The Abandoned Hunger Circuses of Ceaușescu’s Romania

The skeletal ruin of an abandoned hunger circus in the Rahova area of Bucharest, a hangover from the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu and the programme of "systemisation" instituted during that period. (Image: Joe Mabel. Abandoned hunger circus in Rahova, Bucharest)

Impressed by the mobilisation of North Korea’s Juche ideology during his 1971 visit, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu embarked on his own programme of “systematisation” several years later in the field of urban planning. From 1974, Ceaușescu’s communist regime instigated the partial or entire demolition of cities, towns and villages, reconstructing them in accordance with his vision for an independent socialist society.

The move was partly intended to bring modern conveniences to the countryside and stem the flow of rural Romanians to the cities. But the destruction of many historic buildings, especially churches and monasteries, raised concern in neighbouring countries, and forever altered the built environment. In rural areas, strict guidelines governing agricultural plots often negatively impacted subsistence farming, and a number of larger infrastructure projects were abandoned after the Romania Revolution of 1989. Among the country’s strangest ruins were the so-called hunger circuses, great unfinished food markets whose skeletal forms rose from the landscape.

Wasteland in Bucharest near a redeveloped hunger circus (Image: Todd Kopriva. Wasteland near a redeveloped circus of hunger)

The abandoned hunger circus pictured above stood in Rahova, a Sector 5 neighbourhood of southwest Bucharest, Romania’s capital and largest city. The strange domed ruin, located to the west of the Dâmboviţa River, was among a series of identical buildings designed during Ceaușescu’s systemisation programme.

There’s an irony to the name, of course. The colloquial use of “circus” came from the circus-like domed architecture of the buildings, but the term soon came to be used as a source of ridicule due to the communist government’s policy of exporting the bulk of the Romania’s agricultural produce to pay down foreign debt. What had been conceived as giant “complex agroalimentar”, or food hypermarkets and public refectories, had come to be associated with hunger and scarcity.

Liberty Center Mall in Rahova, Bucharest. (Image: Google Street View. Liberty Center Mall on the site of the derelict hunger circus)

When Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena were executed on Christmas Day 1989, only two hunger circuses were up and running. One is near Bucharest’s Unirea Shopping Center and another now forms part of a public market in the city’s Delfinului area. The shells of other abandoned hunger circus ruins stood incomplete around the Romanian capital for years, amid a sea of rusting construction equipment that lay equally derelict.

Most would later be redeveloped. But perhaps the final irony is that most of these ill-fated communist-era structures would be completed after the 1989 Romanian Revolution, forming the heart of western-styled shopping malls. They include City Mall and Plaza România in Militari, and Bucharest Mall in Vitan. One abandoned hunger circus now houses a university.

Liberty Center Mall in Bucharest, built on the site of one of Romania's abandoned hunger circuses. (Image: Google Street View. Rahova’s Liberty Center Mall)

The Rahova hunger circus (top), meanwhile, was partially demolished soon after the photograph was taken in 2006. In its place stands the modern Liberty Center Mall (above), which also incorporates an indoor ice rink and 3D cinema.

Read Next: Dead Malls: 9 Abandoned Arcades, Markets and Shopping Centres


About the author: Alex Williams



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