Architectural walking tour in Gara de Nord area on Saturday 26 July

Dear readers

This is an invitation to an architectural history tour in Gara de Nord area of Bucharest, open to all of you who would like to accompany me, the author of the Historic Houses of Romania blog, this coming Saturday 26 July ’14, for two hours, between 11.30h – 13.30h!

I will be your expert guide through this architecturally diverse area surrounding Bucharest’s communication hub with the rest of Romania, the grandiose Northern Train Station (Gara de Nord), an edifice combining stern classical outlines with vitalist Art Deco details. The local built landscape is characterised by interesting old hotels and guest houses, former entrainment places, the famous Roads and Bridges School, which is hosted in a remarkable Fin de Siècle university building, a traditional produce market and  a multitude of dwellings built by the railway workers an other highly skilled professionals in styles ranging from picturesque Little Paris, flamboyant Neo-Romanian to fine Art Deco and Modernist. All of these noteworthy architectural sights from one of the most dynamic and ever changing areas of historic Bucharest are waiting to be discovered and photographed by you! :)

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)

The historic architecture of Gara de Nord area of Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Historic Houses of Romania architectural tour in Gara de Nord area of 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.

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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.

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

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.

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)

“The Modernisation of Romania: Royal Destinies” – Presentations and debate at Cafeneaua Liberala, 10 Jan. ’13

Modernizarea Romaniei: Destine Regale

The Modernisation of Romania: Royal Destinies

The event is hosted by Cafeneaua Liberala (The Liberal Cafe, in Lipscani quarter of Bucharest), through the invitation the National Liberal Party Bloggers’ Club, Thursday 10 January 2013, 18.30h – 20.30h.
There are two presentations, followed by questions and discussions:
-120 years since the marriage of Princess Marie of Edinburgh with Prince Ferdinand of Romania - by Diana Mandache and
-The “Little Paris” style – architectural identity in the times of King Carol I - by Valentin Mandache.
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The partitipants will also have the opportunity to buy the authographed volume entitled “Marie of Romania. Images of a Queen” de Diana Mandache, the first pictorial history of the life of Queen Marie of Romania: http://www.royalbooks.se/produkt/45/marie-of-romania-images-of-a-queen.html, and also the album “HM King Michael of Romania – A Tribute” by HRH Prince Radu http://www.royalbooks.se/produkt/44/h-m-king-michael-i-of-romania-a-tribute.html

The most popular 20 Historic Houses of Romania blog articles in 2012

From the blog statistics (click titles to access articles):

  1. The NEO-ROMANIAN ARCHITECTURAL STYLE: a brief guide on its origins and features
  2. ART DECO Bucharest building damaged through ignorance and avarice
  3. Earthquake Events in Bucharest and Their Effect on Historic Houses
  4. Bucharest mid-1930s Art Deco Style House
  5. Superlative Bucharest Art Deco House
  6. CASOTA CONAC: a magnificent Romanian period property with a great potential
  7. Art Deco Style Greek God Bass-Reliefs: Photomontage & Slide Show
  8. The FOUR BUILDING BOOMS of BUCHAREST
  9. The FINIALS of Neo-Romanian style houses
  10. Art Deco Floral Motifs for Birthday Celebration
  11. Bucharest Neo-Romanian style windows
  12. Round towers Art Deco apartment house
  13. Cheerful Art Deco panel
  14. ALLEGORICAL SCULPTURES on the Building of Romania’s National Bank
  15. Bucharest’s Art Deco glass canopies
  16. The Mascarons of Bucharest: Photomontage and Slides
  17. Art Nouveau ironwork ornaments
  18. Art Nouveau Beer Restaurant in Provincial Romania
  19. People from Bucharest’s Art Deco era
  20. Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork

The author of Historic Houses of Romania blog at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House

I had the honour to be invited, yesterday 21 Nov. ’12, at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House, in the great company of Mr. Radu Campeanu, a veteran of the National Liberal Party of Romania, who spent many years in the Stalinist prisons and in exile (he is among the main re-founders of the party after the fall of Ceausescu’s dictatorship), and Mr. Varujan Vosganian, a leading member of that National Liberals. I spoke about the Neo-Romanian architectural style and how the building hosting the event, Ionel IC Bratianu House, by architect Petre Antonescu – 1908, is one of the archetypes of this design peculiar to this country. I trust that the speech was received with interest, judging from the images and video-recoding presented bellow. VM

The author of Historic Houses of Romania blog at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House. Venue: Ionel IC Bratianu House, Bucharest, 21 Nov. 2011

The author of Historic Houses of Romania blog at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House. Venue: Ionel IC Bratianu House, Bucharest, 21 Nov. 2011

November sunlight and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest

November light and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest, house dating from the 1880s, Patriarchy Hill area. (Valentin Mandache)

We had a wonderful sunlight this autumn, beginning roundabout the equinox in late September until the time I write, in the second week of November. This season at 45 degree north latitude in continental Europe, where Bucharest is located, seems to be exceedingly propitious for architectural photography, with its clear, crisp atmosphere and intense colours. The images in this post are of a house in the Little Paris style (a term which I use to describe the late c19th architecture of Romania of that period, inspired mainly from French historicist styles, rendered in a provincial manner in this corner of South East Europe), a manner of architectural design that imprinted the identity of Romania’s capital ever since its day of vogue in the La Belle Époque period. The photograph was taken on 8 November at midday. It is a pity that the house and the entire surrounding garden is left derelict and damaged through being exposed to the elements or theft. These houses can be relatively easily and cheaply restored, but the actual citizens of Bucharest seem to not understand yet the fatal loss of their identity and heritage though that kind of damaging communist and post-communist attitude.

November light and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest, house dating from the 1880s, Patriarchy Hill area. (Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest and Chisinau letter boxes

I enjoy making parallels between the architectural phenomena of different places and periods, to see if I can extract interesting clues about the history and societies that produced and host those artefacts. In fact, for me, the comparatist method is a main means of investigation of the exacting and apparently chaotic built landscape of Bucharest and Romania, where there is not yet a tradition of quality architectural history commentariat and the academic literature in that field is still thin on the ground.

Letter box lid, 1900s house, Icoanei area, Buharest (©Valentin Mandache)

To illustrate that, I have here two letter boxes, their openings more precisely, dating from the La Belle Epoque period. The one above is from Bucharest, adorning a 1900s gate, inscribed on its flap with the Romanian text “Scrisori si Jurnale”, which translates as “Letters and Journals”. The one shown bellow is from Chisinau, the Republic of Moldova, is quite obscured under thick coats of paint. It reads in Russian as “Dlya Pisemi i Gazeti”, which in English is “For Letters and Journals”.

Those cities are in the same area of South East European civilization, but different historical experiences in the last two centuries, exhibiting often diverging trends in their architectural and artistic preferences, as these letter boxes testify. The Romanian one, adorning a wrought iron gate shows the popularity of this architectural element in Bucharest and the country, and the existence of front gardens, people enjoying interacting within the community, while in Chisinau the letter box affixed on a street doorway indicates the preference of houses with walls fronting the street, with intimate interior gardens, away from the peering eyes of neighbours and passerby. The Romanian letter box flap displays a sort of French inspired Beaux Arts decoration indicating the influence of the influence of that country in this part of Europe, while the Chisinau box is surrounded by Renaissance inspired ornaments, underlying the stronger Renaissance tradition and popularity of this style in Imperial Russia. The languages used to inscribe these artefacts also suggest the existence of a more cosmopolitan society in Chisnau. The very fact that this city has now a majority of Romanian speaking population, and this Russian inscription is left in its place, indicates a more tolerant attitude for ethnic diversity than the nowadays boringly mono-ethnic Bucharest.

There are many other interesting architectural and historic fact than can be drawn by comparing these two simple letter box openings, showing the usefulness of this research method in less documented and talked about places like Romania and the Republic of Moldova.

Letter box opening, 1890s house, Chisinau, the Republic of Moldova (©Valentin Mandache)

Letter box opening, 1890s house, Chisinau, the Republic of Moldova (©Valentin Mandache)

The stone base of a Little Paris style iron fence

Istrita stone base of a 1880s cast iron fence, General Manu House, Calea Victoriei Boulevard, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The period street fence bases in Bucharest are usually made from concrete or bricks. The ones made from stone are an expensive choice in a city located in the middle of the Lower Danube Prairie, far away from quarries. They were an option for wealthier proprietors before the era of the concrete, which for Romania’s capital started in the mid 1900s. Therefore nowadays the fence stone bases are a rarity and most of the remaining ones date from the mid to the late c19th. The image above shows such a survivor from the 1880s (could be a decade earlier), adorned with a beautiful cast iron fence in what I term the Little Paris style, prevalent throughout urban Romania in that period, contemporary with the base. Cast iron fences are in general older than the wrought iron ones, which in Bucharest start to be used on a wider scale beginning with the mid-1890s. The stone, a warm lumachel lime, originates from Istrita Hill peasant run quarries in Buzau county, 100 km north east of Bucharest, for centuries the main source of building and pavement stone for the city.

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior

Bucharest is known as the Little Paris of the Balkans on account of its La Belle Époque period French inspired architecture. A large number of those edifices, in various states of decay, are still surviving, imprinting a picturesque character to the city. I use the designation Little Paris style to characterise that particular architectural phenomenon, which is an umbrella term encompassing the European historicist styles popular in c19th Europe, of which the French inspired ones had preponderance, adopted in a provincial manner in Romania. The country was then going through a rapid westernisation process, having just escaped from the orbit of the Ottoman world, after over four centuries within that civilization. The architecture emerging in that process was in large part a grafting of  western motifs and ornaments of what were basically Ottoman Balkan structures and building technologies. There are of course exceptions from that trend and some of those edifices were built in the same manner as their western counterparts. One of those examples is illustrated in the photographs of the interior presented bellow of a house built in 1902 in Mantuleasa area of Bucharest, which I visited during last week’s tour on the subject of the Little Paris style architecture of the city. The house has been restored and also renovated at great expense in the last few years and it looks as the proprietors did a good job at least for some of its interiors, as the ones presented here. The style of this house is a cross between rococo and Empire, with some Art Nouveau elements, such as the wood stove hatch presented in the image bellow. This magnificent interior gives us a better portrait of the tastes and aspirations of Bucharest and Romanian elites in general in that historical period, their desire to Europeanise in a fast mode adopting and internalising the architecture of the Enlightenment in the decades that spanned the end of the c19th and start of the c20th.

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Little Paris style house interior, 1902 house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling project in Chisinau

Chisinau (Kishinev), the capital of the Republic of Moldova, is blessed with a fascinating mix of period architecture dating mostly from the second part of c19th and the first half of the c20th, reflecting the evolution of architectural tastes of the Russian Empire, Romania and the Stalinist Soviet Union. The city contains a number of attractive Art Nouveau style edifices, the most spectacular being a recent remodelling of a Fin de Siècle house, which I encountered during my recent Chisinau trip. The edifice is mentioned on the well documented website “Centrul Istoric al Chisinaului“, which is a comprehensive database of architecturally valuable buildings in the historical centre of the Republic of Moldova’s capital. At the entry detailing the house, which was compiled before the start of the remodelling project, is mentioned that the façade used to be Art Nouveau (named “modern” in the terminology of the Moldovan architects), but completely erased of its decoration during the vicious 1990s post-Soviet property boom. It seems that in the intervening time an enlightened proprietor has decided to bring something back from the edifice’s former glory, as the photographs, which I was able to take from the street, amply testify. In my opinion is a tasteful remodelling and it might also be in the spirit of the original decoration that adorned the house, as I believe the owner had access to old plans and photographs from which the contemporary designer could guide him/her/self. It reminds me of another Art Nouveau project from scratches which takes place in Bucharest, which I documented in 2010 on this blog. I believe that this particular instance is a positive development for Chisinau, and the post-Soviet world, in raising the awareness and appreciation about the local architectural heritage that suffered so much during the two world conflagrations of the c20th, the Soviet era or the most devastating for heritage last two decade since the Soviet empire fell.

Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling project, Pushkin Street, Chisinau (©Valentin Mandache)

Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling project, Pushkin Street, Chisinau: first floor balcony decoration (©Valentin Mandache)

Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling, Pushkin Street, Chisinau: detail of the pediment decoration, 1st floor balcony (©Valentin Mandache)

Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling, Pushkin Street, Chisinau:  detail of the pediment decoration, 1st floor balcony (©Valentin Mandache)

Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling, Pushkin Street, Chisinau: window pediment decoration (©Valentin Mandache)

Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling, Pushkin Street, Chisinau: pilaster capital (©Valentin Mandache)

Grand Art Nouveau style remodelling, Pushkin Street, Chisinau: detail of doorway pediment decoration (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco era ceramic tile supplier tablet

Art Deco era ceramic tile supplier tablet (©Valentin Mandache)

During a recent Art Deco and Modernist walking tour in the central area of the Bucharest I photographed the above rare instance of  a well preserved 1930s tablet containing the name and address of a local ceramic tile (“Rako” make) supplier (someone called “B. Ungureanu”). It is part of the tile pavement flooring at the entrance of the famous Modernist building ARO (“The Romanian Insurance”) Building by arch. Horia Creanga (1938) on Calea Victoriei boulevard. I like the lettering style of the tablet, in the Art Deco vein, seen especially in the shape of the letters “S” or “A” and also its modernity- it can well be a nowadays name tablet, with only the web address missing. The tilling and the tablet make up a good quality Art Deco style flooring design, which seems to be a characteristic of the period seen in other examples that I documented on this blog, such as the case of a kitchen ground and that of a hallway floor.

The 10 most popular Historic Houses of Romania articles in April 2012

  1. ART DECO Bucharest building damaged through ignorance and avarice
  2. The NEO-ROMANIAN ARCHITECTURAL STYLE: a brief guide on its origins and features
  3. Earthquake Events in Bucharest and Their Effect on Historic Houses
  4. Little Paris style wagon house
  5. Art Nouveau ironwork ornaments
  6. Art Deco service door
  7. CASOTA CONAC: a magnificent Romanian period property with a great potential
  8. Images from the Art Deco style walking tour on Saturday 7 April ’12
  9. Mondrian like Art Deco – Modernist hallway floor patterns
  10. Art Deco Era Wall & Doorway Lamps: Photomontage & Slide Show