CASOTA CONAC: a magnificent Romanian period property with a great potential

I would like to introduce you to a remarkable period property from south-eastern Romania, the Casota Conac that I am very familiar with since I grew up in that area. The description bellow is a brief introduction to one of the most prized types of countryside period property in Romania, the equivalent in this part of Europe of the English Manor of French country chateau.

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Introduction:

  • “Conac” is the term given in southern and eastern Romania (the old provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia) to country mansions or manors built by local aristocrats, the boyars. Their main function was as summer residences and also as administrative quarters for their large estates. The word itself is of Turkish origin, reflecting centuries of domination by the Ottoman Empire in the Romanian lands.
  • Casota Conac is one of the finest such building examples, a fact that makes it an architectural example for the entire region north east of Bucharest.The conacs were confiscated from their owners by the communist regime and transformed in collective farm headquarters, schools or left to fall into disrepair. After 1989 most of these buildings were restored to their rightful owners and some are now on the market. With Romania’s EU accession, the conacs are formally recognized as historical buildings of high architectural value and seen as important status symbol by their owners.

Geography, distances:

  • Casota conac is located in Buzau county in the southern Romanian province of Wallachia, in the middle of the Baragan plain, a grain cultivated region similar in terms of climate and soil with the American Midwest Prairie, a rare geographical setting for Europe. The black earth soil or chernozem is extremely fertile, ideally suitable for growing the finest organic produce. Two small rivers Cotorca and Sarata, doted by natural and manmade lakes, flowing into Ialomita, an important tributary of the Danube, drain the area.
  • The climate is continental-temperate, similar with lower Austria’s or Hungary’s, which is characterised by its very distinctive four seasons: beautiful springs and autumns, hot summers and cold, snowy winters.
  • Casota is a village of about 500 inhabitants, mostly small holding peasant farmers and commuters to nearby industrial towns. It is part of the district (commune) of Glodeanu-Silistea (5000 inhabitants).
  • The conac is situated close to Romania’s capital, at only 50 miles (82 km) drive from central Bucharest (2 million inhabitants). The Otopeni international airport, country’s largest, is 55 miles (90 km) away. The road from the capital is the main motorway to north-eastern Romania. The conac is located at 2 km distance from first exit north after the small town of Urziceni. The county town, Buzau (120,000 inhabitants), is 45 north of the conac, following the same motorway.

2-casota

History:

  • The region’s villages were founded by Transylvanian shepherds in the course of their transhumance from the Transylvanian Alps to the lower Danube plains or by local boyars as a result of setting up large-scale farms that needed workforce.
  • Pricopie Casotti was the local boyar and an important Romanian landowner who built the conac in 1872 and subsequently re-built it in its actual form in 1880. The village of Casota, which grew around the old conac, derives its name from that of its landlord. The largest part of its inhabitants originates in the nearby older villages founded by Transylvanian shepherds.
  • Pricopie Casotti was a true man of the Victorian age, interested in modern farming methods, social reform and philanthropist. The conac was designed in the fashion of French manor houses, with the latest water fittings, water-closet toilets and sewage system; installations that even in London at that time were a rarity. He also built two modern schools for local peasants, one of them still functioning today. He also financed the building of a general hospital for the free use by the local peasants. The hospital, of which only the water tower can still be seen today, was destroyed by German enemy action during the Great War.
  • The communist regime confiscated the conac and used it for collective agricultural farm headquarters, or road building state enterprise offices. The building slowly fell into disrepair with the result that in the 1980s was left vacant, in the care of the county council. A local historian of Casota area, village teacher there in the 1970s, recognized the historical and architectural value and the conac and successfully applied for its inclusion county’s heritage list.

Architecture:

  • Casota conac is an imposing building in the style of 19th century French country mansions that used architectural motifs and themes inspired from the Loire valley chateaux. This is a style at its height of fashion in France during Napoleon III.
  • Wealthy Romanians, who looked to France in the 19th century as a cultural beacon, replicated in their new residences the French architectural developments. Casota conac is the result of such a vision, being one of the finest examples. Pricopie Casotti, its builder, made his wealth from grain trade and cultivation on the fertile lands surrounding the conac. The region was among Europe’s largest grain producer well into the 20th century.
  • Remarkable architectural features are displayed in the central sector, that has the shape of a high tower with the roof at a sharp angle that gives excellent commanding views on the village and Baragan plain. The roof has baroc inspiration elements made from zinc sheets. The balustrade for balconies and staircase is made from high quality wrought iron. On the first floor colonnade at the main reception room three stone-sculpted and expressive lion heads can be seen. On the ground floor the wrought iron grillage of a large window still displays the “PC” monogram of the conac builder. Wooden poles sculpted with interesting Romanian peasant inspired carvings sustain the roof corridor linking the conac with the servants’ quarter.
Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Description:

  • The conac has virtually palatial dimensions, the built up area being 726.2 sqm: cellar 74.91 sqm, two floors with rooms and terraces at 460.69 sqm, servants quarters at 172.41 sqm and a link corridor of 18.20sqm. It also comes with a 4,126.49 sqm surrounding land. The building and its surrounding land has opening on two roads: the main road from comes from the motorway exit and a secondary local road.
  • The conac is built on four levels containing: a large dry high quality cellar used initially for cask wine storage; ground and 1st floors with 14 receptions and habitation rooms and also terraces; a roof area with a tower balcony and large loft that can be converted in attic rooms or offices.
  • The servants’ quarter contain 8 good size rooms and was also used for grain storage.
  • The conac has its own water source, a deep well that is still functioning.
Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

the former wine cellar ©VM

Casota Conac: the former wine cellar ©VM

Actual situation:

  • The conac has an imposing position over the surrounding village, a fact that only highlights its beauty and importance. It is a listed building on Buzau county’s official list.
  • Because of misuse during the communist regime and the state of disrepair in which it was allowed to fall, the conac and its annexes are in need, apart from a faithful with the original restoration, of extensive, thorough consolidation and repair works. Being a listed building, it requires the prior approval of heritage authorities before any restoration work is undertaken.
  • The conac got a new owner who has started renovation and restoration works. That owner, when the conac would be restored to its former glory, would be a true lord of the manor and to a certain extent regarded as such by the local peasants, an image not far removed from that of former Romanian boyars of the Victorian era who built, owned, and lived in this sort of imposing private residences.
  • Casota Conac is a rare historical building in beautiful Romanian countryside. It is a distinctive architectural focus point for most of the area northeast of Bucharest.
  • It has easy access from the airport. It is also a good base to explore the region, with Bucharest, which is a major cultural and economic centre at only 1 hour drive away and with the Carpathian highlands and mountains 50 km to conac’s north west.
  • The local soil has excellent qualities for organic agriculture and would appeal to someone interested in organic farming, as the black earth (chernozem) of the region is one of the most fertile agricultural soils.
Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac- view from the top balcony ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac- view from the top balcony ©Valentin Mandache

© Valentin Mandache

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If you are interested in acquiring a Romanian period property such as a conac mansion on the lines of the one described above, I would be very glad to assist and advice in your enquires, locating the property, putting together the renovation project or specialist research pertaining to the property. To discuss your particular plan, please see my contact details in the “Contact” page of this blog.

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2 comments on “CASOTA CONAC: a magnificent Romanian period property with a great potential

  1. A beautiful comment about Casota conac and the work and vision of Moray Letham, its owner and restorer, from Ellen Pare Philips:

    “Sorry to write in English, dar vobesc putin Romana!!! Yesterday, I had the pleasure to see the conac with Valentin Mandache and with Moray Letham. I found many surprises. Moray is an unusual person, one who has a dream and remains with focus and dedication to his dream. The conac iinspired Moray with passion and a vision, Maray became memsmerized by the conac. He has restored other historic homes around the world, so the conac is not his first experience. But it is the most challenging and the most expensive. The first surprise for him was to learn that the beauty which attracted him, the inspirational interior elements of highly crafted ceilings and original woodwork had to be destroyed!! The same govenrment which sold him the conac required Moray to destroy the interior of the conac in order to create a standard of building that would survive an earthquake. Every ornate plaster ceiling and every amazing floor, which Moray had planned to repair and restore to original standards, now had to be removed completely so support beams could be inserted. The ceilings therefore had to be recreated. Moray had to hire very talented craftsmen re-create the old ceilings and replace them. This was very expensive, very time consuming and very disappointing. The workers who agreed to do the job have not completed their work, they have disappeared from the worksite. Their unfinished work is very beautiful, I wished to see it completed by them! This is art in the creation.

    The removed floors, made from massive wood beams, over 150 years old, were sanded and prepared for reinstallation by Moray himself personally. But a shocking thing happened, many of the floor beams were stolen from the conac before they could be re-installed. This is an asset that cannot be recreated, it is a great sadness. The windows had to be removed so they could be rebuilt and have new glass inserted. Moray did the work personally, preparing the windows to be re-installed. But another shock! Before the windows could be re-installed, they were stolen from the conac.

    The most recent theft from Moray involves the land surrounding the conac. Local people are erecting ridiculous ugly shanty structures at the edge of the conac property and claiming to own the property without having title to the property and then trying to “sell” the shanty property to Moray, this is crime, this is fraud, this is pathetic.

    The amount of theft at the conac during the years that Moray has struggled with his own money and his own labor to repair the conac is shocking and shameful. Moray has made an effort to use local people to work on the project with him and there has been betrayal with the robbing of windows, floor beams, tools, cement, ironwork, fittings, etc, and now theft of land. Moray the Scot is interested and dedicated and using his time and money to restore a Romanian landmark. But he is being defeated by local crime against his cause. This situation is sad and ironic. I came away after spending several hours with Moray having these three things to say. (1) Moray is authentic and determined to succeed independently with help from no man. (2) Moray is an artist with a vision of the conac coming to life again and, like most artists, he is rejected by the people. (3) Romania is behaving as Moray’s enemy but Moray is determined to win. Fortunately, Moray’s definition of victory – the restoration of the conac – will also be a victory for Romania.”

  2. [Comment posted on behalf of Mr. Moray Letham, the proprietor and restorer of Casota Conac as a reply to Robert:

    Well Robert, as you live in the village, then you must know of the years of neglect and stealing of original wrought iron, for scrap iron, oak windows, stolen for the glass.... the stealing of parts of the land. All while the Conacul was in the care of the community, the Conacul and land in the public domain.

    Yes, since I bought the Conacul, publically offered for sale, nothing much has changed on the exterior, I agree, but even you must have noticed the very many lorry of cement and iron that have disappeared inside, not counting the iron and cement stolen by neighbors!!

    So now at last the Conacul has been consolidated! the top of the tower completely rebuilt with 19 pallets!! of bricks.
    I hope to, in summer, have an "open day" when locals who are interested, can have an opportunity to visit the inside and see the work that has been done to "their Conacul" I hope to see you on that day. Moray

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