Architectural tour in Bellu Cemetery – the national pantheon of Romania, Saturday 1 November

Dear readers,

I am organising a thematic two hours walking tour (between 11.30h – 13.30h) this Saturday 1 November ’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!

The tour costs Lei 35 (Romanian currency) per person, 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)

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

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.

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery

Bucharest’s Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery is located on Boulevard Ion Michalache, in the north west area of the city. It is named “Philanthropy” (“Filantropia” in Romanian) and among the many personalities buried there are Mihail Sebastian, one of my favourite writers of inter-war Bucharest, who wrote the novel “It’s Been 2000 Years…” in which he magisterially documents the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism in this country, or Iosif Sava, the best Romanian classical music commentator. The cemetery also contains a monument dedicated to Romanian heroes of Jewish ethnicity fallen in the Great War.

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery (©Valentin Mandache)

The gate of this solemn place is of a remarkable monumental Art Deco – Modernist style, which in Bucharest is a rare sight for structures associated with religious and funerary functions. The ironwork of the gate is an interesting combination of Jewish (the star of David, menorah) and universalist (the radiating sun) symbols rendered in an Art Deco framework.

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery (©Valentin Mandache)

The assembly also has the outlines of a classical antiquity temple, with its concrete pilasters flanking the entrances and the suggestion of crossing under the massive lintel of an ancient city gate (entering the city of the dead from the city of the living in this particular instance).

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery (©Valentin Mandache)

I like the geometric way in which the menorah, the seven-branched Jewish ritual lampstand, is rendered on the side gate presented in the photograph above, of a quite unusual shape, different from the semicircular branches seen on the Arch of Titus or the coat of arms of the State of Israel.

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery (©Valentin Mandache)

In the above image the rule of three of the Art Deco style is obvious in the three stepped wall framing of the window, crowned by a large pediment embellished with the star of David.

The Art Deco style gate of a Bucharest Jewish cemetery (©Valentin Mandache)

The cemetery’s synagogue is of a c19th architecture, derived from the Jewish central European baroque and dates probably from the first decades of functioning of this burial ground. The star of David is noticeable about the top of each dome covering its hall and side towers.

The Art Deco – Modernist style of the gate of this cemetery signifies, in my opinion, the spirit in step with the times of this once dynamic and creative community, dwindled by the events of Second World War and Romania’s national-communist policies of the second part of the c20th.

The Military Cemetery of Buzau: history and architecture

Buzau is located in southeastern Romania at the great bend made by the chain of the Carpathian Mountains, a place  of many bloody conflagrations between enemy empires and also nation states. The video presents the Military Cemetery of that town, the sections for the Second Balkan War and the Great War.

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

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.

Chronicle of the architectural tour in Bellu Cemetery

Case de Epoca - Historic Houses of Romania blog author at the grave of architect Ion Mincu (1852 - 1912); photo - 7 Jan. '12

I am pleased to report that the architectural tour, which took place last Saturday, in Bellu Cemetery, considered in many aspects as the National Pantheon of Romania, was well attended, despite the sleety weather that we had to face that afternoon. That followed a stormy night, which caused mayhem in Bucharest. In fact we encountered, within the cemetery itself, torn away tree branches blocking the alleys and even an uprooted old tree that has fallen over some of the gravestone, fortunately without causing much damage, facts that all concurred to producing, of what one might say, a perfect cemetery visit atmosphere. The place is really vast, over 28 ha, if we just take into account its main Christian Orthodox denomination section. We were thus able to encounter a multitude of fine architecture monuments hosting the earthly remains of important personalities of this country. The funerary structures display in general the three main historical styles that characterise the local urban architecture from Little Paris, Neo-Romanian to Art Deco and Modernist designs. There are also monuments in ethnographic and composite styles. An important objective of the tour was the viewing and examination of monuments designed by the architect Ion Mincu (1852 – 1912), the initiator of the Neo-Romanian style, which are among the finest in the entire cemetery, for example the sepulchers of G. Gr. Cantacuzino, M. Ghica, or the Gheorghieff brothers. I also brought the participants to Mincu’s grave, where the photograph presented above was taken. To our astonishment, the grave was without a cross or other more apparent funerary monument, except a name plate on a small pedestal outside the grave area itself, a sure sign of neglect from the public and authorities regarding the memory of this important figure in the history of Romanian visual arts. The parcel was in the past embellished with a beautiful Romanian peasant wooden cross, as can be seen in a photograph from the 1920s, in the image bellow, depicting a remembrance gathering of Mincu’s students at his burial place. It is amazing and shocking that now, in 2012, when we commemorate one hundred years since the great man’s death, that there is nothing put in place to properly mark his grave, not even by the Architecture University “Ion Mincu” in Bucharest, which bears his name, and is the chief higher education institution in that field of this country. I just hope that something is in the making, now at the centenary of his death, by the university or other institution, to right that tragic anomaly!

Former students of architect Ion Mincu at his grave in Bellu Cemetery in the early 1920s (photo in "Ioan Mincu" by N. Petrascu, Cultura Nationala, Bucharest 1928)