Bucharest’s massive, staggeringly expensive People’s Salvation Cathedral is years away from its scheduled opening, but the architectural colossus already dominates the skyline of the Romanian capital.
This is the People’s Salvation Cathedral, in central Bucharest, as it appeared on January 13, while still under construction.
The landmark is due to be completed by 2025, but is already the world’s largest and tallest Eastern Orthodox Cathedral. When the final cross is added to the central cupola the building will stand 127 meters tall.
Plans for a skyscraping cathedral to celebrate the ascendance of Orthodox Christianity date back to the Russian and Romanian victory over Muslim Ottoman forces in 1878. Romanians refer to that conflict as their War of Independence.
In the 20th-century, world wars, followed by communist dictatorship, along with difficulties choosing a location led to the cathedral project being repeatedly shelved. Finally, in 2010, ground was broken on an unused patch of land on the territory of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s infamous Palace of the Parliament, and construction has continued since then.
A reported 200 million euros ($216 million) have been spent on the project thus far, with most of the money coming from public funds, and around a quarter from donations. Critics have called the construction “pharaonic” and comparable to the megalomania of the Ceausescu era.
But in the small chapel in front of the cathedral’s construction site, Mihai Gabriel Perju told RFE/RL that the spiritual and practical consequences of the cathedral will make the cost more than worth it. The theology student, who is about to begin a junior role at the church, said the site is likely to become a major pilgrimage site for both Orthodox Christians, and nonbelievers.
“Simple people have inside of them a curiosity about sacred things,” Perju said, “and when they see this building the thought will enter their mind, ‘I need to find out more about the Christian religion,'” he said. “It will be like dropping a stone into a pond, the ripples will move out into the world and have an impact far from Romania.”
Architectural historian Valentin Mandache, in contrast, is scathing about the cathedral project, telling RFE/RL that the landmark was an eyesore akin to communist-era constructions that lacked “any kind of aesthetics.” The Romanian claimed the building is an example of his country’s “corruption, excess populism, preference for strongmen and dictatorships, and, essentially, cultural backwardness.”
The cathedral will be capable of holding a choir of 1,000 singers, and 6,000 worshipers within its main hall. A large team of artists is currently working on mosaics which will fill the interior surfaces.
A 25-ton bell for the project was designed by a team led by Italian campanologist Flavio Zambotto. He told Romanian media that, while every bell he produces is “like a son” to him, the monster instrument designed for the Bucharest cathedral “was emotional to hear for the first time: strong, deep, long. It’s a sound that embraces you, marks you.”
It will be possible to hear the bell around 20 kilometers away, according to reports.
Security at the site was tightened after May 2022, when an unidentified base jumper ascended to the cupola between construction shifts on the site and leapt into the main hall of the cathedral.