Eugeniu Iordachescu, 1929–2019
The engineer who rolled Romanian churches to safety
After a visit to North Korea in the late 1970s, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu devised a radical redevelopment plan for his nation’s capital. The Communist tyrant decided that Bucharest’s historic center, once praised as “the Paris of the East,” would be almost entirely razed and replaced with drab, Pyongyang-inspired buildings. As the demolitions got underway, civil engineer Eugeniu Iordachescu was consulted about widening the city’s main road. But while visiting the site, Iordachescu became enchanted with a small Orthodox church, built in 1725, that was due to be flattened. It was, he said, “a jewel that had to be saved.” The engineer spent months puzzling over how to rescue the building before deciding on a solution: He would roll it to safety.
Iordachescu came up with the plan while “watching a waiter carrying a tray of drinks,” said The New York Times. “I saw that the secret of the glasses not falling was the tray,” he said, so he imagined detaching the church from its foundations and placing it on a concrete “tray” to be moved elsewhere. His colleagues thought his idea was doomed to fail. But in June 1982, the 8,212-ton church was lifted, placed on rails, and rolled 800 feet out of harm’s way.
Iordachescu and his team saved nearly 30 buildings this way, said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.), including the nearly 10,000-ton Orthodox Synodal Palace, “which was moved with its basement intact.” A hospital, a bank, and several apartment buildings were also relocated, sometimes with people inside them. When Ceausescu was overthrown and executed in December 1989, Iordachescu was supervising his final removal project, rolling the 200-year-old St. Stephen’s Church to its new home.