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How Bucharest saved 13 historic churches from demolition by rolling them away

In the 1980s, when a vast urban redesign threatened Bucharest’s historic churches, one engineer went to extraordinary lengths to save them

historic Romanian church
The 18th century Schitul Maicilor, photographed here in 2013, was the first church to be moved.
Photo via Flickr

During the repressive communist regime of 1980s Romania, dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu set about demolishing dozens of historic churches and some 9,000 homes in his effort to transform Bucharest into a new city of public buildings and apartments modeled on the capital of North Korea. But a clever civil engineer managed to save 13 important churches from destruction through a novel technique: placing them on rails and rolling the buildings to new sites hidden behind the rising apartment blocks.

Engineer Eugeniu Iordăchescu was troubled by the demolition of structures that were so tied to Romanian history and identity. But colleagues dismissed his idea to move the structures, saying that the process would wreck them. Inspiration came with a waiter carrying a tray of glasses through a crowd. “I saw that the secret of the glasses not falling was the tray, so I started trying to work out how to apply a tray to the building,” said Iordăchescu in an interview with The Guardian.

The same technique was to move this block of apartments in Alba Iulia, Romania
Romainian National Archives/Wikipedia

He quickly developed a procedure to dig beneath the structures, support them on rail tracks, and roll the buildings to new locations sometimes hundreds of meters away. A team of five engineers and 20 or more laborers would work to move each church. The engineering effort was so sophisticated, it was like “landing on the moon for a country like Romania,” said architectural historian Valentin Mandache, who, as a student, watched a number of the churches being moved.

Via: The Guardian