Neo-Classical

As its name suggests, Neo-Classical architecture derives heavily from the Classical style familiar from Greek and Roman temples of antiquity. It began in the middle of the 18th century, partially as a reaction against the florid style of Rococo and Baroque. Perhaps because of our endless fascination with the ancient world, its modern day manifestation can be seen almost everywhere and the central and eastern parts of Europe are no exception.

Bucharest

As we have noted before, Bucharest was stripped of many buildings during the Ceaușescu regime and in one of those ironies that pervade life, the gross ego-trip that now serves as the Palace of the Parliament is built in a latter-day version of the Neo-Classical.

That palace

That palace

Few, however, would claim this monstrosity to be of great aesthetic value. For something more pleasing to the eye, the Ateneul Român (Romanian Athaeneum) is a much better bet. The building, designed by a French architect named Albert Galleron, was opened in 1888 and serves as the city’s main concert hall. It is home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra, named after Romania’s most famous composer.

Ateneu Român

Ateneu Român

Budapest

For a full-on Neo-Classical experience, a wander up to the top of Andrássy (or a trip on one of the dinky little trains on the M1 metro line) will bring you to Heroes’ Park. A vast monument stands at its centre, depicting Hungarian leaders and politicians. On the northern and southern sides, two grand Neo-Classical buildings face one another. To the north is the Museum of Fine Arts, bearing eight Corinthian columns topped by a portico depicting the legendary punch-up between Lapiths and Centaurs. Looking across at the museum is the Palace of Art, though it is not a mirror image of its neighbour. It has a mere six columns, but is no less imposing for that.

Heroes' Park

Heroes’ Park

Corinthian enough?

Corinthian enough?

Palace of Art

Palace of Art

Museum of Fine Arts

Museum of Fine Arts

Back towards the centre, on the very same street, is the splendid Opera House. Completed in 1884, it was built to rival that of Vienna. The façade is elegant and symmetrical, with sculptures portraying Hungary’s two finest composers, Erkel and Liszt.

Opera House

Opera House

The interior is, if anything, even more glorious, with its murals, chandeliers, vaulted ceilings and magnificent sweeping staircase, perfectly designed to let ladies of 19th-century Hungarian society to show off their (doubtless equally magnificent gowns.

The Hungarian National Museum deserves a visit for the impressive collections, but it also worth spending a while looking at the building itself. Located in the central part of the Pest side of the city, it was built in 1802 and the whole museum complex is a striking Neo-Classical vision of style.

Hungarian National Museum

Hungarian National Museum

One building that demonstrates that a mixture of style can work, if properly conceived, is the Vigadó concert hall, situated on the square of the same name, close to the Pest bank of the Danube. The present building is, in fact, a rebuilding, as the original was burned down. The new building, dating from 1864, is essentially Neo-Classical, but with a few added twists. Outside, look out for the Little Princess, a sculpture of a girl with a dog. Street sculptures are a Budapest speciality.

Vigadó concert hall

Vigadó concert hall

Berlin

Berlin is absolutely teeming with Neo-Classical buildings. Museum Island is not only a great place to enjoy the art and artefacts displayed within the museums, but to admire the buildings themselves. The Altes Museum was built in the 1820s to house the royal art collection. Its younger sibling, the Alte Nationalgalerie, was completed some 50 years later, also in Neo-Classical style.

Alte Nationalgalerie

Alte Nationalgalerie

Altes Museum

Altes Museum

Not far away is the beautiful Bode Museum, built in 1904. Today, it houses a fine collection of Byzantine art and visitors familiar with the city of Oxford may notice the similarities between the Bode and Oxford’s Radcliffe Camera.

The Bode Museum

The Bode Museum

The Neue Kirche (New Church) has been through several reconstructions. It was original built at the beginning of the 18th century, underwent considerable rebuilding in the 1880s and was almost completely destroyed in the Second World War, though subsequent reconstruction did not begin until 1977. For all its many travails, the church is another of Berlin’s great Neo-Classical buildings.

Neue Kirche

Neue Kirche

St Petersburg

For all St Petersburg’s love of the Baroque, one of its stand-out buildings is the huge Kazan Cathedral, midway along the city’s most famous street, Nevksy Prospekt. The cathedral was built between 1801 and 1811, a relatively quick affair by cathedral standards.

Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral

The cathedral is built on the lines of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Shortly after its completion, Napoleon invaded Russia and it became essentially a shrine to the Russian victory. The leader of the Russian army, Mikhail Kutuzov, was buried in the cathedral after his death in 1813 and a large statue of the general stands outside, along with one of Barclay de Tolly, the War Minister during the conflict.

de Tolly statue at Kazan

de Tolly statue at Kazan

Not far away is St Isaac’s Cathedral, completed in 1858 and based on the great Byzantine churches. It is, though, essentially a Neo-Classical take on the style. The huge main dome is, in typically understated Orthodox fashion, plated with gold. So conspicuous is the dome that it was painted black during the Second World War in an attempt to conceal it from enemy bombers. St Isaac’s is the world’s third-largest domed cathedral and took some 40 years to build.

St Isaac's Cathedral

St Isaac’s Cathedral

Built in a considerably shorter period of time (1819 to 1825, but no less majestic, is the State Museum of Russian Art, otherwise known as the Mikhailovsky Palace. To prove that nothing falls easily into a pigeon-hole, the palace has a touch of the Baroque to it and is enclosed by railings that are distinctly Art Nouveau. The palace became an art museum in 1898, when Nicholas II decided that St Petersburg should have an art gallery to match Moscow’s famous Tretyakov. The St Petersburg gallery grew to such an extent that its collection is around four times that of its Moscow counterpart.

State Museum of Russian Art

State Museum of Russian Art

Sofia

Though not an imposing building in terms of size, the National Theatre is one of Sofia’s most charming. A relatively recent structure completed in the early 20th century, it has great style and is perfectly located. Standing in the City Park at the heart of the Bulgarian capital, it provides a lovely backdrop to the surroundings and provides a pleasing view for those relaxing in the many cafés and bars in the gardens.

City Park and National Theatre

City Park and National Theatre

Of a more recent vintage is the National Library. Building began in 1939, but war intervened and the library was not completed until 1953. The official name is the St Cyril and St Methodius National Library, named after the brothers who introduced the Cyrillic alphabet. A statue of the brothers stands in the grounds.

National Library

National Library

Even more recent is the building that was the headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Built in the 1950s, it is constructed in the style known as Socialist Classicism. Many of the edifices constructed in this style are, quite frankly, ugly, but Party House has a certain elegance to it. There are, in fact, three linked buildings at the site, now occupied by government offices, the vast TZUM department store and an upmarket hotel.

The old Communiist Party HQ

The old Communiist Party HQ

The large Sofia Court House is of a similar style, though built a little earlier. It is another building that could defy categorisation, but with its 12 huge columns, comes closer to the Neo-Classical than anything else.

Court House

Court House

Of a more traditional style is the main building, or Rectorate, of Sofia University, though the university itself dates back to the late 19th century. The two statues outside the main entrance depict the Georgiev brothers, Hristo and Evlogi, who financed the building.

Sofia University

Sofia University

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Rococo

Rococo is sometimes termed ‘Late Baroque’ and there are obvious reasons for this. If Baroque flutters its eyelashes and says “Look at me”, then Rococo goes a bit further and suggests that we might like to join it in an orgy. Rococo is not for the faint hearted.

Because of its outrageously over the top nature, Rococo is largely, though not always, confined to palaces, where its flamboyance can be let loose on both the exterior and interior. Unfortunately, Rococo will always be associated with the ludicrously ostentatious displays of the out-of-touch aristocracy, but at least these excesses have been left for the rest of us to enjoy.

Istanbul

The Pera Palace is Istanbul’s most famous hotel. Located just to the north of the Galata Tower, the hotel was built in 1892, chiefly for the benefit of travellers on the Orient Express. This leads us nicely to Agatha Christie, who was a regular guest between 1924 and 1933. Legend has it that she wrote Murder on the Orient Express in room 411 of the hotel. Plenty of other notable figures have stayed here, including Leon Trotsky, Mata Hari and Greta Garbo.

Pera Palace

Pera Palace

On a smaller scale, but also in Rococo style, are the fountain kiosk of Ahmed III, located at Topkapi Palace, and the fountain of Sultan Ahmed III.

Ahmet III Fountain

Ahmet III Fountain

Pushkin

Some 15 miles to the south of St Petersburg, the town of Pushkin was a regular summer residence for Russia’s Imperial families. Indeed, the town was known as Tsar’s Village, becoming Children’s Village after the Revolution before being named in honour of the poet who studied at the local school.

The Catherine Palace is often thought, wrongly, to be named after Catherine the Great, but was in fact named after Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great. The original building was far more modest that what can be seen today, the Empress Elizabeth having ordered a rebuilding of the palace. Initially, she commissioned two Russian architects, but brought in the inimitable Bartolomeo Rastrelli, whose style is all over the building’s façade.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

While some might prefer to categorise the palace as Baroque, it is so magnificently, outrageously over the top in every aspect that is simply has to be described as Rococo. This is Rococo with a capital R, Rococo that jumps up and down shouting at the top of its voice while simultaneously beating you over the head with its outlandish attire.

Comfy little terraced house

Comfy little terraced house

If the palace itself is not enough, there is the beautiful park, with its lakes, pavilions, statues and bridges. Even if you are determined to remain unimpressed by all of this, stepping inside the palace is likely to make even the most resolute jaw drop.

Even the lake is Rococo...

Even the lake is Rococo…

Naturally, this was the exact intention. Jaws were supposed to drop, as visitors filed into the exquisitely ornate main hall and then drifted through the collection of equally lavish rooms bedecked in gold and jewels of varying colours. All of this extravagance, of course, was not going to impress the increasingly subversive peasantry and while it would be ludicrously simplistic to blame such buildings for the revolution of 1917, the outrageous opulence of these palaces was an obvious symbol of the vast gap between the top and bottom of society.

Jaw drop time

Jaw drop time

Prague

The pink and white stucco façade of the Kinský Palace makes it a building difficult to miss. The palace’s name is taken from that of the Imperial diplomat who bought it in 1768.

Kinsky Palace

Kinsky Palace

Other than being Prague’s finest Rococo building, the palace has a couple of claims to fame. Alfred Nobel once stayed here and, in 1948, Communist rule in Czechoslovakia was proclaimed from its balcony.

Nowadays, the palace is used by the National Gallery to house temporary exhibitions.

Vienna

Vienna does not lack for Baroque places, the most famous of which is, perhaps, the Belvedere. However, for a full-on, flamboyant Rococo experience, Schloss Schönbrunn takes some beating. Completed in 1713, it is the former summer residence of the Habsburgs, one of whose number, the Empress Maria Theresa, ordered much of he interior to be decorated in Rococo style.

Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace

The Grand Gallery lives up to its name, a hall of large windows, magnificent chandeliers and crystal mirrors. The room is still used today for state receptions and banquets.

Even more mirrors can be found in the Mirror Room, where Mozart once delivered a private performance for the aforementioned empress.

For a variation on Rococo, the Vieux-Laque Room combines the style with Chinese art. Black lacquer panels from Beijing depict birds, flowers and landscapes embellished in gold, an element the Habsburgs were not shy of displaying.

Vieux Laque Room

Vieux Laque Room

Berlin

The Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg), on the west side of Berlin, is a typically grandiose palace of the type beloved by imperial families. It was built in the late 17th and early 18th centuries of the behest of Frederick III, who bore the suitable grand title of Elector of Brandenburg. The palace is named Charlottenburg after Sophie Charlotte, Frederick’s wife.

Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace

The interior is a mix of Baroque and Rococo. The most glittering display of the latter can be found in the apartments of Frederick the Great, located in the palace’s New Wing.

The gardens are extensive (and free to visitors). They were originally designed in Baroque style, were redesigned in English landscape fashion when the style was in vogue, but reverted to the original style in the late 18th century.

Rococo a-go-go

Rococo a-go-go

The palace was, for a brief period between 2004 and 2006, the official residence of the German President while the usual seat (Schloss Bellevue) was being redecorated.