Walking tour in Mosilor quarter of Bucharest – Sunday 26 October

Dear readers,

This is an invitation to an architectural walking tour in Mosilor area of Bucharest, open to all of you who would like to accompany me, the author of the Historic Houses of Romania blog, Sunday 26 October ‘14, for two hours, between 12.00h – 14.00h.

I will be your expert guide through one of the most picturesque areas of historic Bucharest, that has known a spectacular development after the unification of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia in the aftermath of the Crimean War. It is located on the road stemming from the old city toward Moldavia, known in the olden times as “The Highway” (“Drumul Mare”). Its name comes from that of the famous Mosilor fair, held outside Bucharest’s walls, where traders and peasants from Moldavia and north-eastern Wallachia came with their goods and products. Among of the most active and successful traders were the Armenians, who had strong communities in Moldavia and many settled in the Mosilor area, where they erected the largest Armenian church in south-east Europe. The architecture thus very much reflects an effervescent commercial past, with interesting examples of trader houses built in a multitude of vernacular and elevated styles ranging from Little Paris, Neo-Romanian to Art Deco. There is also a rare examples of Ottoman Balkan era dwelling, Casa Melik, dating from the c18th. Mosilor is thus a most representative sample of what Bucharest has been throughout most of its history, a trade centre for the Romanian lands. Its attractive and very evocative period architecture is waiting to be discovered by you!

The tour costs Lei 35 (Romanian currency) per person, book by emailing v.mandache@gmail.com or using the comments section of this post. You will be informed of meeting place on booking.

I look forward to seeing you at the tour,

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses (tel: 0040 (0)728323272)

Bucharest’s Mosilor area historic architecture (©Valentin Mandache)

Historic Houses of Romania architectural walking tour in Mosilor area, Bucharest

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

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contactpage of this weblog.

Bucharest as the Little Paris of the Balkans – Saturday 25 October

Dear readers,

I would like to invite you to a thematic walking tour, to take place this Saturday 25 October ’14, between 12.00h – 14.00h, on the subject of the late c19th – early c20th French and western historicist styles architecture of Bucharest, which made the city known to the rest of world as the “Little Paris of the Balkans”, a phenomenon that imprinted the identity of Romania’s capital ever since. The tour may be of interest to any of you visiting the city as a tourist or on business looking to find out more about its fascinating historic architecture and character.

The first building boom of modern era Bucharest happened during the period aptly named La Belle Époque, which corresponds with the late Victorian and early Edwardian epochs for the English speaking world (or Gilded Age in the US). It was characterised by a charming architecture inspired especially from the flamboyant neo-baroque, neo-rococo and also neo-gothic forms fashionable in France, a country seen by the then Romanians as a beacon of culture worthy to emulate, and from other west European states held in high regard by the young Balkan nation. The local architecture thus acquired a personality of its own by combining the new forms with the indigenous and Ottoman traditional motifs and construction methods, resulting in what I collectively call the “Little Paris style”. This is a type of architecture peculiar to the Fin de Siècle Romania and also to a lesser extent to the rest of the Balkans, reflecting the modernisation of the society and fusion in architecture of the western fashions together with ancestral forms. Bucharest is the best place in the entire region to view and study that peculiar type of architecture that emerged in this part of Europe, which because of its high concentration and relatively good state of preservation, is still an important component of the local built landscape. In the course of this tour I endeavour to show you some of the representative Little Paris style buildings found in central Bucharest, explain their architectural intricacies and the economic and social history contained without and within their walls and thus convey to you how amazing the Little Paris style is.

The tour costs Lei 35 (Romanian currency) per person, book by emailing v.mandache@gmail.com or using the comments section of this post. You will be informed of meeting place on booking.

I look forward to seeing you at the tour,

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses (tel: 0040 (0)728323272)

Architectural walking tour – Bucharest as the Little Paris of the Balkans with Valentin Mandache

Architectural walking tour: Bucharest as the Little Paris of the Balkans

***********************************************

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

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contactpage of this weblog.

Art Deco apartment doors

Although today in Bucharest the temperatures were hovering around -12 centigrades, being freezing cold and blowy, my spirit, at least, was warmed up by a visit to an Art Deco style apartment that in part evoked much warmer climates and sunnier lands, a theme often encountered in this town’s Art Deco architecture.

The interior of the dwelling does not have much left from its original features, except the doors. The original wall and ceiling mouldings, the 1930s windows, bathroom and kitchen tiles and fittings, were replaced in the last few years by the owner, a “young artist”, who judging from the results of her misguided effort, is in fact is a typical Romanian period house proprietor, nurturing arrogant dreams about the money value of their real estate, but completely oblivious regarding its artistic and heritage worth. The doors remained in place, presumably because the owner ran out of money, splashed on the other “improvements”, otherwise I would have seen plastic made portals bought triumphantly from a DIY shop.

Art Deco apartment doors

Art Deco apartment doors, arch. B. Zilberman, 1935, Matei Basarab area (©Valentin Mandache)

The main door, pictured above, is a composition of panels displaying at its centre the rule of three, typical of the Art Deco, with the others arranged around in a gamma cross array, a cosmic motif that I encountered quite frequently in the ornamentation pertaining to this design in the Bucharest of the fourth decade of the c20th, associated usually with the nazi movement, which I believe was not the case here, as the block where this apartment belongs, was inhabited by Jewish families. The door’s lower register contains two overlapping semicircles, signifying the rising and setting sun of the southern seas.

Art Deco apartment doors

Name plate of arch. B. Zilberman on apartment block built in the early 1930s, Matei Basarab area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The apartment block dates from the mid-1930s and is located in Matei Basarab area, the architect being B. Zilberman, a designer with numerous commissions in that quarter, which in that period had a large Jewish population. His name and the fact that he is a graduate of the architectural school in Milan are proudly displayed in a name tablet on one of the exterior walls of the building.

Art Deco apartment doors

Art Deco apartment doors, arch. B. Zilberman, 1935, Matei Basarab area (©Valentin Mandache)

The bedroom door, seen in the third photograph, was narrower, but of wonderful proportions, preserving the gamma cross motif made from panels radiating a central window made from six openings. The lower register in this instance was embellished with three horizontal bars, according to the rule of three mentioned above.

Art Deco apartment doors

Art Deco apartment doors, arch. B. Zilberman, 1935, Matei Basarab area (©Valentin Mandache)

I like the three steps motif decorating the panel overhead the dressing room door, clearly enlivening the rest of the bedroom and diminishing the sense of weight generated by the unfortunate choice of wall colour by the contemporary owner.

These doors, survivors from happier times in the brave new world of Romania’s post-communist society, are important for the local architectural identity and also worth some money, even if the locals do not realise that yet. My hope is that the citizens of Bucharest and the country will start recovering through those witnesses their civic pride and appreciate the creations of their forebearers, who were certainly more sophisticated than their descendants.

De Stijl and Constructivist forms in the hallway of Frida Cohen House

Among the hidden architectural gems of Bucharest are the Modernist creations of Marcel Iancu (also spelt Janco or Janko), the culture polymath active on the architectural scene of Romania’s capital in the 1920s and the 1930s. Iancu’s buildings encompass his conceptions of art ranging from surrealism, as he was one of the foreruners of that current, Soviet inspired constructivism, functionalism to cubism, Bauhaus or expressionism. The Frida Cohen House, an apartment block, the amplest edifice designed by Iancu, exhibits many of those traits and for me is a delight to continuously discover new such elements with each visit I make there.

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu, 1935, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu, 1935, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The constructivist and cubist features are obvious when analysing the exterior outlines and volumetry of Frida Cohen building, yet equally if not more fascinating patterns reveal themselves once one steps into the entrance hallway.

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu, 1935, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Remarkable in my opinion is the floor with its grey and black tiles, arranged in a modern painting like figure, in the vein of the De Stijl artistic movement, where the forms although lack simple symmetry, as one would expect in an architectural design, nevertheless achieve a sense of balance through their inner kinetics.

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu, 1935, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The main staircase of this noteworthy building is also a case in point, this time as an example of constructivist design, where the profile of the apparently utilitarian device is an equilateral triangle, a basic geometrical shape, seen, as other fundamental forms, within the Constructivist movement as a pure pattern. The staircase reminds me of one of Iancu’s celebrated affirmations that “the purpose of architecture was a “harmony of forms”, with designs as simplified as to resemble crystals” (Tom Sandqvist, p. 342). To me the crystal suggested by the stairwell contour is undoubtedly a diamond (the tetrahedron of Carbon atoms), which is a metafora for perfect harmony in itself.

Every single creation of Marcel Iancu is, as in the samples illustrated  above, brimful with meanings and symbols pertaining to the the emergence and maturation of the first Modern artistic currents, fostered by epoch making social and economic changes in the period that led up to the Great War and its aftermath decades, a fertile and effervescent period of which Bucharest benefited through the agency of such a hugely talented personality.

Art Deco mud scraper

My article about the foot mud scraper from the La Belle Epoque era adorning the Metropolitan Orthodox Cathedral in Sibiu has attracted an unexpected degree of interest from the readers. Among those making remarks was Robin Grow, the President of Australia’s Art Deco and Modernism Society, who naturally asked me if I have an Art Deco mud scraper among my finds. I answered that indeed I have found one in Bucharest, which I would like now to show it to you in all its glory in the following photographs.

Art Deco mud scraper

Art Deco mud scraper, Villa Miclescu, arch. Horia Creanga, 1930, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The inedite artifact adorns Villa Miclescu, one of most elegant buildings of Bucharest’s Art Deco and Modernism era, located in Dorobanti quarter, designed by the architect Horia Creanga in 1930.

Art Deco mud scraper

Art Deco mud scraper, Villa Miclescu, arch. Horia Creanga, 1930, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The mud scraper displays the rule of three, inspired from the Egyptian mythology, typical of the Art Deco style, seen in its three blades, being in tone with the horizontal bars grouped in three on the ironwork of the doorway.

Art Deco mud scraper

Villa Miclescu, arch. Horia Creanga, 1930, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The villa is mostly an inter-war Modernist design, of which Horia Creanga is most famous, with some Art Deco elements, such as the staircase windows, doorway or the mud scraper.

Art Deco mud scraper

Art Deco mud scraper, Villa Miclescu, arch. Horia Creanga, 1930, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The building is in a bad state of repair, although it is on the heritage list, a common situation in Bucharest, due mostly to the lack of education and interest about the historic architecture among the post-communist inhabitants of this town. One can notice the effects of that neglect even on this Art Deco mud scraper, which is such a rare architectural vestige: the first photograph, which I took about one and a half years ago, presents it with two “ears”, the loops on each side, while the last one, taken last week, shows one of those ears missing. That gives you an idea how fast the architectural identity and heritage of Bucharest is disappearing at the hands of its own citizens and their representative authorities.

Circular motif Art Deco gate

Art Deco style gate, dating from the mid 1930s, Piata Romana area, Bucharest

Art Deco style gate, dating from the mid 1930s, Piata Romana area, Bucharest

An interesting Art Deco design vestige, dating from the cultural peak period of Bucharest, in the third and fourth decade of the last century, now uncared and unloved by its post-communist inhabitants, still stoically surviving among their ugly, uncouth renovations of period buildings.

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway assembly

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway assembly, house buit in the early-1930s, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I divide the evolution of the Neo-Romanian architectural style in three main phases. The early one lasted from its initiation in 1886 by the architect Ion Mincu with his edifice in the national style, Lahovary house, until 1906 when the Royal Jubilee exhibition took place, showing to the public its grand pavilions, many designed in an elevated unitary manner that “canonised” the style, which marked the beginning of its mature phase. It reached an apogee after the country’s victory in the Great War and subsequently in the 1920s decade, when was adopted all over the territory of interbellum Romania. The late 1920s, and the 1930s decade saw the increase popularity and in the end prevalence of the international styles Art Deco and Modernism, which induced a crisis of expression for the Neo-Romanian, thus marking its late phase. The national style managed to strive through an imaginative synthesis with the Art Deco and also Mediterranean inspired forms, resulting in extremely interesting designs. The evolution of the style practically ended with the instauration of communism in the winter of 1947, under the impact of the ideologically driven architectural priorities of the new political regime. It continued to have echoes for another two decades especially in vernacular forms and in motifs used on post-war edifices.

The street gate and doorway assembly presented above belongs in its design outline and period when it was built to the late phase of development of the Neo-Romanian style. The wrought iron gate is inspired from Brancovan style church or altar doors, but expressed in coordinates close to Art Deco. The two gate posts are also derived from church or medieval citadel towers, conforming with the national-romantic message of the style. The door itself shows a series of square panels pointed each by a central disc, which can be understood as the outline of an ethnographic solar disc or an interpretation of a Greek cross. The wall surround of the door is basically an adaptation of a church door opening in reduced to essence coordinates of the Art Deco style. The doorway assembly dates from the beginning of the 1930s, and as the time progressed into that decade, the expression of the Neo-Romanian forms in an Art Deco “ambiance” became even more prevalent and captivating as a form of architectural language.

Art Deco sunbursts

Art Deco sunbursts

Art Deco-like sunbursts in the summer of 2012, Grivita – Domenii area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I am a great fan of the cheerful Art Deco panels that depict sunbursts, rainbows or southern seas themes. In that spirit I have put together a real sunburst photographed last summer in Grivita – Domenii area of the city, a quarter that is still preserving its inter-war charm when it was built up in large part in the Art Deco style, then much in vogue in Bucharest, and the emblem of an insurance company, ornament that dates from the Art Deco era, located in the town centre. Looking at the natural sunburst is easier to understand the message, optimism and confidence exuded by the Art Deco panels of Bucharest and the culture of that beautiful time in the history of architecture.

Art Deco sunbursts

Art Deco sunburst as part of the composition of an inter-war Romanian insurance company emblem, University area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

I tried to profit yesterday of the lull in between snowfalls and blizzards that affect Bucharest at the end of this January, and shoot a few photographs on the theme of atlantes and caryatides that embellish some of the historic buildings of Romania’s capital. If on the one hand the term caryatid (pl.-s/es) is well known, as the female figure appearing to support on her head the architectural structure above, the name coming form that of the sculpted goddesses that sustain the lintel of the Erechtheion temple on Athens’ Acropolis, atlantes, on the other hand, is somehow confusing for being the plural of the term atlas, the classical Greek god that support the world on his head and shoulders, a male counterpart of a caryatid. Bucharest does not have too many such ornaments, which are the province of the high historicist styles, encountered also sometimes on more modern buildings, but for a keen eye they reveal themselves on house corners, side streets or at the top of façades of some of the city’s historic edifices. Bellow is a selection of some of the most impressive atlantes and caryatides that adorn Romania’s capital, put in place in a period spanning from the mid-c19th to the 1930s, in styles ranging from neo-Renaissance, neo-rococo, Beaux Arts to classicized Art Deco.

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Atlantes at the gate of BCR building (1900s, Beaux Arts style) in University Square, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Detail of atlas at the gate of BCR building (1900s, Beaux Arts style) in University Square, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Caryatides of Bucharest, residential and commercial building in Curtea Veche area, Lipscani quarter, dating from the 1890s. (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Detail- caryatid assembly, residential and commercial building in Curtea Veche area, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest, dating from  the 1890s. (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Atlantes embellishing a neo-rococo style building dating from the  early 1900s, Smardan Str. area, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Detail of an atlas from the  composition embellishing a neo-rococo style building dating from the early 1900s, Smardan Str. area, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Caryatides flanking the entrance of an 1930s apartment block (arch. Petre Antonescu) in Natiunile Unite square, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Detail of a caryatid (classicized Art Deco figure) at the entrance of an 1930s apartment block (arch. Petre Antonescu) in Natiunile Unite square, Bucharest.

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Terracotta caryatides on top of Stirbey Palace, neo-Renaissance style (Palladian inspiration), dating from the mid c19th, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Detail of a terracotta caryatid, Stirbey Palace, neo-Renaissance style (Palladian inspiration), dating from the mid c19th, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Atlantes and caryatides, Macca – Villacrosse covered passage, 1890s, neo-rococo style, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Atlas and caryatid- detail from the assembly embellishing the entrance of Macca – Villacrosse covered passage (1890s, neo-rococo style), Lipscani quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

***********************************************

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

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the

The decorative stone of a Bucharest tube station

Politehnica tube station - ornamental stone

Politehnica tube station, Bucharest – ornamental stone, laid in the mid-1980s, photo Valentin Mandache

Bucharest’s public and private edifices erected in the last two decades, since the fall of communism, are, apart from the general forgettable design, built in high proportion using mass produced imported materials. Most of that is cheap, low quality, characterless and as regards the resulted architecture, can in my opinion, easily be categorised at kitsch. That situation also reflects the tastes and values of the actual generations engaged in building or renovating edifices of this town and country. They are in such stark contrast with the times of in the inter-war and subsequent communist periods when the architectural materials were in greatest proportion sourced within the country. That produced interesting and attractive results, with the ornamental and construction stone sourced in the Carpathian Mountains or in rocky hills of the province of Dobrogea, on the Black Sea coast, which are from that point of view a wonderful geological kaleidoscope, a bottomless source of high quality marble, limestone of different sorts, travertine, granite of various colours and grains, basalts, sandstones, etc.  I have in the image above a sample of that fabulous panoply of ornamental stone used in one of the grand communist era projects, Bucharest’s metro transport system. It shows the pavement of the Politehinca station, composed of red limestone peppered by Jurassic age marine fossils, which was sourced probably in the Apuseni (Western) Carpathians, the rock being formed in a geological age when those parts were a continental shelf covered by the warm seas on the Equator. My Dr. Martens shoes stand on a band of nicely granulated pinkish granite, sourced in my opinion in northern Dobrogea (it may also be from the Apuseni Mountains). The composition is evocative of the geographical and geological identity of this country, a fact which is no longer encountered within the pitiful built landscape of the actual post-communist years.

Bucharest early wrought iron doorway awning

Bucharest doorway wrought iron and cast lead doorway awning dating from the early 1890s. (Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest doorway awning made from wrought iron and cast lead, dating from the early 1890s, Patriarchy Hill area. (©Valentin Mandache)

This is an early type of Little Paris style doorway awning, dating from the early 1890s, being a precursor of the clamshell one, which was typical of the Art Nouveau fashions. Most of these examples, now rare, are in a bad state of repair, and despite the fact that they are important markers of Bucharest’s architectural identity and history, remain uncared and unloved, ignored or even sold for scrap iron, a reflection how the local citizens, after the decades of communism and shallow post-communist transition, value their heritage.

Little Paris pediment through wires & door

Little Paris through wires

Little Paris pediment through wires, the former American Library, 1890s building in the Little Paris style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The two images in this article are from the building, which was, in the 1980s, at the height of Ceausescu’s communist totalitarianism, the American Library, the United States’ embassy’s cultural arm. I was a student at the University of Bucharest then and became a member of this library that constituted a true and proper oasis or refuge from the distorted reality and terror of the daily life in Romania under that primitive dictatorship. The building which was then rented by the embassy from the state, was given in the last decade or so, back to its former owners, the Gerota family, who have it now on the market to let out as office spaces.

The US embassy obviously took excellent care of this landmark edifice of La Belle Époque period Bucharest, which is one of the amplest and now best preserved Little Paris style houses of Romania’s capital. I had recently the opportunity to revisit the building and take a series of photographs. I hope that this visual sample presented here would convey something from its magnificence and sense of Bucharest’s character as the Little Paris of the Balkans.

Interior door, the former American Library, Bucharest

Interior door, the former American Library, 1890s building in the Little Paris style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Central School for Girls’ logo

The Central School for Girl's logo, displayed on the street facade of this renowned Bucharest high school (the abreviations stands for Scoala Centrala de Fete),

The Central School for Girl’s logo, displayed on the street façade of this renowned Bucharest high school, designed by architect Ion Mincu in the early Neo-Romanian style, 1891. The abreviations stands for Scoala Centrala de Fete. (©Valentin Mandache)

November sunlight and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest

November light and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest, house dating from the 1880s, Patriarchy Hill area. (Valentin Mandache)

We had a wonderful sunlight this autumn, beginning roundabout the equinox in late September until the time I write, in the second week of November. This season at 45 degree north latitude in continental Europe, where Bucharest is located, seems to be exceedingly propitious for architectural photography, with its clear, crisp atmosphere and intense colours. The images in this post are of a house in the Little Paris style (a term which I use to describe the late c19th architecture of Romania of that period, inspired mainly from French historicist styles, rendered in a provincial manner in this corner of South East Europe), a manner of architectural design that imprinted the identity of Romania’s capital ever since its day of vogue in the La Belle Époque period. The photograph was taken on 8 November at midday. It is a pity that the house and the entire surrounding garden is left derelict and damaged through being exposed to the elements or theft. These houses can be relatively easily and cheaply restored, but the actual citizens of Bucharest seem to not understand yet the fatal loss of their identity and heritage though that kind of damaging communist and post-communist attitude.

November light and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest, house dating from the 1880s, Patriarchy Hill area. (Valentin Mandache)

Short visit to Antim Monastery, Bucharest

The main church of Antim Monastery (1710s), Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I just had a short visit to the beautiful Antim Monastery in the very centre of Bucharest. It is a superb building gathering many motifs and styles from the Ottoman world of the c17th and c18th that I need to thoroughly investigate, analyse and meditate upon.