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)

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)

Street lamps and full moon in Bucharest’s old centre

Street lamps and full moon in Bucharest’s old centre (©Valentin Mandache)

Last week there was a full moon at this latitude and we also had an unusual Indian summer weather for the month of October. I took the photograph above in the evening while walking by Bratianu Boulevard, watching toward one of the side streets around New Saint George’s church, which is a more run down area of Lipscani, the old commercial quarter of Bucharest. In my opinion it conveys something from the peculiar half-Oriental – half-European identity of this city on the eastern edge of the European Union. The ramshackle Little Paris style buildings, small shops and people going about in the warmth of the night, in the clear-obscure generated by the the moonlight in competition with the makeshift street lamps are evocative for that type of character of which Bucharest abounds.

Clamshell doorway awnings from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti

Bellow are two wonderful clamshell house entrance awnings that I photographed in Ploiesti, the oil town 60km north of Bucharest. They date from the La Belle Époque period (late Victorian and Edwardian periods) and belong as an architectural “species” to the Art Nouveau current, constituting a part of what I call the Little Parish style built landscape of the urban areas of that period in Romania. The clamshell awnings are widespread in Bucharest, which make me consider them as one of the main architectural symbols of Romania’s capital, but also popular throughout the country before the Great War (which was then formed by the provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia, without Transylvania). Ploiesti was developing spectacularly in that era on the proceeds of the newly emerging oil economy and as an important regional market town. The clamshell awnings are a superb reminder of those times of economic boom and architectural finery.

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Photographs form “Bucharest as the Little Paris of the Balkans” tour on 30 August ’12

Bucharest as the Little Paris of the Balkans – Historic Houses of Romania tour

The Little Paris style is an umbrella term which I use to define the architecture inspired especially from French c19th styles, rendered in a provincial manner that acquired a personality of its own in 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 local 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. The photographs presented here were shot during the Historic Houses of Romania tour of a few days ago, representing a small sample from the great multitude of such picturesque houses of Bucharest.

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Glazed balconies of different eras

Bellow are three interesting images of glazed balconies/ verandas pertaining to the three main styles that characterize the architecture of Bucharest: Little Paris (last quarter of the c19th until the Great War), Neo-Romanian (late c19th – late 1940s) and Art Deco (1930s and ’40s). From what I found in my fieldwork, usually the glazed structures are not contemporary with the original building, but added as an improvement or embellishment in renovations works of the first or second decade after the edifice is put in place. The main attraction of a glazed structure, be it a balcony, doorway or light-well is in fact its exquisite ironwork, its frame, exemplified here in the second photograph showing the Neo-Romanian glazed balcony. Sometimes there are bits of original glass panes still surviving within the ironwork, which in the case of the historicist c19th Little Paris design comes in beautiful colours typical of the Victorian era coloured glass.

Little Paris style glazed balcony, 1890s house, Gradina Icoanei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style glazed balcony, late 1920s house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style glazed balcony, mid-1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

A century old air vent

Air vent of a 1900s house in Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Actually this air vent is about 110 years old. It is still in good working order, ensuring the ventilation of a brick lined cellar underneath a flamboyant Little Paris style house in Mantuleasa area of Bucharest. The period houses of this city were much better aired than the ones built during the communist and post-communist periods. Unfortunately those air vents and ducts are now fast disappearing, victims of the botched “renovation” or “modernisation” works performed by the uncouth contemporary inhabitants of Romania’s capital, with dreadful consequences for the integrity of the fabric of those historic buildings.

Bucharest and Chisinau letter boxes

I enjoy making parallels between the architectural phenomena of different places and periods, to see if I can extract interesting clues about the history and societies that produced and host those artefacts. In fact, for me, the comparatist method is a main means of investigation of the exacting and apparently chaotic built landscape of Bucharest and Romania, where there is not yet a tradition of quality architectural history commentariat and the academic literature in that field is still thin on the ground.

Letter box lid, 1900s house, Icoanei area, Buharest (©Valentin Mandache)

To illustrate that, I have here two letter boxes, their openings more precisely, dating from the La Belle Epoque period. The one above is from Bucharest, adorning a 1900s gate, inscribed on its flap with the Romanian text “Scrisori si Jurnale”, which translates as “Letters and Journals”. The one shown bellow is from Chisinau, the Republic of Moldova, is quite obscured under thick coats of paint. It reads in Russian as “Dlya Pisemi i Gazeti”, which in English is “For Letters and Journals”.

Those cities are in the same area of South East European civilization, but different historical experiences in the last two centuries, exhibiting often diverging trends in their architectural and artistic preferences, as these letter boxes testify. The Romanian one, adorning a wrought iron gate shows the popularity of this architectural element in Bucharest and the country, and the existence of front gardens, people enjoying interacting within the community, while in Chisinau the letter box affixed on a street doorway indicates the preference of houses with walls fronting the street, with intimate interior gardens, away from the peering eyes of neighbours and passerby. The Romanian letter box flap displays a sort of French inspired Beaux Arts decoration indicating the influence of the influence of that country in this part of Europe, while the Chisinau box is surrounded by Renaissance inspired ornaments, underlying the stronger Renaissance tradition and popularity of this style in Imperial Russia. The languages used to inscribe these artefacts also suggest the existence of a more cosmopolitan society in Chisnau. The very fact that this city has now a majority of Romanian speaking population, and this Russian inscription is left in its place, indicates a more tolerant attitude for ethnic diversity than the nowadays boringly mono-ethnic Bucharest.

There are many other interesting architectural and historic fact than can be drawn by comparing these two simple letter box openings, showing the usefulness of this research method in less documented and talked about places like Romania and the Republic of Moldova.

Letter box opening, 1890s house, Chisinau, the Republic of Moldova (©Valentin Mandache)

Letter box opening, 1890s house, Chisinau, the Republic of Moldova (©Valentin Mandache)

iPhone photo of the day: ornamental ring bell string conduit

This is a rare ring bell string conduit from the La Belle Epoque Period of Bucarest. It adorns the doorway of “Carturesti” bookshop and is still in an excellent condition. The string linking the bell with the its handle would have passed through a small hole within the small barrel like element seen at the centre of this artefact.

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Doorbell string conduit, adorning an 1900s Little Paris style house in Icoanei area, Bucuarest (©Valentin Mandache)

Victorian era coloured glass in Bucharest

Victorian era coloured glass, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The photograph above shows a sector of one of the picturesque Bucharest glazed entrances that adorns a Little Paris style house, dating from the 1890. The structure still preserves some of its beautiful coloured glass panes, artifacts used with great effect in that era to decorate doorway windows, conservatories or wall windows. The coloured glass sheet was quite an expensive item more than a century ago, compared with its transparent counterpart, still not yet mass produced. The palette of colours available was usually reduced to four strong hues: red (ruby), blue (dark blue), yellow (amber) and green (moss), which are all included,  a rare such instance for Bucharest, within the iron frame of this particular conservatory type entrance. From my field observations of edifices built between 1880s – 1910s, the ruby glass is most frequently encountered, followed in order by the dark blue, amber and green panes.

Architectural hen pen from Fin de Siècle period

Architectural hen pen dating from the 1890s, Targoviste, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The backyards of the period houses often hold hidden treasures and curiosities of architectural history, from fragments of decorations and structures much older than the street façade, to garden gazebos or former farm constructions. I had the rare opportunity to encounter in Targoviste, 80km north-west of Bucharest, a beautiful hen pen structure, dating from Fin de Siècle period, which models a human dwelling at a smaller scale, of a style popular in those times in Romania’s towns. It follows the design of an Alpine chalet, which is part of the spa architecture fashion spread in the 1880s -1890s throughout central and eastern Europe.

Architectural hen pen dating from the 1890s, Targoviste, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The former backyard of the grand house that contained this hen pen is now exposed to the street following probably the demolition of the building that previously obscured it and sale of the plot of land on which once stood. The pen was of a mixed domestic fowl use, with compartments for hens and possibly ducks or geese within its lower floors and pigeons in the attic.

Architectural hen pen dating from the 1890s, Targoviste, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

I like the wood fretwork on the edge of the roof eave, so typical of the late Victorian period houses. Two pigeon holes flank a larger central door used for keeper’s access, through which is cut a third pigeon hole.

This is an excellent piece of domestic architecture, still quite well preserved and relatively straight forward to restore. It shows the sophistication of the Romanians of more than one century ago, who were most certainly more elevated and finer in their architectural tastes than their nowadays post-communist counterparts.

Elaborate c19th lamp-post in Bucharest

Bellow is the image projected against the blue sky, in seven different processing sequences, of what is probably one of the most elaborate c19th (1890s, Little Paris style) lamp-post in Bucharest, which in its heydays functioned by burning gas. Actually there is a pair of them hosted in Domnita Balasa churchyard in the centre of the city. Each particular appearance reflects, in my opinion, the various moods of Bucharest’s “architectural soul”.

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lamp-post in Bucharest

Bellow is the image projected against the blue sky, in seven different processing sequences, of what is probably one of the most elaborate c19th (1890s, Little Paris style) lamp-post in Bucharest, which in its heydays functioned by burning gas. Actually there is a pair of them hosted in Domnita Balasa churchyard in the centre of the city. Each particular appearance reflects, in my opinion, the various moods of Bucharest’s “architectural soul”.

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior

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.

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)