Most inner-city sights are within walking distance of Calea Victoriei, an avenue of vivid contrasts, scattered with vestiges of ancien régime elegance interspersed with apartment blocks, glass and steel facades and cake shops. Fulcrum of the avenue is Piața Revoluției, created during the 1930s on Carol II’s orders to ensure a field of fire around the Royal Palace.
On the north side of the square is the Athénée Palace Hotel (now a Hilton), famous for its role as an “intelligence factory” from the 1930s until the 1980s, with its bugged rooms, tapped phones and informer prostitutes. To its east are the grand Romanian Atheneum, the city’s main concert hall, and the University Library, torched, allegedly by the Securitate, in the confusion of the 1989 revolution, but since rebuilt and reopened.
To the southeast of the square is the former Communist Party HQ, now the Senate, where Nicolae Ceauşescu made his last speech from a low balcony on December 21. His speech drowned out by booing, the dictator’s disbelief was broadcast to the nation just before the TV screens went blank. He and his wife Elena fled by helicopter from the roof, but were captured and executed on Christmas Day.