Church royal chair featuring King Ferdinand’s cypher

Church royal chair with King Ferdinand’s cypher, Mantuleasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

A number of Romanian orthodox rite historic churches in Bucharest and other places of importance throughout Romania contain ceremonial chairs, named “thrones”, dating mostly from the period of the Hohenzollern – Sigmaringen dynasty (1866-1947) destined for the use of the metropolitan/ patriarch and of the chief of state who at one time or another visited, consecrated or re-consecrated that building. The chair destined for the sovereign (there were two chairs if he was accompanied by his spouse) usually displays the cypher of the crowned head who first visited the building, assisted or gave his blessing to those important ceremonies, sometimes also containing other hallmarks of Romanian royalty, such as the crown or coat of arms. A royal or princely cypher is a monogram of the reigning ruler, formally approved and used on official documents or displayed on public buildings and other objects of public use or owned by the state, such as postal boxes or military vehicles, etc.

The image above shows an interesting example of a royal chair from Mantuleasa church in Bucharest (a beautiful Brancovan style monument, restored in 1924 – ’30, in the reign of King Ferdinand and his descendant, King Carol II), photographed during a recent Historic Houses of Romania tour in that area. The chair displays Ferdinand’s cypher, a stylised back-to-back double “F”, as he was the monarch who officially inaugurated the restoration works. On top of chair’s back there is also an interesting representation of Romania’s state crown, the famous steel crown made from the melted metal of a canon captured in the 1877 Independence War. The whole assembly is rendered in the mature phase Neo-Romanian style, with ethnographic solar discs and acanthus/ vine leave carvings, constituting an interesting ceremonial furniture example expressed in the national design style. King Ferdinand’s cypher is a rare sight nowadays, the chair presented here bringing back memories of this remarkable sovereign, who strove all his life to keep a reserved and dignified public profile.

Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony

I found this small and exquisite Art Deco detail during one of my architectural history tours in Patriarchy Hill area of Bucharest. It forms part of the rooftop veranda of a house built in the late ’30s, on an ocean liner theme. In fact the shape of the balcony and the veranda fence are clearly inspired from a nautical theme, similar with the semi-cylindrical observation post/ cage on top of the bow of the big liners of that era. Bellow this more unusual balcony is presented in six different image processing sequences and filters, which I hope would better convey its nice proportions and architectural context.

Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style jardinières

Neo-Romanian style jardinières, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

One of the tenets of the Neo-Romanian style‘s philosophy is integration of the architectural design within the natural environment of the country, envisaged as a sort of biblical Garden of Eden, similar with how the c18th Brancovan churches, from which the style draws a great deal of its inspiration, were seen as fragments of paradise on earth in this war torn region of Europe dominated for centuries by the Ottomans. That Arcadia like atmosphere of a family home is conveyed in the Neo-Romanian architecture through the use of a rich panoply of specific decorative elements. The jardinières are in that respect some of the most effective means to achieve that serendipity effect. They come in a wide diversity of shapes and decorations, positioned in high visibility spots in and around the house, such as on window sills, documented in previous articles on this blog. For this post I gathered a few illustrations of bowl type jardinières from the great multitude that adorn inter-war Neo-Romanian style houses. They are installed on doorway balustrades, atop street fence poles, flanking balconies, or in other prominent locations. The flowery and ornamental plants that grow in them, as seen in images presented here, transmit something from the pleasantness that characterised Bucharest of eight and nine decades ago, when most of those jardinières were put in place.

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Exquisite villa from the apogee of the Neo-Romanian style

I first published this article in November 2010, but took it offline after a short while, due to a series of Romanian blogging sites which were using the photographs and ideas presented here, without giving any credit to my work, a blatant arrogant behaviour typical of the many so-called specialists that currently infest the post-communist cultural scene, including the history of architecture, of Romania. Many among those mediocrities misappropriate and habitually plagiarise other authors’ work, as I also remember a case a year or so ago when someone from the teaching staff at the Bucharest University of Architecture “Ion Mincu”, a lady named Mihaela Criticos, published a book about the Art Deco style, with a multitude of illustrations pulled out from the web, including from my site, without any necessary acknowledgement being made.

Neo-Romanian style villa, designed by the architect Toma T Socolescu, 1934, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

In the period between the mid-1920s and the mid-1930s, the Neo-Romanian architectural style has reached its apogee. One of the leading architects who has marked that intensely creative decade, was Toma T Socolescu, the most brilliant scion of a famous family of Romanian architects. The house above, although not very sizeable, represents in my opinion one of his finest creations, which is also excellently preserved. It is located in Campina, a prosperous oil town 90km north of Bucharest, close by another house that I documented in an earlier post (an excellent modernist design, which I hypothesized, correlated with information from the locals, that it was designed by a Wehrmacht architect in the 1940s). Remarkable in this example is the highly elaborated and decorated doorway assembly (the door, the wall dressing and the awning). Also noticeable is the ground-floor balcony terrace overlooking a beautiful small garden. The terrace is overlooked by a decorative shield containing the family monogram, “NP”, decorating the door arch keystone. I would also like to mention here the charming first floor veranda, decorated with interesting wood carved pillars that sustain an interesting bell shaped tiled roof, which was modelled by the architect from roof examples that endow many late medieval Wallachian churches. The roof is crowned by a large Neo-Romanian type finial. I had the opportunity to discuss with the proprietor of this architectural jewel, a senior lady, who gave an abundance of information about the designer and year of construction (1934). She also mentioned the struggle to save and maintain it during the long decades of the communist dictatorship, when part of the property was used by the army as housing for its personnel. The proprietor also mentioned the recent restoration and renovation works, which were undertaken with great care and under her close supervision in order to preserve as much as possible from the old building details and fabric. In my opinion she has managed to do that with excellent competence, the house being now, in my opinion, one of the best restored Neo-Romanian style houses in the entire country. The photomontage above and slide show bellow the text are just a few glimpses of this exquisite house designed and built at the zenith of the Neo-Romanian style.

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Prin aceasta serie de articole zilnice intentionez sa inspir in randul publicului aprecierea valorii si importantei caselor de epoca din Romania – un capitol fascinant din patrimoniul arhitectural european si o componenta vitala, deseori ignorata, a identitatii comunitatilor din tara.

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Daca intentionati sa cumparati o proprietate de epoca sau sa incepeti un proiect de renovare, m-as bucura sa va pot oferi consultanta in localizarea proprietatii, efectuarea unor investigatii de specialitate pentru casele istorice, coordonarea unui proiect de renovare sau restaurare etc. Pentru eventuale discuţii legate de proiectul dvs., va invit sa ma contactati prin intermediul datelor din pagina mea de Contact, din acest blog.

iPhone photo of the day

Actually I shot the picture  yesterday with my new iPhone 4S. I am an admirer of Steve Jobs, who is among my pantheon of worthies, and his business philosophy of creating products that are at the intersection between technology and humanities. The blog “Historic Houses of Romania”, my architectural history online videos and other projects involving the internet are endeavours of putting the Romanian period architecture within the coordinates of that vision. The present iPhone handset is the first piece of Apple technology which I was able to afford, taking advantage of a good offer from my mobile phone carrier. It is just sheer delight to use this technological and aesthetic marvel in my hands and imaginatively operate it to spreading the word about the historic houses of Romania. That is even more significant for me as the iPhone 4S was among the last creations completed under the overseeing and intellectual input of the late Steve Jobs.

The picture shows the front of Romania’s chief school of architecture, the University of Architecture “Ion Mincu” in Bucharest,a grand Neo-Romanian style facade, the most flamboyant in existence, and an open encyclopaedia of that architectural design peculiar to Romania and its adjacent regions.

University of architecture Ion Mincu, Bucharest, Valentin Mandache

Neo-Romanian style picture frames – 1

I would like to present you two beautiful Neo-Romanian style wooden picture frames, dating from the early 1910s at a time when the mature phase of Romania’s national style was hugely gaining in popularity, following the success of the Bucharest Great Jubilee Exhibition of 1906 when the new national style of Romania was showcased to the wider public. These fine artefacts are part of architect Madalin Ghigeanu’s collection of documents and objects of Romanian history, to whom I am grateful for allowing the publication of their photographs on this blog. The motifs craved on the frames are an encyclopaedia of Neo-Romanian style decoration: the Byzantine arch, short rope motif columns, ethnographic solar discs, patterns taken from peasant embroideries, etc. Fittingly the frames now host autographed photographs of Queen Marie, Romania’s British Queen, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, in peasant costume, one of the iconic promoters of the Neo-Romanian style since its first years, especially in the field of interior and furniture design, gardening, fashion and painting.

Neo-Romanian style picture frame 

The picture frame above reminds me of a book cover design, which I reviewed on this blog (click here to access article), where a similar pair of column span the Byzantine arch. I like the exquisite solar discs, ever present in Romanian ethnography, and the suggestion of a three-lobed broken arch inspired from the Brancovan church architecture that is carved along the opening of the frame.

Neo-Romanian style picture frame 

The columns in the second example show an abstract rectangular-like configuration of the rope motif, popular in the building architecture, used for wall friezes, and inspired from Curtea de Arges cathedral‘s c16th designs. The solar discs are composed from the customary six rays, an ancestral motif encountered in Indo-European ethnography from Sri Lanka to Ireland, while remaining field is filled with patterns inspired from the embroderies that embellish the Romanian peasant costumes.

Brief considerations on the Brancovan style

The Brancovan architectural forms, which unfurled in the period between the mid-c17th and first decades of the c18th, epitomised a sublime relation between symbols representing the way of life of that period and the belief system peculiar to the place in which they took shape, namely the Principality of Wallachia. The arhictecture of those edifices mirrored the spiritual universe and psychology of those who erected them and the communities for whom they were built. That is the reason why the symbolism of those monuments contains the answer to the question why the architecture, especially the ecclesiastical design, has acquired a unique language during the Brancovan epoch, leading to the emergence of what we call today the Brancovan style, intrinsic to that principality and pivotal to the underpinning,  in the modern era, of the Neo-Romanian style.

The conceptual tools employed in analysing the architectural phenomenon of that age in central and western Europe are, in my opinion, not wholesomely adequate in examining the stylistic complexity of the Brancovan style buildings, where a more Read more

Mosilor area: images from last Sunday’s architectural history & photo tour

Mosilor area: images from last Sunday’s architectural history and photography tour (©Valentin Mandache)

The tour which I organised last Sunday, 7 August ’11, the tenth such end of the week cultural excursion🙂, in Mosilor area of Bucharest has been very popular, attended by professionals and students alike, in majority Romanians, as well as people from Ireland or the US, settled or working here. Mosilor is one of the most picturesque and evocative quarters of old Bucharest, being a mostly residential district with a strong identity expressed in its people’s sense of community and delightful historic architecture. The quarter grew around the famous Mosilor fair, which since the c18th, when was first mentioned in documents, took place outside the walls of the old city, on the road that went to Moldova, also known as “Drumul Mare” (the Highway). The fair and quarter around it grew spectacularly once the principalities of Wallachia and Moldova got united, forming Romania, in the aftermath of the Crimea War. Mosilor area, as a consequence, has a relatively high density of exquisite late c19th houses rendered in the “Little Paris style” architecture, what I name the French and other western historicist styles of that period interpreted in a provincial manner in Romania. Another well represented architectural style is the Neo-Romanian, ranging from early examples dating from the last years of the c19th, to hybrids with the Art Deco, erected in the 1930s. There is also a multitude of other styles from different periods- from a late c18th Balkan Ottoman dwelling, to Beaux Arts, Art Deco and Modernist edifices dotting the quaint and leafy streets of Mosilor. I thus trust that the participants enjoyed a good cultural Sunday morning out, full of discoveries and revelations about one of the most loved and enchanting quarters of old Bucharest.🙂

Mosilor area: participants and guide during the last Sunday’s architectural history and photography tour (photo: Ioana Novac)
Mosilor area: participants and guide during the last Sunday’s architectural history and photography tour (photo: Ioana Novac)

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!!! The next Sunday (14 August ’11, 9am-12.00) architectural history and photography tour will take place in Domenii hisoric quarter – Casa Scanteii building, north-west-central Bucharest (see a map at this link); meeting point: in the Arch of Triumph square at the Herastrau park entrance in front of the big black public clock. I look forward to seeing you there !!!

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses

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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.

Vlach identity

There are sizable communities of Vlachs settled in and around Bucharest. The photograph bellow shows a Neo-Romanian style house dating from the 1910s, around the time of the Balkan Wars, displaying the name “Villa Cutika”, where Cutika is a Vlach feminine gender name.

Vlach is a collective term applied usually to peoples speaking Romance languages, others than Romanian, in the Balkan Peninsula. As you are familiar with the Romance speaking peoples of Western Europe, such as Spaniards, French or Italians, the same is the case in Eastern Europe, where there are smaller population peoples speaking Romance languages, descendants of the Roman colonists and Romanised natives from the time when the Roman Empire ruled the area two millenia ago. The Romanian language is the largest represented in terms of population Eastern Romance idiom, followed by a number of Vlach languages, such as Macedo-Romanian, Megleno-Romanian or Istro-Romanian. The nationalist movements that have affected the Balkan Peninsula in the last two centuries have often brought tragedies, such as discrimination and ethnic cleansing, upon the Vlach communities, who were allways a minority living in the midst of ethically different majority peoples then emerging as modern nations, such as the Greeks, Bulgarians or Serbians. The Romanian national state, in its turn, considered its duty to protect and give refuge to its etnic kin, the Vlachs, often wrongly regarded by the Romanian officials, historians and linguists as just speakers of mere Romanian dialects.

The house that hosts the tablet shown in the photography bellow was built by such a Vlach refugee family in Romania, perhaps around the time of the Balkan Wars, on a plot of land granted by the government. The style of the house is Neo-Romanian, being a fitting patriotic statement in architectural terms made by the proprietors to their adoptive country, also stating clearly the Vlach identity through the name tablet. The house is on Rumeoara Street, which sounds Vlach to me and it may well be the name of the region in the Balkans (Greece, etc.) from where the families settled on that street originate.

“Villa Cutika”- Vlach name tablet on Neo-Romanian style house dating from the 1910s, Fire Watchtower area, Bucharest (©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.