This article is on the theme of today’s architectural tour on the Art Nouveau style of Bucharest. The photographs present a rare Art Nouveau style gate found during one of my tours last year. It is in a quite run down state, but still preserves its design details from the 1900s period. I like the gate handle and the decorative lock plate, which in a nutshell convey the air of those times.
Bucharest’s Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery is located on Boulevard Ion Michalache, in the north west area of the city. It is named “Philanthropy” (“Filantropia” in Romanian) and among the many personalities buried there are Mihail Sebastian, one of my favourite writers of inter-war Bucharest, who wrote the novel “It’s Been 2000 Years…” in which he magisterially documents the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism in this country, or Iosif Sava, the best Romanian classical music commentator. The cemetery also contains a monument dedicated to Romanian heroes of Jewish ethnicity fallen in the Great War.
The gate of this solemn place is of a remarkable monumental Art Deco – Modernist style, which in Bucharest is a rare sight for structures associated with religious and funerary functions. The ironwork of the gate is an interesting combination of Jewish (the star of David, menorah) and universalist (the radiating sun) symbols rendered in an Art Deco framework.
The assembly also has the outlines of a classical antiquity temple, with its concrete pilasters flanking the entrances and the suggestion of crossing under the massive lintel of an ancient city gate (entering the city of the dead from the city of the living in this particular instance).
I like the geometric way in which the menorah, the seven-branched Jewish ritual lampstand, is rendered on the side gate presented in the photograph above, of a quite unusual shape, different from the semicircular branches seen on the Arch of Titus or the coat of arms of the State of Israel.
In the above image the rule of three of the Art Deco style is obvious in the three stepped wall framing of the window, crowned by a large pediment embellished with the star of David.
The cemetery’s synagogue is of a c19th architecture, derived from the Jewish central European baroque and dates probably from the first decades of functioning of this burial ground. The star of David is noticeable about the top of each dome covering its hall and side towers.
The Art Deco – Modernist style of the gate of this cemetery signifies, in my opinion, the spirit in step with the times of this once dynamic and creative community, dwindled by the events of Second World War and Romania’s national-communist policies of the second part of the c20th.
I am planning an Art Nouveau architecture tour for this Saturday, announcement to follow. I hope that this image of a Bucharest Art Nouveau style balcony would act as a foretaste for that event. The ironwork of the balcony contains abstract representations of flower motifs. Also Art Nouveau are the plaster decorations embellishing the window openings. Unfortunately the attractive over a century old design of this apartment house is diminished by the air conditioning units affixed without any regard for aesthetics, a situation encountered at every step and corner in Bucharest. The air conditioning units are still seen as a high status symbol (as the satellite dishes not long ago) by the local property owners and consequently are “flagged” with impunity even on the best period buildings of this city.
This is one of the classical vistas in Bucharest: CEC bank headquarters (architect Paul Gottereau 1900, Beaux Arts – “Paris train station” style), seen from the Stavropoleos church (late Brancovan style, 1724). One can immediately notice here the benefits of the recent pedestrianisation of the area. Bucharest would be a much more comfortable town to live and create if the local authorities would enforce the car parking rules, get rid of the maze of cables hangings over from street poles at every step and plant more trees in parks and on the streets. With those three simple measure, Romania’s capital would become a truly pleasant place, as this image abundantly testifies.
Images from today’s walking tour, showing samples of historic architecture typical of Bucharest, from Little Paris style, to Neo-Romanian, Art Deco or diverse ecclesiastical architectures, of intense picturesqueness, and many of them of a good quality design, found within the Patriarchy Hill area of Romania’s capital.
This is the place where the well attended and fascinating today’s architectural tour about the Little Paris style architecture (what I collectively term the Fin de Siècle architecture of Romania inspired mainly from French c19th historicist styles) of Bucharest came to a close. The building used to be a tradesman’s house, now in the property of the local authorities, hosting the population registry office. Its particular style is a flamboyant French neo-rococo, with some neo-Gothic echoes such as the medieval knight armour representations at the base of each Corinthian-like pilasters. The most delightful in my opinion is the wooden doorway, well preserved and straight forward to restore. The monogram of the first proprietor of the house, “N.S.” is visible on the ironwork of the two door windows and on the entrance pediment. The building follows the general plans of a “Pompeii house” with a central hall illuminated by a lantern up on the roof, with rooms distributed around the hall. The Little Paris style houses are among the cheapest period properties in Bucharest and Romania’s citys, being also a rewarding potential restoration project for anyone brave enough to undertake such a task.
The example of house entrance pediment pictured above is from the town of Buzau in south east Romania, from the period when the Little Paris style (what I call the c19th French and other western historicist styles interpreted in a provincial manner in Romania) was in vogue throughout the whole country. The finish is a bit crude, but charming, the assembly truing to emulate the entrance of a Corinthian order temple. I like the monogram of the owner flanked by the year of construction of the house, at the beginning of the La Belle Époque period.
If you would like to find out more about the Little Paris style and how it imprinted the architectural character of Bucharest, I organise a special tour on that theme this coming Saturday, details here: http://historo.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/walking-tour-saturday-24-march-bucharest-as-the-little-paris-of-the-balkans/
This is quite an extensive example, for Bucharest, of Art Nouveau ironwork, in a city where the Art Nouveau details are frequently of modest dimensions and usually part of larger structures expressed mainly in Little Paris or Beaux Arts styles. The building in this instance, located in the Dorobanti area, displays a series of other Art Nouveau features, such as on its main doorway (not visible here), window opening decorations or columns. However, the ironwork is the most remarkable among them and of a good quality design, pleasing to the eye. The entrance awning rests on two “free flowing” long leaf motif corbels, while the attractive stairs balustrade displays abstract motifs recycled from traditional Japanese drawings, a main source of inspiration for this style. As everywhere in Bucharest, there are aggressive renovations and modern “improvements”, like the white plastic frame double glazing and the air conditioning unit, which obliterated original architectural elements, damaging the visual value of this building.
The bust statue of August Treboniu Laurian (1810 – 1881), one of the personalities of the Romanian 1848 national revolution in Transylvania and a prominent linguist and historian of that era. He belonged to the latinist current, which militated for the purification of the Romanian language of non-Latin words, which resulted in laughable dictionaries and rules of writing and pronunciation. Laurian came to settle in Bucharest in the later part of his life and is known to have been the Romanian language tutor of Prince Carol, the future King Carol I, a native of the German lands, appointed in 1866 through a plebiscite on the throne of the then United (Danubian) Principalities. Today the statue is left unmaintained, in an architecturally disfigured area of the city following the wild property boom of the mid-2000s (see the once beautiful mature phase Neo-Romanian style in the background now “adorned” with cheap metal tile imitation roofing), suffocated by adverts about fast food restaurants, car insurance and translation services, typical of the low cultural level and lack of respect for heritage displayed by a majority of contemporary Romanians.
The letter boxes in the image above are most probably the original ones, from the date when the Art Deco style apartment block hosting them has been built, sometimes in the mid-1930s Bucharest. The veneer of each box is still well preserved, with the wood fibres arranged in something resembling a papyrus flower pattern, which is one of the classical Art Deco decorative motifs. This piece of furniture could easily be restored to its former glory and one must only hope that the proprietors of those apartments will be sensible enough to preserve it for the future, resisting the current fashionable temptations in Romania to replace period artefacts with characterless modern, “made in China”, accoutrements.
This type of house is one of the most popular and also picturesque that has been built in Romania’s urban areas of the La Belle Époque period. It is commonly known as a “wagon house” because of its oblong shape, and doorway placed at the centre of its length, the edifice somehow resembling a railroad car. The house in most cases faces the street with its width, often sporting a charming round corner between the garden and street façades, as can be seen in the quaint example presented in this article, from Buzau in south east Romania. I consider the wagon house as a paradigm of the architecture that pervaded that age, what I call the Little Paris style, the local provincial interpretation of the c19th especially French historicist architecture.
The round corner has a floral decorative panel, containing representations of scattered roses, amplifying the impression of peace, bucolic and prosperity of the Fin de Siècle era in Romania. In other instances the round corner is empty or decorated with neo-rococo style panoplies containing the monogram of the proprietor and/ or the year of the construction of the house.
I like the wagon houses, being one of my favourite type of Romanian period edifices, due to their intense quaintness, human scale and use of environmentally friendly construction materials, similar with those used in the centuries before the industrial revolution. This variety of period property is also among the cheapest to acquire and restore now in Romania.
Image from last Sunday’s walking tour which I organised in Gradina Icoanei area of Bucharest. It is a wall lamp representing a fearsome dragon, which through the fire flames billowing out of its mouth suggest its role as a light appliance, acting also as the symbolic protector of the family living in that house. The artefact and the building are designed in what I term as the fairytale castle style architecture, popular in Bucharest and other large Romanian towns during the prosperous period of the late 1930s.
This is an original name board of a small shoe repair shop in Bucharest, which dates probably from the years of the Second World War. The lettering style is very evocative of that historical watershed period for the city and Romania in general. For me it suggests the streets of the city during the hot August 1944 days, when King Michael broke the disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany, arrested the pro-German dictator and joined the allied cause, saving the country from a looming catastrophic punishment invasion by the Red Army.
(I am grateful to Romulus Andrei Bena for pointing out this shop board, during a Historic Houses of Romania architectural walking tour in Dacia area, last year)
I would like to present you what in my opinion is the most flamboyant doorway in what I call the fairytale castle style that flourished in Bucharest during the prosperous second part of the 1930s. That architecture was developed at a time when many businesspeople got rich quick from country’s large oil and grain exports. The fairytale castle style is a variation of a more inclusive design, the Mediterranean style that emerged in those years, which is inspired from romanticised Mediterranean models of that era, such as Florentine, Venetian, Spanish or Arabic, also often mixed together with Neo-Romanian motifs. That type of architecture is also erroneously called “Moorish” in locally published Romanian tourist and cultural guides, although is does not have much to do with that particular architectural current. The aspect and message of that design is, in my view, quite frivolous, Disney-like, in tone with the easy money sloshing around in the late 1930s Bucharest.
The massive wooden doorway is flanked by two stone columns modelling palm trees, decorated on their trunk with fleur-de-lis, aspirational symbols for nobleness and high status. The ornamental keystone of the door arch opening contains the monogram of the proprietor, a “T” letter.
The column capitals suggest a palm tree’s foillage, crowned by stern looking sphinxes holding medieval knight shields between their stumpy and impressively clawed forelegs.
The door itself is made from panels of heavy essence wood (probably oak), adorned with crusader shield basreliefs. The rivets that pepper the rails between panels suggest the entrance of a fortified castle from the times of yore.
The doorway assembly is thus very suggestive about the mentality and way of life of a part of the Romanian elite in the inter-war period, which was wiped out not long after by the Second World War and the four decades of communist dictatorship that followed.