Eu­ge­niu Ior­dachescu

Civil en­gi­neer who res­cued a dozen his­toric churches in Bucharest from Ceaus­escu’s bull­doz­ers

The Daily Telegraph - - Obituaries -

EU­GE­NIU IOR­DACHESCU, who has died aged 89, was a Ro­ma­nian civil en­gi­neer who chal­lenged the ar­chi­tec­tural whims of the Com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor Ni­co­lae Ceaus­escu and his wife Elena and saved some dozen churches, dat­ing from the 16th to the 19th cen­turies, from de­struc­tion.

In the late 1970s, after a visit to North Ko­rea, Ceaus­escu de­cided to bull­doze 80 per cent of the his­toric cen­tre of Bucharest, once cel­e­brated as “the Paris of the East”, to cre­ate a Py­ongyang-style “Civic Cen­tre” with wide boule­vards, stone-faced apart­ment blocks, gur­gling foun­tains, and a gi­gan­tic “House of the Repub­lic”.

The de­mo­li­tions had al­ready started when Ior­dachescu, a civil en­gi­neer and teacher at an in­sti­tute in Bucharest, was con­sulted about al­ter­ing the width of the city’s main Kise­l­eff road: “Some­one said 50 me­tres, an­other 70 me­tres. Then Ceaus­escu said, ‘Make the boule­vard 90 me­tres wide’. That had ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions. You had to de­stroy 20 me­tres more on each side.”

When he vis­ited the site, Ior­dachescu was en­chanted by a small Ortho­dox church, Schi­tul Maicilor (“the Nuns’ Con­vent”), built in 1725 with beau­ti­ful paint­ings on its walls. It was, he re­called, “a jewel that had to be saved no mat­ter the cost. After months of wrack­ing my brains, God en­light­ened me.”

In­spired by “the waiter who car­ries glasses on a tray with­out spilling a drop”, he imag­ined de­tach­ing the church from its foun­da­tions and mount­ing it on a “con­crete tray” to be moved else­where.

Ior­dachescu’s col­leagues thought he was mad, but even­tu­ally a process was de­vel­oped whereby the ground was dug out from un­der the church, with a re­in­forced con­crete sup­port cre­ated and the foun­da­tions sev­ered. Tracks were laid, and in June 1982 the 7,450-tonne build­ing was duly lifted, placed on rails and, with hy­draulic jacks and winches, moved 245 me­tres out of harm’s way to a new lo­ca­tion.

Since Ro­ma­nia was largely cut off from the out­side world Ior­dachescu had to rely on lo­cal equip­ment and tech­nol­ogy. His ef­forts even­tu­ally en­com­passed the re­lo­ca­tion of nearly 30 build­ings, in­clud­ing a dozen churches, no­tably the Mi­hai Voda Church, built in 1594 by Prince Michael the Brave, and the 9,000-tonne Ortho­dox syn­odal palace, which was moved with its base­ment in­tact.

Ior­dachescu’s team also moved a bank, a hos­pi­tal and sev­eral apart­ment blocks, of­ten with gas and wa­ter lines at­tached and peo­ple in­side them. As his son Adrian re­called, his fa­ther was al­ways on site, “be­cause he heard peo­ple would [at­tempt] sab­o­tage, so he would stay 24 hours a day”.

De­spite Ior­dachescu’s ef­forts, 22 churches were bull­dozed, in­clud­ing some which were sched­uled for re­lo­ca­tion, but which fell vic­tim to Ceaus­escu’s im­pa­tience. Mean­while, most of the saved churches were re­lo­cated to the shad­ows of Sovi­et­style apart­ment blocks, the dic­ta­tor not wish­ing to re­mind cit­i­zens of Bucharest of their re­li­gious her­itage. Ior­dachescu had to de­mol­ish a part of the syn­odal palace after re­lo­ca­tion after Ceaus­escu’s wife, Elena, in­sisted it was still vis­i­ble from the street.

Yet para­dox­i­cally Ceaus­escu paid for mov­ing the churches, ei­ther from some lin­ger­ing su­per­sti­tion from his peas­ant up­bring­ing – or be­cause of crit­i­cal press com­ment in the West.

Eu­ge­niu Ior­dachescu was born in the east­ern Ro­ma­nian city of Braila on Novem­ber 8 or 9 1929 (sources vary), grad­u­ated from the Bucharest In­sti­tute of Civil En­gi­neer­ing in 1953, and in 1984 took a doc­tor­ate in en­gi­neer­ing.

At the time of the over­throw of the Ceaus­es­cus in 1989, he was su­per­vis­ing the re­lo­ca­tion of the lit­tle 18th-cen­tury church of St Stephen’s, Bucharest.

Ior­dachescu con­tin­ued his teach­ing and en­gi­neer­ing work in the years after the Ro­ma­nian Rev­o­lu­tion, and in 2016 the Ro­ma­nian Ortho­dox church awarded him the Pa­tri­ar­chal Cross, its high­est hon­our for lay peo­ple.

Ior­dachescu was mar­ried and had two sons.

Eu­ge­niu Ior­dachescu, born Novem­ber 8 or 9 1929, died Jan­uary 4 2019

Ior­dachescu and the An­tim Ivire­anul monastery com­pound, one of many his­toric gems he saved from de­struc­tion

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