Definitions for Romanian Architecture in British and Romanian Dictionaries

For some time now, I have been searching for a suitable definition of the Romanian architecture, in local or foreign sources. For countries in the region where Romania is situated, such as Hungary or Serbia, there is an aboundance of references in the specialist literature on the historical development of architecture, but only a few mentions about the Romanian architectural phenomenon. I was able to find just two satisfactory definitions, which however refer essentially to the evolution of Romanian church architecture: one given in the excellent “The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture“, being however treated within the larger dictionary entry for the Byzantine Architecture, and another in the “Enciclopedia Romaniei” (Cugetarea, Bucharest 1940), authored by the historian Lucian Predescu. What I found interesting is that the definition for Romanian Architecture from the Penguin Dictionary has in a certain measure the aspect of a rework in more precise and better pointed terms of Predescu’s venerable rendition, whose particular merit is that of being one of the very few indigenous sources articulating pertinently the idea of Romanian architecture and to the fact that it represents a phenomenon that arrived relatively late on the scene of European architectural traditions. Otherwise, Predescu’s definition contains a number of mistakes and inadvertences, which can be overlooked because of its adequacy in fixing the general coordinates that help define the Romanian architectural phenomenon.

I have transcribed bellow for comparison the entries pertaining to the Romanian Architecture from the two dictionaries.

My translation of Lucian Predescu’s entry (Enciclopedia Romaniei – Cugetarea, 1940):

ARHITECTURE: From among the buildings of the past, the most important ones surviving today are the religious ones, churches erected starting with the c13th, Byzantine in character. The oldest and most interesting monument of our country is the princely church of Curtea de Arges, dating from the end of the c13 (perhaps beginning of the c14), of a clear Byzantine style. Variations of the Serbian style, adopted in Wallachia, were built by the end of the c14 (Cozia, Cotmeana) and in the c15 and c16. Occasionaly there are Oriental influences in the decorative details. The hemispheric Byzantine type cupola, dominates. In the c16, Dealu and Arges monasteries are the most beautiful. The ecclesiastical architecture loses its spark in general in the c17; in the c18 the decline is obvious. -In the principality of Moldova, the Byzantine style is in many aspects modified, a fact which imprints the chuch architecture in that region, with a more peculiar look/ aspect. The churches are taller there than in Wallachia, many do not have a cupola (Borzesti, Radauti), and when that is provided, it is of a small diameter and positioned high above a cylinder base. The bell tower is a separate structue (Papauti) or part of the church building, next to its entrance (Balinesti). Ornaments and decorations in the Gothic style (vault arches, stone dress of the window and doorway openings) occur for all those buildings between the c15-c16; later also Oriental motifs are in use (“Three Hierarchs” church in Iasi). The porch, which occurs regularly in Wallachia, is an exception in Moldova, where the the access in the church is through a side doorway. The churches built in the c18-c19, in Moldova and Wallachia, are of little interest. -The catholic churches are rendered in the Gothic style (Baia, Curtea de Arges). In Transylvania, the church architecture is Western Gothic in character (Cluj, Brasov, Alba-Iulia, etc.) The civilian architecture in Wallachia and Moldova is sparsely represented before c17, only ruins remain. The earliest surviving few houses and palaces in the country [Wallachia and Moldova] date only from the c17-c18. The ornamnets in stones show the use of a multitude of styles (Gothic, Renaissance, Oriental). The usual houses of the Romanian aristocracy, the boyars, were built in a charchteristic Romanian style. -The military architecture, seen in the few surviving ruined citadels, is that typical for the Middle Ages (of Hungarian and Polish influence).

The fragment referring to the Romanian architecture within the entry for the Byzantine Architecture from “The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture & Landscape Architecture” 5th edition:

Romanian architecture in the old heartlands of Wallachia and Moldavia carried on where the Serbian architecture left off [after the Ottoman conquest of Serbia]. No masonry churches survive from before the c14; though there are early examples at Cozia and Curtea-de-Arges (St Nicholas) in Wallachia and at Radauti in Moldavia. The ‘golden age’ of Romanian architecture starts in the post-Byzantine period at the turn of the c15-16 and last into the c17. In comparison with Serbian Morava architecture, Romanian churches are even more ornate, casket-like, elongated, tall, narrow, and fancifully adorned, with the occasional admixture of imported decorative features (e.g. Gothic window tracery). Most notable and original is a group of Moldavian churches decorated between 1520 and 1600 with complete cycles of frescoes on the exterior (protected by overhanging eaves) as well as inside. The most bizarrely impressive building is the monastic cathedral at Curtea de Arges (1517), representing a post-Byzantine mannerism whose extreme forms are equalled only in the near-contemporary St. Basil’s in Moscow (no direct connection is to be postulated).

We thus have here two interesting definitions of the Romanian architecture, originating from different cultures- a well articulated indigenous source and another one given by a collective of eminent British architectural historians. Both definitions have the potential to constitute a good basis for elaborating a more extensive and all encompassing brief exposition of the evolution of the architectural phenomenon peculiar to the Romanian lands. This is one of my research goals in the medium run. VM

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