Wallachian Identity

The Wallachian Eagle, St. George's church, Bucharest (Valentin Mandache)

Wallachia is one of the three former principalities that together with Moldavia and Transylvania forms modern Romania. Indeed this former European state is the core of the country as it contains the city of Bucharest, the sixth largest EU metropolis (close to three million inhabitants). From an architectural point of view Wallachia is important because the initiator of the Neo-Romanian style, the architect Ion Mincu and subsequent Romanian architects used prominently, in their Neo-Romanian designs, late medieval Wallachian church inspired motifs and decorations and also traditional Wallachian building types and representations. “Wallachian” is also one of the main Romanian regional identities, the equivalent of a Midlander, Yorkshireman or East Anglian in England. This regional identity acted and was seen as a national identity for over five hundred years while Wallachia functioned as a state, since its foundation in 1330, at first independent, then under Hungarian suzerainty and later as an Ottoman Christian protectorate that kept its indigenous administration and native aristocracy, until the formation of the modern Romanian state in 1859 when afterwards the principality was abolished. There is a surprising scarcity of correct and properly documented sources on the internet about Wallachia, in fact I was not able to find any worth recommending (beware of the Wikipedia entry for Wallachia which is sub-standard and highly inaccurate to say the least!). The best work which I would recommend to anyone interested in this quite enigmatic former European state, a sort of the principality of Navarre transplanted from the Pyrenees in the Carpathians, is that by the great French geographer Emmannuel de Martonne: “La Valachie. Essai de monographie geographique” (Colin, Paris 1902). I am a Wallachian myself, being born in Buzau county, in the eastern part of the old principality. The word “Wallachian” means “frontiersman” or “foreigner” and has the same etymology and linguistic root in old Germanic and Slavic languages as the word “Welsh” or “Walloon”. Wallachia is thus etymologically the same as the British country of Wales or the Belgian province of Walloonia. The most prominent Wallachian identity sign or marker that can still be encountered today as an ornament or decoration on old surviving aristocratic palaces or medieval churches, is the heraldic sign of that principality: a spread wings eagle holding a cross in its beak and sitting on a rock, flanked by a Moon crescent and Sun disc with human face features. That heraldic sign of Wallachia is displayed in the above photograph which I took at the St. Georges’ church (c17th) in Bucharest. In fact this particular ornament is a modern high quality restoration/ recreation in reinforced concrete of a former stone sculpted structure that was in that place prior to extensive restoration works on the church building in the 1930s.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

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If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

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