Eugeniu Iordachescu, Who Saved Bucharest’s Churches, Dies at 89

BUCHAREST, Romania — Eugeniu Iordachescu, a Romanian civil engineer who helped save some of Bucharest’s most emblematic churches from destruction in the 1980s by literally rolling them to safety, died on Jan. 4 at his home in Bucharest. He was 89.

The cause was a heart attack, his son Nicholas said.

Over a six-year period, Mr. Iordachescu (ayoo-JAY-nyu yor-da-KES-cue) and his colleagues were able to save a dozen churches, as well as other buildings that were earmarked for destruction by the Communist regime, often moving them hundreds of yards on the equivalent of railway tracks. The churches still stand today, though few visitors to the Romanian capital are aware of their unusual history.

In the 1980s, Mr. Iordachescu was working at the Project Institute of Bucharest, a design and engineering center. Around this time Romania’s Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, set about radically redesigning the center of the city, inspired by the architecture and the style of city planning he had seen on a visit to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.

To accomplish this goal, large areas of the city center needed to be razed. An estimated 9,000 houses were destroyed, and more than 30,000 residents were forced from their homes. Churches and other cultural and religious buildings were also slated to go.

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Mr. Iordachescu at his apartment in Bucharest in 2016. Over a six-year period in the 1980s, he and his colleagues were able to save a dozen churches, as well as other buildings that were earmarked for destruction by Romania’s Communist regime.CreditKit Gillet

Although he was not a religious man, Mr. Iordachescu started to look for a way to save some of the centuries-old churches and monasteries. “I was in the area that was to be knocked down, and I saw a beautiful small church and started wondering how it was possible to demolish such a jewel,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian in 2016.

His breakthrough came when he saw a waiter carrying a tray of drinks. “I saw that the secret of the glasses not falling was the tray,” he said, “so I started trying to work out how to apply a tray to the building.”

Mr. Iordachescu eventually came up with the idea of digging under the buildings and putting a reinforced concrete support beneath the structures, which could then be placed on tracks. After that, engineers would sever the foundations and use hydraulic levers and mechanical pulleys to slowly move the buildings to their new locations. Foundations would be put in place at the other end to support the relocated structures.

When he had first raised the idea with colleagues, Mr. Iordachescu was told that it wasn’t possible, that the buildings would fall over. He persuaded some engineers to try, and received verbal permission from government officials — though no one was willing to give permission in writing, in case the experiment failed.

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In 1985, Mr. Iordachescu and his team of engineers relocated the 16th-century Mihai Voda Monastery, in tandem with its stand-alone tower.CreditEugeniu Iordachescu

“I find what they did extraordinary,” Viorel Speteanu, the editor of the book “Eugeniu Iordachescu: A Savior of Architectural Monuments,” said in an interview. “The ideas flew around. The movements of these buildings, both churches and civil buildings, I think this is an extraordinary achievement, and I will never stop praising him for his accomplishment.”

Each relocation took months of planning, though the actual move could be completed in a matter of days. Some of the buildings needed to be relocated only a short distance, to make way for a new road, while others needed to be moved longer distances or rotated to fit their new sites.

One of the most impressive feats occurred in 1982, when the team moved the 18th-century Schitul Maicilor church almost 270 yards away from its original site. The building weighed more than 800 tons. In 1985 the team also relocated the 16th-century Mihai Voda Monastery, in tandem with its stand-alone tower.

Fearing that people would try to sabotage the work, Mr. Iordachescu would often stay on site around the clock during the moving phase.

Despite the team’s achievements, dozens of churches were still destroyed in the authorities’ haste to redesign the heart of the city, some after they had already received approval to be moved.

Eugeniu Iordachescu was born on Nov. 8, 1929, in Braila, Romania. His father, Ioan, was an electrician; his mother, Ana, was a homemaker. After graduating from the Bucharest Institute of Construction in 1953, he began working on engineering projects.

In addition to his son Nicholas, he is survived by another son, Adrian, and five grandchildren. Both his sons followed him into engineering. His wife, Sabina Elena Iordachescu, died in 2005.

In later years, especially after the fall of Communism in Romania in 1989, Mr. Iordachescu was widely praised for his actions, and was often referred to by the news media as “the guardian angel” of the country’s churches. He continued to work on the technology long after reaching retirement age, only truly stopping in the last few years of his life.

“He was very proud of his achievements, and even in retirement he spent a lot of time improving and helping others to push the method further on,” his son Nicholas said. “He will be remembered for a one-of-a-kind contribution to developing this technology.”

In 2016, Mr. Iordachescu was given the Patriarch Cross, the highest award bestowed by the Romanian Orthodox Church. In a public message of condolence after his passing, Daniel, the church’s patriarch, said that Mr. Iordachescu would “remain in the consciousness of the Romanian Orthodox Church as a savior of some churches condemned by the Communist regime to demolition.”

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