Early Neo-Romanian style house in Campina

I have found in Campina, a beautiful town north of Bucharest, on Prahova Valley, during the preparation of the last year’s architectural tour in that location, an interesting Neo-Romanian house, belonging to the early phase of development of Romania’s national architectural style. That period unfurled between 1886, the year when Lahovary House, the first Neo-Romanian edifice was built by the architect Ion Mincu, and 1906, when this design peculiar to this country, was “codified” within the architecture of the great buildings that functioned as pavilions of the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1906 in Bucharest. The Neo-Romanian style subsequently underwent a mature and also a late phase of development until its zenith in the late 1940s.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

This wonderful example from Campina dates, in my opinion, from the 1900s, exhibiting a mixture of Neo-Romanian and Little Paris features, characteristic of the early phase of this design. Specifically Neo-Romanian is the three arched veranda, coloured ceramic medallions or the toothed brick arch above the doorway. Little Paris is the general aspect of the building, a wagon house facing the street, with a typical doorway woodwork and roof finial. The house has probably underwent a series of renovations throughout more than a century of existence, which altered or erased part of its ornaments and other architectural details, the most aggressive such intervention taking place, in my view, in the last few years.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

Nevertheless the structure retains enough original elements and details that preserve its original early Neo-Romanian character. The duo-tone processed photograph above emphasizes even more the outlines of this picturesque house, giving us a better idea about its interesting mix of Neo-Romanian and Little Paris designs.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

The main Neo-Romanian sector is the three arched veranda, a reference to the Christian holy trinity. That is also seen in the three-lobes forming the arch span. The broken arch feature is a reference to the Ottoman-Balkan architectural traditions of this region, as seen in the local Brancovan style churches of the c18th and early c19th centuries, a main source of inspiration for the Neo-Romanian design. The veranda poles are of ethnographic type, as encountered in peasant houses, another fountain of inspiration for the national architecture.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

The most eye catching elements of the facade are the glazed ceramic medallions embellishing the entrance sector or the wall space between the arches and windows. The coloured ceramic on building façades is a Victorian era innovation, that had somehow faint echoes in Romania of that period, seen mostly in early Neo-Romanian edifices. Above is a rendering in that material of a Brancovan church frieze medallion, in its turn inspired from Ottoman-Balkan Islamic architecture. Suggestive for Neo-Romanian is the toothed brick arch, which is an allusion to pre-Brancovan church architecture (as seen for example in Mihai Voda Church‘s brickwork).

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

I particularly like the yellow and blue coloured ceramic medallions pointing out the wall between the arches that together with the brown-red shade of the façade rendering, which originally was probably a Pompeian red hue, used in the decoration of many early and mature phase Neo-Romanian edifices, make up the colours of Romania’s national flag, a peculiar instance that I encountered in few other examples of houses in this design genre.

Architectural tour chronicle: Campina & Comarnic

Images from Campina and Comarnic architectural tour (©Valentin Mandache)

The photomontage above contains photographs from last Sunday’s extensive and captivating architectural history and photography tour in Campina and Comarnic, 90-95km north of Bucharest on the Prahova Valley. This is the fist such tour outside the capital, which I organised so far, and I have been really pleased to have a number of participants way above my expectations, many of them seen in the images bellow. Campina is a beautiful town at the contact zone between plains and hills, which is famous for its oil industry, a wealth responsible for its interesting and high quality historic architecture. The photograph at the centre of the collage is a doorway pediment panel with oil industry motifs, embellishing the former offices of the local state oil company branch, built in 1941, when the area was awash with money paid by Nazi Germany, hungrly swallowing the Romanian oil for its war machine. As a result, there are many examples of quality architecture from the wartime, which is quite paradoxical, when one thinks at the ravages suffered by most of Europe at that time. Campina also has very fine Victorian era historicist style edifices and inter-war Neo-Romanian or Art Deco architecture, some of the most spectacular examples being designed by Toma T. Socolescu, a famous Romanian architect, active especially in the Prahova county of that period.

The second location visited, Comarnic, has its origin as a sheep station, which undertook an explosive development during the last two decades of the c19th. It was the main base base for the railway and road workers that opened Prahova Valey at the end of c19th, one of the last wildernesses of Europe. The railway enabled Bucharest to have for the first time in its history a direct and fast link with Transylvania and from there with western Europe. It marked the re-orientation of Romania’s capital from the economic sphere of the former Ottoman Empire, toward that of Europe. The old small hotels, inns, prostitution houses, concert halls of that age were built along the main road from wood planks and decorated with an explosive multitude of fretwork patterns, typical of the Victorian architecture and encountered in many other places of Europe or North America. Comarnic has thus probably the most abundant concentration of Victorian era wood fretwork in this part of Europe, which is now ignored by the official tourist trails and companies, remaining virtually unknown, despite the town’s relative short distance from Bucharest. We viewed most of these impressive buildings and examined at close range their intricate fretwork patterns, trying to imagine the life and atmosphere of the late c19th when this area was teaming with workers from Romania and Central Europe.

I trust that the participants had thus an interesting and intellectually productive Sunday out, in these more off the beaten track, but exceedingly fascinating, architectural locations. :)

Campina and Comarnic architectural tour (photography Dan Alexandru Croitoru)

Campina and Comarnic architectural tour (photography Dan Alexandru Croitoru)

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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.

Unusual conical structure

Strange conical structure dating probably from the WWII period, Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

I encountered the unusual structure in the photograph above during my trip to Campina last autumn. It reminded me like a flashback from my childhood of similar structures which I seen in my very early years in some Romanian train stations: steep conical or ogee profile concrete roofs, a quite terrifying sight for a child, usually sitting next to the trains station main building. Most of them were demolished in the last two or three decades and probably only a handful still exists now. From what I remember, the locals there said that these unusual constructions were bomb shelters designed in such a way to repel the deadly blows and shrapnel of airplane launched bombs. Many Romanian cities, especially the oil towns such as Campina, have seen a great deal of bombing from the Allies as well as from the Luftwaffe during the Second World War and was not a real surprise the building of bomb shelters to alleviate somehow that menace. I am however not entirely convinced of their role as bomb-shelter, especially if you notice the large windows from the base of the example presented above. They look strangely similar with the overnight prisons, the “lock ups“, built in c18th and early c19th in small English towns before the establishment of the state police force. Could this structure from Romania have had the same role during the war time or the early Stalinist period? Perhaps some of my readers have more precise information about the role of that type of highly unusual structure!

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Campina Art Nouveau style round window

An Nouveau style round window rendered in a picturesque provincial manner, 1900s house, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

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

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.

Ethnographic identity veranda poles

Ethnographic veranda poles, mid-1930s Neo-Romanian house, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a well preserved example of veranda poles adorning a large mid 1930s Neo-Romanian style house in central Campina, southern Romania, inspired from the ethnographic motifs of Prahova county. The main particularity of this ethnographic province is that it features a mix of Carpathian and Ottoman Balkan (especially Bulgarian-like) ethnography. The Carpathian ethnographic motifs and artefacts are typically very geometric and angular, a sort of “peasant cubism” reflecting the artistic traditions of a population settled in the area since the first arrivals of the Indo-European populations more than five millennia ago, seen here in the shape and symbols of the capitals adoring the poles. The Ottoman Balkan ethnography is characterised by a more cursive, round geometry with floral motifs, reflecting the influence of the subsequent waves of populations that settled the area in the course of history from Slavs and especially Central Asian origin Turkish populations, seen here in the motifs embellishing the poles’ base. The veranda poles presented in this photograph, the creation of a talented and well informed inter-war Romanian architect, display excellently in their choice of motifs the ethnographic identity of the people of the area where the house was built; it is practically a statement of regional Prahova county identity.

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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.

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

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.

Art Deco brick pattern

An elegant Art Deco brick pattern panel embellishing a late 1930s building in Campina, southern Romania. (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

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

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.

1970s Romanian Modernism

Romania has seen its last strokes of quality architecture during the 1970s, when many of the talented inter-war generation architects were approaching the end of their professional life and their pupils were worthy followers of their masters. The subsequent decade marked the heightening of Ceausescu’s personal dictatorship to Orwellian levels, when the country was saddled with megalomaniac industrial and public architecture projects like the infamous House of the People palace, which today houses the Romanian parliament, allegedly the second largest building in the world. That crass political expediency, very similar with that of the North Korea, at the expense of quality and professionalism marked a terrible deterioration of the architectural profession in Romania, a situation from which has not yet recoverd even now, two decade after the fall of the communist dictatorship. I sometime encounter architecturally notable post-war modernist buildings during my fieldwork assignments throughout the country, which generally fit the rule that were designed and built before 1980 – ’82 (when Ceausescu’s totalitarianism finally griped the society to all levels). One such encounter is the building presented bellow from the city of Campina in southern Romania, dating probably from the late 1970s. Its hallmark is the well designed doorway with a very bold concrete awning, like the ascending path of a jet aircraft. The edifice is now empty and left unmaintained, an indication sign that its future is grim. Many such good examples of post-war modernist architecture are now slowly disappearing from Romania’s built landscape, being replaced by coarsely designed architectural concoctions, products of the rapacious real estate speculation that has engulfed Romania in the recent.

Romanian 1970s modernist architecture, Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

Romanian 1970s modernist architecture, Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

Romanian 1970s modernist architecture, Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

Romanian 1970s modernist architecture, Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

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

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.

The House with Griffins: oil wealth and Beaux Arts architecture in Romania

Campina is a prosperous oil town in the Prahova county, on the southern slopes of the Transylvanian Alps’ piedmont. The wealth generated by the oil business was responsible for a remarkable architecture ever since the inception of the oil industry in late c19th. Romania has been one of the first countries in late c19th to extract and export oil on an industrial scale, with some of the main oil fields located in the Prahova Valley, where Campina became one of the main extraction and refining centres. The images bellow document one of the first and most flamboyant houses built from oil fortunes at the beginning of the c20th, named the House with Griffins, which now hosts the local town hall and mayor’s offices.

The House with Griffins, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The building is a very eye pleasing and well proportioned Beaux Arts style edifice with a symmetrical structure erected in 1901 – ’02 by Gheorghe Stefanescu, a wealthy local businessman active in the oil industry. I have not yet been able to find the name of the architect who designed this house, but my inkling is for an Italian architect, from among the pleiad of Italian architects and builders active in that period in Romania, who built numerous Beaux Arts style public and private houses throughout the country. A few weeks ago I documented a similar example in that of the Targoviste Town Hall.

The House with Griffins, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The two griffins, from which the building derives its name, stand guard at the centre of roof for more than a century now, being remarkably well preserved, looking as they were just out of craftsman’s hands.

The House with Griffins, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The two magnificent square cupolas are covered by well preserved zinc tiles resembling a pointed fish scale model and are crowned by weathervanes of a standard design, which I encountered in many Fin de Siècle house examples from throughout southern and eastern Romania.

The House with Griffins, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The monumental doorway contains two Renaissance type columns inspired from the Doric order that flank a quaint wooden door in its original state.

The House with Griffins, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The first floor veranda still preserves it original wooden window and door frame, which looks of a northern Italian Renaissance type, crowned by a broken arch.

The House with Griffins, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The building is flanked by two smaller outbuildings next to the street line, which probably accommodated the administrative quarters and the servants dwellings. The photograph above presents the beautiful roof-line of one of those smaller outbuildings, flanked in the background by the equally magnificent square cupolas of the main building.

The House with Griffins, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

Another view of one of the outbuilding’s small square cupola.

The House with Griffins, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The House with Griffins is famed in Campina as being the first in town provided with electrical lightning, an absolute luxury in provincial Romania at the start of the c20th and a testimony of the great wealth that started to be amassed by the local entrepreneurs from the oil business. Another remarkable fact was that Gheorghe Stefanescu, the first owner, donated the building after the Great War, when he retired, to function as an apprentice school for oil rig workers, one of the first such establishments in Europe. It is one of those noteworthy examples of Victorian and Great War era philanthropic work in Romania, performed by wealthy native industrialists interested in social reform and betterment of the condition of the industrial workers. I documented in previous articles another two similar examples of local Victorian era philanthropists: one who built a magnificent mansion in the village of Casota and another who built a school for the local peasants in the shape of a Doric temple.

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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.

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

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.

prahovavalley_24oct10-223-copy-2

Lilac leaf shaped Art Nouveau windows

During my recent trip to Campina, an oil town 90km north of Bucharest, on the Prahova Valley, I encountered a recurrent Art Nouveau style lilac leaf motif in the window design of a number of local houses. What made it more interesting, was its popularity well beyond the Art Nouveau era, being also displayed by houses from the inter-war and WWII period. The lilac leaf motif was popular in Art Nouveau representations, being a pattern borrowed from Oriental visual arts, originating in Persian representations and also adopted throughout the Ottoman realm, of which the Romanians were an integral part for several centuries. That could explain the unusual preference for this design in a provincial town like Campina. In the photographs bellow I tried to convey a bit from the enduring favour of lilac leaf shaped windows in this corner of Romania, with meritorious examples dating from the 1900s, the Art Nouveau age, to the 1920s and the early 1940s.

Lilac leaf shaped Art Nouveau window, 1900s, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

Lilac leaf shaped Art Nouveau window, 1920s, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

Lilac leaf shaped Art Nouveau window, 1940s, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

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

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.