Sheet metal fretwork in Chisinau

Sheet Metal fretwork, Chisinau (©Valentin Mandache)

I found these picturesque sheet metal fretwork doorway embellishments during my recent visit in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova. They date in my opinion from the mid-1980s, perhaps the early 1990s. They are quite attractive and present a curious vernacular synthesis between the triangular pediment of a classical temple found among the prestigious historicist c19th buildings of the city, and rich ethnographic motifs inspired from the Ukrainian and the Russian ethnography. Another area rich in sheet metal fretwork architectural embellishments is Bucovina, a borderland between Romania and Ukraine, where the local ethnography expounds a large degree of fusion between the civilizations of the Romanian and Slavic communities.

Sheet metal fretwork, Chisinau (©Valentin Mandache)
Sheet metal fretwork, Chisinau (©Valentin Mandache)

19th c stone brige in the Principality of Moldova

This picturesque c19th pre-railway age bridge is located in the environs of Crasna in the county of Vaslui in eastern Romania. It is known as Podul Doamnei (Lady’s Bridge), spanning about 90 metres over a former riverbed of the river Barlad, which now flows nearby within embankments. The structure dates from 1841, at the height of the Russian Empire’s protectorate over the Danubian Principalities of Moldova and Wallachia. It represents a vestige of the first modern road building programme in the old Moldovan Principality, promoted by Michael Sturdza, its then reigning prince.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The bridge was on an important commercial road, linking the principality’s highland centres in the Carpathians, where a relative majority of the population lived with crop producing and animal husbandry lowlands. There was also an important local traffic between some of the “itinerant” capitals of the c15th – c17th princes of Moldova, towns as Husi, Barlad or Vaslui, from a time when that institution functioned as a travelling princely court. The emergence of the railway age in Romania, the state that emerged through the union of Moldova and Wallachia in the aftermath of Crimea War, gave a fatal blow to this road’s commercial traffic and the local economy that it sustained. As a consequence nearby villages disappeared, the population moving to more prosperous ones along the railway. Diminished traffic and landslides made the authorities in the mid c20th to change the course of the road and finally in 1981 to close the bridge and declare it an architectural monument, which is still its status today.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

Its designer was major Singurov, a Russian army engineer attached to the Moldavian princely court, in charge with the public works, during the protectorate of the Tsarist Empire over the principality. That was a period of reforms that marked the onset of Westernisation within the Danubian Principalities under the aegis of Russia, known as the Organic Statute (Regulamentul Organic in Romanian) administration, which lasted for two decades, between 1834 and 1854, when the onset of the Crimean War put an end to that relationship. It is somehow ironic on account of the traditional anti-Russian discourse in Romania that the Russians were those who first implemented the benefits of Western cultural, constitutional and economic advancement in this region dominated for centuries by the Ottoman Empire and its civilization. That remarkable process, which nowadays is forgotten or swept under the rug, was magisterially detailed by the American historian Barbara Jelavich in her book Russia and the Formation of the Romanian National State, 1821 – 1878 (Cambridge University Press, 1984). The Doamnei Bridge is thus a beautiful architectural relic of that epoch of upheavals and transformations.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

Prince Michael Sturdza (1794 – 1884), who ordered the construction of the bridge, was a prominent personality of the time, influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, and an able administrator. He was also the first ruler in the Danubian Principalities to free the Gypsies (those owned by the court and monasteries, not by landlords) from their centuries old enslavement. The bridge was part of an ample road building programme of the forth and the fifth decade of the c19th initiated to stimulate the Moldovan economy, financed with proceeds from grain exports, the main revenue making activity in this region until the emergence of the oil industry at the beginning of the c20th.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The architectural style of the bridge is quite utilitarian, although on broad lines is baroque, a style associated with the Westernisation process in Russia itself. The most conspicuous baroque like elements are the decorative panels at the centre of the bridge parapets that contain dedicatory inscriptions on each interior side in Romanian and Latin languages respectively.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The northern side inscription is in Romanian, rendered in a peculiar transition alphabet, a mix between Cyrillic and Latin, another instance of the intense Europeanisation drive at that time, when the Romanians aimed to shed not only the Ottoman influences, but also the Slavic heritage of the Middle Ages, a continuous source of conflict with the Russian overlords.

The inscription reads as: “This bridge is edified by the orders of the high prince [voyvode] Michael Sturdza of Moldova, in his 8th regning year and built under the ministry of Mr. logophete Constantin Sturdza, has been opened to the travelling public on 8 November [Julian calendar] 1841” (the original Romanian text is as follows: “Acest pod este construit din poronca pre inalt Domn Mihail Grigoriu Sturza V.V. [voyvode] domn Terei Moldovei in al VIII an al domniei ?sale si savarsinduse supt ministeria d log Const Sturza sau deschis pentru călători în 8 Noem 1841″).

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The inscription in Latin is on the southern side at the centre of the bridge, mirroring the first one, and contains a translation of the Romanian text detailed above.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The Latin text: “Pons haec extructa est Jussu Serenissimi Domini Michaelis Grigoriu Stordza, principis regnatis Moldaviae, in octavo anno regiminis sui. Ad finem quae deducia Ministerio D. Logoteta Const. Stu[rdza]. Patefacia Via locibus 8 Novembris 1841” (source: Podul Doamnei din Chitscani). Both panels are crowned by a coat of arms of the Principality of Moldova, nowadays badly damaged.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The bridge was not a small feat of engineering accomplishment for this underdeveloped principality that functioned under sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire and the protectorate of Russia, in effect a double periphery of those mighty powers, far away from their bustling and flourishing imperial cores. The local economy, industry and also architecture will really take off only after the region’s international trade routes, which were represented by the Danube waterway and the Black Sea navigation, will be completely freed following the Russian – Turkish War of 1877 – ’78 and achievement of Romania’s independence, recognised by the Treaty of Berlin that concluded that war.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The construction is oriented on a West – East direction which exposes it to a peculiar sort of weathering. Its northern façades are darkened by the strong Siberian origin winds and precipitations that come via the system of open plains and hills linking Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The southern oriented façades are less weathered, preserving more from the original stone texture and colour. The stone used is a local yellow – grey soft limestone of Sarmatian age, type of rocks close at hand in this area of Europe, spread  from Transylvania to southern Ukraine and Russia’s Black Sea region.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The bridge is said to have had initially just three arches built, with another two added during renovation works in the late c19th.

The author of the Historic Houses of Romania blog, next to Doamnei Bridge, Vaslui county (©Valentin Mandache)

The width of the road supported by the structure is about 9 metres, which could take quite an sizeable traffic, a testimony of the intense circulation of goods and persons of those times.

Doamnei bridge, Vaslui county, Romania – Google Maps

The Lady’s Bridge (Podul Doamnei in Romanian) is now a a lonesome and imposing historical structure in the middle of nowhere, as this Google Maps satellite image corroborates.

Little Paris style pediment in Buzau

Little Paris style pediment, Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)

The example of house entrance pediment pictured above is from the town of Buzau in south east Romania, from the period when the Little Paris style (what I call the c19th French and other western historicist styles interpreted in a provincial manner in Romania)  was in vogue throughout the whole country. The finish is a bit crude, but charming, the assembly truing to emulate the entrance of a Corinthian order temple. I like the monogram of the owner flanked by the year of construction of the house, at the beginning of the La Belle Époque period.

If you would like to find out more about the Little Paris style and how it imprinted the architectural character of Bucharest, I organise a special tour on that theme this coming Saturday, details here: https://historo.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/walking-tour-saturday-24-march-bucharest-as-the-little-paris-of-the-balkans/

Wagon house in Buzau

Wagon type, Little Paris style house dating from the 1890s, Buzau, south east Romania (©Valenitn Mandache)

This type of house is one of the most popular and also picturesque that has been built in Romania’s urban areas of the La Belle Époque period. It is commonly known as a “wagon house” because of its oblong shape, and doorway placed at the centre of its length, the edifice somehow resembling a railroad car. The house, because of the usual strap-like geometry of the plot of land on which is built,  in most cases faces the street with its width, often sporting a charming round corner between the garden and street façades, as can be seen in the quaint example presented in this article, from Buzau in south east Romania. I call this type of provincial architecture the Little Paris style, the local interpretation of the c19th French fashions in domestic architecture.

Wagon type, Little Paris style house dating from the 1890s, Buzau, south east Romania (©Valenitn Mandache)

The round corner has a floral decorative panel, containing representations of scattered roses, inspired from Art Nouveau designs, amplifying the impression of peace, bucolic and prosperity of the Fin de Siècle period in this town. In other instances the round corner is empty or decorated with neo-rococo style panoplies containing the monogram of the proprietor and/ or the year of the construction of the house.

Wagon type, Little Paris style house dating from the 1890s, Buzau, south east Romania (©Valenitn Mandache)

I like the wagon houses, being one of my favourite type of period edifices, due to their intense quaintness, human scale and use of environmentally friendly construction materials, similar with those used in the centuries before the industrial revolution. This variety of period property is also among the cheapest to acquire and restore now in Romania.

Comarnic wood fretwork

Comarnic wood fretwork dating from the 1890s. (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a wood fretwork panel fragment from among the myriad of such embellishments that adorn house façades on the main street of the city of Comarnic, on Prahova Valley, about 100km north of Bucharest. It dates from the 1890s, created at time of economic well being in the late Victorian period, when the town benefited from the opening of the first direct railway link between Bucharest and Brasov in Transylvania and from there to the rest of Europe, and also because of the set up there of a lime and cement factory, which supplied Bucharest’s booming building industry. Comarnic is the repository of probably the amplest and finest Victorian era wood fretwork architecture in this part of Europe, which is now ignored by the official tourist trails and companies, remaining virtually unknown, despite the town’s relative short distance from Bucharest. The panel presented here is a composition of floral and Romanian ethnographic designs. The ethnographic patterns are constituted by the rope motif short columns of opposing twists and the full and half solar discs adorning their base and capital.

Buzau maces

The roof finials are some of the most conspicuous elements of the Neo-Romanian style, a sort of apotheosis of what that architecture represents. They come in many shapes expressing a multitude of national-identity symbols. There are thus finials symbolising peasant ethnography and way of life (ethnographic totemic poles, abstract haystacks), abstractions of fortress towers, religious symbols or medieval weapons. Bellow are two eloquent mace shaped finial examples, which I found in the town of Buzau in south eastern Romania. The mace, a fearsome medieval weapon, is seen as a national-romantic symbol of the armed resistance of the Romanian principalities, as Christian states, against the invasions and menacing power of the Ottoman Islamic califate, one of the main messages of the Neo-Romanian architectural style during its early and mature phases. The first image shows a mace finial crowning the stairs tower of an early 1920s house, while the second embellishes the roof of the Commune Palace, which hosts the town hall of Buzau, a magnificent public early Neo-Romanian style building designed in 1899 by the architect Alexandru Savulescu.

Neo-Romanian style roof finial in the shape of a mace, mid-1920s house, Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)
Neo-Romanian style roof finial in the shape of a mace, the Commune Palalce (town hall), Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)

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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 Contact page of this weblog.

The blog author in Balcic on the Black Sea coast

Balcic - Queen Marie of Romania's Palace gardens on Bulgaria's Black Sea Coast

Historic Houses of Romania blog author enjoying, in the summer of 2009, the magnificent gardens of Queen Marie of Romania’s Palace in Balcic, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea coast. The palace complex and gardens are one of the finest and most representative pieces of architecture produced in inter-war Romania. Balcic and the southerly facing coast around it is a place reminding more of the Mediterranean than the Balkans and Central Europe that in general characterise Romania’s geographic and man-made landscape, which made it a sort of local Riviera for the Romanian elite in those happy days before the conflagration of the Second World War and what followed after. The place is teeming with Romanian villa architecture of the golden 1930s decade, which will constitute, together with the Palace, the subject of two Historic Houses of Romania tours in the late spring and early autumn in 2012. Watch this space! 🙂

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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 Contact page of this weblog.

Buzau Commune Palace columns

The Buzau Commune Palace has been inaugurated in 1903 and is the work of Alexander Savulescu, a prominent Fin de Siecle era architect of Romania, famous as the designer of the Post Office Palace in Bucharest, which today hosts the National Museum of History of Romania. The Buzau edifice quarters the mayoralty and its name comes from that of the old administrative unit that in the late c19th described towns or districts grouping villages, a “commune”. It is the most flamboyant creation of Savulescu’s career, in a very peculiar style that blends Neo-Romanian elements rendered in part in an Art Novueau matrix, local architectural motifs found in the Little Paris style houses of Buzau tradespeople or aristocrats and decorative patterns inspired from the grape vine plant, a main crop of the area, symbolising an important component of Buzau’s economy.

Bellow are a photographs depicting a few columns and column elements that embellish the palace’s ground floor gallery. The column capitals are in their turn crowned by ample pediments, in the manner of those featured by the old Wallachian country mansions from the Ottoman period, decorated with the PC (Commune Palace) monogram, surrounded by vine leaves and grapes. The capital itself is also formed from an interesting composition of vine leaves.

Buzau Commune Palace column, 1903, architect Alexandru Savulescu (©Valentin Mandache)
Buzau Commune Palace column pediment, 1903, architect Alexandru Savulescu (©Valentin Mandache)
Buzau Commune Palace column capital, 1903, architect Alexandru Savulescu (©Valentin Mandache)
Buzau Commune Palace columns, 1903, architect Alexandru Savulescu (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

Wallachian Art Nouveau

The city of Targoviste, 80 km north-west of Bucharest and a former capital of the old principality of Wallachia, has managed to preserve an important proportion of its architectural heritage during the last seven decades of communist misrule and post-communist wild transition to a market economy in Romania. It has also weathered quite well the calamitous property boom of 2000 -’08, which saw destruction of historic public and private buildings on a larger scale than throughout the entire communist period. One of those interesting historic architecture examples preserved in Targoviste is the house presented in the photographs bellow, displaying Neo-Romanian elements in an Art Nouveau guise. It dates probably from the 1900s and shows signs of extensive subsequent alterations. The edifice is located at one end of city’s old commercial street, near the beautiful Beaux Arts style Targoviste town hall, about which I wrote an article at this link. The Neo-Romanian style has evolved in large part, during its initial stages, within the Art Nouveau current and this building is an interesting product of that period. I apologise for the differences in shade and colour intensity between photographs, due to the various hours and light conditions in which they were shot and subsequently processed.

Wallachian Art Nouveau, house dating from the 1900s, Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

I like the Romanian ethnographic motifs giving personality to this house such as the wood carved poles embellishing the oriel balcony or the frieze modelling a peasant embroidery that decorates its street façade.

Targoviste Art Nouveau house displaying Neo-Romanian motifs, house dating from the 1900s (©Valentin Mandache)

The main widow is also a Neo-Romanian type, making references to a church triptych, rendered in an Art Nouveau manner. The geometrical pattern of the wall frieze, easily discernible in this photograph, is inspired from peasant embroideries found in this area of Wallachia.

Neo-Romanian triptych type window in an Art Nouveau guise, 1900s house, Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)
Wallachian Art Nouveau, house dating from the 1900s, Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

The above image shows the oriel balcony adorned with wooden poles carved in a similar manner with those encountered in Wallachian peasant houses.

Wallachian Art Nouveau, detail of the oriel balcony, house dating from the 1900s, Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

The main Art Nouveau trait in the design of the balcony is the circle arch, spanning the wooden poles, a reference to the Islamic inspired medieval and early modern architecture of the Ottoman Balkans, a region that also encompassed the former principality of Wallachia.

Wallachian Art Nouveau, the carved wooden poles of the oriel balcony, house dating from the 1900s, Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)
Wallachian Art Nouveau, side entrance and widows, house dating from the 1900s, Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

Other Art Nouveau elements, which are not related to Neo-Romanians motifs, are the two simple doorways embellishing the side of the house, the more remarkable of them looking inspired from the design of a Rennie Mackintosh Argyle chair.

Wallachian Art Nouveau, side doorway (Argyle chair motif), house dating from the 1900s, Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)
Wallachian Art Nouveau,side doorway, house dating from the 1900s, Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

There is another similar design building in Targoviste, about 0.5km away toward the old princely courts, presumably the work of the same architect(s), about whom I hope to find out details in my future fieldtrips to this wonderful southern Romanian city.

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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.

Istrita stone stairs

This is a pleading to those undertaking restoration and renovation works of Romania’s historic buildings to start using again the wonderful Istrtita stone, a local building material that was quarried for centuries by peasants from the villages dotting the the Istrita Hill in Buzau county, eastern Wallachia. It is a greyish brown limestone, resulted over the geological ages from cemented together fossil shells. The stone is found in the structure and decorative elements of many peasant and period town houses or historic public edifices from the region of Buzau, as are the picturesque stairs presented in the photographs bellow that embellish a late 1890s Little Paris style house in Buzau city centre. The Istrita stone was also extensively used in farther away places from Bucharest, Braila or Ploiesti. Its most interesting use is, in my opinion, as material for making traditional peasant crosses, which embellish old village cemeteries in south-eastern Romania. The Istrita stone is now practically forgotten, despite its high significance for the local architectural identity and excellent potential as building material. It has fallen out of grace once the industrially produced concrete became widely available in the 1960s and also because in the last two decades the market has been flooded with cheap imported construction materials, a large proportion of which comes from as far away as China or India.

Istrita stone stairs, Buzau; house from the 1890s (©Valentin Mandache)
Istrita stone stairs, Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)

Istrita Hill, Buzau county, Romania (Google Earth)

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

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.