Little Paris style pediment in Buzau

Little Paris style pediment, Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)

The example of house entrance pediment pictured above is from the town of Buzau in south east Romania, from the period when the Little Paris style (what I call the c19th French and other western historicist styles interpreted in a provincial manner in Romania)  was in vogue throughout the whole country. The finish is a bit crude, but charming, the assembly truing to emulate the entrance of a Corinthian order temple. I like the monogram of the owner flanked by the year of construction of the house, at the beginning of the La Belle Époque period.

If you would like to find out more about the Little Paris style and how it imprinted the architectural character of Bucharest, I organise a special tour on that theme this coming Saturday, details here: http://historo.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/walking-tour-saturday-24-march-bucharest-as-the-little-paris-of-the-balkans/

The Military Cemetery of Buzau: history and architecture

Buzau is located in southeastern Romania at the great bend made by the chain of the Carpathian Mountains, a place  of many bloody conflagrations between enemy empires and also nation states. The video presents the Military Cemetery of that town, the sections for the Second Balkan War and the Great War.

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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.

Buzau maces

The roof finials are some of the most conspicuous elements of the Neo-Romanian style, a sort of apotheosis of what that architecture represents. They come in many shapes expressing a multitude of national-identity symbols. There are thus finials symbolising peasant ethnography and way of life (ethnographic totemic poles, abstract haystacks), abstractions of fortress towers, religious symbols or medieval weapons. Bellow are two eloquent mace shaped finial examples, which I found in the town of Buzau in south eastern Romania. The mace, a fearsome medieval weapon, is seen as a national-romantic symbol of the armed resistance of the Romanian principalities, as Christian states, against the invasions and menacing power of the Ottoman Islamic califate, one of the main messages of the Neo-Romanian architectural style during its early and mature phases. The first image shows a mace finial crowning the stairs tower of an early 1920s house, while the second embellishes the roof of the Commune Palace, which hosts the town hall of Buzau, a magnificent public early Neo-Romanian style building designed in 1899 by the architect Alexandru Savulescu.

Neo-Romanian style roof finial in the shape of a mace, mid-1920s house, Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style roof finial in the shape of a mace, the Commune Palalce (town hall), Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

Neo-Romanian style public fountain

This is a rare architectural history find: an example of Neo-Romanian style public fountain. It is located in the courtyard of Buzau county court house, south-east Romania. The designer of the whole court assembly, built between 1909 – 1912, is the architect Petre Antonescu, the most prolific and one of the best Neo-Romanian style designers, whose origins are in the Buzau county area (born in the city of Ramnicau Sarat).

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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.

Buzau Commune Palace columns

The Buzau Commune Palace has been inaugurated in 1903 and is the work of Alexander Savulescu, a prominent Fin de Siecle era architect of Romania, famous as the designer of the Post Office Palace in Bucharest, which today hosts the National Museum of History of Romania. The Buzau edifice quarters the mayoralty and its name comes from that of the old administrative unit that in the late c19th described towns or districts grouping villages, a “commune”. It is the most flamboyant creation of Savulescu’s career, in a very peculiar style that blends Neo-Romanian elements rendered in part in an Art Novueau matrix, local architectural motifs found in the Little Paris style houses of Buzau tradespeople or aristocrats and decorative patterns inspired from the grape vine plant, a main crop of the area, symbolising an important component of Buzau’s economy.

Bellow are a photographs depicting a few columns and column elements that embellish the palace’s ground floor gallery. The column capitals are in their turn crowned by ample pediments, in the manner of those featured by the old Wallachian country mansions from the Ottoman period, decorated with the PC (Commune Palace) monogram, surrounded by vine leaves and grapes. The capital itself is also formed from an interesting composition of vine leaves.

Buzau Commune Palace column, 1903, architect Alexandru Savulescu (©Valentin Mandache)

Buzau Commune Palace column pediment, 1903, architect Alexandru Savulescu (©Valentin Mandache)

Buzau Commune Palace column capital, 1903, architect Alexandru Savulescu (©Valentin Mandache)

Buzau Commune Palace columns, 1903, architect Alexandru Savulescu (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

Istrita stone stairs

This is a pleading to those undertaking restoration and renovation works of Romania’s historic buildings to start using again the wonderful Istrtita stone, a local building material that was quarried for centuries by peasants from the villages dotting the the Istrita Hill in Buzau county, eastern Wallachia. It is a greyish brown limestone, resulted over the geological ages from cemented together fossil shells. The stone is found in the structure and decorative elements of many peasant and period town houses or historic public edifices from the region of Buzau, as are the picturesque stairs presented in the photographs bellow that embellish a late 1890s Little Paris style house in Buzau city centre. The Istrita stone was also extensively used in farther away places from Bucharest, Braila or Ploiesti. Its most interesting use is, in my opinion, as material for making traditional peasant crosses, which embellish old village cemeteries in south-eastern Romania. The Istrita stone is now practically forgotten, despite its high significance for the local architectural identity and excellent potential as building material. It has fallen out of grace once the industrially produced concrete became widely available in the 1960s and also because in the last two decades the market has been flooded with cheap imported construction materials, a large proportion of which comes from as far away as China or India.

Istrita stone stairs, Buzau; house from the 1890s (©Valentin Mandache)

Istrita stone stairs, Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)

Istrita Hill, Buzau county, Romania (Google Earth)

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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.

Fin de Siècle building in Buzau

The building presented bellow is a good example of a Fin de Siècle (1899 according to the inscription on the pediment) merchant house from the town of  Buzau in south east Romania. Today the edifice hosts a state kindergarten. Its façade is quite well preserved and denotes a picturesque provincially interpreted French c19th historicist style, in this case inspired from rococo and classical motifs crammed together on a relatively limited space. This is what I term as “the Little Paris style” architecture that was very popular in Romania of that time. I like especially the well preserved cast zinc acroterion that crowns the top of the arched pediment. The edifice as a whole looks like a wedding cake, reflecting the quite frivolous tastes of many well-to-do Romanians of that era who made their fortune in large part from grain exports and associated activities. That was in a way the equivalent of the Gilded Age for this country, a sort of peculiar aspirational interpretation of the then western manners and tastes in a region at the margins of Europe of deep Ottoman-Balkan traditions and mentalities. The edifice has unfortunately lost in the recent years its original resplendent wood frame doorway and windows, replaced now by modern plastic frame double glazing. The irony is that the finances  that paid for that kind of destructive renovation often originate from EU structural and integration funds intended for modernising the country to European standards, which in the case of Romania’s built heritage cause more damage than save.

Fin de Siècle provincial historicist style building; former merchant house from Buzau, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

Fin de Siècle provincial historicist style building; former merchant house from Buzau, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

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I endeavour 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.

Vernacular Art Deco

Vernacular Art Deco house dating from the 1960s, Buzau, south east Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The modest house pictured above is located in one of the quarters of Buzau, a county town in south east Romania, being one of the many interesting examples of vernacular Art Deco style dwellings built by craftsmen and “DIY” private individuals throughout Romania between the late 1930s until the mid-1970s when the communist regime severely restricted the building of houses by private individuals. I like the porthole windows that decorate the loft area and the stairs like profile of the front yard wall top – gable end, which are the Art Deco “hallmarks” of this house. Usually the vernacular versions of the consecrated architectural styles follow models of local prestigious buildings, which then get disseminated within the local area. I documented such a vernacular dissemination instance for Buzau area in the case of an Art Nouveau roof eave ornament, seen at this link that follows a model displayed by the local Buzau Commune Palace, the most important and also magnificent building in the county. For the Art Deco case illustrated in the above photograph, the model must have also been a great edifice with high prestige among the locals such as a 1930s state of the art hospital or a cinema where the latest Hollywood productions would have been the delight of the natives then.

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I endeavour 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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Solar symbol in local stone

Ethnographic solar symbol (about 70 cm diameter) in lumachel limestone, Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)

The above ethnographic solar symbol adorns the doorway of the remarkable Palace of Justice in Buzau, south east Romania, a building designed by the great architect Petre Antonescu in the Neo-Romanian style with interesting Art Nouveau overtones; edifice completed in 1912. The solar motif features prominently in the Romanian peasant art and is found represented in contexts ranging from sewing patterns to wood and stone carvings. What I like in this particular representation is the fact that is carved in the local lumachel stone (greyish brown limestone, made from cemented together fossil shells). The stone comes from quarries located on the Istrita hill in the Carpathian piedmont (aka the Subcarpathians), not far from the city of Buzau. The stone, known locally as the “Istrita stone” is found in the structure and decoration of many peasant houses or public edifices from that region. It also used to be the main material for making peasant crosses, which imprinted the old local village cemeteries with an extremely picturesque, stone forest like character. The Istrita stone has seen a fatal decline in its use as building material ever since the industrially produced concrete became cheap and widely available in the 1960s, a fact that contributed to the loss of an essential component of the architectural identity and character of the Buzau county.

Above is a Google sattelite map of the Istrita hill

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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.

Vernacular Neo-Romanian style house

Vernacular Neo-Romanian style house dating from the early 1920s, Buzau, south-east Romania. (©Valentin Mandache)

I found this a quaint provincial, craftsman designed town house in the town of Buzau, south-eastern Romania. The building displays a mixture of styles, rendered in a vernacular fashion, where the most eye-catching order is the Neo-Romanian one, seen in the massive broken arch windows and the architrave medallions. There are also strong features pointing out to the Little Paris style popular during the Fin de Siècle era throughout the then Romania, a suave synthesis of provincially interpreted French c19th historicist architectural styles and a multitude of local Ottoman Balkan decorative elements, most evident in this case in the wooden roof eave ornaments or the apparent quoins. The vernacular interpretation of the established architectural styles is frequently encountered in the Romanian provincial towns, where professional architects were in short supply or too expensive to hire and many houses were designed and built by skilled craftsmen. In an earlier post I documented some similar remarkable examples from the town of  Targoviste in southern Romania: click here for access.

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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.

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.

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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.

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Symbols and Messages of a Peasant Rug

A peasant rug from the Buzau ethnographic area of South-East Romania. (©Valentin Mandache)

This post is relevant for those interested in the peasant and traditional houses of Romania, looking to find out clues about the meaning and significance of the myriad of ethnographic symbols decorating this ancestral type of habitat. Traditional rugs, such as the one I photographed above, are essential decorative and spiritual artefacts that contribute to the make-up of a peasant house. This particular example exhibits an abstract human figure multiplied seven times (a number with miraculous beneficial properties in local mythology), in shades of red and black (see bellow for meaning) that has his/her arms suspended up in the air, denoting the worshipping of the Sun god, represented in this instance by the repeating rhomboidal figure on the rug’s border area. The chromatic range is formed from variations of three colours with fundamental ethnographic significance: black (earth), red (fire) and white (air-space-spirit). I very much like the stubborn persistence of old pagan worshiping elements in local ethnography, which can be encountered in every corner of a peasant house in the Carpathian region, dating probably from the times when the first Indo-Europeans settled the area more than 5,000 years ago, or even from earlier populations, despite the last two millennia of relentless “assaults” from the organized Christian religion. In fact there is an intense and lively intermingling and even syncretism within the local peasant culture between the Christian and ethnographic symbolism, that gives it a peculiar character, which just captivates the outside observer. The beautiful rug in the image above is actually a treasured present from my grandmother, a peasant woman from the Buzau ethnographic area of South East Romania, which she gave me about ten years ago to decorate my house in London and thus bring me luck and insure protection against the local Thames Valley malevolent spirits :)

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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.

1900s Roof Eave with Local Dissemination

Roof eave adorning an early 1910s trader's house in Buzau, eastern Romania. (©Valentin Mandache)

I photographed the above exquisite roof eave in the old commercial quarter of the city of Buzau in eastern Romania. It is a creation inspired from the roof eaves of the Buzau Commune Palace, built in a peculiar Art Nouveau – Neo-Romanian style in 1903, about which I posted a short video-article some weeks ago. There are also some vernacular elements used in this roof eave decoration, like the protruding fusaiolles on the horizontal arm of the eave, a decorative feature encountered throughout the old Ottoman Balkan realm, of which Buzau together with southern and eastern Romania have been once part. What I found very interesting is the quite wide dissemination of this type of roof eave (where the main distinguishing element is the circle sector taming the harsh right angle between the eave’s vertical and horizontal arms) throughout Buzau county area. It can be found adorning a number of old vernacular architecture houses in some of the local villages. I know that in my birth village, Goldeanu-Silistea, in southern Buzau county, that there are at least two houses (built in the early 1930s by local wealthy peasants) that use a variation of this type of roof eave. It represents a very interesting  phenomenon of architectural style transfer/ dissemination from a prestige edifice, built in a high architectural style, to the aspirational craftsman built houses belonging to wealthier and more educated local traders and peasants.

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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 25-Feb-10: County Hospital Building in Art Nouveau style

The once magnificent Art Nouveau and c19th rococo style Buzau county hospital building (named "I.C. Bratianu" after the prime-minister of that period ) in Eastern Romania, inaugurated in 1896. (©Valentin Mandache)

The beautiful edifice in the photograph above lays now empty in an extremely deteriorated state, with a near collapsing structure. Although the building it is still impressing and is also an essential part of Buzau city and county heritage, it is just ignored by the  public and authorities alike, which seem more interested in putting in place characterless and badly designed modern constructions, perceived as more prestigious. Perhaps that is the reason why the old hospital is left to fall apart, as the only legal means to secure a demolition permit for listed 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.