Rroma heritage in Bucharest: Colorful flowers and a gray history
Bucharest is a city full of depth, is one of the first things I discover while walking the cobbled streets of the Eastern European city. It’s hiding many stories. One of them is that of the Rroma, or Roma, the term that is now used to refer to the people that used to be called gypsies. I join the Rroma Heritage Tour, a walking tour that takes me around the city explaining the history and modern day life of the Rroma.
Strolling through Old Town
We meet our guide Stefan and begin the tour walking through old town. Our first stop is one of Bucharest oldest churches, a reminder to the church’s role in enslaving the Rroma. Stefan starts by explaining the history of the Rroma community. “Even though the Rroma have been in Europe since the 1300’s, we still consider them outsiders. The Rroma originally came from India. They travelled through Turkey and then expanded into Eastern Europe. In 1385 there was the first official mention of the Rroma being in Romania, but the term Rroma actually is modern.”
“Interesting to know is that their language took bits of all the countries they travelled through: Greece, Turkey… Based on the origin of these words the migration of the Rroma in the Middle Ages could be traced.”
Nowadays, Rroma people are the second-largest ethnic minority in Romania, after Hungarians. “Officially about 4 percent of people in Romania is Rroma, although it probably is closer to 10 percent of the population. A lot of people of Romani descent do not want to call themselves Rroma since there still is a lot of discrimination.” It is therefore guessing at the real number.
In medieval times
But Stefan first takes us back to medieval times again. “Life in medieval times was difficult for the Rroma. Because they were considered such a good craftsmen, the Rroma people were held as slaves by the wealthy communities in Romania. They worked as slaves in for land owners or in monasteries, for the church. Nowadays almost no one is speaking open about it, but they suffered a lot. They were beaten and tortured, even sold by the kilo. Only in Transylvania they were treated slightly better and given some land.”
We take the tram to go to a district little outside of the city centre, to visit Piața de flori George Coșbuc, a Rroma flower market, which is run by flower sellers of Rroma background.
“People don’t like this area, because they still have fear of the Rroma. For instance, they tell their children that if they don’t eat their meal either the wolves or the gypsies will get them.” Stefan explaines.
The people working here are Rroma. Women are sitting in the doorway on small wooden chairs, a cigaret dangling in their hand. A dog barks dangerously. Children, some actually are still pretty young, are weaving the structures for the flower arrangements. It is a colourful place, but it can’t hide the fact there is a lot of poverty, living conditions over here are below average and the future of the children is not positive. Even though the number of Rroma children attending and finish school is growing, still many Rroma children skip school.
In a courtyard we listen to the Rroma music of Florin Salam. “Many Rroma musicians are quite popular nowadays, even though the music is not appreciated by everybody. The musicians got famous abroad before getting famous here. Even though many of the Rroma are poor, some of them are extremely rich. Some got rich through singing or music, but don’t be fooled. Also through organised crime and stealing iron.”
Era of communism
Walking back to inner town we see skeletons of huge and partly finished buildings. Projects that were abandoned after the fall of Communism in 1989 and will never be finished. They are just standing there, amid waste that has been dumped. One of them is the unfinished building of the Romanian Academy. A massive building that dominates the area. It was built for Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Communist dictator of Romania. Also the Communist era turned out to be difficult for the Rroma people.
Little further, we take a quick look at Mahala restaurant. The restaurant is painted with murals relating to tradition, and also to some typical Rroma traditions and stories. A colourful conclusion to a tour with a gray edge.
If you want to see a different side to Bucharest and Romania and want to learn more about the complicated history of the Rroma people you should book the Rroma Heritage Tour by Open Doors Travel. It’s an absolutely fascinating tour that reveals one of the extraordinary stories of Bucharest!
It was a complimentary tour during the blogging event Experience Bucharest.