Princess’ Nest: a royal tree house in the Transylvanian Alps

Princess’ Nest, Princess Marie of Romania’s tree house in Sinaia. Old post-card (1900s), Valentin and Diana Mandache collection.

Queen Marie of Romania is well known for her multiple artistic qualities, ranging from writing, furniture design to theatre. She also indulged in architectural pursuits, especially in matters of interior design (see her remarkable creations at Pelishor Castle in the Transylvanian Alps for example) or gardening, ideas which she condensed in an interesting essay published in the 1920s, entitled “My Dream-Houses“. Somehow less known is a peculiar tree house structure, illustrated in the old post-card above, built following Marie’s detailed specifications, which she used for recreation in the years when was a crown princess of the Romanian Kingdom. It was known as “Princess’ Nest”, located on the property of the grand Pelesh Royal Castle in Sinaia. Bellow is the finest description of this phantasy house, which I so far found  in my research, by Maude Parkinson, an expert gardener from England who worked for many years in the service of the Romanian Royal House:

In the neighbouring forest Princess Marie, as she then was, had a “Crusoe” constructed. I understand that she adopted the idea from a celebrated arboreal restaurant in the Forest Fontainebleau, which is named after the castaway of Juan Fernandez.

A strong wooden platform was constructed amongst the trees at a considerable height from the ground, and upon this was built a house consisting of two rooms, a kitchen, and a salon.

The kitchen is fitted up with everything necessary for cooking simple dishes or preparing tea. The salon is very prettily furnished, and books in plenty, drawing and painting materials, etc., are always to be found there.

The Queen only takes her special friends to visit her “Crusoe” and a very charming retreat it is. The windows and open door command a most beautiful view. Access to the “Crusoe” is gained by means of a ladder with wide steps, which is let down when required. When the visitors are safely up, they remain there shut in three sides by foliage and cut off from communication with the world bellow save by telegraph, for a wire connects it with the palace. Nothing disturbs the perfect calm and quiet at such a height, and many pleasant hours have been spent by her Royal Highness and a chosen few in that little nest. Nest is indeed the word, for that is the meaning of the Roumanian name “cuib” by which the retreat is generally known.

Maude Parkinson, “Twenty years in Roumania”, London 1921

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.

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.

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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.

Exquisite Comarnic wood fretwork for birthday celebration

Today is my birthday and I would like to celebrate it in style :) with the photomontage of samples from the extraordinarily flamboyant wood fretwork decorations that adorn the gables, balconies, verandas, columns and often most of the façade of the end c19th houses that line up the main street of the city of Comarnic on the Prahova Valley, north of Bucharest. These are jewels of vernacular architecture created at a time of economic well being in the late Victorian period, when the region greatly benefited from the opening of the first direct railway link between Bucharest and Brasov in Transylvania and from there to the rest of Europe. I recommend anyone visiting this beautiful place, only 90 minutes by train from Bucharest. Unfortunately the Romanian heritage authorities do not promote it in any way and the Comarnic fretwork houses suffer damage and some are even demolished as a result of Romania’s amateurish and misguided tourism industry development policies.

Wood fretwork (end c19th) decorating the high street houses in Comarnic, Prahova Valley (©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.

Neo-Romanian style ethnographic roof finials

Neo-Romanian style ethnographic roof finials, late 1920s house house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

There is high diversity of Neo-Romanian style roof finials ranging from simple round shapes to those encompassing Byzantine and Ottoman motifs or highly abstract appearances, or even, in some cases, suggesting fearsome medieval weaponry (spiky maces). The ones inspired from ethnographic motifs and artefacts are represented in a quite small proportion among that multitude; the photographs above presents two such rarer interesting examples. They resemble the carved wooden poles (the upper half image is an abstraction of a haystack or wheatsheaf formed around a carved wooden pole), an element very peculiar to the Romanian peasant art and other ancestral communities from the Carpathian Mountains region.

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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.

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.

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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.

Doorways canopy decorated with sheep rearing motifs

Doorway canopy decorated with sheep rearing ethnographic motifs, 1930s house, Carol Park area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The interesting wood carved decorations presented in this post, embellish the doorway awnings of a semi-detached house dating from the 1930s, located in the Carol Park area of Bucharest. The house has otherwise a nondescript architecture, where the only remarkable artefacts are these masterfully carved sheep rearing ethnographic motifs. Sheep rearing is the most important traditional occupation of the Romanian peasants, a fact abundantly reflected in arts and literature. The Neo-Romanian architectural style frequently contains references in its decorative register to the sheep rearing activity in the form of wood or stone carved ethnographic motifs or plaster mouldings. The images shown here contain fine representations of the sheep head, together with solar disc and rope motif carvings, signifying the key role of the sheep as a sustainer of life for the ancestral peasant communities from the Carpathian Mountains region, where Romania is located.

Doorway canopy decorated with sheep rearing ethnographic motifs, 1930s house, Carol Park area, Bucharest (©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.

Mock Half-Timbered Neo-Romanian Style House

Mock half-timbered Neo-Romanian style house, dating from mid-1930s, Sinaia, the Transylvanian Alps. (©Valentin Mandache)

The architecture of the mountain resort of Sinaia in the Transylvanian Alps, 120km north of Bucharest, is a colourful and interesting gathering of period styles ranging from the historicist orders of the late c19th to the Neo-Romanian, Art Deco and modernism of the inter-war period. Some of the imposing chalets of Sinaia display unusual combinations of architectural orders, such as is the case shown in the photograph above, which I managed to shoot during a downpour on one of many mountain slopes criss-crossing the town. The main features of this house are in the vein of the Neo-Romanian style from the arches of the corner tower veranda, flanked by Byzantine type columns, to the finial crowning its spire or the aspect of the chimney stack, etc. The odd presence here is the mock half timber façade decoration and the steep angle of the tower spire, elements inspired from German historicist architectural models. Responsible for that interesting juxtaposition is the fierce local competition, if I can put it that way, between the architectural models fashionable in Sinaia during the inter-war period. There was much prestige attached to the patriotic Neo-Romanian style, which was also exercised by the Bavarian renaissance style of the Royal Pelesh Castle, one of the country’s most prestigious edifices, hosted within the town’s confines. The architect in the case of this particular chalet seems to have solved the conundrum faced by the owner in that regard, by combining elements of the two architectural orders. The results are quite attractive in my opinion and constitute another proof of the effervescent creative atmosphere of that era in Romania.

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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.

Fin de Siècle Mountain Resort Villa

Mountain resort villa dating from 1890s, Sinaia, on the southern slopes of the Transylvanian Alps, Romania. (©Valentin Mandache)

The above photograph shows a holiday villa built in the 1890s in the town of Sinaia, in the Transylvanian Alps, 120km north of Bucharest. The town undertook at the end of the c19th an amazingly fast transformation from an isolated monastic community to an elegant summer and week end retreat resort, full of villas, casinos, hotels and restaurants, where the Bucharest elites came en masse to escape the canicular midsummer days or for leisure. That rapid transformation was set in motion by the building there of the magnificent Pelesh Castle (started in the 1870s), the amplest private residence of the Romanian Royal Family, and the completion, in the same period, of the railway line that crossed the mountains, linking Bucharest to the rest of Europe. The architecture of the interesting building presented here is a typical Central European Fin de Siècle mountain villa design where neo-rococo and other historicist motifs are grafted on what is by and large a chalet structure.

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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.

Bear & Berries: A Neo-Romanian Style Panel

Bear and berries 1920s Neo-Romanian style panel, Royal Palace area, Bucharest. (Valentin Mandache)

The usual imagery displayed by the Neo-Romanian style decorative panels, on building façades, balconies or verandas, consist of motifs from biblical stories, inspired from the decorations of the late medieval-Wallachian churches. The most encountered motifs are those of the Peacock in the Garden of Eden, the Eagle Protector, the Lion or the Griffins. The above panel, which depicts a bear among berry leaves and vines, grabbing a succulent berry, is more unusual in the fact that is not inspired from the church panoply, but celebrates a very dear theme of the Romanian national romantic imagery, namely that of the rich natural environment of the country teaming with wild life, hosted by the Carpathian Mountains and the surrounding hills. The bear is also one of the totemic animals in Romanian ethnography and hence its depiction in visual arts, painting especially. Its architectural renderings are quite rare and that is why I found this particular panel that decorates the veranda fence of a Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the 1920s, very appealing  and worthy to bring it to your attention.

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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 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.

Neo-Romanian Style Gateway Featuring the Rope Motif

An exquisite Neo-Romanian style gateway assembly featuring the rope motif that originates in late medieval Wallachian church architectural decoration. The rope motif and the two solar discs present at the base of the gate opening are also ancient ethnographic motifs peculiar to the Romanian peasant art and domestic architecture. Late 1920s type house, Gara de Nord area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

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.

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

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 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.

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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 19-Feb-10: Alpine Chalet in the Carpathian Mountains in the 1910s

Villa Cantacuzio in Calimanesti spa town, an Alpine type chalet very popular in pre-Great War Romania among wealthy Bucharest families. (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

The Victorian era and the period until the Great War has seen the development of numerous spa towns in the Carpathian Mountains, the Alpine geology chain that straddles Romania on a length of over 1,000 km. I wrote a blogpost last week about the Sarata Monteoru spa town detailing this developmental process. The old post card above, dating from 1910s, shows a newly finished grand chalet, of an architectural type similar with contemporary examples form Switzeland or Southern Germany, located in Calimanesti spa town in the Transylvanian Alps (the southern section of the Carpathian Mountains). The house servants, local peasants among them, together with some of the owner’s family, the Romanian branch of the Byzantine imperial family of the Cantacuzene dinasty, pose for the photographer in front of the building. The villa is still standing nowadays, as many such buildings throughout Romania, but in a very precarious state because of the last two decades’ lack of maintenance, ownership disputes or affected by the usual unprofessional renovations, which are unfortunately the trademark of a majority of Romania’s post-communist historic house owners.

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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.