Walking tour in Mosilor quarter of Bucharest – Sunday 27 July

Dear readers,

This is an invitation to an architectural walking tour in Mosilor area of Bucharest, open to all of you who would like to accompany me, the author of the Historic Houses of Romania blog, Sunday 27 July ‘14, for two hours, between 11.30h – 13.30h.

I will be your expert guide through one of the most picturesque areas of historic Bucharest, that has known a spectacular development after the unification of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia in the aftermath of the Crimean War. It is located on the road stemming from the old city toward Moldavia, known in the olden times as “The Highway” (“Drumul Mare”). Its name comes from that of the famous Mosilor fair, held outside Bucharest’s walls, where traders and peasants from Moldavia and north-eastern Wallachia came with their goods and products. Among of the most active and successful traders were the Armenians, who had strong communities in Moldavia and many settled in the Mosilor area, where they erected the largest Armenian church in south-east Europe. The architecture thus very much reflects an effervescent commercial past, with interesting examples of trader houses built in a multitude of vernacular and elevated styles ranging from Little Paris, Neo-Romanian to Art Deco. There is also a rare examples of Ottoman Balkan era dwelling, Casa Melik, dating from the c18th. Mosilor is thus a most representative sample of what Bucharest has been throughout most of its history, a trade centre for the Romanian lands. Its attractive and very evocative period architecture is waiting to be discovered by you!

The tour costs Lei 35 (Romanian currency), book by emailing v.mandache@gmail.com or using the comments section of this post. You will be informed of meeting place on booking.

I look forward to seeing you at the tour,

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses (tel: 0040 (0)728323272)

Bucharest’s Mosilor area historic architecture (©Valentin Mandache)

Historic Houses of Romania architectural walking tour in Mosilor area, Bucharest

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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.

Architectural walking tour in Piata Victoriei, Sunday 20 July

Dear Readers,

This is an invitation to an architectural history tour in Piata Victoriei area of Bucharest: open to all of you who would like to accompany me, the author of the Historic Houses of Romania blog, for two hours, between 11.30h – 13.30h, on Sunday 20 July ’14!

I will be your guide through a remarkably rich and architecturally varied area of central Bucharest, where famous public buildings often stand side by side with quaint Little Paris, Neo-Romanian or Art Deco style private houses. The character of the local built landscape has been in large part determined by the architecture embellishing two important boulevards that cross the area: Calea Victoriei, the oldest thoroughfare of Romania’s capital, and Lascar Catargiu, an artery opened in the late c19th as a showpiece of the then modern urban planning and architecture, roads that meet in the great square Piata Victoriei that hosts Romania’s government’s headquarters. The tour is thus an excellent opportunity to view and examine a most representative cross-sections of Bucharest’s architectural heritage, spanning examples from great public edifices to small dwellings of delicate elevated or vernacular styles. All of that architectural kaleidoscope in a nutshell is waiting to be discovered and photographed by you!

Book by emailing v.mandache@gmail.com or using the comments section of this post. You will be informed of meeting place on booking.

I look forward to seeing you at the tour,

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses (tel: 0040 (0)728323272)

Historic Houses of Romania architectural tour: Piata Victoriei historic architecture samples, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Historic Houses of Romania architectural tour in Piata Victoriei area, Bucharest

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

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 Contact page of this weblog.

Architectural tour in Bellu Cemetery – the national pantheon of Romania, Saturday 19 July

Dear readers,

I am organising a thematic two hours walking tour (between 11.30h – 13.30h) this Saturday 19 July ’14, on the less conventional subject of after-life or funerary architecture found within the confines of Bellu Cemetery, the most famous and exquisitely embellished necropolis of Romania, the equivalent in these parts of Europe of Paris’ Père Lachaise or London’s Highgate cemeteries. It may be of interest to any of you visiting the city as a tourist or on business looking to find out more about its fascinating historic architecture and identity.

Bellu Cemetery is considered the National Pantheon of this country, containing the graves and remarkable funerary monuments of important personalities that built the modern Romanian nation, people such as Mihai Eminescu, the national poet, Ion Mincu, the initiator of the Neo-Romanian architectural style or general Christian Tell, one of the heroes of 1848 Revolution. It was opened in 1858 as a public burial ground, part of the city’s advanced urban planning developments of the Victorian era, occasioned by a fast increase in population, when traditional cemeteries around urban churches became overcrowded and a health hazard, as was the case with other European capitals of that era. Many of Bellu’s funerary monuments are outstanding architectural tributes that the great, the good and the wealthy dedicated to their dead ones. These structures trace closely the changing architectural ideas and fashions of their time, representing a veritable condensed encyclopaedia of design styles. Their decorative details are often superlative and contain a wealth of symbols ranging from sacred, ethnographic to profane. The cemetery is part of the Associantion of Significant Cemeteries in Europe as a recognition of its heritage value. This place so much laden with history and architectural show-pieces is now among the tours organised by the Historic Houses of Romania blog author!

Book by emailing v.mandache@gmail.com or using the comments section of this post. You will be informed of meeting place on booking.

I look forward to seeing you at the tour,

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses (tel: 0040 (0)728323272)

Historic Houses of Romania: architectural tour in Bellu Cemetery

Historic Houses of Romania: architectural tour in Bellu Cemetery (map source: Bing Maps)

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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.

Building inauguration years rendered architecturally

Building inauguration year in architectural renderings

Building inauguration year in architectural renderings (©Valentin Mandache, Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca)

The photo-collage above is composed by building inauguration year panels rendered architecturally, encountered by the author of this blog on edifices dating from a multitude of historical epochs in Bucharest and other locations in Romania. I used the illustrations as cover photographs for the Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca’s Facebook page. I usually present to the readers a cover photo per week, and the ones here are those scheduled for the first ten weeks of 2014. To find out details about the significance of those years and the buildings hosting them, you can click the links listed below. The links are arranged in the same scheme as the architecturally rendered years mentioned in the collage.

1900 : 1569

1894 : 1666

1724 : 1857

1908 : 1889

1898 : 1879

Volunteers for mock tours of Bucharest’s historic architecture

Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca is looking for volunteers: I am designing two new Bucharest architectural tours (Royal and Muntenian/ Brancovan themes) and would welcome participants for the following mock/ rehearsal tours (free of charge, of course):

  • Tuesday 21 January, the Royal theme, meeting at 11.30h (duration 2h) in front of Carol I statue, Revolution Square,
  • Wednesday 22 Jan., Brancovan theme, meeting at 11.30h (duration 2h) in front of the entrance of Municipal Museum – Sutu Palace.

You need to be physically fit for a walk in town, on a distance of 5km. The participants are welcome to actively engage with the expert in historic houses and ask questions you consider relevant to the tour theme.

Valentin Mandache, Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca

Rehearsal architectural tours: Royal and Muntenian/ Brancovan theme (Historic Houses of Romania - Case de Epoca)

Rehearsal architectural tours: Royal and Muntenian/ Brancovan theme (Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca)

Sketches of representative Romanian historic built landscape sights

VM drawings-001

Sketches of representative Romanian historic built landscape sights by the author of this blog

The built environment of Romania has an obvious personality, and being present permanently around me, it became in the last few years since I am based in Bucharest, an integral part of my intellectual universe. Some more than two decades ago I used to attended earth science courses, and one of the main tenets thought there was the keen observation of the ground and other landscape details to work out the local geological history. I was thought  back then to make as often as I can field sketches in a notebook, which were always preferable to photographs. That habit is still with me in my activity as an architectural historian, but recently in a high-tech form, having acquired and iPad and tried my hand on glass, which in my opinion is in many ways similar with how our c19th and earlier centuries counterparts used to draw and write on slate. My sketches encompass some of the main types of Romanian architectural landscape, which I hope you, dear readers, would find it interesting!

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Balchik, a resort with Romanian royal connections on the shore of the Black Sea

Today most of the Romanian Black Sea shore is, with the exception of the Danube Delta area, a mostly uninteresting flat plain, dotted with large industrial facilities and grey communist era hotel and residential developments. However, the country had between 1913 – 1916 and 1918 – 1940 a southern rocky seaboard with spectacular vistas, which is now part of Bulgaria. In the inter-war period Queen Marie of Romania built there, in the port city of Balchik (the ancient Greek colony of Dionysopolis, founded in c7th BCE), her most remarkable holiday palace, endowed with a magnificent garden and a multitude of guest houses, over a period stretching a decade, from 1927 to 1936. Some of the best Romanian architects of the time contributed with their creations, such as Emil Gunes or Henriette Delavrancea Gibory. Taking the queen’s example, many well to do Romanians also erected summer residences of a superb architectural quality that are still in large part in place and well looked after. The coast around Balchik faces the south and is protected behind by a series of rocky hills and cliffs from the cold winds and winter weather that come over the open Pontic steppe from as far as Siberia and menaces most of the rest of the country.

The inter-war period has thus been a glorious time for Balchik, which saw the wealthy spending summers in the luxury of their seashore villas, and the emergence of a remarkable painters’ and writers’ colony that took advantage of the glorious southern sunlight, appealing coastal landscape and enjoying the picturesque and welcome of the local community that was in important part Turkish, Tatar and Bulgarian.

Balcic - villa Tenha Yuvah - Diana Mandache collection

Balchik – villa Tenha Yuvah (Turkish for “Quiet Nest”) within the Royal Palace grounds – Diana Mandache collection

Queen Marie and her family spent many a great summer holiday at her palace and gardens in Balchik, taking pleasure fast boat rides along the shore. Everything exuded the happiness and well-being peculiar of that period of history, much the same as other European aristocrats, wealthy individuals or famous artists enjoyed places in the Mediterranean or the Gulf of Mexico.

Romanian Royals enjoying a boat ride, Balcic - Diana Mandache collection

Romanian Royals enjoying a boat ride, Balchik – Diana Mandache collection

Remarkable for Balchik and the times when Marie put it on the holiday map as an idyllic place, was the worlds apart contrast of life and aspirations with the Soviet Union’s Black Sea shore communities, over the not far away border. Balchik’s flourishing years as a royal resort overlap with Stalin’s party purges, the killing and sending to prison of countless wretched souls. Romania in less than a decade after Marie built her seaside palace became one of its first victims.

This post was initially published on Diana Mandache’s weblog under our joint authorship.

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway assembly

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway assembly, house buit in the early-1930s, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I divide the evolution of the Neo-Romanian architectural style in three main phases. The early one lasted from its initiation in 1886 by the architect Ion Mincu with his edifice in the national style, Lahovary house, until 1906 when the Royal Jubilee exhibition took place, showing to the public its grand pavilions, many designed in an elevated unitary manner that “canonised” the style, which marked the beginning of its mature phase. It reached an apogee after the country’s victory in the Great War and subsequently in the 1920s decade, when was adopted all over the territory of interbellum Romania. The late 1920s, and the 1930s decade saw the increase popularity and in the end prevalence of the international styles Art Deco and Modernism, which induced a crisis of expression for the Neo-Romanian, thus marking its late phase. The national style managed to strive through an imaginative synthesis with the Art Deco and also Mediterranean inspired forms, resulting in extremely interesting designs. The evolution of the style practically ended with the instauration of communism in the winter of 1947, under the impact of the ideologically driven architectural priorities of the new political regime. It continued to have echoes for another two decades especially in vernacular forms and in motifs used on post-war edifices.

The street gate and doorway assembly presented above belongs in its design outline and period when it was built to the late phase of development of the Neo-Romanian style. The wrought iron gate is inspired from Brancovan style church or altar doors, but expressed in coordinates close to Art Deco. The two gate posts are also derived from church or medieval citadel towers, conforming with the national-romantic message of the style. The door itself shows a series of square panels pointed each by a central disc, which can be understood as the outline of an ethnographic solar disc or an interpretation of a Greek cross. The wall surround of the door is basically an adaptation of a church door opening in reduced to essence coordinates of the Art Deco style. The doorway assembly dates from the beginning of the 1930s, and as the time progressed into that decade, the expression of the Neo-Romanian forms in an Art Deco “ambiance” became even more prevalent and captivating as a form of architectural language.

Art Deco sunbursts

Art Deco sunbursts

Art Deco-like sunbursts in the summer of 2012, Grivita – Domenii area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I am a great fan of the cheerful Art Deco panels that depict sunbursts, rainbows or southern seas themes. In that spirit I have put together a real sunburst photographed last summer in Grivita - Domenii area of the city, a quarter that is still preserving its inter-war charm when it was built up in large part in the Art Deco style, then much in vogue in Bucharest, and the emblem of an insurance company, ornament that dates from the Art Deco era, located in the town centre. Looking at the natural sunburst is easier to understand the message, optimism and confidence exuded by the Art Deco panels of Bucharest and the culture of that beautiful time in the history of architecture.

Art Deco sunbursts

Art Deco sunburst as part of the composition of an inter-war Romanian insurance company emblem, University area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Ottoman period sheep bell from Casota, Buzau county

Ottoman period sheep bell from Casota, Buzau county

Ottoman period sheep bell from Casota area, Buzau county, photo: Valentin Mandache

I have been shown in one of my recent visits to Moray Letham, the owner and restorer of Casota conac in Buzau county, about one hour drive from Bucharest, this interesting sheep bell, which is marked in its upper part by a moon crescent embracing a star, the symbol of the Ottoman state that once dominated these parts of south east Europe. Moray acquired this interesting piece of history from a local peasant. I photographed it against two of Moray’s pieces of c19th French antiques, an artificial stone lion and the pink marble counter top of a cupboard, which are intended to furnish the restored French neo-Renaissance style mansion in the villge.

It is hard to put a date on it, when the bell was made, as the Ottoman Empire is not effectively a lord of this region since the sixth decade of c19th. Following that reasoning, it is possible that the bell should have been produced locally not long before or roundabout that time. My opinion is that the bell is of a more recent date, perhaps an import from neighbouring Bulgaria, which remained under the Ottomans until the end of the 1870s and gained independence in 1908. The Romanian shepherds from the area went sometimes over to Bulgaria to trade their products. The same is true for Bulgarian traders and shepherds who frequently were heading over the Danube to Wallachia and further afield. Thus this bell could have been brought by someone in that process. There is also another possibility, if we take into account that the government settled in southern Romania in the last decades of c19th, until the Great World War, a large number of Vlachs, speakers of Romanian related languages from the Balkans. This bell could well have been brought over by one of those Vlach families  whose quintessential traditional activity is shepherding, when they came from their former places deep in the Ottoman Balkans.

Whichever is the origin of this sheep bell, it represents a tangible testimony of the quite recent history of these places, of the cultural and economic links between the peoples of the Balkans, which are now so much obscured by national borders, official national narratives and nationalist views of history, things which in general are far removed from the reality on the ground.

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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

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

I tried to profit yesterday of the lull in between snowfalls and blizzards that affect Bucharest at the end of this January, and shoot a few photographs on the theme of atlantes and caryatides that embellish some of the historic buildings of Romania’s capital. If on the one hand the term caryatid (pl.-s/es) is well known, as the female figure appearing to support on her head the architectural structure above, the name coming form that of the sculpted goddesses that sustain the lintel of the Erechtheion temple on Athens’ Acropolis, atlantes, on the other hand, is somehow confusing for being the plural of the term atlas, the classical Greek god that support the world on his head and shoulders, a male counterpart of a caryatid. Bucharest does not have too many such ornaments, which are the province of the high historicist styles, encountered also sometimes on more modern buildings, but for a keen eye they reveal themselves on house corners, side streets or at the top of façades of some of the city’s historic edifices. Bellow is a selection of some of the most impressive atlantes and caryatides that adorn Romania’s capital, put in place in a period spanning from the mid-c19th to the 1930s, in styles ranging from neo-Renaissance, neo-rococo, Beaux Arts to classicized Art Deco.

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Atlantes at the gate of BCR building (1900s, Beaux Arts style) in University Square, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Detail of atlas at the gate of BCR building (1900s, Beaux Arts style) in University Square, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Caryatides of Bucharest, residential and commercial building in Curtea Veche area, Lipscani quarter, dating from the 1890s. (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Detail- caryatid assembly, residential and commercial building in Curtea Veche area, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest, dating from  the 1890s. (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Atlantes embellishing a neo-rococo style building dating from the  early 1900s, Smardan Str. area, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Detail of an atlas from the  composition embellishing a neo-rococo style building dating from the early 1900s, Smardan Str. area, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Caryatides flanking the entrance of an 1930s apartment block (arch. Petre Antonescu) in Natiunile Unite square, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Detail of a caryatid (classicized Art Deco figure) at the entrance of an 1930s apartment block (arch. Petre Antonescu) in Natiunile Unite square, Bucharest.

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Terracotta caryatides on top of Stirbey Palace, neo-Renaissance style (Palladian inspiration), dating from the mid c19th, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Detail of a terracotta caryatid, Stirbey Palace, neo-Renaissance style (Palladian inspiration), dating from the mid c19th, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Atlantes and caryatides, Macca – Villacrosse covered passage, 1890s, neo-rococo style, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

Atlas and caryatid- detail from the assembly embellishing the entrance of Macca – Villacrosse covered passage (1890s, neo-rococo style), Lipscani quarter, Bucharest (©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.

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

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

The decorative stone of a Bucharest tube station

Politehnica tube station - ornamental stone

Politehnica tube station, Bucharest – ornamental stone, laid in the mid-1980s, photo Valentin Mandache

Bucharest’s public and private edifices erected in the last two decades, since the fall of communism, are, apart from the general forgettable design, built in high proportion using mass produced imported materials. Most of that is cheap, low quality, characterless and as regards the resulted architecture, can in my opinion, easily be categorised at kitsch. That situation also reflects the tastes and values of the actual generations engaged in building or renovating edifices of this town and country. They are in such stark contrast with the times of in the inter-war and subsequent communist periods when the architectural materials were in greatest proportion sourced within the country. That produced interesting and attractive results, with the ornamental and construction stone sourced in the Carpathian Mountains or in rocky hills of the province of Dobrogea, on the Black Sea coast, which are from that point of view a wonderful geological kaleidoscope, a bottomless source of high quality marble, limestone of different sorts, travertine, granite of various colours and grains, basalts, sandstones, etc.  I have in the image above a sample of that fabulous panoply of ornamental stone used in one of the grand communist era projects, Bucharest’s metro transport system. It shows the pavement of the Politehinca station, composed of red limestone peppered by Jurassic age marine fossils, which was sourced probably in the Apuseni (Western) Carpathians, the rock being formed in a geological age when those parts were a continental shelf covered by the warm seas on the Equator. My Dr. Martens shoes stand on a band of nicely granulated pinkish granite, sourced in my opinion in northern Dobrogea (it may also be from the Apuseni Mountains). The composition is evocative of the geographical and geological identity of this country, a fact which is no longer encountered within the pitiful built landscape of the actual post-communist years.

Bucharest early wrought iron doorway awning

Bucharest doorway wrought iron and cast lead doorway awning dating from the early 1890s. (Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest doorway awning made from wrought iron and cast lead, dating from the early 1890s, Patriarchy Hill area. (©Valentin Mandache)

This is an early type of Little Paris style doorway awning, dating from the early 1890s, being a precursor of the clamshell one, which was typical of the Art Nouveau fashions. Most of these examples, now rare, are in a bad state of repair, and despite the fact that they are important markers of Bucharest’s architectural identity and history, remain uncared and unloved, ignored or even sold for scrap iron, a reflection how the local citizens, after the decades of communism and shallow post-communist transition, value their heritage.

Little Paris pediment through wires & door

Little Paris through wires

Little Paris pediment through wires, the former American Library, 1890s building in the Little Paris style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The two images in this article are from the building, which was, in the 1980s, at the height of Ceausescu’s communist totalitarianism, the American Library, the United States’ embassy’s cultural arm. I was a student at the University of Bucharest then and became a member of this library that constituted a true and proper oasis or refuge from the distorted reality and terror of the daily life in Romania under that primitive dictatorship. The building which was then rented by the embassy from the state, was given in the last decade or so, back to its former owners, the Gerota family, who have it now on the market to let out as office spaces.

The US embassy obviously took excellent care of this landmark edifice of La Belle Époque period Bucharest, which is one of the amplest and now best preserved Little Paris style houses of Romania’s capital. I had recently the opportunity to revisit the building and take a series of photographs. I hope that this visual sample presented here would convey something from its magnificence and sense of Bucharest’s character as the Little Paris of the Balkans.

Interior door, the former American Library, Bucharest

Interior door, the former American Library, 1890s building in the Little Paris style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Central School for Girls’ logo

The Central School for Girl's logo, displayed on the street facade of this renowned Bucharest high school (the abreviations stands for Scoala Centrala de Fete),

The Central School for Girl’s logo, displayed on the street façade of this renowned Bucharest high school, designed by architect Ion Mincu in the early Neo-Romanian style, 1891. The abreviations stands for Scoala Centrala de Fete. (©Valentin Mandache)