Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova

This picturesque c19th pre-railway age bridge is located in the environs of Crasna in the county of Vaslui in eastern Romania. It is known as Podul Doamnei (Lady’s Bridge), spanning about 90 metres over a former riverbed of the river Barlad, which now flows nearby within embankments. The structure dates from 1841, at the height of the Russian Empire’s protectorate over the Danubian Principalities of Moldova and Wallachia. It represents a vestige of of the first modern road building programme in the old Moldovan Principality, promoted by Michael Sturdza, its then reigning prince.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The bridge was on an important commercial road, linking the principality’s highland centres in the Carpathians, where a relative majority of the population lived with crop producing and animal husbandry lowlands. There was also an important local traffic between some of the “itinerant” capitals of the c15th – c17th princes of Moldova, towns as Husi, Barlad or Vaslui, from a time when that institution functioned as a travelling princely court. The emergence of the railway age in Romania, the state that emerged through the union of Moldova and Wallachia in the aftermath of Crimea War, gave a fatal blow to this road’s commercial traffic and the local economy that it sustained. As a consequence nearby villages disappeared, the population moving to more prosperous ones along the railway. Diminished traffic and landslides made the authorities in the mid c20th to change the course of the road and finally in 1981 to close the bridge and declare it an architectural monument, which is still its status today.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

Its designer was major Singurov, a Russian army engineer attached to the Moldavian princely court, charged with the public works, during the protectorate of the Tsarist Empire over the principality. That was a period of reforms that marked the onset of  Westernisation within the Danubian Principalities under the aegis of Russia, known as the Organic Statute (Regulamentul Organic in Romanian) administration, which lasted for two decades, between 1834 and 1854, when the onset of the Crimean War put an end to that relationship. It is somehow ironic on account of the traditional anti-Russian discourse in Romania that the Russians were those who first implemented the benefits of Western cultural, constitutional and economic advancement in this region dominated for centuries by the Ottoman Empire and its civilization. That remarkable process, which nowadays is forgotten or swept under carpet, was magisterially detailed by the American historian Barbara Jelavich in her book Russia and the Formation of the Romanian National State, 1821 – 1878 (Cambridge University Press, 1984). The Doamnei Bridge is thus a beautiful architectural relic of that epoch of upheavals and transformations.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

Prince Michael Sturdza (1794 – 1884), who ordered the construction of the bridge, was a prominent personality of the time, influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, and an able administrator. He was also the first ruler in the Danubian Principalities to free Gypsies (those owned by the court and the monasteries) from their centuries old enslavement. The bridge was part of an ample road building programme of the forth and the fifth decade of the c19th initiated to stimulate the Moldovan economy, financed with proceeds from grain exports, the main revenue making activity in this region until the emergence of the oil industry at the beginning of the c20th.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The architectural style of the bridge is quite utilitarian, although on broad lines is baroque, a style associated with the Westernisation process in Russia itself. The most conspicuous baroque like elements are the decorative panels at the centre of the bridge parapets that contain dedicatory inscriptions on each interior side in Romanian and Latin languages respectively.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The northern side inscription in in Romanian rendered in an peculiar transition lettering, between the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets, another instance of the intense Europeanisation drive at that time, when the Romanians aimed to shed not only the Ottoman influences, but also the Slavic heritage of the Middle Ages, a continuous source of conflict with the Russian overlords.

The inscription reads as: “This bridge is edified by the orders of the high prince [voyvode] Michael Sturdza of Moldova, in his 8th regning year and built under the ministry of Mr. logophete Constantin Sturdza, has been opened to the travelling public on 8 November [Julian calendar] 1841″ (the original Romanian text is as follows: “Acest pod este construit din poronca pre inalt Domn Mihail Grigoriu Sturza V.V. [voyvode] domn Terei Moldovei in al VIII an al domniei ?sale si savarsinduse supt ministeria d log Const Sturza sau deschis pentru călători în 8 Noem 1841″).

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The inscription in Latin is on the southern side at the centre of the bridge, mirroring the first one, and contains a translation of the Romanian text detailed above.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The Latin text: “Pons haec extructa est Jussu Serenissimi Domini Michaelis Grigoriu Stordza, principis regnatis Moldaviae, in octavo anno regiminis sui. Ad finem quae deducia Ministerio D. Logoteta Const. Stu[rdza]. Patefacia Via locibus 8 Novembris 1841″ (source: Podul Doamnei din Chitscani). Both panels are crowned by a coat of arms of the Principality of Moldova, nowadays badly damaged.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The bridge was not a small feat engineering accomplishment for this underdeveloped principality that functioned under sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire and the protectorate of Russia, in effect a double periphery of those mighty powers, far away from their bustling and flourishing imperial cores. The local economy, industry and also architecture will really take off only after the region’s international trade routes, which were represented the Danube waterway and the Black Sea navigation, will be completely freed following the Russian – Turkish War of 1877 – ’78 and achievement of Romania’s independence, recognised by the Treaty of Berlin that concluded that war.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The construction is oriented on a West – East direction which exposes it to a peculiar sort of weathering. Its northern façades are darkened by the strong Siberian origin winds and precipitations that come via the system of open plains and hills linking Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The southern oriented façades are less weathered, preserving more from the original stone texture and colour. The stone used is a local yellow – grey soft limestone of Sarmatian age, type of rocks close at hand in this area of Europe, spread  from Transylvania to southern Ukraine and Russia’s Black Sea region.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The bridge is said to have had initially just three arches built, with another two added during renovation works in the late c19th.

The author of the Historic Houses of Romania blog, next to Doamnei Bridge, Vaslui county (©Valentin Mandache)

The width of the road supported by the structure is about 9 metres, which could take quite an sizeable traffic, a testimony of the intense circulation of goods and persons of those times.

Doamnei bridge, Vaslui county, Romania – Google Maps

The Lady’s Bridge (Podul Doamnei in Romanian) is now a a lonesome and imposing historical structure in the middle of nowhere, as this Google Maps satellite image corroborates.

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.

Gustave Eiffel in Romania: Trajan Grand Hotel, Iasi

Gustave Eiffel, the famous French engineer and architect that has cast his creative shadow all over the world with great metallic structures and constructions based on metallic frame and prefabricated elements, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York, has also been present in Romania with two noteworthy projects. The amplest one is the design and construction of the Trajan Grand Hotel in Iasi (1882), the capital of the former principality of Moldova, presented in the photographs bellow, and a railway bridge (1877) over the river Prut, build under the jurisdiction of the Russian Empire, that linked its then frontier province of Bessarabia (the precursor of the contemporary Republic of Moldova) with Romania.

Grand Hotel Trajan Hotel, Iasi, designed and built by Gustave Eiffel in 1882.(©Valentin Mandache, 2009)

The Trajan Hotel in the 1920s, Iasi, north-east Romania (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

The Trajan Hotel is built on a metallic frame structure with prefabricated elements and light weight brick, wood and glass walls. Its architectural style is an avant-garde, industrial-like, Beaux Arts design typical of other of Gustave Eiffel’s edifices. It is a an engineering and architectural marvel of the Victorian era, which is still excellently preserved and maintained by the actual hotel owners and Iasi municipal authorities that seem to realise the crucial importance for the local cultural and architectural identity of this beautiful buildings, a situation which contrasts so much with the indifference and lack of professionalism in this field of their counterparts in Bucharest. The moment of glory for the Trajan Grand Hotel has been during the Great War when it hosted Romania’s government while Iasi became the temporary capital with most of the country occupied by the Central Powers led by the German Empire’s forces. In that extraordinarily dramatic time, the city’s populations swelled ten times to over one million of refugees in the space of just a few weeks, with the Russian allies troops stationed in the territory becoming hostile and disorganised due to their succumbing under the Bolshevik ideology. The patriotic spirit held on and the government, hosted at the Trajan Grand Hotel, together with King Ferdinand, managed to repel both the Bolsheviks and the Germans at the end of the war.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Origins of the money that financed the “Little Paris” architecture of Romania


Peasant woman gathering the corn crop in 1900s, Moldavia region. (early c20th postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

In the period spanning between the last quarter of c19th, until the start of the Great War, Romania became one the main grain exporters of Europe. That was possible because of the extensive land farming in the vast Lower Danube plains of Wallachia and the fields of Moldavia, and the opening for international commercial traffic of the Danube and the Black Sea waterways. An important proportion of the revenues from those exports was used in financing the construction of a large number of private houses and public edifices. The customary architectural style employed in this nationwide building programme was what I call the “Little Paris” style, very popular with the general public, a part of that period’s Westernisation drive after centuries of Ottoman domination. The style is a picturesque amalgamation of provincially interpreted French c19th historicist architectural orders with a multitude of local Ottoman Balkan decorative elements. Bucharest experienced its first building boom in that period and even acquired the nickname of the “Little Paris of the Balkans”. There were also taking place interesting Art Nouveau and national romantic (Neo-Romanian) architecture experiments on that more prosperous economic background. The peasants of Romania, at that time representing over 80% of the country’s population, and their hard work in the fields were the force at the origins of that extraordinary transformative process. The old postcard above, dating from sometime toward the end of the 1900s, shows a peasant woman from Moldavia gathering the corn crop using a traditional sickle, an ancestral tool not much changed in the region since millennia ago. The photograph presents her confident and happy, an indication that she was farming her family’s plot, received most probably as part of the state’s far sighted land redistribution measures implemented after the terrible peasant revolt against absentee landlords and their agents that took place in 1907, the last medieval type Jacquerie of Europe.

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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.

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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.

From Mail Coach Station to Post Office: Town Evolution in Southern Romania

From mail coach and horses station to post office: the story of the emergence of Mizil, a town in southern Romania. (engraving & old postcard: Valentin Mandache collection)

Mizil is a small town in the province of Wallachia in southern Romania, which owes its existence to the once extensive Ottoman mail coach station and inn network that functioned in the Danubian Principalities since mid-c18th. Even the name of the town- “Mizil” derives from the Turkish word for coach station- “menzil”. The settlement’s location was wonderfully propitious for the emplacement of a stagecoach inn (in Turkish: menzilhan) and relay for mail horses, being on the old highway that once linked the capitals of the Ottoman protectorate principalities of Moldova and Wallachia, at an equal distance of about 20 miles (35 km) between the local county towns of Ploiesti and Buzau. That distance was generally considered as the optimal one for a team of coach horses to travel continuously at speed before being relayed with a fresh team of animals. The town thus witnessed, until the advent of the railways, the traffic of impressive horse drawn coaches as can be seen in the drawing form the lower part of the montage above, depicting such a scene from the lower Danube prairie of Wallachia, where Mizil is situated. The engraving is from my collection, made after a drawing by Denis Auguste Marie Raffet, a distinguished French illustrator famous for his lithographs of the Napoleonic wars. Raffet made the drawing in 1830s while he travelled through the region in the service of the Russian aristocrat Anatole de Demidoff. The horses, their handlers and the battered coach rushing through the prairie, excellently convey the the air of wild frontier of that region at the periphery of the Ottoman Empire. That image could not contrast more with the peaceful, near placid atmosphere of the Mizil post and telegraph office depicted in the 1920s postcard in the upper half of the above collage, photographed less than a century after the “wild east” engraving was produced. That juxtaposition conveys the tremendous process of modernisation that was going on in the whole of Romania within that time interval. The post office is built in a basic Neo-Romanian architectural style and I believe that is still in use nowadays (it was certainly there when I was for two years a high school pupil in Mizil at the end of 1970s). The picturesque elements which remind of the old coach station are the petrol lamp in the courtyard together with the well and the horse watering trough carved from a block of stone.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

The Carpathian Timber Trail that Built Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire

The images above show the river sector of the Carpathian Timber Trail from its origination in Piatra Neamt (1), following the Bistrita (2) and the Siret rivers to the Danube port of Galati (3). (Montage of four old poscards dating from 1890s - 1910s, Valentin Mandache collection)

The Carpathian mountains contained until the first part of the c20th some of the largest millennial forests left in Europe. As the region was part of the Ottoman Empire for more than four centuries, this resource was extensively used as building material for houses and palaces throughout the empire and also for building the sailing ships (ie the ship’s masts made from Carpathian pine were very much appreciated at that time) that kept the commerce going within that great polity that stretched from Budapest in Central Europe to the Mecca in the Middle East and to the Algiers in the North Africa. The exceedingly beautiful Istanbul timber mansions called yali that line up the Bosphorous and many of the timber sided houses of that great metropolis, the largest city of Europe then as now, are in ample part built from timber sourced in the Carpathians. The same can be said of houses in Thessalonic, Smyrna/ Izmir or many other Ottoman cities. I illustrated in the photomontage above, made from four old postcards from my collection, the river navigation sector of this long “timber trail” from the Carpathians to the Mediterranean (see the route marked on the map on the postcard above). This timber was mainly sourced in the Moldavian sector of these mountains, the Oriental Carpathians, and gathered in floating basins at navigable points on the local rivers, such as Piatra-Neamt, depicted in the sector “1” above, a main such location in northern Moldavia. From there the timber was assembled in bulky rafts, called pluta in Romanian, manned by plutasi, the local peasants that embraced the raffter profession, see the image sector “2” above, all the way down to the lower Danube ports, such as Galati in the sector “3” of the photomontage, where the timber was sorted and loaded on seagoing boats to the markets of Istanbul and other Ottoman port cities. This huge timber trade started in late c17th until the demise of the Ottoman Empire in early c20th. It continued to function serving the local needs in Romania until 1950s, when the river route and the profession of plutas were replaced by road and railway transport. In my opinion this Carpathian “timber trail” phenomenon is a very interesting chapter in the economic history of South East Europe and Eastern Mediterreanean, practically unknown even by the academic specialists,  which greatly contributed to the built heritage of the entire region.

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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 18-feb-10: The Restored Gothic Interior of Iasi Railway Station

The freshly restored Gothic interior of Iasi railway station photographed in the summer of 2009. (©Valentin Mandache)

The city of Iasi is the beautiful historical capital of the principality of Moldavia, which through its union with Wallachia in 1859, in the favourable international circumstances following the Crimean War, formed the core of modern Romania. The city has been a bitter rival of Bucharest ever since, very much hampered in its development because of more difficult communication lines with the rest of the country. The railway came to the town in 1869 and alleviated in part that situation. The Iasi people had until that date to take uncomfortable horse drawn coaches in order to travel to Bucharest, through a very difficult 250 miles dirt road. The wealthier Iasi citizens even preferred to travel to Bucharest via Vienna, a huge detour, but a much more comfortable trip through Cernowitz in Bucovina, to the Austrian capital and from there to embark on a steam boat all the way down on the Danube to Giurgiu, nearby Bucharest. Consequently the train has a great importance for the Iasi people and the grandiose architecture of the local railway station, perhaps the most beautiful such building in Romania, reflects that sentiment. Its Venetian Gothic inspired architecture is very monumental and also well proportioned. Recently the station has been professionally restored with stunning results. I was amazed to admire its numerous ogee windows and arcades and the fresh majesty of its lines and airy interior; even the ticket counters are provided with ogee windows. I took the photograph above in the summer of last year, when the restoration work was on course, and I hope that it conveys at least in part my favourable impressions.

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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 17-Jan-10: “Little Paris” Atmosphere

A representative architectural detail for the prosperous and nonchalant times of La Belle Epoque in Romania when the "Little Paris" architecture (provincially interpreted French late c19th styles) became popular throughout the country. The rooftop allegorical group embelishes the 1890s building of the Centre Culturel Français de Iasi, NE Romania. (©Valentin Mandache)

The architectural ornament formed by the two cherubs feeding from an abundant fruit bowl (and also fittingly crowned by two live collared doves) embellishes a landmark building in Iasi, the former second capital of Romania. It is an epitome of what I call the “Little Paris” atmosphere that permeated the country as a whole in the last decades of the c19th until the Great War. The French architectural styles of that period ranging from eclectic to Second Empire or Beaux Art were assiduously followed in a picturesque provincial manner in the far away Romania, where Bucharest became known as the “Little Paris” of the Balkans. That was not of course restricted to the capital, but a myriad of other towns throughout the country were endowed with beautiful such buildings. Iasi, the old capital of the principality of Moldova and for a while a second capital of unified Romania in the 1850s, was an worthy rival of Bucharest. The city today still preserves numerous and excellent quality examples of “Little Paris” architecture. I took the photograph above in the autumn of the last year and was amazed to discover that the artefact is identical with one which I encountered in Bucharest and also wrote a post about it on this blog in August ‘o9: http://historo.wordpress.com/2009/08/29/daily-picture-29-aug-‘09/ It shows the popularity of the style and that there was practically an industry producing those artefacts. That is also an indication that the buildings in that style were not produced by high level architects, but picturesque pattern reproductions according to the tastes of a clientèle, which was in its starting phases of amassing a more subtle cultural baggage. The emergence of highly professional architects and sophisticated patrons became a reality after the Great War when the Neo-Romanian style became widely popular together with the international modern styles.

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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 28-Dec-09: Neo-Romanian Style WWI Example

The small provincial church in the image is an excellent example of c17th-c18th Ottoman Balkan religious architecture, one of the main inspirational sources for the modern Neo-Romaian architectual style. (Old photograph ©Valentin and Diana Mandache collection)

The photograph is from the time of the Great War, presenting Queen Marie of Romania together with her  daughters, Princess Maria, future Queen of  Yugoslavia, and Princess Elisabeta, future Queen of Greece, among wounded soldiers recovering at a camp hospital within the grounds of a small monastery in unoccupied Eastern Moldavia in the summer of 1917, when most of the rest of the Romanian territory, including the capital, were overwhelmed by the Central Powers’ armies. What drew my attention from an architectural history point of view is the rich decoration and particular splendid Ottoman Balkan architecture of the church, which is one of the  main sources of inspiration for the modern Neo-Romanian architectural style, as conceived by its initiator, the remarkable architect Ion Mincu in the last decade of the c19th.

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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 3-Dec-09: Spa Town Music Kiosk

Art Nouveau style music kiosk in Slanic Moldova, a spa town in the Oriental Carpathian mountains, north-east Romania (1910s postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

The Victorians from England to India had a penchant for spa towns. Romania, with its Carpathian mountains, a chain of over 1,000 km in length on its Romanian sector, one of the longest such landscape formations in Europe, is especially propitious for development of spa towns around the innumerable thermal or curative mineral water springs located within that Alpine environment. The development of the country on modern European lines under the efficient rule of the German origin King Carol I in the second part of the c19th saw the emergence of numerous spa towns in the Carpathians. The architecture was similar and typical of the age with examples from Central Europe or France and Belgium. Many of these buildings and facilities still survive today, albeit in a very run down state or on the verge of demolition, eyed by rapacious property developers. The image above shows the music kiosk from Slanic Moldova in the Oriental Carpathian mountains, displaying a serene atmosphere just before the Great War, a time of prosperity and well being in this country at the dusk of the Victorian epoch.

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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 26-Nov-09: Historic Houses Photo Collage

Historic houses of Romania collage (©Valentin Mandache)

I composed the image above from 60 selected photographs taken during my fieldwork this year, mostly in Bucharest, but also Iasi (NE Romania) and Sinaia (the Transylvanian Alps). In my opinion the collage is extremely suggestive of the exuberant historic architecture found within the territory of Romania: a peculiar crossroad of Western, especially French, and Central European influences blended together on a Balkan background with old Ottoman echoes. I hope the pot-pourri of houses, decorations and ornaments, often painted in garish colours, would give you a more wholesome image of the vast field represented by Romania’s historic architecture. I also use a version of this collage for my Twitter page background, have a look here: http://twitter.com/historo

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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 19-Nov-09: Peacock Motif Neo-Romanian Style Window

Peacock motif Neo-Romanian style window, late 1920s house in Eroilor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The medieval peacock decorative motif, inspired from biblical stories, was used with predilection in both early medieval Byzantine and western Romanesque ecclesiastical architecture. The Eastern Christian lands of the Balkans that come under the rule of the Ottoman empire continued to use this type of decoration until modern times. That was more evident in the architecture of church and monastery assemblies from the area of the former principalities of Wallachia and Moldova, the core of modern Romania, which benefited from a higher degree of freedom and religious expression derived from their status as Ottoman protectorates at the frontier of the Sultan’s Caliphate with the enemy empires of Austria and Russia. The modern Neo-Romanian architectural style has borrowed the peacock motif in its decoration register, embodied in exquisitely beautiful houses built especially in the time interval between the end of the Great War and early 1930s. The window in the photograph above is just one such example, where the pair of peacocks on the pediment are presented feeding from a grape among grape leaves and vines, signifying the biblical Garden of Eden, and its modern correspondent in the abundance of that plant and wine industry in modern Romania. That message of plenty and luxuriant vegetation is also wonderfully emphasized in this photograph by the tree branches from the rich garden surrounding this Neo-Romanian style house.

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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 14-Nov-09: Romantic Era Coat of Arms

c19th coat of arms, Bucharest

Aristocratic coat of arms that belonged to Costache-Boldur family (info provided by Mr. Gabriel Badea Paun) placed within a Renaissance inspired panoply on the roof above the doorway of the family house, dated sometime in the first half of c19th, Regina Maria area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The modern nation building process in the Romanian lands started in the first half the c19th, a time of intense search for roots in the romantic ancient and medieval past. The Danubian Principalities (Wallachia and Moldavia), the core of future Romania, were for more than five centuries part of the Ottoman realm  and the recovery of a nearly forgotten European identity made that national soul searching even more poignant. Many among the upper classes, the aristocrats and merchants (the principalities did not have any industry at that time), began to proudly display through symbols or in crude western style architecture, in a city which in that period boasted mostly provincial Balkan Ottoman architectural styles, their supposed connections with the old grand families of Europe. Most of these were pure fiction, like the much touted supposed connection of the Romanian aristocracy with the medieval Venetian and Genovese nobility that in c13th and c14th set up trading towns in the area along the Danube and the Black Sea shore. Others were keen to emphasize equally dubious connections with the French or German aristocracy. That interesting period left traces in some of the city’s architectural decorations, especially in the coat of arms proudly displayed on roof panoply moldings placed above the doorways of the aristocratic and merchant houses. The image above shows such an interesting coat of arms from a now ruined house in the Regina Maria area, at that time located on the outskirts of old Bucharest. The finish is very crude and models a Renaissance style panoply, but nevertheless is very picturesque and conveys the atmosphere of a bygone era of incipient national consciousness among the grand families of this region of the Balkans.

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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.