Adobe peasant house from the Oriental Carpathian mountains

Adobe peasant house, Uz Valley, Oriental Carpathian mountains, Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The adobe constitutes an excellent building material widely used until very recently in Romanian countryside. It is made from soil with a high clay and sand content, mixed up with water, bound together by straw and horse or cow manure. The compound is then cast in brick shape moulds and left to dry in the sun for a number of days (2-3 weeks). A finer variety of adobe is also used as a plaster, coating the walls made from those type of bricks. That plaster can later be whitewashed or painted in a diversity of colours and motifs. The buildings made from that material provide a good degree of comfort and insulation from the excesses of the Romanian climate characterised by very hot summers and utterly cold winters. Adobe is in many aspects similar with cob or mudbrick, but in my opinion more robust, durable and efficient than those. I grew up in a village where most of the dwellings were made from adobe bricks, even parts of my parents’ house was built from that material. I fondly remember as a child trampling my feet in the mud, together with other fellow villagers, in preparation for the bricks, literally going round in circles, a ritual like scene so much part of the ancestral village life.

The photograph above, which I made during my recent trip to Uz Valley (Darmanesti, Bacau county) in north eastern Romania, presents such an adorable adobe peasant house. It is a very simple, but exceedingly functional structure, with everything a peasant family needs: a kitchen, placed on the left hand side of this example, and a large bedroom, spaces divided by a corridor where the doorway is placed. This house type is quite ubiquitous throughout the Romanian lands, being built as such since at least the c18th when the necessary tools and technology became widely available in the region; of course the roof was then made from wooden shingles, the ceramic tiles seen in this example being a contemporary “amelioration”. The adobe walls are surrounded by a nice veranda made from simple beams, only the wooden columns having a bit of reduced to essence decoration. The back roof slant is extended to create a covered area behind the house, where the family keeps the firewood dry and other major household items (a cart, tuns, etc.)

I very much like the balanced proportions of this house; it is something there reminding me of the Golden Ratio, similar, if I am allowed to compare, with that of the classical antiquity buildings.

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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.

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

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.

Nothing is new on Wallachian roads

A mid c19th road in Wallachia, southern Romania. Old engraving by Adrian Schreyer, etched by F. Krostewitz, published in the United Kingdom by the "Magazine of Arts" (Valentin Mandache collection)

Because today is 1 April with its jokes and pranks, I thought that an amusing historical reference to the perennial bad state of repair of the Romanian roads would be very much in that spirit. The engraving above, which is more than one and a half century old, presents to the then British readers of the “Magazine of arts” a typical highway in Wallachia, now a province in southern Romania. The road is full of mud, menacing water puddles and deep trenches made by heavy horse drawn carriages, which probably made a hell from the life of poor animals, as one can see from the expression on their faces in the engraving. In my experience, the situation is not much different today, with Romania’s roads full of potholes, and in many instances muddy and criss-crossed by water filled trenches just as in the above image. It just shows a “deep” local tradition in that respect and that the government ambitions to make Romania a top tourist destination have a long way to go.

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I endeavour through this daily series of 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.

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.

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.

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

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 windows frames with Romanian ethnographic carvings

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One of delightful aspects of the Art Deco architectural style in Bucharest is its assimilation and recycling of indigenous decorative motifs, resulting in surprising adaptations of this decorative order to the local cultural environment. I found that fact nicely reflected in the window frames, which adorn Bucharest houses built in the mid-1930s, shown in the above slide show. The frames are carved with Romanian ethnographic motifs, typical of the peasant art of rural Romania, representing examples of the creative artistic fusions that give a strong local flavour to an international architectural order.

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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.

Great War memorial on village green with the effigy of King Ferdinand of Romania

The Great War Memorial for the fallen soldiers in the village of Zatreni, Valcea county/ Photograph ©Valentin Mandache

This post has originally been published in Diana Mandache’s weblog on royal history, and is dedicated to the anniversary tomorrow, 24 August, of King Ferdinand of Romania’s birthday (1865 – 1927), the sovereign of the country during the Great War. The article reflects an important aspect of the local identity, at the village level, fostered by the dramatic impact of the Great War events on the Romanian countryside.

The citizens of Zatreni in south west Romania, paid a high price during the Great War, with 233 men killed in action, a huge loss for a village. The memorial on the village green dedicated to the local heroes features a well rendered effigy of King Ferdinand, the supreme commander of the Romanian army, seen in the above photograph. The monument, most amazingly, survived the communist period, probably because there was no inscription mentioning the sovereign’s name on the monument, which made the local communist authorities believe and propagate the idea that the bas-relief represented just a Great War era soldier personifying the army. Romania’s entry into the war on the side of the Entente was decided by a special Crown Council on 27 August 1916. DM

King Ferdinand’s Proclamation – 28 August 1916

Romanians! The war which for the last two years has been encircling our frontiers more and more closely has shaken the ancient foundations of Europe to their depths. It has brought the day which has been awaited for centuries by the national conscience, by the founders of the Romanian State, by those who united the principalities in the war of independence, by those responsible for the national renaissance. It is the day of the union of all branches of our nation.  Today we are able to complete the task of our forefathers and to establish forever what Michael the Brave was only able to establish for a short moment, namely, a Romanian union on both slopes of the Carpathians. [...] In our moral energy and our valour lie the means of giving him back his birthright of a great and free Rumania from the Tisza to the Black Sea, and to prosper in peace in accordance with our customs and our hopes and dreams.

Romanians! Animated by the holy duty imposed upon us, and determined to bear manfully all the sacrifices inseparable from an arduous war, we will march into battle with the irresistible élan of a people firmly confident in its destiny.  The glorious fruits of victory shall be our reward. Forward, with the help of God!  FERDINAND   [Source: Records of the Great War, vol.V, National Alumni, 1923]

All rights reserved Diana Mandache’s Weblog Royal History

see also Forgotten Basreliefs representing Romanian royals

Neo-Romanian Architecture During the Great War

A sketchy life scale model suggesting a Neo-Romanian style house, exhibition at the Petit Palais, Paris 1917. (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

Romania entered the war in August 1916 on the side of the Entente and after initial successes, was quickly overran by the Central Power armies, which forced the government to conclude a humiliating armistice in December 1917. France and Britain had little to offer in terms of consistent assistance to their ally in the Balkans, and consequently the country had to endure the enemy occupation of most of its territory and an attrition war in the refugee crowded eastern half of the province of Moldavia, which remained under the Romanian army control, helped by a Bolshevik infested Russian army. The postal card above presents a scene from an exhibition of solidarity with the Romanians, organised in Paris during those dark days, showing to the Parisian public, itself war weary, how a house in Romania would have looked like. The architect G. Sterian, had tried to suggest a Neo-Romanian style dwelling using makeshift materials and papier mache mouldings. This life scale model, which is more like a theatre stage setting, surrounded by palm tree plants alien to the Romanian climate and landscape, convey very aptly the tenebrous and unsettling war time atmosphere during one of the most difficult phases of the Great War for both Romania and France.

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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.

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.

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

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.

Neo-Romanian Ethnographic Verandas

Neo-Romanian ethnographic wooden verandas photomontage; examples dating mainly from 1920s, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

A main source of inspiration for the Neo-Romanian architectural style is the rich ethnographic art of the Romanian peasants. The geometric pattern wood carvings that adorn the peasant houses in the vast Romanian countryside are some of the most exquisite expressions of this art. The trend to include these decorative elements in the urban setting of the Neo-Romanian started in the early part of the inter-war period as a vivacious Arts and Crafts current inspired from the abundant local sources. It was promoted by many architects, such as the remarkable Henriette Delavrancea-Gibory. The six examples of verandas, which I selected for the photomontage presented here (see also the slide show bellow), is just a small sample from the multitude of such artefacts adorning the Neo-Romanian houses of Bucharest.

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I endeavor through this daily series of images and small articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Daily Picture 25-Mar-10: On the Village Green 110 Years Ago

A Sunday dance, "hora" in Romanian, with the participation of all local classes, on the village green sometime in late 1890s in Southern Romania. (Old postcard - Valentin Mandache collection)

The old postcard above shows a typical village green from the lower Danube plains region Romania at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. The scene is that of a Sunday dance, or “hora” in Romanian, an energetic round dance where eligible young peasant men and women met and danced together in their Sunday bests (homespun and richly embroidered with ethnographic motifs costumes). The custom is still present in many of Romania’s villages, especially in the more isolated mountain communities. The Sunday dance was a very important village event, even more important than the church service, at which often also participated the local landlord, the estate administrator and their families. The photograph above shows on the left hand side a covered horse carriage, which most probably belongs to the local land owner, the “boyar”, the wealthiest local, who came from his nearby country mansion, or “conac“. Next to it is another somehow more modest carriage which probably belonged to the estate administrator, the “arendas” in Romanian, and further to the right is another really modest horse drawn carriage which probably belonged to one of the local state officials like the teacher or policeman. In the middle of the round dance is the orchestra, usually a gypsy band composed by musicians from the local gypsy community, descendants of the former estate slaves, an ethnic group that was freed by the state only in mid-c19th, after half of millennium of slavery. They play at the usual instruments in this region like a portable zimbalon, violin and lute, etc. There is a group of two ladies in c19th town dress on the right hand side of the photograph who keep a formal distance from the peasants; they are presumably members of the landlord’s family. There are however some in the crowd in town dress that mingle happily with the peasants. The village green is surrounded by an assortment of peasant houses- in the foreground two modest, basic houses with thatched roof, typical of very poor peasant families. Next to their right is the fence surrounded courtyard of a wealthier peasant with a better house, that has a shingle covered roof. In all the image is a wonderful glimpse of a happy moment in the life of a Romanian village at the height of the Victorian era, and a good document that nowadays helps in understanding the psychology and way of life of the Romanian peasants for anyone interested in visiting these areas or buying a traditional house there.

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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 21-Mar-10: Neo-Romanian Style Roof Ridge Ornament

Neo-Romanian style roof ridge ornament, adorning a late 1920s grand house in Mihai Voda area of Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The ornamental roof ridge embellishing many of the Neo-Romanian style house, together with their roof finials (see my article about this particular artefact here) are some of the most peculiar looking decorative elements adorning buildings in this architectural style particular to Romania. I was very amused when one of my readers in a comment/ email compared them with “Star Treck” spaceship antennae . The Neo-Romanian roof ridge is inspired form its wooden equivalent found on shingle roofed peasant houses in the villages of the Carpathian Mountains and also from the ornamental roof ridge of some of the late medieval Wallachian churches, which are in their turn inspired from Byzantine/ Ottoman Balkan motifs. I photographed the example above a few days ago in the first proper spring light this year. It is a well designed Neo-Romanian style roof ridge, cross-inspired from peasant and church models, adorning a beautiful grand edifice in the Mihai Voda area of Bucharest.

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I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.

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

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Daily Picture 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.

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

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 13-Mar-10: Peasant Wooden Gate for Town House

An exquisite and well preserved wood-carved (oak) gateway, exhibiting ethnographic motifs found in the villages of southern Romania, embellishing a mid-1930s Neo-Romanian style town house. Sincai area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.