was created in 1960 from the melted bronze of the equestrian statue of Carol I in Calea Victoriei, a monument in honor of Romania’s first king that was destroyed by the communists (and was recently restored).

 

Symbolically erected on the exact location where the Leninist statue once stood, the Monument of the Anti-Communist Struggle, otherwise known as the Wings Monument was inaugurated in 2015. Standing atop a verdant mound, the 24-meter-tall sculpture features three large wings which represent the coveted freedom gained in 1990, when Romania became a free nation.

The House of the Free Press, formerly known as Casa Scânteii

photography by: Omri Westmark


The edifice’s eastern flank

photography by: Omri Westmark


Casa Scânteii is located at the end of a long axis that connects the building with the city’s arch de triumph

photography by: Omri Westmark


The eastern wing

photography by: Omri Westmark


The building is accompanied by a large lawn that lies in front of the main entrance

photography by: Omri Westmark


The House of the Free Press features multiple traditional motifs, including a medley of meticulously designed arches

photography by: Omri Westmark


The main façade next to the building's empty fountain

photography by: Omri Westmark


The dry pool in front of the building

photography by: Omri Westmark


Despite its soviet monumentality, the edifice abounds with delicate details and decorations

photography by: Omri Westmark


The colonnade along the west wing

photography by: Omri Westmark


A closer glimpse of one of the many circular ornaments across the building’s façade

photography by: Omri Westmark


The colonnade at the building's west wing, home to an old-fashioned café

photography by: Omri Westmark


The Wings Monument, surrounded by plenty of greenery

photography by: Omri Westmark


Built in 2015, the three-winged sculpture replaced a statue of Lenin

photography by: Omri Westmark


In stark contrast to the communist era, the surrounding area is now home to a couple of modern office towers

photography by: Omri Westmark