The Ghika-Cantacuzino Conac: An Aristocratic Country Mansion in Southern Romania

Ghika - Cantacuzino conac, Ciocanesti village, Dambovita county; early c20th photograph. (source: National Archives of Romania)

The plains of Wallachia and Moldavia, the principalities that formed the core of old Romania, are dotted with grand former aristocratic country mansions, known as “conac“, a word borrowed from the Turkish language, reflecting this region’s centuries domination by the Ottoman Empire. The boyars (a term grouping the old Romanian aristocracy and big land owners), built the conacs in a period spanning from late c18th to early c20th, when the large scale crop farming for grain export in the fertile lands of the Lower Danube prairie and those between the Siret and the Pruth rivers became a hugely profitable activity. The conacs acted as magnificent summer residences for the land owners and also as farm’s administrative headquarters. In many instances new villages grew around these mansions. The photograph above taken sometime at the beginning of the c20th, which I found at the National Archives of Romania, depicts one such country mansion in its time of glory: the Ghika – Cantacuzino conac from the Ciocanesti village, Dambovita county, north-west of Bucharest. The architecture is a practical late Victorian – La Belle Époque symmetrical buildings set within the grounds of  a manicured garden, provided with ample arched windows and a central reception hall accessed by a pair of stairs embellished at the top with two large Roman flower pots. On the large classical style pediment at the centre is a plaster with the Ghika family coat of arms.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

From Country Mansion to Village Hall and Back Again

An old country mansion dating from early c20th, built by the local aristocrat/ landlord, in what was perhaps initially a neo-classical style, for use as his residence and farm administrative headquarters. Olt county. (©Valentin Mandache)

The mansion in the image above was confiscated by the communist regime in late 1940s as part of the communist takeover of the private property in Romania, subsequently used as a village hall until early 1990s, then given back to the descendants of the pre-communist owners and now as the result of a lingering property bubble that affects the country, is on the market for huge price tag, much higher than better quality period property from Southern France or Tuscany, left to deteriorate and out of reach of anyone willing to properly restore or renovate it. This is the usual sad trajectory followed by many of the historic houses that dot Romania.

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I endeavor through this daily image series 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 locating 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.

Daily Picture 21-Jan-10: Neo-Romanian Style House in Early 1900s Photograph

Photograph taken in early 1900s of a newly built Neo-Romanian style house, Pitesti, Arges county.

The above old photograph shows a magnificent Neo-Romanian style house located in Arges county, today much altered and in bad repair, put on the market by its owners (presumably property flippers) and advertised by estate agents as “Austrian baroque” building, with a huge price tag, characteristic of the property bubble mentality that still lingers around in Romania. Old photographs of period houses, from the public archives or private sources, are among the most important resources for a restoration/ renovation project. With the passing of time many of those houses were altered and in some cases modified beyond recognition. The problem is even more acute in the particular cases of countries that have suffered wars and social upheavals as in Eastern Europe.  Ironically, in Romania, the most destructive period for historic houses is in the last twenty years since the fall of communism, when imperfect property and heritage legislation, coupled with the ignorance of many among the locals about their own history and heritage resulted in a veritable massacre of the country’s valuable old architecture. There are however some individuals and organisations that have gone in the right direction and put great effort an money in restoring and renovating historic houses. Unfortunately in many instances those projects are done by ear, without proper expert documentation and advice. Consulting archives, photographs from the family of the former owners, old newspapers or interviewing local historians is seen in many instances as a distracting and time consuming pernickety. I am afraid that what remains today from the beautiful house in the photograph above will share the unfortunate fate of countless many other period properties in Romania.

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

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

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating 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.

Daily Picture 20-Jan-10: Inter-War Modernist Style Country Villa

A well balanced and remarkable modernist style design of a 1930s, Teleorman county, Wallachia. (©Valentin Mandache)

The early 1930s, immediately after the Great Depression, were very productive years for the Romanian modernist architects. Bucharest is the place that gathers many of their master-works, but these can also be found in smaller towns or in the countryside, such as the above villa which I photographed in May last year, SW of Bucharest. It has replaced an earlier country mansion built at the end of c19th in a style inspired from the French architecture of the time. I was not able to find who was the architect, but the design is grass roots Romanian modernism in  the manner of the classic works of produced by the great architect Henriette Delavrancea-Gibory (see especially her Black Sea shore villa examples): rectangular volumes, enlivened by arches and columns (derived from the Neo-Romanian order), oblique roof profiles and small ornaments. Now the villa is renovated by local owners, who have altered or replaced many of its original features in an amateurish manner, using ordinary DIY stock products, a fate shared by an increasing number of period properties throughout Romania.

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

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

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating 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.

Daily Picture 7-Jan-10: Derelict Hunting Lodge

A derelict hunting lodge dating from 1910s in the heavily forested hills of Arges county. (©Valentin Mandache)

I apologise for the out of focus picture of the hunting lodge above, which I took in the early summer of last year. It is a very large building and would constitute, into the right hands, an excellent repair/ renovation project. The lodge belonged before WWII to a local industrialist in the Arges county and after the war was taken over by the communist state, which used it initially for a special school for disabled children and later as a summer camp for primary and secondary school pupils. After the 1989 regime change in Romania, the state gave it back to the rightful owners, who left it to deteriorate. Although the property is on the market now, it does not attract any buyers because of the unrealistically high price (higher than for similar properties in France or Italy) characteristic of the property bubble which has affected the local property market in the last few years. Unfortunately, this hunting lodge will probably completely fall apart or get demolished, thus sharing an all too common fate with countless other quaint historic buildings in this country.

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

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

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating 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.

Peasant Devastated Country Mansion

Former country mansion in Wallachia, Giurgiu county, devastated and looted by local peasants during the 1990s, when the property rights were not specifically protected by Romania’s basic law. (©Valentin Mandache) 

I took the above photograph during one of my field trips in the environs of Bucharest, searching for traditional peasant architecture houses and old country mansions or conacs, how these buildings are named in Romania. Most of the larger villages have a country mansion built by the local land owner or aristocrat as a residence and headquarters from which the farm, an important business concern, was run. When the communist regime took over during the collectivisation programme in the 1950s- early ’60s, these mansions were used as collective farm headquarters or local schools. This new role saved them from destruction or complete deterioration. After the events of 1989, and during most of the 1990s, the Romanian basic law (aka Constitution) was lacking specific articles protecting the private property. Also the crypto-communist government of that time was doing everything in its power to stop the descendants of the rightful owners to recover their historic properties. That led to many abuses perpetrated by the locals, who profited of the ambiguity of the law and in more isolated areas, like the countryside, went on a rampage looting and devastating the former aristocratic mansions. The conac presented here, a large residency built in 1920s in a basic Neo-Romanian style, is one of those countless victims. It is hard to believe that the sorry landscape presented in this image, with sad remains of architectural ornaments scattered on the lawn, was the result of events that have happened only a few years ago. The scene in my opinion is more akin to that of an ancient Roman villa rustica devastated by invading barbarians during the fall of the Roman empire…

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

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

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

Wallachian Country Mansion – Conac

Mixture of architectural styles, with an emphasis on the Neo-Romanian order, in a grand 1910s country mansion from the Romanian province of Wallachia (©Valentin Mandache)

Romania has vast swathes of farming land, which were developed on a large scale starting with mid c19th once the Danube and the straits Bosphorus and Dardanelles waterways were freed from Ottoman control, allowing massive grain exports from the region to the industrial centres of Victorian Europe (see my article describing a Victorian barn from southern Romania built as part of that economic transformation). The local aristocrats and land owners administered their farms from impressive country mansions, called “conac” in Romanian, a word of Turkish origin (see a more extensive article about a typical such mansion: the Casota conac). The conacs were built in a variety of styles, according to the money available and the fashion of the period from French fin de siècle to Neo-Romanian and Art Deco. The interesting example in the image above boasts mainly a Neo-Romanian architecture, typical of 1910s with some French echoes, especially in the roof shape and ornaments. During the communist regime these mansions were confiscated and transformed in collective farm headquarters. Many were badly damaged, especially in the last 20 years of regime change in Romania, characterised by imperfect property legislation concerning the returning of property to the rightful owners. Some conacs are now on the market, but due to the huge property bubble of the last few years in Romania and immature market mentality of local property owners, have inflated, unrealistic prices, in many instances several times more expensive than c18th French châteaux or similar period mansions from Italy.

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

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

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

BANLOC MANOR – a former Aristocratic and Royal Residence in western Romania

 

The following post has previously been published by Diana Mandache  in her weblog on the history of Romanian royalty. Banloc Manor from the Banat region in western Romania represents one of the many examples of grand period properties that once belonged to Romania’s royals and important aristocrats, which in the last decades suffered abuse and are now left to deteriorate, facing an uncertain future. However, there are also a number of positive examples that signal an encouraging trend and I mention here the Royal Savarsin Castle from the same region as Banloc, which is now back in the property of former King Michael of Romania. That estate is currently undergoing a thorough restoration, planned to function as a private residence and also as an ecofriendly hotel. Another example is Count Kálnoky’s castle in central Transylvania that is now a successful hospitality business and organic farm.

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Princess Elisabeta of Romania, the former Queen of Greece, bought Banloc Manor in 1935 from the Karátsonyi family, local  Hungarian-Italian aristocrats, from the Banat region of Romania. Elisabeta restored and remodelled the manor, using it as a holiday residence for herself and other members of the royal family, among them King Michael of Romania and Helen, the Queen Mother.

Banloc Manor in 1942
Banloc Manor in 1942 – Diana Mandache collection

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QUEEN MARIE of ROMANIA: “My Dream-Houses”

The text bellow entitled “My Dream-Houses” was written by Queen Marie of Romania in the 1920s. Marie was Romania’s English Queen, a niece of Queen Victoria, born and raised at Eastwell Manor, near Ashford, Kent. In the text she refers and describes with vivid imagination Romanian traditional houses and also her own country residences. The document thus represents an excellent insight by a most qualified witness into the ambiance of an epoch from when most of Romania’s period property stock dates. Narrative accounts like this are a great means to form a better image for anyone looking for a dream-house of their own in Romania.

(This post has initially been published in Diana Mandache’s weblog )

Queen Marie of Romania in peasant costume on the veranda of a traditional house, end 19th c. (Diana Mandache collection)

Queen Marie of Romania in peasant costume on the veranda of a traditional house, end 19th c. (Diana Mandache collection)

“To possess a home of her own is the dream of every woman’s life. No matter how small, how modest, but she wants it to be her very own, her nest, her refuge, her retreat. Even as a child, in imagination I was always building my home. I saw it in many shapes, for I was always a visionary. Beautiful pictures filled my soul, but I also wanted to create. Visions alone did not suffice me; I wanted to build, to realize, to accomplish. A sister, a year younger than myself, was my constant companion; with her I shared my dreams, and it was together with her that I built my first little dream-house. Absurd as it sounds, we built it out of a cast-away cupboard which an old family servant had obtained for us, I can’t remember how. We stood up this cupboard in a shady place among some bushes, added a thatched roof and painted a large heart upon its green door. The paint ran, so the heart became a bleeding heart, and in this narrow retreat we sat hand in hand dreaming. That was in my childhood.

Continue reading

QUEEN MARIE of ROMANIA: "My Dream-Houses"

The text bellow entitled “My Dream-Houses” was written by Queen Marie of Romania in the 1920s. Marie was Romania’s British Queen, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, born and raised at Eastwell Manor, near Ashford, Kent. In the text she refers and describes with vivid imagination Romanian traditional houses and also her own country residences. The document thus represents an excellent insight by a most qualified witness into the ambiance of an epoch from when most of Romania’s period property stock dates. Narrative accounts like this are a great means to form a better image for anyone looking for a dream-house of their own in Romania.

(This post has initially been published in Diana Mandache’s weblog )

Queen Marie of Romania in peasant costume on the veranda of a traditional house, end 19th c. (Diana Mandache collection)

Queen Marie of Romania in peasant costume on the veranda of a traditional house, end 19th c. (Diana Mandache collection)

“To possess a home of her own is the dream of every woman’s life. No matter how small, how modest, but she wants it to be her very own, her nest, her refuge, her retreat. Even as a child, in imagination I was always building my home. I saw it in many shapes, for I was always a visionary. Beautiful pictures filled my soul, but I also wanted to create. Visions alone did not suffice me; I wanted to build, to realize, to accomplish. A sister, a year younger than myself, was my constant companion; with her I shared my dreams, and it was together with her that I built my first little dream-house. Absurd as it sounds, we built it out of a cast-away cupboard which an old family servant had obtained for us, I can’t remember how. We stood up this cupboard in a shady place among some bushes, added a thatched roof and painted a large heart upon its green door. The paint ran, so the heart became a bleeding heart, and in this narrow retreat we sat hand in hand dreaming. That was in my childhood.

Continue reading

CASOTA CONAC: a magnificent Romanian period property with a great potential

I would like to introduce you to a remarkable period property from south-eastern Romania, the Casota Conac that I am very familiar with since I grew up in that area. The description bellow is a brief introduction to one of the most prized types of countryside period property in Romania, the equivalent in this part of Europe of the English Manor of French country chateau.

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Introduction:

  • “Conac” is the term given in southern and eastern Romania (the old provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia) to country mansions or manors built by local aristocrats, the boyars. Their main function was as summer residences and also as administrative quarters for their large estates. The word itself is of Turkish origin, reflecting centuries of domination by the Ottoman Empire in the Romanian lands.
  • Casota Conac is one of the finest such building examples, a fact that makes it an architectural example for the entire region north east of Bucharest.The conacs were confiscated from their owners by the communist regime and transformed in collective farm headquarters, schools or left to fall into disrepair. After 1989 most of these buildings were restored to their rightful owners and some are now on the market. With Romania’s EU accession, the conacs are formally recognized as historical buildings of high architectural value and seen as important status symbol by their owners.

Geography, distances:

  • Casota conac is located in Buzau county in the southern Romanian province of Wallachia, in the middle of the Baragan plain, a grain cultivated region similar in terms of climate and soil with the American Midwest Prairie, a rare geographical setting for Europe. The black earth soil or chernozem is extremely fertile, ideally suitable for growing the finest organic produce. Two small rivers Cotorca and Sarata, doted by natural and manmade lakes, flowing into Ialomita, an important tributary of the Danube, drain the area.
  • The climate is continental-temperate, similar with lower Austria’s or Hungary’s, which is characterised by its very distinctive four seasons: beautiful springs and autumns, hot summers and cold, snowy winters.
  • Casota is a village of about 500 inhabitants, mostly small holding peasant farmers and commuters to nearby industrial towns. It is part of the district (commune) of Glodeanu-Silistea (5000 inhabitants).
  • The conac is situated close to Romania’s capital, at only 50 miles (82 km) drive from central Bucharest (2 million inhabitants). The Otopeni international airport, country’s largest, is 55 miles (90 km) away. The road from the capital is the main motorway to north-eastern Romania. The conac is located at 2 km distance from first exit north after the small town of Urziceni. The county town, Buzau (120,000 inhabitants), is 45 north of the conac, following the same motorway.

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