Adobe peasant house from the Oriental Carpathian mountains

Adobe peasant house, Uz Valley, Oriental Carpathian mountains, Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The adobe constitutes an excellent building material widely used until very recently in Romanian countryside. It is made from soil with a high clay and sand content, mixed up with water, bound together by straw and horse or cow manure. The compound is then cast in brick shape moulds and left to dry in the sun for a number of days (2-3 weeks). A finer variety of adobe is also used as a plaster, coating the walls made from those type of bricks. That plaster can later be whitewashed or painted in a diversity of colours and motifs. The buildings made from that material provide a good degree of comfort and insulation from the excesses of the Romanian climate characterised by very hot summers and utterly cold winters. Adobe is in many aspects similar with cob or mudbrick, but in my opinion more robust, durable and efficient than those. I grew up in a village where most of the dwellings were made from adobe bricks, even parts of my parents’ house was built from that material. I fondly remember as a child trampling my feet in the mud, together with other fellow villagers, in preparation for the bricks, literally going round in circles, a ritual like scene so much part of the ancestral village life.

The photograph above, which I made during my recent trip to Uz Valley (Darmanesti, Bacau county) in north eastern Romania, presents such an adorable adobe peasant house. It is a very simple, but exceedingly functional structure, with everything a peasant family needs: a kitchen, placed on the left hand side of this example, and a large bedroom, spaces divided by a corridor where the doorway is placed. This house type is quite ubiquitous throughout the Romanian lands, being built as such since at least the c18th when the necessary tools and technology became widely available in the region; of course the roof was then made from wooden shingles, the ceramic tiles seen in this example being a contemporary “amelioration”. The adobe walls are surrounded by a nice veranda made from simple beams, only the wooden columns having a bit of reduced to essence decoration. The back roof slant is extended to create a covered area behind the house, where the family keeps the firewood dry and other major household items (a cart, tuns, etc.)

I very much like the balanced proportions of this house; it is something there reminding me of the Golden Ratio, similar, if I am allowed to compare, with that of the classical antiquity buildings.

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

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

Uz Valley ethographic architecture (north eastern Romania)

Ethnographic architecture from north eastern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The above photomontage depicts peasant houses and monumental wooden gateways carved with ethnographic motifs from the Uz Valley in the Oriental Carpathian mountains of Romania (Darmanesti, Bacau county). The name “Uz” comes from that of the old Turkic and Ugric populations that settled in the area one millennia ago, which in time got assimilated within the host ethnic Romanian population, but also still survive, represented by the small Csango ethic group, living in settlements in and around Bacau county, which are related to the Hungarians. The village, now a quarter of Darmanesti city, an oil refinery centre, is amazingly picturesque, with its ethnographic architecture surprisingly well conserved, hardly touched by the wild property development boom that devastated the stock of historic houses of this country in the mid 2000s. The pictures from the collage, which are also presented in the slide show bellow, display a wealth of ethnographic motifs typical to the area: a fascinating mixture of Romanian and Csango patterns. That type of period property is quite cheap now and would constitute an excellent renovation/ restoration project for anyone brave enough to acquire such a house in this quaint rural setting from the eastern fringes of the European Union.

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

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

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

Bruegel-Like Scenes in Romanian Villages

Bruegel-like scenes in Romanian vilages (photographs by ethnographic research team led by Prof. Ioana Fruntelata and Mr. Horia Nitescu, 2006-07, Bucovina & Arges regions).

Anyone from the Western world, who plans buying a traditional country house in Romania must beforehand realise the considerable cultural differences between the host communities and the newcomers. The rural communities of  Romania are still pursuing an ancestral way of life governed by highly particular religious beliefs and mythology typical of the Carpathian Mountains region, a sort of rural Europe before the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. It is a world even more primeval that that described by Anthony Hope in his classic fiction book ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ as the imaginary kingdom of Ruritania, which in the western mind is associated with the old Eastern Europe. The Romanian rural communities still conserve in many aspects an ancestral mental universe and way of interpreting religion, typical of their c16th or c17th counterparts from western Europe, as is seen in the paintings of Bruegel the Elder. The excellent and very evocative photographs arranged in the above montage and slide show bellow the text depict such a Bruegel-esque  atmosphere in Romanian villages in the AD 2006 – ’07. The photographs were realised during ethnography fieldwork in villages from Romania’s north-east (Bucovina) and south (Arges) by students from the Department of Ethnology and Folklore/ Faculty of Literature from the University of Bucharest, led by Prof. Ioana Fruntelata and Mr. Horia Nitescu, a fervent reader of my blog, who most kindly provided these images for publication.

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

Town House with Peasant Style Veranda

The veranda of a late 1890s house from Targoviste, southern Romania, inspired from similar structures adorning local peasant dwellings. (©Valentin Mandache)

I very much like the balanced proportions of the wooden veranda presented above, where the most interesting feature is represented by the three identical ornaments carved with ethnographic motifs that come together at right angles within upper centre level of the structure. Their shape has a vague Art Nouveau slant, which is probably in tone with the increasing popularity of that style in Romania of that period. The house featuring the veranda, shown in the photograph bellow, is mainly a Little Paris style edifice (what I call the French c19th historicist styles provincially interpreted in Romania), with this unusual peasant inspired component grafted on it. The whole assembly dates from a period of “battle of the styles”, if I can put it that way, when the national romantic architecture embodied by the then nascent Neo-Romanian style developed within the Art Nouveau current, started to make important forays all over the country. This particular house is a timid, but delightful provincial experiment with those  new trends and ideas.

1890s town house with peasant style veranda, Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

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

Neo-Romanian Ethnographic Verandas

Neo-Romanian ethnographic wooden verandas photomontage; examples dating mainly from 1920s, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

A main source of inspiration for the Neo-Romanian architectural style is the rich ethnographic art of the Romanian peasants. The geometric pattern wood carvings that adorn the peasant houses in the vast Romanian countryside are some of the most exquisite expressions of this art. The trend to include these decorative elements in the urban setting of the Neo-Romanian started in the early part of the inter-war period as a vivacious Arts and Crafts current inspired from the abundant local sources. It was promoted by many architects, such as the remarkable Henriette Delavrancea-Gibory. The six examples of verandas, which I selected for the photomontage presented here (see also the slide show bellow), is just a small sample from the multitude of such artefacts adorning the Neo-Romanian houses of Bucharest.

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

Daily Picture 16-Mar-10: Traditional Peasant Gate from a Transylvanian Alps Village

Traditional peasant gate from Muscel ethnographic area, Romania (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)
Traditional peasant gate from Bran ethnographic area in the Transylvanian Alps, Romania (early 1930s postcard, Valentin Mandache collection).

The ancestral villages that dot of the Carpathian Mountains are still preserving many examples of traditional houses boasting beautiful ethnographic decorations. Some of these buildings are now on the market at quite reasonable prices, but unfortunately often the buyers’ intention is to demolish the old structure and put in place a more profitable and in their vision more prestigious modern building. One of the most conspicuous elements that form a traditional peasant house assembly is the wooden gate which gives access to its front yard. It has, in many cases, monumental proportions and is decorated with exquisite wood-carved ethnographic motifs, being a powerful symbol associated with marking the limits and passage between the unpredictable outside world/ cosmos and the venerated and well ordered space of the family house seen in peasant lore as the worldly equivalent of a cosmic temple that has the hearth as its altar. The image above shows such a monumental example from the Bran area of the Transylvanian Alps. It is a model which has hardly changed in this region since the Iron Age when efficient tools were first available to carve hard wood timber (oak, etc.) The traditional costumes of the peasant women gaily chatting in front of the gate also follow patterns from times immemorial. Elements of this type vestments are present on stone monuments from two millennia ago when the Roman Empire conquered the area, such as on the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome. In conclusion, those intending to buy, restore/ renovate a traditional peasant house in the Carpathian region, must pay special attention to its front yard gate and in cases in which it has been destroyed (not an unusual occurrence during of the last seven decades of communism, followed by a chaotic transition to democracy), seek to recreate this essential artefact.

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I endeavor through this daily image series 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 locating 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.

Daily Image 13-Mar-10: Peasant Wooden Gate for Town House

An exquisite and well preserved wood-carved (oak) gateway, exhibiting ethnographic motifs found in the villages of southern Romania, embellishing a mid-1930s Neo-Romanian style town house. Sincai area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

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I endeavor through this daily image series 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 locating 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.

Symbols and Messages of a Peasant Rug

A peasant rug from the Buzau ethnographic area of South-East Romania. (©Valentin Mandache)

This post is relevant for those interested in the peasant and traditional houses of Romania, looking to find out clues about the meaning and significance of the myriad of ethnographic symbols decorating this ancestral type of habitat. Traditional rugs, such as the one I photographed above, are essential decorative and spiritual artefacts that contribute to the make-up of a peasant house. This particular example exhibits an abstract human figure multiplied seven times (a number with miraculous beneficial properties in local mythology), in shades of red and black (see bellow for meaning) that has his/her arms suspended up in the air, denoting the worshipping of the Sun god, represented in this instance by the repeating rhomboidal figure on the rug’s border area. The chromatic range is formed from variations of three colours with fundamental ethnographic significance: black (earth), red (fire) and white (air-space-spirit). I very much like the stubborn persistence of old pagan worshiping elements in local ethnography, which can be encountered in every corner of a peasant house in the Carpathian region, dating probably from the times when the first Indo-Europeans settled the area more than 5,000 years ago, or even from earlier populations, despite the last two millennia of relentless “assaults” from the organized Christian religion. In fact there is an intense and lively intermingling and even syncretism within the local peasant culture between the Christian and ethnographic symbolism, that gives it a peculiar character, which just captivates the outside observer. The beautiful rug in the image above is actually a treasured present from my grandmother, a peasant woman from the Buzau ethnographic area of South East Romania, which she gave me about ten years ago to decorate my house in London and thus bring me luck and insure protection against the local Thames Valley malevolent spirits 🙂

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I endeavor through this daily image series 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 locating 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.

Peasant House Veranda, Prahova County

Peasant house veranda with intricate saw cut ethnographic motif latticework of a 1940s built rural house in Prahova county, Wallachia. The house typology is characteristic of settlements at the contact zone between the Danubian Plain and the Carpathian Piedmont. (photograph Mihaela Mihaila)

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I endeavor through this daily image series 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 locating 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.

Peasant Style Wooden Gateway

A rare example of peasant style saw work wooden gateway (in the fashion of the southern Romanian peasant wooden churches) to the courtyard of a 1920s Neo-Romanian house in Catargiu area of Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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I endeavor through this daily image series 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 locating 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.