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.

Victorian era coloured glass in Bucharest

Victorian era coloured glass, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The photograph above shows a sector of one of the picturesque Bucharest glazed entrances that adorns a Little Paris style house, dating from the 1890. The structure still preserves some of its beautiful coloured glass panes, artifacts used with great effect in that era to decorate doorway windows, conservatories or wall windows. The coloured glass sheet was quite an expensive item more than a century ago, compared with its transparent counterpart, still not yet mass produced. The palette of colours available was usually reduced to four strong hues: red (ruby), blue (dark blue), yellow (amber) and green (moss), which are all included,  a rare such instance for Bucharest, within the iron frame of this particular conservatory type entrance. From my field observations of edifices built between 1880s – 1910s, the ruby glass is most frequently encountered, followed in order by the dark blue, amber and green panes.

Architectural hen pen from Fin de Siècle period

Architectural hen pen dating from the 1890s, Targoviste, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The backyards of the period houses often hold hidden treasures and curiosities of architectural history, from fragments of decorations and structures much older than the street façade, to garden gazebos or former farm constructions. I had the rare opportunity to encounter in Targoviste, 80km north-west of Bucharest, a beautiful hen pen structure, dating from Fin de Siècle period, which models a human dwelling at a smaller scale, of a style popular in those times in Romania’s towns. It follows the design of an Alpine chalet, which is part of the spa architecture fashion spread in the 1880s -1890s throughout central and eastern Europe.

Architectural hen pen dating from the 1890s, Targoviste, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The former backyard of the grand house that contained this hen pen is now exposed to the street following probably the demolition of the building that previously obscured it and sale of the plot of land on which once stood. The pen was of a mixed domestic fowl use, with compartments for hens and possibly ducks or geese within its lower floors and pigeons in the attic.

Architectural hen pen dating from the 1890s, Targoviste, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

I like the wood fretwork on the edge of the roof eave, so typical of the late Victorian period houses. Two pigeon holes flank a larger central door used for keeper’s access, through which is cut a third pigeon hole.

This is an excellent piece of domestic architecture, still quite well preserved and relatively straight forward to restore. It shows the sophistication of the Romanians of more than one century ago, who were most certainly more elevated and finer in their architectural tastes than their nowadays post-communist counterparts.

Elaborate c19th lamp-post in Bucharest

Bellow is the image projected against the blue sky, in seven different processing sequences, of what is probably one of the most elaborate c19th (1890s, Little Paris style) lamp-post in Bucharest, which in its heydays functioned by burning gas. Actually there is a pair of them hosted in Domnita Balasa churchyard in the centre of the city. Each particular appearance reflects, in my opinion, the various moods of Bucharest’s “architectural soul”.

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lamp-post in Bucharest

Bellow is the image projected against the blue sky, in seven different processing sequences, of what is probably one of the most elaborate c19th (1890s, Little Paris style) lamp-post in Bucharest, which in its heydays functioned by burning gas. Actually there is a pair of them hosted in Domnita Balasa churchyard in the centre of the city. Each particular appearance reflects, in my opinion, the various moods of Bucharest’s “architectural soul”.

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Elaborate c19th lampost, Domnita Balasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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)

Cast doorbell

Cast doorbell, Cismigiu area, Bucharest (photo Valentin Mandache)

The cast doorbells are a rare sight in Bucharest. I encountered this one during an architectural walking tour in Cismigiu area, adorning the entrance of a Little Paris style house (dating from the 1900s). I am not sure if this is an original item or an something more recent, rendered in an “antique” manner. However, the doorbell looked well integrated within the overall architectural design of the house.

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)

Little Paris style wagon house

Little Paris style wagon house dating from the 1890s, Timpuri Noi area, Bucharest (©Valentin Manadache)

This is a relatively well preserved example of wagon type house (built on a narrow strip of land, of an oblong shape, with the entrance placed on its length, hence the “wagon” shape) in the Little Paris style. That architecture flourished in the La Belle Époque period in Bucharest and many other Romanian towns, being a picturesque local interpretation in a provincial manner of French and other c19th Western historicist styles, grafted on local traditional Ottoman Balkan structures. The house in this photograph was recently mended and crudely painted over with modern DIY store sourced paints. I am glad the proprietor preserved the old window wooden frames and used plain metal sheet for the roof, as this type of house was usually covered. The building preserves its old glazed entrance, with some quaintly coloured glass panes still in place.

Art Nouveau gate

Art Nouveau style gate dating from the1900s, Mosilor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This article is on the theme of today’s architectural tour on the Art Nouveau style of Bucharest. The photographs present a rare Art Nouveau style gate found during one of my tours last year. It is in a quite run down state, but still preserves its design details from the 1900s period. I like the gate handle and the decorative lock plate, which in a nutshell convey the air of those times.

Art Nouveau style gate dating from the 1900s, Mosilor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau balcony

Art Nouveau style balcony, 1900s apartment house, Izvor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I am planning an Art Nouveau architecture tour for this Saturday, announcement to follow. I hope that this image of a Bucharest Art Nouveau style balcony would act as a foretaste for that event. The ironwork of the balcony contains abstract representations of flower motifs. Also Art Nouveau are the plaster decorations embellishing the window openings. Unfortunately the attractive over a century old design of this apartment house is diminished by the air conditioning units affixed without any regard for aesthetics, a situation encountered at every step and corner in Bucharest. The air conditioning units are still seen as a high status symbol (as the satellite dishes not long ago) by the local property owners and consequently are “flagged” with impunity even on the best period buildings of this city.

Sample image from today’s architectural tour: “Bucharest as the Little Paris of the Balkans”

Little Paris style house dating from the1890s, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is the place where the well attended and fascinating today’s architectural tour about the Little Paris style architecture (what I collectively term the Fin de Siècle architecture of Romania inspired mainly from French c19th historicist styles) of Bucharest came to a close. The building used to be a tradesman’s house, now in the property of the local authorities, hosting the population registry office. Its particular style is a flamboyant French neo-rococo, with some neo-Gothic echoes such as the medieval knight armour representations at the base of each Corinthian-like pilasters. The most delightful in my opinion is the wooden doorway, well preserved and straight forward to restore. The monogram of the first proprietor of the house, “N.S.” is visible on the ironwork of the two door windows and on the entrance pediment. The building follows the general plans of a “Pompeii house” with a central hall illuminated by a lantern up on the roof, with rooms distributed around the hall. The Little Paris style houses are among the cheapest period properties in Bucharest and Romania’s citys, being also a rewarding potential restoration project for anyone brave enough to undertake such a task.

Little Paris style pediment in Buzau

Little Paris style pediment, Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)

The example of house entrance pediment pictured above is from the town of Buzau in south east Romania, from the period when the Little Paris style (what I call the c19th French and other western historicist styles interpreted in a provincial manner in Romania)  was in vogue throughout the whole country. The finish is a bit crude, but charming, the assembly truing to emulate the entrance of a Corinthian order temple. I like the monogram of the owner flanked by the year of construction of the house, at the beginning of the La Belle Époque period.

If you would like to find out more about the Little Paris style and how it imprinted the architectural character of Bucharest, I organise a special tour on that theme this coming Saturday, details here: http://historo.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/walking-tour-saturday-24-march-bucharest-as-the-little-paris-of-the-balkans/

Art Nouveau ironwork ornaments

This is quite an extensive example, for Bucharest, of Art Nouveau ironwork, in a city where the Art Nouveau details are frequently of  modest dimensions and usually part of larger structures expressed mainly in Little Paris or Beaux Arts styles. The building in this instance, located in the Dorobanti area, displays a series of other Art Nouveau features, such as on its main doorway (not visible here), window opening decorations or columns. However, the ironwork is the most remarkable among them and of a good quality design, pleasing to the eye. The entrance awning rests on two “free flowing” long leaf motif corbels, while the attractive stairs balustrade displays abstract motifs recycled from traditional Japanese drawings, a main source of inspiration for this style. As everywhere in Bucharest, there are aggressive renovations and modern “improvements”, like the white plastic frame double glazing and the air conditioning unit, which obliterated original architectural elements, damaging the visual value of this building.

Art Nouveau ironwork ornaments, 1900s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau ironwork ornaments, 1900s, house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau ironwork ornaments, 1900s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau ironwork ornaments, 1900s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Wagon house in Buzau

Wagon type, Little Paris style house dating from the 1890s, Buzau, south east Romania (©Valenitn Mandache)

This type of house is one of the most popular and also picturesque that has been built in Romania’s urban areas of the La Belle Époque period. It is commonly known as a “wagon house” because of its oblong shape, and doorway placed at the centre of its length, the edifice somehow resembling a railroad car. The house in most cases faces the street with its width, often sporting a charming round corner between the garden and street façades, as can be seen in the quaint example presented in this article, from Buzau in south east Romania. I consider the wagon house as a paradigm of the architecture that pervaded that age, what I call the Little Paris style, the local provincial interpretation of the c19th especially French historicist architecture.

Wagon type, Little Paris style house dating from the 1890s, Buzau, south east Romania (©Valenitn Mandache)

The round corner has a floral decorative panel, containing representations of scattered roses, amplifying the impression of peace, bucolic and prosperity of the Fin de Siècle era in Romania. In other instances the round corner is empty or decorated with neo-rococo style panoplies containing the monogram of the proprietor and/ or the year of the construction of the house.

Wagon type, Little Paris style house dating from the 1890s, Buzau, south east Romania (©Valenitn Mandache)

I like the wagon houses, being one of my favourite type of Romanian period edifices, due to their intense quaintness, human scale and use of environmentally friendly construction materials, similar with those used in the centuries before the industrial revolution. This variety of period property is also among the cheapest to acquire and restore now in Romania.