The curse of Văcărești Monastery. How he went from holy shrine to penitentiary and film set

The story of the Văcărești Monastery is an impressive one, over the years it has been both a place of worship, a prison and a film set, and towards the end of the communist period it disappeared from the face of the earth.

The building dates from the period of ruler Nicolae Mavrocordat, 1716 -1722, and served as a monastery, a royal court, and a cultural centre of 18th century Europe. More than a century later, in 1864, the Văcărești Monastery was closed and became a penitentiary.

At that time, the monks were thrown out of the monastery, and the cells took the role of cells. Bars appear on the windows, and the architecture is destroyed by additions for the new use of the building. The manor house becomes the prison hospital, while the presbytery is the new women’s penitentiary and the church is the inmates’ royal seat.

Tudor Arghezi is detained at Văcărești in 1914 because of articles he wrote that the authorities considered “war agitation”. The writer immortalised this period in his book “Poarta Neagră” (Black Gate). In time, Ioan Slavici joined him, writing about his life there in the book “My Prisons”.

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Ana Pauker and Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej also passed through the prison gates, and during the communist regime, political prisoners were sent to Văcărești. In 1973, the penitentiary was evacuated and measures were taken to restore the buildings.

Vacaresti Monastery history
The Domine Church, views from the interwar period, after the album A quarter of a century since the martyrdom of a Bucharest monument

History of the Văcărești Monastery and the demolition of the building

The former Monastery of Văcărești was to become a collection of medieval art museums. Just four years later, the Directorate of Historical Monuments was abolished and the architectural heritage was left to the decision of the former dictator, Nicoale Ceaușescu.

He visited Văcăreștii on 2 December 1984 and decided that the former place of worship should be demolished and the new Palace of Justice built in its place. In March 1985, Professor Panait I. Panait, director of the Museum of History and Art of Bucharest, lodged a complaint with the Buftea Studio about the fact that during the filming of the movie “Noi, cei din linea prima”, directed by the great Sergiu Nicolaescu, the building had been seriously damaged by the use of firecrackers, flame throwers, tanks and cannons.

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Minorities in the area complete this period of destruction by stealing icons dating from the 18th century, but which are later recovered. Important names such as Constantin Noica, Geo Bogza, Mihai Șora, Zoe Dumitrescu-Busulenga, Dinu C. Giurescu, Grigore Ionescu, Peter Derer, Florin Rotarul and Răzvan Theodorescu led several protests, but to no avail.

Vacaresti Monastery model - Bucharest
Model of the restoration project of the Văcărești Monastery (Photo: Octavian-Dumitru Marinescu_

Between September and December 1986, the complex was demolished by local bulldozers who worked day and night, while dumpers carried the resulting rubble. The walls that could not be put down were dynamited, and in January 1987, the last parts of the building came down.

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