Adobe peasant house from the Oriental Carpathian mountains

Adobe peasant house, Uz Valley, Oriental Carpathian mountains, Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The adobe constitutes an excellent building material widely used until very recently in Romanian countryside. It is made from soil with a high clay and sand content, mixed up with water, bound together by straw and horse or cow manure. The compound is then cast in brick shape moulds and left to dry in the sun for a number of days (2-3 weeks). A finer variety of adobe is also used as a plaster, coating the walls made from those type of bricks. That plaster can later be whitewashed or painted in a diversity of colours and motifs. The buildings made from that material provide a good degree of comfort and insulation from the excesses of the Romanian climate characterised by very hot summers and utterly cold winters. Adobe is in many aspects similar with cob or mudbrick, but in my opinion more robust, durable and efficient than those. I grew up in a village where most of the dwellings were made from adobe bricks, even parts of my parents’ house was built from that material. I fondly remember as a child trampling my feet in the mud, together with other fellow villagers, in preparation for the bricks, literally going round in circles, a ritual like scene so much part of the ancestral village life.

The photograph above, which I made during my recent trip to Uz Valley (Darmanesti, Bacau county) in north eastern Romania, presents such an adorable adobe peasant house. It is a very simple, but exceedingly functional structure, with everything a peasant family needs: a kitchen, placed on the left hand side of this example, and a large bedroom, spaces divided by a corridor where the doorway is placed. This house type is quite ubiquitous throughout the Romanian lands, being built as such since at least the c18th when the necessary tools and technology became widely available in the region; of course the roof was then made from wooden shingles, the ceramic tiles seen in this example being a contemporary “amelioration”. The adobe walls are surrounded by a nice veranda made from simple beams, only the wooden columns having a bit of reduced to essence decoration. The back roof slant is extended to create a covered area behind the house, where the family keeps the firewood dry and other major household items (a cart, tuns, etc.)

I very much like the balanced proportions of this house; it is something there reminding me of the Golden Ratio, similar, if I am allowed to compare, with that of the classical antiquity buildings.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Uz Valley ethographic architecture (north eastern Romania)

Ethnographic architecture from north eastern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The above photomontage depicts peasant houses and monumental wooden gateways carved with ethnographic motifs from the Uz Valley in the Oriental Carpathian mountains of Romania (Darmanesti, Bacau county). The name “Uz” comes from that of the old Turkic and Ugric populations that settled in the area one millennia ago, which in time got assimilated within the host ethnic Romanian population, but also still survive, represented by the small Csango ethic group, living in settlements in and around Bacau county, which are related to the Hungarians. The village, now a quarter of Darmanesti city, an oil refinery centre, is amazingly picturesque, with its ethnographic architecture surprisingly well conserved, hardly touched by the wild property development boom that devastated the stock of historic houses of this country in the mid 2000s. The pictures from the collage, which are also presented in the slide show bellow, display a wealth of ethnographic motifs typical to the area: a fascinating mixture of Romanian and Csango patterns. That type of period property is quite cheap now and would constitute an excellent renovation/ restoration project for anyone brave enough to acquire such a house in this quaint rural setting from the eastern fringes of the European Union.

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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.

Adobe town house in south eastern Romania

Adobe townhouse dating from the 1930s, Buzau, south-east Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The above photograph shows a picturesque and well maintained adobe structure house from the town of Buzau in south-east Romania, built sometime in the 1930s, which although now is quite centrally located, at that time was at the outskirts of the city. Adobe is a traditional construction material, which has been much used not only in the Romanian countryside, but also in the cities. Until the last decades of the c19th only the wealthy were able to afford kiln fired bricks. Many townsmen thus used the cheap adobe for building their houses as late as the 1930s and even later in many part of Romania. The adobe houses, although quite high maintenance in terms of time and effort spent, are extremely comfortable for the Romanian climate, constituting excellent bargain buys for someone looking to acquire a traditional/ period property in this country. I like in this particular example its proportions and the simple, but enchanting decoration, the wall finish made from a mix of lime and sand on a clay background, a reminder of  the old bucolic times when the Romanian towns were often just larger villages.

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I endeavor through this 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.

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

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.

Daily Picture 25-Mar-10: On the Village Green 110 Years Ago

A Sunday dance, "hora" in Romanian, with the participation of all local classes, on the village green sometime in late 1890s in Southern Romania. (Old postcard - Valentin Mandache collection)

The old postcard above shows a typical village green from the lower Danube plains region Romania at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. The scene is that of a Sunday dance, or “hora” in Romanian, an energetic round dance where eligible young peasant men and women met and danced together in their Sunday bests (homespun and richly embroidered with ethnographic motifs costumes). The custom is still present in many of Romania’s villages, especially in the more isolated mountain communities. The Sunday dance was a very important village event, even more important than the church service, at which often also participated the local landlord, the estate administrator and their families. The photograph above shows on the left hand side a covered horse carriage, which most probably belongs to the local land owner, the “boyar”, the wealthiest local, who came from his nearby country mansion, or “conac“. Next to it is another somehow more modest carriage which probably belonged to the estate administrator, the “arendas” in Romanian, and further to the right is another really modest horse drawn carriage which probably belonged to one of the local state officials like the teacher or policeman. In the middle of the round dance is the orchestra, usually a gypsy band composed by musicians from the local gypsy community, descendants of the former estate slaves, an ethnic group that was freed by the state only in mid-c19th, after half of millennium of slavery. They play at the usual instruments in this region like a portable zimbalon, violin and lute, etc. There is a group of two ladies in c19th town dress on the right hand side of the photograph who keep a formal distance from the peasants; they are presumably members of the landlord’s family. There are however some in the crowd in town dress that mingle happily with the peasants. The village green is surrounded by an assortment of peasant houses- in the foreground two modest, basic houses with thatched roof, typical of very poor peasant families. Next to their right is the fence surrounded courtyard of a wealthier peasant with a better house, that has a shingle covered roof. In all the image is a wonderful glimpse of a happy moment in the life of a Romanian village at the height of the Victorian era, and a good document that nowadays helps in understanding the psychology and way of life of the Romanian peasants for anyone interested in visiting these areas or buying a traditional house there.

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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 16-Mar-10: Traditional Peasant Gate from a Transylvanian Alps Village

Traditional peasant gate from Muscel ethnographic area, Romania (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

Traditional peasant gate from Bran ethnographic area in the Transylvanian Alps, Romania (early 1930s postcard, Valentin Mandache collection).

The ancestral villages that dot of the Carpathian Mountains are still preserving many examples of traditional houses boasting beautiful ethnographic decorations. Some of these buildings are now on the market at quite reasonable prices, but unfortunately often the buyers’ intention is to demolish the old structure and put in place a more profitable and in their vision more prestigious modern building. One of the most conspicuous elements that form a traditional peasant house assembly is the wooden gate which gives access to its front yard. It has, in many cases, monumental proportions and is decorated with exquisite wood-carved ethnographic motifs, being a powerful symbol associated with marking the limits and passage between the unpredictable outside world/ cosmos and the venerated and well ordered space of the family house seen in peasant lore as the worldly equivalent of a cosmic temple that has the hearth as its altar. The image above shows such a monumental example from the Bran area of the Transylvanian Alps. It is a model which has hardly changed in this region since the Iron Age when efficient tools were first available to carve hard wood timber (oak, etc.) The traditional costumes of the peasant women gaily chatting in front of the gate also follow patterns from times immemorial. Elements of this type vestments are present on stone monuments from two millennia ago when the Roman Empire conquered the area, such as on the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome. In conclusion, those intending to buy, restore/ renovate a traditional peasant house in the Carpathian region, must pay special attention to its front yard gate and in cases in which it has been destroyed (not an unusual occurrence during of the last seven decades of communism, followed by a chaotic transition to democracy), seek to recreate this essential artefact.

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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 16-Jan-10: Transylvania Fortress Wall Houses

Typical houses lining up the fortress wall protecting a village church in Saxon Transylvania (Harman/ Honigsberg/ Szászhermány, Brasov county), some dating from late c13th from the time of the first Tatar and Turkish raids over the region. (©Valentin Mandache)

Saxon Transylvania is the largest rural medieval architectural region left in Europe. It has a very embattled history because of it precarious geographical location at the old frontier between Christendom and the Muslim power projected by the Ottoman Empire and their Tatar allies. The term “Saxon” is an umbrella name given to the ethnic German population, originating in what is today the principality of Luxembourg and its adjiacennt areas in France, Germany and Belgium. They settled in Southern and Eastern Transylvania beginning with c12th through royal patents issued by the medieval Hungarian kings.  The devastating Tatar and Turkish raids that began after the region was first overrun during the Great Tatar Invasion of Europe that ended in 1242 (initiated by Genghis Khan and his successors), prompted the locals to built strong defences around their towns and villages. Thus, a very peculiar medieval military-civil architecture emerged in the region, with many examples still surviving today. The main fortifications were built around the village church and also the church itself was transformed in an impressive fortified building as point of last resistance. The wall enclosure had also to accommodate the village population, food and their livestock during the Tatar-Turkish raids and thus every village household had its own assigned fortress wall house and grain storage area  as in shown in the photograph above, which I took in June last year inside the citadel of Harman village (Honigsberg in German, Szászhermány in Hungarian).  There are many surviving such examples in Southern Transylvania, which would constitute an excellent restoration/ renovation project for someone with imagination and passion for medieval architecture. Unfortunately there are not many takers of that opportunity and these exceptional buildings are slowly disappearing through neglect, irretrievably damaged by ignorant locals or razed to the ground by rapacious Romanian property developers.

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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 6-Dec-09: Peasant House Veranda, Prahova County

Peasant house veranda with intricate saw cut ethnographic motif latticework of a 1940s built rural house in Prahova county, Wallachia. The house typology is characteristic of settlements at the contact zone between the Danubian Plain and the Carpathian Piedmont. (photograph Mihaela Mihaila)

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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 29-Nov-09: Rural Style Balcony

Rural style balcony, Armeneasca area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The balcony is adorned with interesting ethnographic wood carved motifs typical of the ancestral peasant art of southern Romania and painted in blue, a colour of traditional shamanistic significance among the Slavic and Romanian peasant communities in this part of Europe. The balcony adorns a Neo-Romanian style town house in central Bucharest.

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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 4-Sep-09: Peasant Model House

Model house: 1906 National Royal Exhibition, Bucharest

Peasant model house: 1906 Royal Jubilee Exhibition, Bucharest (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

The above peasant house was an exhibit, completed with real peasants, at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in 1906, Bucharest. The event celebrated 40 years of stable and prosperous rule by King Carol I on the Romanian throne and country’s achievements in industry, agriculture and arts. The house is a standardised type synthesised from stylistic ethnographic features and traditional architectural designs of a number of peasant dwellings from different parts of the country. It contained all the necessary for a decent standard of habitation in terms of available space for an average peasant family (about 7-8 individuals), cooking area, adequate washing facilities, latrine, etc. The model house was the expression of attempts in late Victorian Romania for improving the life of the peasants (over 80% of the population in 1906). Many socially minded land owners built model villages for the peasants working on their property (there are now a few villages in Romania named “Modelu”, which trace their origin in those social experiments and also there are still some rare surviving examples of model houses from that period). However, all of those efforts went up in smokes not long after in the great world economic recession of 1907 and the huge peasant revolt that swept the country in the same year, the last medieval jacquerie in Europe, which the government repressed it in a ruthless manner.

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My goal through this daily series of images is to spark the interest of a diverse international audience into the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

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If you are interested in 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.

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

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