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.

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house

The quaint looking Ottoman Balkan and early Neo-Romanian type house, presented in the photographs bellow, dating probably from the last two decades of the c19th, sits in the backyard of the Military Topography Department of Romania’s Ministry of Defence, in the Ion Mihalache boulevard area. The building is probably one of this army branch’s first headquarters, left as a piece of heritage, as more modern edifices were erected in its vicinity in the subsequent decades.

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house, late c19th, Ion Mihalache area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The structure is typical for the domestic architecture in the region of northern Ottoman Balkans, where similar buildings, dating from the mid c18th until late c19th, are encountered nowadays also in Bulgaria or European Turkey. The house has a symmetric arrangement, sits atop a “half buried” basement, with a big protruding veranda adorned with wooden ethnographic poles that sustain large decorative column pediments adorned with floral motifs in stucco, forming three-lobed (a references to the Christian trinity) broken arches between columns.

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house, late c19th, Ion Mihalache area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The pediments are also sometimes crowned by a rich frieze of wooden fretwork (as can be seen in the above image). This genre of house was typically built by Christian small traders or or small landowners of the late Ottoman era.

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house, late c19th, Ion Mihalache area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

What is unusual in this example is the presence of early Neo-Romanian style elements, seen in the decoration of the doorway (see the second photograph), the window pediments or the wall frieze, which were probably added as this patriotic style became popular in the last decade of the c19th, fusioning with local consecrated styles such as the Little Paris in urban areas or Ottoman Balkan in countryside or provincial towns as we can see here (the Ion Mihalache area was in that period a good few kilometres away from Bucharest).

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house, late c19th, Ion Mihalache area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The window pediments and the wall frieze as seen in the above and bellow photographs are picturesque references to the late medieval church architecture of Wallachia (Curtea de Arges cathedral inspired motifs).

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house, late c19th, Ion Mihalache area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The building has most probably endured many renovations and transformations in the last century of its existence, but it is still conserving quite accurately its transitional architectural character from an Ottoman Balkan design to timid, but eloquent early Neo-Romanian style elements, making it an excellent sampler of the cultural atmosphere of that era of intense transformations in Romania.

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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.

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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 Contact page of this weblog.

Exquisitely carved wooden columns

An exquisite example of composite style (Inter-war Venetian, Ottoman Balkan, Iberian) wooden columns embellishing the veranda of a late 1930s house, Icoanei area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The carving of the wooden columns in the photograph above must have been the work of a master carver of a rare talent. The design is a seamless blend of styles that were popular in the 1930s Bucharest, such as what I call the Inter-war Venetian, Ottoman Balkan outlines and even echoes of Spanish Neo-Renaissance.

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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 history and 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 Contact page of this weblog.

From Mail Coach Station to Post Office: Town Evolution in Southern Romania

From mail coach and horses station to post office: the story of the emergence of Mizil, a town in southern Romania. (engraving & old postcard: Valentin Mandache collection)

Mizil is a small town in the province of Wallachia in southern Romania, which owes its existence to the once extensive Ottoman mail coach station and inn network that functioned in the Danubian Principalities since mid-c18th. Even the name of the town- “Mizil” derives from the Turkish word for coach station- “menzil”. The settlement’s location was wonderfully propitious for the emplacement of a stagecoach inn (in Turkish: menzilhan) and relay for mail horses, being on the old highway that once linked the capitals of the Ottoman protectorate principalities of Moldova and Wallachia, at an equal distance of about 20 miles (35 km) between the local county towns of Ploiesti and Buzau. That distance was generally considered as the optimal one for a team of coach horses to travel continuously at speed before being relayed with a fresh team of animals. The town thus witnessed, until the advent of the railways, the traffic of impressive horse drawn coaches as can be seen in the drawing form the lower part of the montage above, depicting such a scene from the lower Danube prairie of Wallachia, where Mizil is situated. The engraving is from my collection, made after a drawing by Denis Auguste Marie Raffet, a distinguished French illustrator famous for his lithographs of the Napoleonic wars. Raffet made the drawing in 1830s while he travelled through the region in the service of the Russian aristocrat Anatole de Demidoff. The horses, their handlers and the battered coach rushing through the prairie, excellently convey the the air of wild frontier of that region at the periphery of the Ottoman Empire. That image could not contrast more with the peaceful, near placid atmosphere of the Mizil post and telegraph office depicted in the 1920s postcard in the upper half of the above collage, photographed less than a century after the “wild east” engraving was produced. That juxtaposition conveys the tremendous process of modernisation that was going on in the whole of Romania within that time interval. The post office is built in a basic Neo-Romanian architectural style and I believe that is still in use nowadays (it was certainly there when I was for two years a high school pupil in Mizil at the end of 1970s). The picturesque elements which remind of the old coach station are the petrol lamp in the courtyard together with the well and the horse watering trough carved from a block of stone.

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I endeavor through this daily series of images and small articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and 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.

The Carpathian Timber Trail that Built Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire

The images above show the river sector of the Carpathian Timber Trail from its origination in Piatra Neamt (1), following the Bistrita (2) and the Siret rivers to the Danube port of Galati (3). (Montage of four old poscards dating from 1890s - 1910s, Valentin Mandache collection)

The Carpathian mountains contained until the first part of the c20th some of the largest millennial forests left in Europe. As the region was part of the Ottoman Empire for more than four centuries, this resource was extensively used as building material for houses and palaces throughout the empire and also for building the sailing ships (ie the ship’s masts made from Carpathian pine were very much appreciated at that time) that kept the commerce going within that great polity that stretched from Budapest in Central Europe to the Mecca in the Middle East and to the Algiers in the North Africa. The exceedingly beautiful Istanbul timber mansions called yali that line up the Bosphorous and many of the timber sided houses of that great metropolis, the largest city of Europe then as now, are in ample part built from timber sourced in the Carpathians. The same can be said of houses in Thessalonic, Smyrna/ Izmir or many other Ottoman cities. I illustrated in the photomontage above, made from four old postcards from my collection, the river navigation sector of this long “timber trail” from the Carpathians to the Mediterranean (see the route marked on the map on the postcard above). This timber was mainly sourced in the Moldavian sector of these mountains, the Oriental Carpathians, and gathered in floating basins at navigable points on the local rivers, such as Piatra-Neamt, depicted in the sector “1” above, a main such location in northern Moldavia. From there the timber was assembled in bulky rafts, called pluta in Romanian, manned by plutasi, the local peasants that embraced the raffter profession, see the image sector “2” above, all the way down to the lower Danube ports, such as Galati in the sector “3” of the photomontage, where the timber was sorted and loaded on seagoing boats to the markets of Istanbul and other Ottoman port cities. This huge timber trade started in late c17th until the demise of the Ottoman Empire in early c20th. It continued to function serving the local needs in Romania until 1950s, when the river route and the profession of plutas were replaced by road and railway transport. In my opinion this Carpathian “timber trail” phenomenon is a very interesting chapter in the economic history of South East Europe and Eastern Mediterreanean, practically unknown even by the academic specialists,  which greatly contributed to the built heritage of the entire region.

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I endeavor through this daily series of images and small articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and 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 Contact page of this weblog.

“Islamic” Neo-Romanian Style Veranda

The picturesque veranda of a 1920s Neo-Romanian style house defined by mosque like pointed arches, short columns and latticework fence, motifs inspired from the religions architecture, especially Islamic, of the Ottoman Balkans. Magheru area, Bucharest. (Valentin Mandache)

There is a striking similarity in this example with the Moorish style architecture of Spain and its Islamic and Christian confluences, explained by the fact that the Neo-Romanian style expresses the architectural identity of a region also situated at the confluence between Christianity (of Byzantium) and Islam (of the Ottoman Empire).

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I endeavor through this daily series of images and small 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 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 Contact page of this weblog.

Magnificent Wallachian Church Floral Motifs

A photomontage of resplendent c18th Byzantine style floral motifs, Stavropoles church, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The small c18th Stavropoleos church in Bucharest is perhaps one of the most beautiful religious buildings in the entire eastern church world. The building has been a main inspiration source for the architect Ion Micu when he initiated in late c19th the Neo-Romanian style, the only original architectural order created in Romania. Mincu lovingly restored the church between 1904 – ’10, toward the end of his life, when he also added a well designed cloister and outbuildings (see here an article and also a video on that subject). I am always most impressed, when visiting this church, by the flamboyant, colourful and full of life floral motifs decorating its exterior walls and cloister. That spurred me to put together the photo-montage above and thus try to make better known to the outside world this wonderful floral panoply, which resides at the heart of Bucharest. The cloister decoration was created by Mincu and contains a beautiful rendering, with an excellent spatial impression, of two floral motifs from the church register (seen here on the top-centre and right-hand-corner sectors of the above collage).

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Daily Picture 31-Jan-10: Bucharest Adobe House

A very rare Bucharest adobe (sun-dried brick made of clay and straw) house, built in the first decades of c19th. Popa Soare area. (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest, for most of its history, has been a gathering of villages scattered within a propitious fording place on the Dambovita – Arges river intefluve used initially by transhumant shepherds and their flocks on their seasonal migration between the pastures of the Transylvanian Alps and the Lower Danube plains and later by traders as a staging post on the great commercial road between Central Europe and the market towns of the Ottoman Empire. The domestic architecture of those times had much in common with that of the rest of the Ottoman Balkan region and the Mediterranean world in general. The house above, which I photographed in Popa Soare area, used to be a very usual type in the city beginning with c17th until the intense urban transformation of Bucharest on West European lines during the Victorian period. It is an adobe house (sun-dried brick made of clay and straw), plastered with a mix of clay and fine sand and painted in pigmented whitewash, a type which can be encountered from Turkey to Spain and Mexico. The decorative veranda poles are again of a Mediterranean type, called “zapata” in Spanish American architectural terminology, also encountered from Turkey to the rest of the Mediterranean and the Spanish offshoots in the New World. The house is an extreme architectural rarity in today Bucharest and a witness of the long forgotten connection of this city with the Mediteranean and Oriental worlds through the conduit of the erstwhile Ottoman 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.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Daily Picture 24-Dec-09: Ottoman Inspired Art Nouveau Style Doorway

A very rare Art Nouveau style doorway with Ottoman Balkan inspired decorative motifs. 1900s house, Icoanei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The exquisite Art Nouveau style house boasting this beautiful doorway assembly is just falling apart, which could well be the usual sign that the owners of this historic house intend to have it demolished, once the building deteriorates beyond repair (one of the legal means to obtain the much coveted demolition permit for listed buildings). The obvious goal in that case, is to secure the land beneath the house for sale (the historic building is usually seen as an expensive overburden) or for lucrative commercial real estate development. That is a widely encountered phenomenon plaguing Bucharest, which slowly transforms the local urban landscape into a place devoid of its historic and architectural identity, crowded with unsightly, low quality commercial buildings.

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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 22-Nov-09: Traditional Bulgarian Style Veranda

Veranda of a late 1920s house in Aviatorilor area of Bucharest inspired from traditional Bulgarian architecture. (©Valentin Mandache)

The traditional Bulgarian architectural style (a term by which I mean a traditional Bulgarian architectural framework on which are also grafted Greek, Turkish, and other Balkan motifs), was popular in the whole region of the northern Balkans during the times when these lands were part of the Ottoman empire until the 2nd half of c19th. Wallachia, the southern province of Romania, where Bucharest is located, was influenced by this type of architecture, especially in its market towns, where traders from all over the Ottoman Balkans met to exchange goods. Many of them got established in the Wallachian towns and built mansions in this style familiar throughout the region. With the onset of modernisation on European lines in late c19th Romania, this style was identified as belonging to the Ottoman past and consciously replaced by West European looking ‘Little Paris’ style buildings (what I call the Romanian provincial imitations of French architectural styles of that period) and by the emergent patriotic Neo-Romanian style (which itself borrows heavily from old Balkan architecture). Just a handful of traditional Bulgarian and Ottoman style buildings survive in modern Bucharest. The one presented in the photograph above is a rare inter-war rendering of that  style and gives a glimpse of how Bucharest used to look more than one and a half centuries ago, during the times of the Ottoman dominion.

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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-Oct-09: Ottoman Glazed Veranda

Ottoman glassed veranda (early 19th century) of an old oriental merchant house in the Lipscani historic quarter of Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The Ottoman style glazed veranda (early 19th century) of an old oriental merchant house in the Lipscani historic quarter of Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

A characteristic of the Ottoman 19th century domestic and commercial edifices are the large glazed verandas covering in many instances the entire street wall of a building. That was to maintain the privacy of the house occupants and also to afford a somehow higher degree of independence for womenfolk of the household, thus able to walk at will behind long stretches of glazed street walls. Restrictions on womenfolk’s movement were a characteristic of all communities (Muslim, Christian and Jewish) in the old Ottoman Empire.

In the 19th century glass became widely available and cheaper throughout the Turkish domain, including its Romanian Danubian provinces. Bucharest as other Balkan merchant towns was then embellished with many such structures. The name of a glazed veranda in Romanian is “geamlâc”, which is a Turkish word deriving from “cam”, meaning glazed-window area. Only a handful of these once prevalent structures now survives [or were re-created up to a palatable degree of accuracy], especially those that are facing backyards, being in general in a very sorry state, with their architectural heritage value not fully recognised by the locals or the city authorities.

The example presented above is perhaps the largest Ottoman glassed veranda that survives [or was indeed re-created following models shown in engravings from early to mid-c19th] in Bucharest, although it was heavily and unkindly restored in the 1930s and late 1970s. Nevertheless it conveys an idea how Lipscani historic quarter looked during its glory days, when it was at the heart of the Ottoman market town that later became the capital of Romania. Lipscani experienced perhaps its most difficult period during the neglect of the last two decades. It also suffers because of the city authorities’ botched attempts to rebuilt local infrastructure (see my previous post on Lipscani regeneration issues). The local architectural heritage was again intensely damaged during the property boom of the last few years when many historic buildings have been knocked down or altered by ignorant owners and entrepreneurs on the look out for a quick gain in the booming real estate market.

In the example above one can clearly see the ground area of the house being redecorated in a kitschy fashion as a western medieval building, completed with a billboard in an unconvincing gothic script, not having anything to do with the Ottoman identity and history of the place. It is part of the prevalent kitsch in Romania generated by the lack of culture and historical awareness among the local public and entrepreneurs. They might think that their plight and effort in putting in place those dreadful decorations are enough to attract quality tourists from abroad, but the result is just opposite, the bulk of tourists being locals and ignorant heavy drinking stag party groups from the west. (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.