The Ghika-Cantacuzino Conac: An Aristocratic Country Mansion in Southern Romania

Ghika - Cantacuzino conac, Ciocanesti village, Dambovita county; early c20th photograph. (source: National Archives of Romania)

The plains of Wallachia and Moldavia, the principalities that formed the core of old Romania, are dotted with grand former aristocratic country mansions, known as “conac“, a word borrowed from the Turkish language, reflecting this region’s centuries domination by the Ottoman Empire. The boyars (a term grouping the old Romanian aristocracy and big land owners), built the conacs in a period spanning from late c18th to early c20th, when the large scale crop farming for grain export in the fertile lands of the Lower Danube prairie and those between the Siret and the Pruth rivers became a hugely profitable activity. The conacs acted as magnificent summer residences for the land owners and also as farm’s administrative headquarters. In many instances new villages grew around these mansions. The photograph above taken sometime at the beginning of the c20th, which I found at the National Archives of Romania, depicts one such country mansion in its time of glory: the Ghika – Cantacuzino conac from the Ciocanesti village, Dambovita county, north-west of Bucharest. The architecture is a practical late Victorian – La Belle Époque symmetrical buildings set within the grounds of  a manicured garden, provided with ample arched windows and a central reception hall accessed by a pair of stairs embellished at the top with two large Roman flower pots. On the large classical style pediment at the centre is a plaster with the Ghika family coat of arms.

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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 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.

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.

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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.

From Country Mansion to Village Hall and Back Again

An old country mansion dating from early c20th, built by the local aristocrat/ landlord, in what was perhaps initially a neo-classical style, for use as his residence and farm administrative headquarters. Olt county. (©Valentin Mandache)

The mansion in the image above was confiscated by the communist regime in late 1940s as part of the communist takeover of the private property in Romania, subsequently used as a village hall until early 1990s, then given back to the descendants of the pre-communist owners and now as the result of a lingering property bubble that affects the country, is on the market for huge price tag, much higher than better quality period property from Southern France or Tuscany, left to deteriorate and out of reach of anyone willing to properly restore or renovate it. This is the usual sad trajectory followed by many of the historic houses that dot Romania.

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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 Image 30-Jan-10: Arts and Crafts House within Royal Palace Grounds

A guest house inspired from the Romanian peasant type dwellings, built in the 1920s and located within the Scroviste royal palace grounds, on lake Snagov shore, North of Bucharest. (©ANR/ Valentin Mandache)

The image above shows one of the guest houses from within the grounds of Scroviste royal palace, on the shore of Snagov lake. It is a design combining the peasant house and Neo-Romanian architectures within a peculiar Arts and Crafts matrix (see my earlier post on Romanian Arts and Crafts architecture for details). The house has a ground floor pergola made from wooden poles carved with ethnographic motifs. Similar type carved poles adorn the extended first floor veranda. The palace gardens were landscaped by Fr. Rebhun, a talented and prolific Austrian landscape architect, very active in Romania in those decades, with many completed royal and public park commissions (Royal Pelesh Castle gardens, Cismigiu Park in central Bucharest, etc.) . What I like in this instance in terms of landscape architecture is the pergola with climbing roses, the house nestled between two imposing trees and the peasant stone stone cross at the base of the right hand tree, which together with the wonderful architecture of the house and its special location on the shore of a prairie lake constitute a metaphor of the Romanian peasant life and country’s natural landscape, an excellent product of those very creative decades of early c20th in this country.

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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 7-Jan-10: Derelict Hunting Lodge

A derelict hunting lodge dating from 1910s in the heavily forested hills of Arges county. (©Valentin Mandache)

I apologise for the out of focus picture of the hunting lodge above, which I took in the early summer of last year. It is a very large building and would constitute, into the right hands, an excellent repair/ renovation project. The lodge belonged before WWII to a local industrialist in the Arges county and after the war was taken over by the communist state, which used it initially for a special school for disabled children and later as a summer camp for primary and secondary school pupils. After the 1989 regime change in Romania, the state gave it back to the rightful owners, who left it to deteriorate. Although the property is on the market now, it does not attract any buyers because of the unrealistically high price (higher than for similar properties in France or Italy) characteristic of the property bubble which has affected the local property market in the last few years. Unfortunately, this hunting lodge will probably completely fall apart or get demolished, thus sharing an all too common fate with countless other quaint historic buildings in this country.

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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.

Peasant Devastated Country Mansion

Former country mansion in Wallachia, Giurgiu county, devastated and looted by local peasants during the 1990s, when the property rights were not specifically protected by Romania’s basic law. (©Valentin Mandache) 

I took the above photograph during one of my field trips in the environs of Bucharest, searching for traditional peasant architecture houses and old country mansions or conacs, how these buildings are named in Romania. Most of the larger villages have a country mansion built by the local land owner or aristocrat as a residence and headquarters from which the farm, an important business concern, was run. When the communist regime took over during the collectivisation programme in the 1950s- early ’60s, these mansions were used as collective farm headquarters or local schools. This new role saved them from destruction or complete deterioration. After the events of 1989, and during most of the 1990s, the Romanian basic law (aka Constitution) was lacking specific articles protecting the private property. Also the crypto-communist government of that time was doing everything in its power to stop the descendants of the rightful owners to recover their historic properties. That led to many abuses perpetrated by the locals, who profited of the ambiguity of the law and in more isolated areas, like the countryside, went on a rampage looting and devastating the former aristocratic mansions. The conac presented here, a large residency built in 1920s in a basic Neo-Romanian style, is one of those countless victims. It is hard to believe that the sorry landscape presented in this image, with sad remains of architectural ornaments scattered on the lawn, was the result of events that have happened only a few years ago. The scene in my opinion is more akin to that of an ancient Roman villa rustica devastated by invading barbarians during the fall of the Roman empire…

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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 10-Dec-09: Potlogi Palace Access Stairs

The access stairs and veranda of Potlogi Palace, located in the environs of Bucharest, one of the archetype buildings from which the modern Neo-Romanian architectural style traces its origins. (©Valentin Mandache)

Potlogi Palace is a late c17th edifice built by Italian architects for the Wallachian prince Constantin Brancoveanu on a late Venetian Renaissance country villa framework, using local decorative and structural elements. The symbiosis resulted in a unique style, encountered in similar edifices commissioned by Brancoveanu and his contemporaries (Mogosoaia Palace, etc.), termed by some specialists as “Romanian Renaissance”, but which I prefer to define as “proto/early Neo-Romanian”, as the motifs and elements encountered in these buildings were synthesised at the end of c19th by the architect Ion Mincu and his colleagues within the modern Neo-Romanian style, one of of the remarkable national schools of architecture of that period in Europe.

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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.

Wallachian Country Mansion – Conac

Mixture of architectural styles, with an emphasis on the Neo-Romanian order, in a grand 1910s country mansion from the Romanian province of Wallachia (©Valentin Mandache)

Romania has vast swathes of farming land, which were developed on a large scale starting with mid c19th once the Danube and the straits Bosphorus and Dardanelles waterways were freed from Ottoman control, allowing massive grain exports from the region to the industrial centres of Victorian Europe (see my article describing a Victorian barn from southern Romania built as part of that economic transformation). The local aristocrats and land owners administered their farms from impressive country mansions, called “conac” in Romanian, a word of Turkish origin (see a more extensive article about a typical such mansion: the Casota conac). The conacs were built in a variety of styles, according to the money available and the fashion of the period from French fin de siècle to Neo-Romanian and Art Deco. The interesting example in the image above boasts mainly a Neo-Romanian architecture, typical of 1910s with some French echoes, especially in the roof shape and ornaments. During the communist regime these mansions were confiscated and transformed in collective farm headquarters. Many were badly damaged, especially in the last 20 years of regime change in Romania, characterised by imperfect property legislation concerning the returning of property to the rightful owners. Some conacs are now on the market, but due to the huge property bubble of the last few years in Romania and immature market mentality of local property owners, have inflated, unrealistic prices, in many instances several times more expensive than c18th French châteaux or similar period mansions from Italy.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Daily Picture 21-Oct-09: Sutu Palace

Sturdza Palace. Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Sutu Palace, cca. 1830, central Bucharest- today hosts the Municipal Museum (©Valentin Mandache)

Sutu Palace, a landmark of Romania’s capital, boasts an array of styles from Neo-Classical to Neo-Gothic, fashionable in Central Europe in the first part of the 19th c. (designed by architect Konrad Schwink). Its primary use was that of a ‘party’ palace- hosting receptions, balls and other society events given by the local powerful aristocratic family Sutu; it was not used for habitation. The image above shows the front entrance of the building with an impressive awned platform, made from a cast iron frame, were once upon a time luxurious horse carriages delivered their rich aristocratic occupants or high ranking officers from the many foreign armies that used the territory of Wallachia as a war theatre during the tumultuous 19th century in this part of Europe.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

BANLOC MANOR – a former Aristocratic and Royal Residence in western Romania

 

The following post has previously been published by Diana Mandache  in her weblog on the history of Romanian royalty. Banloc Manor from the Banat region in western Romania represents one of the many examples of grand period properties that once belonged to Romania’s royals and important aristocrats, which in the last decades suffered abuse and are now left to deteriorate, facing an uncertain future. However, there are also a number of positive examples that signal an encouraging trend and I mention here the Royal Savarsin Castle from the same region as Banloc, which is now back in the property of former King Michael of Romania. That estate is currently undergoing a thorough restoration, planned to function as a private residence and also as an ecofriendly hotel. Another example is Count Kálnoky’s castle in central Transylvania that is now a successful hospitality business and organic farm.

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Princess Elisabeta of Romania, the former Queen of Greece, bought Banloc Manor in 1935 from the Karátsonyi family, local  Hungarian-Italian aristocrats, from the Banat region of Romania. Elisabeta restored and remodelled the manor, using it as a holiday residence for herself and other members of the royal family, among them King Michael of Romania and Helen, the Queen Mother.

Banloc Manor in 1942
Banloc Manor in 1942 – Diana Mandache collection

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CASOTA CONAC: a magnificent Romanian period property with a great potential

I would like to introduce you to a remarkable period property from south-eastern Romania, the Casota Conac that I am very familiar with since I grew up in that area. The description bellow is a brief introduction to one of the most prized types of countryside period property in Romania, the equivalent in this part of Europe of the English Manor of French country chateau.

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Casota Conac ©Valentin Mandache

Introduction:

  • “Conac” is the term given in southern and eastern Romania (the old provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia) to country mansions or manors built by local aristocrats, the boyars. Their main function was as summer residences and also as administrative quarters for their large estates. The word itself is of Turkish origin, reflecting centuries of domination by the Ottoman Empire in the Romanian lands.
  • Casota Conac is one of the finest such building examples, a fact that makes it an architectural example for the entire region north east of Bucharest.The conacs were confiscated from their owners by the communist regime and transformed in collective farm headquarters, schools or left to fall into disrepair. After 1989 most of these buildings were restored to their rightful owners and some are now on the market. With Romania’s EU accession, the conacs are formally recognized as historical buildings of high architectural value and seen as important status symbol by their owners.

Geography, distances:

  • Casota conac is located in Buzau county in the southern Romanian province of Wallachia, in the middle of the Baragan plain, a grain cultivated region similar in terms of climate and soil with the American Midwest Prairie, a rare geographical setting for Europe. The black earth soil or chernozem is extremely fertile, ideally suitable for growing the finest organic produce. Two small rivers Cotorca and Sarata, doted by natural and manmade lakes, flowing into Ialomita, an important tributary of the Danube, drain the area.
  • The climate is continental-temperate, similar with lower Austria’s or Hungary’s, which is characterised by its very distinctive four seasons: beautiful springs and autumns, hot summers and cold, snowy winters.
  • Casota is a village of about 500 inhabitants, mostly small holding peasant farmers and commuters to nearby industrial towns. It is part of the district (commune) of Glodeanu-Silistea (5000 inhabitants).
  • The conac is situated close to Romania’s capital, at only 50 miles (82 km) drive from central Bucharest (2 million inhabitants). The Otopeni international airport, country’s largest, is 55 miles (90 km) away. The road from the capital is the main motorway to north-eastern Romania. The conac is located at 2 km distance from first exit north after the small town of Urziceni. The county town, Buzau (120,000 inhabitants), is 45 north of the conac, following the same motorway.

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