As in many other Eastern European countries, Romania had seen a steep decline in bookbinding craftsmanship in the post-Soviet years. There are some remarkable masters, including some younger bookbinders. However, book restoration and bookmaking are reasonably expensive services, and it is quite understandable that in one of the less developed European countries the demand is quite low.
At the same moment, if you are interested in the history of book or book arts, there are some opportunities available for you here. Romania has a long scholastic tradition – this year the 510th anniversary is celebrated of the first Romanian book printed in the boundaries of the country
National Museum of Art of Romania
The most obvious option is to visit the National Museum of Art of Romania (Muzeul Național de Artă al României). It is located in the former royal palace in the historic center of Bucharest. Unfortunately, I cannot share any photos or videos with you, because the ticket allowing for photography is quite expensive there.
Besides extensive art collection, which includes both local and major European artists, National Museum has lots of historical objects on display, including scores of medieval books.
Next, you may check the National Library. They also have collections of manuscripts (not only Romanian) and first printed Romanian books. And even if you are not going to Romania anytime soon, you can check their digitized archive.
National Library is located in the new center of Bucharest, that was envisioned by the late Romanian secretary-general Nicolae Ceaușescu. It is seen from the Piața Unirii opposing the grand building of the Senate (former Ceaușescu palace).
Before planning the visit, it is better to reach library staff and check the schedule and availability of books.
National Museum of Romanian History
A short walk away either from the National Library or the former royal palace is the National Museum of Romanian History (Muzeul Național de Istorie a României). This one is my favorite. Maybe because of all the shiny things – they have a treasury there. Or just because of my childhood impressions. Which may or may not be related to all that gold exhibited there.
Besides a copy of the Emperor Traian’s column, History Museum has a collection of old books. What’s even better, they are displayed in a way that allows you to look at them from all the possible angled and to see all the smallest details of these books.
Museum of Bucharest
From there you may walk through the old Bucharest, the part of the city which is called the Small Paris. Museum of Bucharest (Muzeul Municipiului Bucureşti) is located near the Bucharest University. They have a permanent exhibition that includes some old books, charters, and other sorts of documents. Exhibit items are switched from time to time, so it is worth visiting even if you have been here before.
Museum of Bucharest is also known for its temporary exhibitions. It may be something history-themed, or a temporary art gallery. Anyway, it is worth checking, because there may be something bookish there.
Cotroceni National Museum
Cotroceni is a Presidential Palace nowadays. However, it has a long history, and part of it is represented by its vast collection. Which includes, by the way, a library of manuscripts and incunables.
Please book a tour before visiting the Cotroceni National Museum (Muzeul Naţional Cotroceni), otherwise, you just wouldn’t get in at all.
National Museum of Contemporary Art
All the collections mentioned before were established in Soviet times, or even earlier. However, there are at least two museums that offer something newer. The first one is the National Museum of Contemporary Art (Muzeul Naţional de Artă Contemporană). It is located right inside the aforementioned Ceaușescu palace. So, be aware, that security there is stricter than in any other Bucharest museum. You have to enter the territory of Senate building through the south gate, and a guard may ask you (in Romanian) where are you going.
All the exhibitions here are temporary, so there is no guarantee there will be any books at all when you visit Bucharest. However, when I visited the museum, three out of six exhibitions had at least some books, artist’s books or book related objects included.
Another reason to visit that museum is a bar on the fourth floor that has access to an open terrace. The view is not the best, but it still may be fun. I suppose a bar in a museum of contemporary art is a pretty reasonable idea!
National Museum of Maps and the Old Books
The other new museum celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. It was created after a collection of maps and old books was donated by Daniela and Adrian Năstase family to the state.
You will find mostly maps exhibited in the National Museum of Maps and the Old Books (Muzeul Național al Hărților și Cărții Vechi). However, there may be a temporary exhibition that includes some interesting books. And even if there are no “proper books” at the moment of your visit, what is a map (at least a folded one) rather than another format of a book?
It is a widespread case that in the Eastern European countries the craft of bookbinding has declined over the past decades. However, that doesn’t mean there are no good bookbinders in Bucharest.
I had a pleasure meeting Mihai Vârtejaru twice. This March and a year ago, in January 2017. He has his bookbinding workshop in the western part of the city and works both with new bindings and repair/restoration projects.
Please comment if you have something to add to my list or want to see some other city investigated the same way.