The Palatul Cotroceni (Cotroceni Palace) was built as a monastery by Şerban Cantacuzino between 1679 and 1682 and served as a base for the Austrian army in 1737, the Russian army in 1806 and Tudor Vladimirescu’s rebels in 1821. Damaged by numerous fires and earthquakes over the course of its history, the original building was demolished in 1863 and the palace rebuilt from 1893 to 1895 to provide a home for the newly wed Prince Ferdinand and Princess Marie – it remained a residence for the royal family until 1939. Under communism, it served as the Palace of the Pioneers – the “Pioneers” being the Soviet-bloc equivalent of the Boy Scouts. A new south wing was added during restoration following the 1977 earthquake and this is now used for presidential functions. In 1984, Ceauşescu had the church demolished, apparently because it spoilt the view; this has since been replaced by a replica, completed in 2009. The church’s original bell tower, from 1679, still stands.
Tours pass first through the remains of the monastery, where the Cantacuzino family gravestones are kept, then through the new rooms from the 1893–95 rebuild, decorated throughout by French architect, Paul Gottereau. The style is eclectic, to say the least, taking in a variety of Western styles, though there’s a notably strong German influence, inevitable given Ferdinand’s stock. The most eye-catching rooms are the Flowers Room, a beautifully light and airy space with richly stuccoed walls and ceilings, and Ferdinand’s small, French-style library furnished in maple and sycamore wood.