This is an invitation to an architectural history tour in Targoviste, renowned as the former capital of the former Principality of Wallachia and one of the seats of Vlad the Impaler, among many other fearsome medieval Wallachian rulers of the Medieval era, located north-west of Bucharest, 80km away, in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps. The tour is open to all of you who would like to accompany me, the author of the Historic Houses of Romania blog on Sunday 11 September 2016!
I will be your expert guide in this excellently endowed in old architecture town. Targoviste contains a superb selection of period houses and public buildings, reflecting the styles and architectural evolution of Romania’s provincial towns since late Middle Ages. The locals are proud of the city’s heritage and legacy as a former princedom capital, somehow as Winchester is seen in England, if I may draw that parallel, with ample medieval ruins poignantly reminding its Read more →
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.
There was a certain trend within the Neo-Romanian architecture for using ethnographic motifs, which unfurled at its highest intensity between the late 1920s and the late 1930s, transcending its mature and late phase of development, expressed especially in wood carvings decorating structures such as verandas, stair balusters, balconies, doorways, etc. The wooden veranda pole in images presented above and bellow is such an example, of exquisite quality, inspired from the peasant art of regions of southern Romania (Wallachia).
The backyards of the period houses often hold hidden treasures and curiosities of architectural history, from fragments of decorations and structures much older than the street façade, to garden gazebos or former farm constructions. I had the rare opportunity to encounter in Targoviste, 80km north-west of Bucharest, a beautiful hen pen structure, dating from Fin de Siècle period, which models a human dwelling at a smaller scale, of a style popular in those times in Romania’s towns. It follows the design of an Alpine chalet, which is part of the spa architecture fashion spread in the 1880s -1890s throughout central and eastern Europe.
The former backyard of the grand house that contained this hen pen is now exposed to the street following probably the demolition of the building that previously obscured it and sale of the plot of land on which once stood. The pen was of a mixed domestic fowl use, with compartments for hens and possibly ducks or geese within its lower floors and pigeons in the attic.
I like the wood fretwork on the edge of the roof eave, so typical of the late Victorian period houses. Two pigeon holes flank a larger central door used for keeper’s access, through which is cut a third pigeon hole.
This is an excellent piece of domestic architecture, still quite well preserved and relatively straight forward to restore. It shows the sophistication of the Romanians of more than one century ago, who were most certainly more elevated and finer in their architectural tastes than their nowadays post-communist counterparts.
This is St. Catherine’s Church (Biserica Sfanta Ecaterina) in Bucharest’s Patriarchy Hill area (I organised an architectural tour a couple of weeks ago there), which as a place of worship dates from the c16th, but the actual building is from the early 1850s. It is in a provincial neo-baroque style, a quite sporadic design for a church of Byzantine rite, epitomizing the process of modernisation and Europeanisation of the Romanian society of that era, following the national revolutions of 1848 and drive toward modern nation building and independence from the Ottoman Empire, the erstwhile oriental overlord of this region. The iPhone photo has been perspective corrected in Lightroom and cross-processed in Picassa, giving it this interesting vintage postcard aspect. That impression is charmingly enhanced by the exposed brick facade produced by the current restoration works.
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.
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.
*********************************************** 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.
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.
The Neo-Romanian architectural style is an all encompassing architectural order, which was meant to reflect the way of life, history, traditions and art of the ethnic Romanian communities. Among its more peculiar manifestations is the design of chimney stacks, about which I wrote on this blog another article last year. The ones illustrated here are from the city of Targoviste, the erstwhile capital of the principality of Wallachia, about 80 km north-west on Bucharest, in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps. They model the medieval fortress towers of which Targoviste is famous through a large citadel keep built about five and a half centuries ago by Vlad the Impaler. The fortress tower motif is also used in the design of Neo-Romanian street fence poles, also epitomising the war torn history of these lands located on the fault-line between Islam and Christianity.
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.
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 →
I found in one of my occasional trips to Ploiesti last summer, a well preserved house dating from the 1900s in a style halfway between neo-baroque and neoclassical, which was also embellished with a splendid wrought iron doorway that displayed some interesting Art Nouveau motifs. The area endowed with the amplest such design was the upper window of the doorway, presented in the second photograph bellow. It shows a flowing, whiplash shape, flower motif typical of the Art Nouveau decorative panoply. The house is illustrative for the urban architecture of the first decade of the c2oth Romania, when the historicist style buildings also encompassed and often seamlessly integrated fashionable Art Nouveau elements, as is the case with this doorway assembly.
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.