Balchik, a resort with Romanian royal connections on the shore of the Black Sea

Today most of the Romanian Black Sea shore is, with the exception of the Danube Delta area, a mostly uninteresting flat plain, dotted with large industrial facilities and grey communist era hotel and residential developments. However, the country had between 1913 – 1916 and 1918 – 1940 a southern rocky seaboard with spectacular vistas, which is now part of Bulgaria. In the inter-war period Queen Marie of Romania built there, in the port city of Balchik (the ancient Greek colony of Dionysopolis, founded in c7th BCE), her most remarkable holiday palace, endowed with a magnificent garden and a multitude of guest houses, over a period stretching a decade, from 1927 to 1936. Some of the best Romanian architects of the time contributed with their creations, such as Emil Gunes or Henriette Delavrancea Gibory. Taking the queen’s example, many well to do Romanians also erected summer residences of a superb architectural quality that are still in large part in place and well looked after. The coast around Balchik faces the south and is protected behind by a series of rocky hills and cliffs from the cold winds and winter weather that come over the open Pontic steppe from as far as Siberia and menaces most of the rest of the country.

The inter-war period has thus been a glorious time for Balchik, which saw the wealthy spending summers in the luxury of their seashore villas, and the emergence of a remarkable painters’ and writers’ colony that took advantage of the glorious southern sunlight, appealing coastal landscape and enjoying the picturesque and welcome of the local community that was in important part Turkish, Tatar and Bulgarian.

Balcic - villa Tenha Yuvah - Diana Mandache collection

Balchik – villa Tenha Yuvah (Turkish for “Quiet Nest”) within the Royal Palace grounds – Diana Mandache collection

Queen Marie and her family spent many a great summer holiday at her palace and gardens in Balchik, taking pleasure fast boat rides along the shore. Everything exuded the happiness and well-being peculiar of that period of history, much the same as other European aristocrats, wealthy individuals or famous artists enjoyed places in the Mediterranean or the Gulf of Mexico.

Romanian Royals enjoying a boat ride, Balcic - Diana Mandache collection

Romanian Royals enjoying a boat ride, Balchik – Diana Mandache collection

Remarkable for Balchik and the times when Marie put it on the holiday map as an idyllic place, was the worlds apart contrast of life and aspirations with the Soviet Union’s Black Sea shore communities, over the not far away border. Balchik’s flourishing years as a royal resort overlap with Stalin’s party purges, the killing and sending to prison of countless wretched souls. Romania in less than a decade after Marie built her seaside palace became one of its first victims.

This post was initially published on Diana Mandache’s weblog under our joint authorship.

Anglican Church & British Seamen’s Institute at the Mouths of the Danube

The first Anglican church on Romanian territory and the British Seamen's Institute in 1890s - 1900s Sulina, a port located at the mouths of the Danube. (old postcards, Valentin Mandache collection)

I am a Romanian born British citizen and feel very patriotic about my adoptive country, being always keen to bring to the fore old traces of British involvement in the region where Romania is located. These go back a very long time indeed, ever since the Roman conquest of Dacia in 106 CE when legions and auxiliaries from the British Isles were among the largest army ever assembled in Europe until the WWI (according to Julian Bennett the foremost expert on Emperor Trajan, the commander of this army), to conquer the kingdom of the ancient Dacians, the ancestors of today Romanians (situation similar with how the French relate to the ancient Gauls and their conquest by Caesar). Modern British involvement in the region became established in late 1840s once the Danube and the Black Sea straits were gradually open to international navigation from the control of the Ottoman Empire. Sailing ships flying the Union Jack were entering the Danube though Sulina from the Black Sea in order to upload, from the lower Danube ports upstream, the vast quantities of grains produced by the plains of Wallachia and Moldova and bring them to the masses of industrialised Britain and also for the relief of the Great Irish Famine, tragedy which was taking place at that time. As a result, the Romanian state and grain traders obtained important revenues from those exports in the second part of the c19th, a fact which made possible the emergence throughout the country of the the picturesque provincial architecture that I call the “Little Paris” style, inspired from the fashionable French styles of the time. Sulina grew rapidly in importance as a transit port, a fact which made feasible the establishment there of an Anglican church and in the later part of the c19th of a British Seamen’s Institute attached to the church in order to attend to the needs and troubles of the increasing number of sailors from Britain who transited this port. The Anglican church in Sulina is the oldest established on the Romanian territory; there is another one in Bucharest, which was the only official one functioning behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War (see my video about this particular building here). The montage above, formed by the two old postcard from my collection, shows in the upper image the church within the 1890s urban set up of Sulina (the red circled building), with sailing ships moored at the docks, while in the lower image is a close up of the church together with the building of the Institute, a postcard which probably dates from early 1900s. The architecture is typically late Victorian Gothic and one can also see a bit of mock Tudor half timbered gables on the Institute’s building. The British community and activity has now long gone from Sulina, but the church building and its British cemetery is still present. I am planning a trip to the location at the first available opportunity to investigate the situation of these edifices and other remnants for a future article on this blog.

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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.

Daily Picture 26-Nov-09: Historic Houses Photo Collage

Historic houses of Romania collage (©Valentin Mandache)

I composed the image above from 60 selected photographs taken during my fieldwork this year, mostly in Bucharest, but also Iasi (NE Romania) and Sinaia (the Transylvanian Alps). In my opinion the collage is extremely suggestive of the exuberant historic architecture found within the territory of Romania: a peculiar crossroad of Western, especially French, and Central European influences blended together on a Balkan background with old Ottoman echoes. I hope the pot-pourri of houses, decorations and ornaments, often painted in garish colours, would give you a more wholesome image of the vast field represented by Romania’s historic architecture. I also use a version of this collage for my Twitter page background, have a look here: http://twitter.com/historo

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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 8-Nov-09: Art Deco Black Sea Villa

Art Deco seaside villa, Eforie Nord on the Romanian shore of the Black Sea (Valentin Mandache)

Simple, but balanced crisp Art Deco design of a mid 1930s seaside villa, Eforie Nord on the Romanian shore of the Black Sea. (©Valentin Mandache)

These examples of beautiful inter-war seaside villas were in general well maintained during the communist times as the regime used them for high ranking officials. Unfortunately now, 20 years since the fall of communism, many of these emblematic edifices are lost due to botched renovations or illegal demolitions performed by a new generation of ignorant indigenous owners and entrepreneurs. It will take probably another generation for them to realise the value of the architectural heritage put in place by their much more cultivated and sophisticated forefathers.

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

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 8-Nov-09: Art Deco Black Sea Villa

Art Deco seaside villa, Eforie Nord on the Romanian shore of the Black Sea (Valentin Mandache)

Simple, but balanced crisp Art Deco design of a mid 1930s seaside villa, Eforie Nord on the Romanian shore of the Black Sea. (©Valentin Mandache)

These examples of beautiful inter-war seaside villas were in general well maintained during the communist times as the regime used them for high ranking officials. Unfortunately now, 20 years since the fall of communism, many of these emblematic edifices are lost due to botched renovations or illegal demolitions performed by a new generation of ignorant indigenous owners and entrepreneurs. It will take probably another generation for them to realise the value of the architectural heritage put in place by their much more cultivated and sophisticated forefathers.

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

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.