Video by Valentin Mandache, author of the blog Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca (www.historo.wordpress.com) about the architecture of the Geological Museum in Bucharest, a masterwork of arch. Alexandru Stefanescu in the mature variety of the Neo-Romanian style, built in 1906. Location: Kisselef Boulevard, Bucharest.
I organised last Sunday (24 June ’12) a thematic architectural tour in Bellu Cemetery, also known as the national pantheon of Romania. We visited the Christian Orthodox section of this huge necropolis, which is in its turn is divided in a civilian part, the largest, and a smaller military one. I found there a headstone marking the grave of an US Army soldier and relief worker from the Great War era: “Edward Newell Ware, Illinois, Pvt. I Cl., Ambulance Service, US Army, American Relief Mission, May 7. 1919″. That is a rare find in Romania as the US Army was not directly involved in war operations on the Romanian front, where the largest number of casualties among allies came from the Russian Imperial Army, followed by the French Army. The British had fewer casualties, especially among the Navy, involved on the Danube operations. In any case, the American soldier interred at Bellu was, as the inscriptions mentions, member of a relief mission in the aftermath of the great conflagration.
The war graves are often well documented on the internet and was not a surprise to find multiple references about this American hero. I cite here just a couple of those sites that mention him in some detail: Memorial Volume of the American Field Service in France or Find a Grave.
I was profoundly touched by the fact he came to Romania to aid the country in its effort to recover from the dramatic consequences of a devastating war, volunteering his services for the Hoover Food Commission, considering his involvement with the typical gallantry of that era as a “very minor sort of role in the economic reconstruction of a romantic story book country, poor Roumania.” Edward Newell Ware tragically became one of the countless victims of the epidemics that affected the great multitude of those among whom he nobly came to help, dying of smallpox on 7 May 1919. The American is part of a line of remarkable foreigners who found their life mission in Romania, among whom I would cite the well known case of the Canadian colonel Joe Boyle. He was ”interested in books, architecture, art, and music”- I wonder what he would have thought about the architecture of Romania that he encountered during his mission?
I encountered this vehicle, which is a Willys Jeep, the World War II iconic jeep (the make is embossed on the engine bonnet), in Domenii quarter of Bucharest, itself an area built up in Art Deco, Modernist and Neo-Romanian architectural styles roundabout the great conflagration. The army car, which is excellently restored and kept, suits thus wonderfully the surrounding architectural designs. I am curious how the the vehicle was acquired by its actual owner, as this type of US Army motor is rare in Romania, a country that was on America’s opposite camp during both the war itself (with the exception of the period 23 August ’44 – 9 May ’45) and the Cold War that followed. I know that some of these jeeps were captured from the Red Army on the eastern front, which were part of the US support of the Soviet Union against Germany and its allies, transported by sea to the Russian held Arctic port of Murmansk and then distributed on the huge front-line, some of them ending up as captured material as far south as Romania. King Michael, the sovereign during wartime and a passionate car collector, has among his collection a Jeep of that origins. I also believe that this particular vehicle could have been acquired in the last decade or so on the open antiquities market (ebay, etc.) once Romania got rid of the communist dictatorship and joined again the more normal world.
This is a photo snap taken during one of this month’s architectural tours in Bucharest when a team of reporters from the magazine Flacara (http://revistaflacara.ro/) has accompanied the tour participants guided by the author of Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca blog. The location of the picture is next to a famous inter-war Modernist building in Mantuleasa area, the Soli Gold house, designed by Marcel Iancu (Janko), see his name plate adorning the wall, one of the founders of the Dada movement and main figure of the European constructivist current in art and architecture. Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca, the most comprehensive internet resource on Romania’s period architecture, authored by the undersigned, offers what are probably the most interesting, engaging and referenced architectural tours of Bucharest and other important cities in and around Romania.
Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses
I am always on the lookout, during my routine architectural history fieldwork in Bucharest or other places in Romania, for name tablets: architect’s, builder’s and also proprietor’s name tablets. They are important documentary elements that can give clues about the history of the house, its more precise dating, style and manner of design and also in case the architect is famous, can noticeably increase the value of the propriety. I struck lucky with the example seen in the photograph above, by finding “two for the price of one” such artifacts. There is a tablet containing the name of the famous architect Gheorghe Simotta and another of a highly reputable building company of inter-war Bucharest, Belli Brothers. The lettering of the two tablets contrast in their manner of rendering- that of the architect having the letters protruding out, while the constructor’s one is grooved within surface. They adorn a grandiose Art Deco – Later Neo-Romanian style edifice from the Dorobanti area of Bucharest. That mix of styles can also be noted in that of the lettering: Simotta’s tablet being in the Art Deco vein, while Belli Brothers’ inclining toward the Neo-Romanian lettering style.
The blog Historic Houses of Romania is the most comprehensive and read internet resource specialised on the architectural heritage of Romania. The dynamics of its readership show the interest in this subject in diverse regions of the world. That is visualised with statistics generated by a number of websites to which the blog is registered, which do statistics on the number of readers visiting it, where they are from, how long they stay reading the blog or on particular articles, how many times they come back, etc. One of those statistics is the global readers’ distribution in the last 24h, illustrated in the maps presented here. The map above indicates particular locations of my readers, while the map seen bellow is in my view more interesting by imaging the field density of my readership, as a sort of heath map, lending interesting clues about the cultural make up of the regions of the world interested in Romania’s historic architecture.
The widest “red-hot” density is across Europe from its eastern extremity on the Black Sea to the British Isles in the west, along the ancient European highway that links the continent across plains and mountain passes from one side to another, and imprints a certain cultural commonality to peoples dwelling there from times immemorial. It is interesting that the concentration of readers is less “hot” in areas outside that ancient pan-European highway, in areas such as south-western Mediterranean or northern Europe. There are however spots of readers’ activity concentrated on Moscow area, a very cosmopolitan metropolis, Baltic coast and Castile.
The second region with “red-hot” spots is the US and to a lesser extent Canada, where readers are concentrated in tree great areas, first in New England – Mid Atlantic coast states – Great Lakes region, another one in Midwest along the northern Mississippi valley and a third one along the Pacific coast from California to Vancouver. There are smaller “red-hot” spots centred on the culturally diverse Florida and the oil producing region of Calgary, host of a highly cosmopolitan community.
Other “red-hot” spots are in India, in areas with English speaking and international communities such as New Dehli – Patna in the north and the Bombay area in the south west. A smaller red area is in the very international zone of the Gulf States, home of Dubai and other such centres. The south eastern coast of Australia is another area with high concentration of Historic Houses of Romania readers. Perhaps the most surprising for me is the existence of a sizeable such area interested in Romanian historic architecture in the Philippines.
For Africa concentrations of readers can be spotted in the English speaking areas of Lake Victoria and Cape region of South Africa. In the Central and South America concentrations are in some of its great urban centres such as Mexico City, Bogota, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires or Caracas.
As a conclusion, the Historic Houses of Romania blog readers tend to be from areas with certain cultural commonalities as is the case of the ancient European highway or from regions with a large population that are descendants or recent emigrants from that part of Europe, or cosmopolitan, culturally diverse and economically well developed areas of the world that are preoccupied and enjoy finding out about other cultures and civilizations (I would note South Korea in that aspect, with a red spot centred on Seoul, etc.)
Bucharest is known as the Little Paris of the Balkans on account of its La Belle Époque period French inspired architecture. A large number of those edifices, in various states of decay, are still surviving, imprinting a picturesque character to the city. I use the designation Little Paris style to characterise that particular architectural phenomenon, which is an umbrella term encompassing the European historicist styles popular in c19th Europe, of which the French inspired ones had preponderance, adopted in a provincial manner in Romania. The country was then going through a rapid westernisation process, having just escaped from the orbit of the Ottoman world, after over four centuries within that civilization. The architecture emerging in that process was in large part a grafting of western motifs and ornaments of what were basically Ottoman Balkan structures and building technologies. There are of course exceptions from that trend and some of those edifices were built in the same manner as their western counterparts. One of those examples is illustrated in the photographs of the interior presented bellow of a house built in 1902 in Mantuleasa area of Bucharest, which I visited during last week’s tour on the subject of the Little Paris style architecture of the city. The house has been restored and also renovated at great expense in the last few years and it looks as the proprietors did a good job at least for some of its interiors, as the ones presented here. The style of this house is a cross between rococo and Empire, with some Art Nouveau elements, such as the wood stove hatch presented in the image bellow. This magnificent interior gives us a better portrait of the tastes and aspirations of Bucharest and Romanian elites in general in that historical period, their desire to Europeanise in a fast mode adopting and internalising the architecture of the Enlightenment in the decades that spanned the end of the c19th and start of the c20th.
This is a beautiful park architecture assembly from the 1930s Bucharest, designed by the sculptor Constantin Baraschi, in the later Neo-Romanian style, destroyed during the first decade of communism and reconstructed in 2006.
Pigeons, such as the one in the animated image above, shown next to an imposing Neo-Romanian style rooftop finial, are in my opinion an organic part of the message and ornamentation of period houses. Pigeons are among the “environmental panoply” that adorns those edifices, together with with other animals, which in Bucharest’s case number sparrows, crows, swallows and their nests, sometimes gulls, red squirrels or from the plants’s world ivy and grape vines, high climbing roses or multicoloured flower plants beckoning passers by from window sill and balcony jardinières.
Her Royal Highness The Princess Sophie showed her photography works for the first time during the "Rencontres Culturelles" exhibitions at the Château de Tronjoly in Western France during the summer of 2011. At the end of the 2 weeks, the public was invited to vote for their favourite pieces of art and Her Royal Highness won the Public's Favourite Works prize in the category of photography.
In my early years I have been fascinated why the word “number” is abbreviated “no” and not “nr”, which later I read in a book about printing fonts that the “no” shortening is a sort of tradition and was used as such since medieval times, when Latin was the most used written language, and comes from ”numero”, one of its Latin forms. I like the instances when the letter “o” is rendered sitting above an equal (“=”) sign or just a hyphen (“-”). The abbreviation containing the equal sign was often encountered in the inter-war period, adopted in many Art Deco designs, from famous posters of that era (adverts for transoceanic liner tickets, drinks, medicines, etc.) to architectural renderings like building or apartment numbers, etc.
I found during the architectural tour, which took place last Sunday, in Matei Basarab area of Bucharest, three cases of “no” abbreviation as architectural rendering, shown in the photographs of this post. The first one is the most attractive, with a catchy “=” sign under “o”, embellishing an Art Deco style house dating from the early 1930s.
The second image shows the name plate of a shop window blinds manufacturer, which most probably was active in the early 1920s, judging from the spelling of Bucharest (as “Bucuresci”) typicall for the period 1900s-1920s.
The third plate, seen in the photograph above, dates from the mid-1930s, indicating an workshop (perhaps a shoemaker or tailor) on the ground-floor of an Art Deco apartment block in the Jewish neighbourhood of the city (close by the State Jewish Theatre of Bucharest).
The cast doorbells are a rare sight in Bucharest. I encountered this one during an architectural walking tour in Cismigiu area, adorning the entrance of a Little Paris style house (dating from the 1900s). I am not sure if this is an original item or an something more recent, rendered in an “antique” manner. However, the doorbell looked well integrated within the overall architectural design of the house.
Chisinau (Kishinev), the capital of the Republic of Moldova, is blessed with a fascinating mix of period architecture dating mostly from the second part of c19th and the first half of the c20th, reflecting the evolution of architectural tastes of the Russian Empire, Romania and the Stalinist Soviet Union. The city contains a number of attractive Art Nouveau style edifices, the most spectacular being a recent remodelling of a Fin de Siècle house, which I encountered during my recent Chisinau trip. The edifice is mentioned on the well documented website “Centrul Istoric al Chisinaului“, which is a comprehensive database of architecturally valuable buildings in the historical centre of the Republic of Moldova’s capital. At the entry detailing the house, which was compiled before the start of the remodelling project, is mentioned that the façade used to be Art Nouveau (named “modern” in the terminology of the Moldovan architects), but completely erased of its decoration during the vicious 1990s post-Soviet property boom. It seems that in the intervening time an enlightened proprietor has decided to bring something back from the edifice’s former glory, as the photographs, which I was able to take from the street, amply testify. In my opinion is a tasteful remodelling and it might also be in the spirit of the original decoration that adorned the house, as I believe the owner had access to old plans and photographs from which the contemporary designer could guide him/her/self. It reminds me of another Art Nouveau project from scratches which takes place in Bucharest, which I documented in 2010 on this blog. I believe that this particular instance is a positive development for Chisinau, and the post-Soviet world, in raising the awareness and appreciation about the local architectural heritage that suffered so much during the two world conflagrations of the c20th, the Soviet era or the most devastating for heritage last two decade since the Soviet empire fell.
The extraordinary Ivor Forsyth Porter, CMG OBE (Mily), Cross of the Royal House of Romania, Commander of the Order of Cultural Merit (Romania), died on 29th May 2012, at the age of ninety nine years. He was a hero of the WWII and a close friend of King Michael of Romania, instrumental in the successful execution of the 23 August 1944 royal coup through which the Romanian sovereign arrested the military fascist leader Ion Antonescu and his country joined the Allied cause against Germany, shortening the war by at least six months.