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.
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.
The event is hosted by Cafeneaua Liberala (The Liberal Cafe, in Lipscani quarter of Bucharest), through the invitation the National Liberal Party Bloggers’ Club, Thursday 10 January 2013, 18.30h – 20.30h.
There are two presentations, followed by questions and discussions:
-120 years since the marriage of Princess Marie of Edinburgh with Prince Ferdinand of Romania – by Diana Mandache and
-The “Little Paris” style – architectural identity in the times of King Carol I – by Valentin Mandache.
The partitipants will also have the opportunity to buy the authographed volume entitled “Marie of Romania. Images of a Queen” de Diana Mandache, the first pictorial history of the life of Queen Marie of Romania: http://www.royalbooks.se/produkt/45/marie-of-romania-images-of-a-queen.html, and also the album “HM King Michael of Romania – A Tribute” by HRH Prince Radu http://www.royalbooks.se/produkt/44/h-m-king-michael-i-of-romania-a-tribute.html
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.
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.
Bellow are two wonderful clamshell house entrance awnings that I photographed in Ploiesti, the oil town 60km north of Bucharest. They date from the La Belle Époque period (late Victorian and Edwardian periods) and belong as an architectural “species” to the Art Nouveau current, constituting a part of what I call the Little Parish style built landscape of the urban areas of that period in Romania. The clamshell awnings are widespread in Bucharest, which make me consider them as one of the main architectural symbols of Romania’s capital, but also popular throughout the country before the Great War (which was then formed by the provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia, without Transylvania). Ploiesti was developing spectacularly in that era on the proceeds of the newly emerging oil economy and as an important regional market town. The clamshell awnings are a superb reminder of those times of economic boom and architectural finery.
Bucharest is an interesting Art Nouveau province, located at the geographical and in many aspects architectural periphery of this style. That is why the Art Nouveau designs occur mostly fragmentary, in small bits and pieces on buildings that display overall conservative c19th historicisit styles or on some early Neo-Romanian edifices. That makes them less visible for the the untrained eye, constituting one of my favourite past-times to spot them. The letter box plate from the image above is one of those discoveries, adorning the Little Paris style doorway of a 1900s house in Mosilor area of Bucharest. Its lettering style renders, somehow in a provincial Art Nouveau manner, the free flowing plant leaves so peculiar for this style, making it quite evocative for the manifestation of this current in this part of the world.
The Little Paris style is an umbrella term which I use to define the architecture inspired especially from French c19th styles, rendered in a provincial manner that acquired a personality of its own in Fin de Siècle Romania and also to a lesser extent to the rest of the Balkans, reflecting the modernisation of the society and fusion in architecture of the western fashions together with local forms. Bucharest is the best place in the entire region to view and study that peculiar type of architecture that emerged in this part of Europe, which because of its high concentration and relatively good state of preservation, is still an important component of the local built landscape. The photographs presented here were shot during the Historic Houses of Romania tour of a few days ago, representing a small sample from the great multitude of such picturesque houses of Bucharest.
Actually this air vent is about 110 years old. It is still in good working order, ensuring the ventilation of a brick lined cellar underneath a flamboyant Little Paris style house in Mantuleasa area of Bucharest. The period houses of this city were much better aired than the ones built during the communist and post-communist periods. Unfortunately those air vents and ducts are now fast disappearing, victims of the botched “renovation” or “modernisation” works performed by the uncouth contemporary inhabitants of Romania’s capital, with dreadful consequences for the integrity of the fabric of those historic buildings.
I enjoy making parallels between the architectural phenomena of different places and periods, to see if I can extract interesting clues about the history and societies that produced and host those artefacts. In fact, for me, the comparatist method is a main means of investigation of the exacting and apparently chaotic built landscape of Bucharest and Romania, where there is not yet a tradition of quality architectural history commentariat and the academic literature in that field is still thin on the ground.
To illustrate that, I have here two letter boxes, their openings more precisely, dating from the La Belle Epoque period. The one above is from Bucharest, adorning a 1900s gate, inscribed on its flap with the Romanian text “Scrisori si Jurnale”, which translates as “Letters and Journals”. The one shown bellow is from Chisinau, the Republic of Moldova, is quite obscured under thick coats of paint. It reads in Russian as “Dlya Pisemi i Gazeti”, which in English is “For Letters and Journals”.
Those cities are in the same area of South East European civilization, but different historical experiences in the last two centuries, exhibiting often diverging trends in their architectural and artistic preferences, as these letter boxes testify. The Romanian one, adorning a wrought iron gate shows the popularity of this architectural element in Bucharest and the country, and the existence of front gardens, people enjoying interacting within the community, while in Chisinau the letter box affixed on a street doorway indicates the preference of houses with walls fronting the street, with intimate interior gardens, away from the peering eyes of neighbours and passerby. The Romanian letter box flap displays a sort of French inspired Beaux Arts decoration indicating the influence of the influence of that country in this part of Europe, while the Chisinau box is surrounded by Renaissance inspired ornaments, underlying the stronger Renaissance tradition and popularity of this style in Imperial Russia. The languages used to inscribe these artefacts also suggest the existence of a more cosmopolitan society in Chisnau. The very fact that this city has now a majority of Romanian speaking population, and this Russian inscription is left in its place, indicates a more tolerant attitude for ethnic diversity than the nowadays boringly mono-ethnic Bucharest.
There are many other interesting architectural and historic fact than can be drawn by comparing these two simple letter box openings, showing the usefulness of this research method in less documented and talked about places like Romania and the Republic of Moldova.