Tour: Bucharest as the Little Paris of the Balkans

Dear readers,

I would like to invite you to a thematic walking tour, to take place on Saturday 18 March 2017, between the hours 11.30h – 13.30h, on the subject of the late c19th – early c20th French and western historicist inspired architecture of Bucharest, which made the city known to the rest of world as the “Little Paris of the Balkans”, a phenomenon that imprinted the personality of Romania’s capital ever since. The tour may be of interest to any of you visiting the city as a tourist or on business, looking to find out more about its fascinating historic architecture and character.

The first building boom of modern era Bucharest happened during the period aptly named La Belle Époque, which corresponds with the late Victorian and early Edwardian epochs for the English speaking world (or Gilded Age in the US). It was characterised by a charming architecture inspired especially from the flamboyant neo-baroque, neo-rococo and also neo-gothic forms fashionable in France, a country seen by the Romanians of that time as a beacon of culture worthy to emulate, and from other west European states held in high regard by the then young Balkan nation. The local architecture thus acquired a personality of its own, combining the new forms with the indigenous and Ottoman traditional motifs and construction methods, resulting in what I call, as an umbrella term, the “Little Paris style”. This is a type of architecture peculiar to the Fin de Siècle urban Romania and Read more

Tour in Berthelot area

Historic Houses of Romania tour in Berthelot areaDear readers,

I would like to invite you to a Historic Houses of Romania walking tour, in the area centered on Mathias Berthelot Street, just north of Cismigiu Park, which is a repository of some of the most representative period architecture imprinting the personality of Romania’s capital, akin to an open air museum of its built heritage.

The tour is scheduled to take place this Saturday 4 March 2017, between the hours 11.30h – 13.30h. This cultural excursion could be of interest to any of you visiting Romania’s capital as a tourist or on business, looking to understand the character of this metropolis through discovering its peculiar and fascinating old architecture.

Mathias Berthelot, whose name is given to the main street in the area, was a French general of the Great War era, who in 1916 became the commander of the Allied mission tasked with reorganising and equipping Romania’s Royal Army, thus enabling it to effectively oppose the Central Powers and hinder their plans to occupy the country. For his achievements he was made a honorary citizen of Romania and is considered a hero of both countries. The French influence is also prevalent in the architecture of Berthelot urban space, seen in an array containing quaint Little Paris style residences, displaying Art Nouveau decorations besides, palazzos, and the best of them all, the French Renaissance inspired Kretzulescu Palace, one of the Read more

Heralding a new century

The old houses of a town like Bucharest offer interesting clues about the social history, architecture, expectations and aspirations of those who built those houses, all of those decades and centuries ago. In this video I will discuss how the rendering of the inauguration year of a Little Paris style house encompasses those feelings at the passing between the c19th to the c20th.

Garden colours in October

The side garden of a Little Paris style house in Icoanei area of Bucharest
The side garden of a Little Paris style house in Icoanei area of Bucharest

Bucharest is a large town deficient in parks, which are in constant threat to be concreted over, and houses with small yards, more frequently used as storage space or garage, rather than garden. Those yards are commonly much smaller than the plot occupied by the house, a consequence of the urban high density living in historic quarters, and in general are treated as a sort of Cinderella, the owner being focused chiefly on the brick and mortar part of the property.

What makes that situation palatable, is the human dimension of many of Bucharest’s historic houses, and the fact that through their decorative details and building materials, a good degree of integration with the local natural environment is achieved. The houses expounding eloquently that context are the ones from the Read more

The stair spur

Due to mud and dust prevalent on the streets of Bucharest and other towns of Romania of the La Belle Epoque period (the last quarter of the c19th, until the Great War), people, especially those from the richer strata of the population had to find ways to keep their clothes clean and look smart. One of those devices was the stair spur, helping ladies in elaborate long skirts , and also some gentlemen with expensive shoes, to step down from horse drawn carriages straight onto the stairs of a house and then enter it without having any contact with the dirt on the street or courtyard. This video shows some of those still surviving stair spurs of central Bucharest.

Bucharest early wrought iron doorway awning

Bucharest doorway wrought iron and cast lead doorway awning dating from the early 1890s. (Valentin Mandache)
Bucharest doorway awning made from wrought iron and cast lead, dating from the early 1890s, Patriarchy Hill area. (©Valentin Mandache)

This is an early type of Little Paris style doorway awning, dating from the early 1890s, being a precursor of the clamshell one, which was typical of the Art Nouveau fashions. Most of these examples, now rare, are in a bad state of repair, and despite the fact that they are important markers of Bucharest’s architectural identity and history, remain uncared and unloved, ignored or even sold for scrap iron, a reflection how the local citizens, after the decades of communism and shallow post-communist transition, value their heritage.

Little Paris pediment through wires & door

Little Paris through wires
Little Paris pediment through wires, the former American Library, 1890s building in the Little Paris style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The two images in this article are from the building, which was, in the 1980s, at the height of Ceausescu’s communist totalitarianism, the American Library, the United States’ embassy’s cultural arm. I was a student at the University of Bucharest then and became a member of this library that constituted a true and proper oasis or refuge from the distorted reality and terror of the daily life in Romania under that primitive dictatorship. The building which was then rented by the embassy from the state, was given in the last decade or so, back to its former owners, the Gerota family, who have it now on the market to let out as office spaces.

The US embassy obviously took excellent care of this landmark edifice of La Belle Époque period Bucharest, which is one of the amplest and now best preserved Little Paris style houses of Romania’s capital. I had recently the opportunity to revisit the building and take a series of photographs. I hope that this visual sample presented here would convey something from its magnificence and sense of Bucharest’s character as the Little Paris of the Balkans.

Interior door, the former American Library, Bucharest
Interior door, the former American Library, 1890s building in the Little Paris style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

November sunlight and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest

November light and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest, house dating from the 1880s, Patriarchy Hill area. (Valentin Mandache)

We had a wonderful sunlight this autumn, beginning roundabout the equinox in late September until the time I write, in the second week of November. This season at 45 degree north latitude in continental Europe, where Bucharest is located, seems to be exceedingly propitious for architectural photography, with its clear, crisp atmosphere and intense colours. The images in this post are of a house in the Little Paris style (a term which I use to describe the late c19th architecture of Romania of that period, inspired mainly from French historicist styles, rendered in a provincial manner in this corner of South East Europe), a manner of architectural design that imprinted the identity of Romania’s capital ever since its day of vogue in the La Belle Époque period. The photograph was taken on 8 November at midday. It is a pity that the house and the entire surrounding garden is left derelict and damaged through being exposed to the elements or theft. These houses can be relatively easily and cheaply restored, but the actual citizens of Bucharest seem to not understand yet the fatal loss of their identity and heritage though that kind of damaging communist and post-communist attitude.

November light and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest, house dating from the 1880s, Patriarchy Hill area. (Valentin Mandache)

Street lamps and full moon in Bucharest’s old centre

Street lamps and full moon in Bucharest’s old centre (©Valentin Mandache)

Last week there was a full moon at this latitude and we also had an unusual Indian summer weather for the month of October. I took the photograph above in the evening while walking by Bratianu Boulevard, watching toward one of the side streets around New Saint George’s church, which is a more run down area of Lipscani, the old commercial quarter of Bucharest. In my opinion it conveys something from the peculiar half-Oriental – half-European identity of this city on the eastern edge of the European Union. The ramshackle Little Paris style buildings, small shops and people going about in the warmth of the night, in the clear-obscure generated by the the moonlight in competition with the makeshift street lamps are evocative for that type of character of which Bucharest abounds.