Definitions for Romanian Architecture in British and Romanian Dictionaries

For some time now, I have been searching for a suitable definition of the Romanian architecture, in local or foreign sources. For countries in the region where Romania is situated, such as Hungary or Serbia, there is an aboundance of references in the specialist literature on the historical development of architecture, but only a few mentions about the Romanian architectural phenomenon. I was able to find just two satisfactory definitions, which however refer essentially to the evolution of Romanian church architecture: one given in the excellent “The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture“, being however treated within the larger dictionary entry for the Byzantine Architecture, and another in the “Enciclopedia Romaniei” (Cugetarea, Bucharest 1940), authored by the historian Lucian Predescu. What I found interesting is that the definition for Romanian Architecture from the Penguin Dictionary has in a certain measure the aspect of a rework in more precise and better pointed terms of Predescu’s venerable rendition, whose particular merit is that of being one of the very few indigenous sources articulating pertinently the idea of Romanian architecture and to the fact that it represents a phenomenon that arrived relatively late on the scene of European architectural traditions. Otherwise, Predescu’s definition contains a number of mistakes and inadvertences, which can be overlooked because of its adequacy in fixing the general coordinates that help define the Romanian architectural phenomenon.

I have transcribed bellow for comparison the entries pertaining to the Romanian Architecture from the two dictionaries.

My translation of Lucian Predescu’s entry (Enciclopedia Romaniei – Cugetarea, 1940):

ARHITECTURE: From among the buildings of the past, the most important ones surviving today are the religious ones, churches erected starting with the c13th, Byzantine in character. The oldest and most interesting monument of our country is the princely church of Curtea de Arges, dating from the end of the c13 (perhaps beginning of the c14), of a clear Byzantine style. Variations of the Serbian style, adopted in Wallachia, were built by the end of the c14 (Cozia, Cotmeana) and in the c15 and c16. Occasionaly there are Oriental influences in the decorative details. The hemispheric Byzantine type cupola, dominates. In the c16, Dealu and Arges monasteries are the most beautiful. The ecclesiastical architecture loses its spark in general in the c17; in the c18 the decline is obvious. -In the principality of Moldova, the Byzantine style is in many aspects modified, a fact which imprints the chuch architecture in that region, with a more peculiar look/ aspect. The churches are taller there than in Wallachia, many do not have a cupola (Borzesti, Radauti), and when that is provided, it is of a small diameter and positioned high above a cylinder base. The bell tower is a separate structue (Papauti) or part of the church building, next to its entrance (Balinesti). Ornaments and decorations in the Gothic style (vault arches, stone dress of the window and doorway openings) occur for all those buildings between the c15-c16; later also Oriental motifs are in use (“Three Hierarchs” church in Iasi). The porch, which occurs regularly in Wallachia, is an exception in Moldova, where the the access in the church is through a side doorway. The churches built in the c18-c19, in Moldova and Wallachia, are of little interest. -The catholic churches are rendered in the Gothic style (Baia, Curtea de Arges). In Transylvania, the church architecture is Western Gothic in character (Cluj, Brasov, Alba-Iulia, etc.) The civilian architecture in Wallachia and Moldova is sparsely represented before c17, only ruins remain. The earliest surviving few houses and palaces in the country [Wallachia and Moldova] date only from the c17-c18. The ornamnets in stones show the use of a multitude of styles (Gothic, Renaissance, Oriental). The usual houses of the Romanian aristocracy, the boyars, were built in a charchteristic Romanian style. -The military architecture, seen in the few surviving ruined citadels, is that typical for the Middle Ages (of Hungarian and Polish influence).

The fragment referring to the Romanian architecture within the entry for the Byzantine Architecture from “The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture & Landscape Architecture” 5th edition:

Romanian architecture in the old heartlands of Wallachia and Moldavia carried on where the Serbian architecture left off [after the Ottoman conquest of Serbia]. No masonry churches survive from before the c14; though there are early examples at Cozia and Curtea-de-Arges (St Nicholas) in Wallachia and at Radauti in Moldavia. The ‘golden age’ of Romanian architecture starts in the post-Byzantine period at the turn of the c15-16 and last into the c17. In comparison with Serbian Morava architecture, Romanian churches are even more ornate, casket-like, elongated, tall, narrow, and fancifully adorned, with the occasional admixture of imported decorative features (e.g. Gothic window tracery). Most notable and original is a group of Moldavian churches decorated between 1520 and 1600 with complete cycles of frescoes on the exterior (protected by overhanging eaves) as well as inside. The most bizarrely impressive building is the monastic cathedral at Curtea de Arges (1517), representing a post-Byzantine mannerism whose extreme forms are equalled only in the near-contemporary St. Basil’s in Moscow (no direct connection is to be postulated).

We thus have here two interesting definitions of the Romanian architecture, originating from different cultures- a well articulated indigenous source and another one given by a collective of eminent British architectural historians. Both definitions have the potential to constitute a good basis for elaborating a more extensive and all encompassing brief exposition of the evolution of the architectural phenomenon peculiar to the Romanian lands. This is one of my research goals in the medium run. VM

The Weathervanes of Bucharest

Weathervanes- a very uncommon architectural detail for the Bucharest cityscape, almost always peculiar to fin de siècle buildings. (©Valentin Mandache)

The Romanian population descends probably from the ancient indigenous stock of inhabitants of the Carpathian region, settled there since the first westward Indo-European migrations about five millennia ago. A consequence of that spatial immovability, coupled with the lack of seafaring activities, throughout most of their history, has made the natives of what is now Romania, quite oblivious to conventional geographical directions such as the cardinal points, which by contrast are part of the usual vocabulary for the populations inhabiting the European coastal areas or those dwelling in the forested regions of north-eastern Europe. Traditionally the Romanians point the geographical directions according to the Sunrise (“Rasarit”) for East, Sunset (“Apus”) for West, Middle of the Day (“Miazazi”- position of the Sun in the afternoon) for the South and Middle of the Night (“Miazanoapte” reffering to the North Star on the sky at night)  for the North. Another common way of indicating geographical bearings is according to the prevailing regional wind directions: Crivat (the winter seasonal wind that blows from the NE, from Siberia; a word of Slavic origin meaning “bender”/ “one who bends trees or houses”) and Austrul (the spring season wind that blows from the SW, from the Mediterranean; a word of Latin origin meaning the “south” or the “southerner”). Those peculiar circumstances of geographical awareness development made the Romanians to largely ignore the weathervanes, the architectural details that point the geographical directions, in their historic architecture. These are rare artefacts that I was so far able to encounter in Bucharest only on Fin de Siècle buildings. They seem to be just standard additions to the architectural design package typical to the French historicist styles fashionable at that period in Romania and do not have the practical role of indicating from where the wind blows. I gathered in the above photomontage and slide show immediately after text, what I believe is a large proportion of the Bucharest weathervanes. The most spectacular one is in the middle of the upper row of the collage and adorns the embassy of Finland in Bucharest, a building in a Scandinavian baroque style, which speaks volumes about the paucity of this architectural ornament in this city and Romania in general.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

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If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Masonic Symbol on a Neo-Romanian Style Panel

Masonic symbol on a Neo-Romanian style panel that adorns a late 1930s house in the Cotroceni area of Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The freemasonry had an important presence within the Romanian elite since early c19th until the communist takeover in 1948. The influential pan-European networking conducted among its members of various nationalities and their often close associations had in a certain measure impacted positively the course and outcome of pivotal moments in recent Romanian history such as the 1848 Revolution, unification of the Danubian Principalities in 1859 that resulted in the creation of the modern Romanian state or the backstage negotiations of the auspicious peace treaty conditions referring to Romania that concluded the Great War. The communist regime prosecuted the freemasonry, perceiving its members as implacable class enemies. The organisation was forbidden and many freemasons ended up in the communist prisons. The masonic symbols were systematically erased from the building façades and interiors and its memory confined to the “dustbin of history”, as the communists liked to say. I was therefore quite thrilled to find the rare surviving symbol, presented in the photograph above, located at the centre of a decorative panel that embellishes a house built in the late 1930s in a mix of standard Neo-Romanian architecture and what I call inter-war Venetian style, from the Cotroceni area of Bucharest. It is in a quite discreet position, relatively high above the ground, on a side façade and under a large tree canopy. I have not been able to fully decipher the significance of this symbol consisting of a compass and an inverse equilateral triangle within a toothed circle. I hope that someone among my readers would offer a clue! Another reason why I think the communists left it alone was because it also resembles an inoffensive  professional symbol/ logo, such as that of a draughtsman or mechanical engineer and interpreted that way by the officials of that era, a quite ignorant lot in fine matters pertaining to symbols or decorative arts.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Cats, Dogs and Architectural Photography in Bucharest

Cats, dogs and architectural photography in Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

One of the joys of doing architectural photography in a place like Bucharest is encountering a multitude of inquisitive cats and usually taciturn dogs. They are stray animals or pets left to roam about town. The old city quarters still retain a patriarchal atmosphere and tolerant attitude concerning the stray cats and dogs, inherited from the times of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire. A few times I had to face awkward  situation when encountering packs of suspicious or aggressive dogs, but I invariably managed to avoid trouble by having a common sense approach and taking into account their territoriality. I snapped a few photographs with subjects from those almost always enjoyable encounters, which I grouped in the above photomontage and the slide show just bellow the text. I hope you would enjoy these images- “by-products” of my architectural photography work🙂.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

The Ghika-Cantacuzino Conac: An Aristocratic Country Mansion in Southern Romania

Ghika - Cantacuzino conac, Ciocanesti village, Dambovita county; early c20th photograph. (source: National Archives of Romania)

The plains of Wallachia and Moldavia, the principalities that formed the core of old Romania, are dotted with grand former aristocratic country mansions, known as “conac“, a word borrowed from the Turkish language, reflecting this region’s centuries domination by the Ottoman Empire. The boyars (a term grouping the old Romanian aristocracy and big land owners), built the conacs in a period spanning from late c18th to early c20th, when the large scale crop farming for grain export in the fertile lands of the Lower Danube prairie and those between the Siret and the Pruth rivers became a hugely profitable activity. The conacs acted as magnificent summer residences for the land owners and also as farm’s administrative headquarters. In many instances new villages grew around these mansions. The photograph above taken sometime at the beginning of the c20th, which I found at the National Archives of Romania, depicts one such country mansion in its time of glory: the Ghika – Cantacuzino conac from the Ciocanesti village, Dambovita county, north-west of Bucharest. The architecture is a practical late Victorian – La Belle Époque symmetrical buildings set within the grounds of  a manicured garden, provided with ample arched windows and a central reception hall accessed by a pair of stairs embellished at the top with two large Roman flower pots. On the large classical style pediment at the centre is a plaster with the Ghika family coat of arms.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contactpage of this weblog.

Art Deco Gate Handles: Photomontage & Slide Show

Old Bucharest Art Deco style gate handles dating from 1930s. (©Valentin Mandache)

The gate handle is among the most worn off elements of a gateway structure. About eighty years have passed since the Art Deco style gateways were put in place, in the the third and fourth decade of the c20th, and therefore is difficult to find original examples of gate handles designed in this style. I was able to locate, searching very carefully, during my photo-shoot fieldwork in Bucharest, a few such artefacts, which I assembled in the photomontage above and the slide show bellow the text. I like their chunkiness and robustness, conveying the impression of the new and brave post- Great War machine era when the Art Deco style was in vogue.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Visit by HRH Prince Nicholas of Romania to the National History Museum (via Diana Mandache’s Weblog)

HRH Prince Nicholas and his girlfriend Rebecca visited today the National History Museum of Romania in Bucharest, which is the foremost institution in the country holding the best and largest historic collections refering to the past of the Romanian communities. It is a must stopover for anyone actively interested in this country's history and identity. Valentin, my husband, and I have been honoured to act as museum guides and hope th … Read More

via Diana Mandache's Weblog

Corinthian Column in an Art Deco Rendering

A Corinthian type column in an attractive Art Deco rendering, embellishing the entrance stairway of a mid 1930s house from the Cotroceni area of Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Exquisite Neo-Romanian Style Eagle Panel

Neo-Romanian style eagle panel embellishing a late 1920s building in Buzesti area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

This is an extremely elegant, in my opinion, Neo-Romanian style panel depicting the biblical Garden of Eden, centred around the protector eagle fighting the evil serpents, surrounded by the lush branches and fruit of the tree of abundance (a grapevine plant in this instance), motifs inspired from the late medieval Wallachian church decorative panoply. The panel is quite large- about 1 x 1.4m, sitting on the side façade of a grand Neo-Romanian style building in the Buzesti area of Bucharest.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Origins of the money that financed the “Little Paris” architecture of Romania


Peasant woman gathering the corn crop in 1900s, Moldavia region. (early c20th postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

In the period spanning between the last quarter of c19th, until the start of the Great War, Romania became one the main grain exporters of Europe. That was possible because of the extensive land farming in the vast Lower Danube plains of Wallachia and the fields of Moldavia, and the opening for international commercial traffic of the Danube and the Black Sea waterways. An important proportion of the revenues from those exports was used in financing the construction of a large number of private houses and public edifices. The customary architectural style employed in this nationwide building programme was what I call the “Little Paris” style, very popular with the general public, a part of that period’s Westernisation drive after centuries of Ottoman domination. The style is a picturesque amalgamation of provincially interpreted French c19th historicist architectural orders with a multitude of local Ottoman Balkan decorative elements. Bucharest experienced its first building boom in that period and even acquired the nickname of the “Little Paris of the Balkans”. There were also taking place interesting Art Nouveau and national romantic (Neo-Romanian) architecture experiments on that more prosperous economic background. The peasants of Romania, at that time representing over 80% of the country’s population, and their hard work in the fields were the force at the origins of that extraordinary transformative process. The old postcard above, dating from sometime toward the end of the 1900s, shows a peasant woman from Moldavia gathering the corn crop using a traditional sickle, an ancestral tool not much changed in the region since millennia ago. The photograph presents her confident and happy, an indication that she was farming her family’s plot, received most probably as part of the state’s far sighted land redistribution measures implemented after the terrible peasant revolt against absentee landlords and their agents that took place in 1907, the last medieval type Jacquerie of Europe.

***********************************************

I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.