The superlative building of the Romanian Athenaeum, which is rightly considered the architectural symbol of Bucharest, contains a series of five mosaic medallions, each about 1 m in diameter, depicting past glorious rulers of Romanian lands, on its iterior frieze behind the colonade supporting the pediment. The one at the centre is that of King Carol I of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen (1839 – 1914), the moderniser of Romania, under whose reign the country undertook an epic process of cultural Europeanisation and economic reform, after more than four centuries within the orbit of the Ottoman Empire. I believe that the mosaics are the creation of the famous painter Costin Petrescu, a proponent of the Neo-Romanian style within the graphic arts, who also painted the great circular fresco representing the history of the Romanian people, unfurling along the wall of the Athenaeum’s auditorium. The medallion shows the king in regalia, cloacked with a coronation mantle and crowned with the steel crown made from Turkish canon captured by his army on the battlefield during the Independence war of 1877. The medallion is, in my opinion, one of the most expressive representations of King Carol I, which fortunately was left untouched during the communist rule, conveying his energetic spirit and vision that made him such an all time popular and praised leader of this country.
There was a certain trend within the Neo-Romanian architecture for using ethnographic motifs, which unfurled at its highest intensity between the late 1920s and the late 1930s, transcending its mature and late phase of development, expressed especially in wood carvings decorating structures such as verandas, stair balusters, balconies, doorways, etc. The wooden veranda pole in images presented above and bellow is such an example, of exquisite quality, inspired from the peasant art of regions of southern Romania (Wallachia).
The photograph above shows how the Arch of Triumph of Bucharest used to look before the structure that nowadays adorns the square with the same name was put up in the mid-1930s. The architect of both monuments is Petre Antonescu, one of the most important designers of the Neo-Romanian style. The edifice has been a provisional one, erected in 1922 with the occasion of the October that year’s celebrations in Romania’s capital of the coronation of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie. It had a reinforced concrete core, with façade details and ornament from plaster and wood. The Great War had dreadful consequences for Romania’s economy, the population suffering from diseases and often famine in the first years after the conflagration. The lack of resources was the reason why the official coronation of the country’s royal couple was organised only in 1922 in a quite low key mode. The limited finances and the short notice that the architect had to cope are responsible of the somehow clumsy proportions and the basic, not exactly a master-work design of the Arch. It is however a large scale monument that expounds the Neo-Romanian style in the first stages of its mature phase, a patriotic architectural statement of a people that came out victorious in the aftermath of the Great War.
Video by Valentin Mandache, author of the blog Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca (www.historo.wordpress.com) about the architecture of the Geological Museum in Bucharest, a masterwork of arch. Alexandru Stefanescu in the mature variety of the Neo-Romanian style, built in 1906. Location: Kisselef Boulevard, Bucharest.
I am always on the lookout, during my routine architectural history fieldwork in Bucharest or other places in Romania, for name tablets: architect’s, builder’s and also proprietor’s name tablets. They are important documentary elements that can give clues about the history of the house, its more precise dating, style and manner of design and also in case the architect is famous, can noticeably increase the value of the propriety. I struck lucky with the example seen in the photograph above, by finding “two for the price of one” such artifacts. There is a tablet containing the name of the famous architect Gheorghe Simotta and another of a highly reputable building company of inter-war Bucharest, Belli Brothers. The lettering of the two tablets contrast in their manner of rendering- that of the architect having the letters protruding out, while the constructor’s one is grooved within surface. They adorn a grandiose Art Deco – Later Neo-Romanian style edifice from the Dorobanti area of Bucharest. That mix of styles can also be noted in that of the lettering: Simotta’s tablet being in the Art Deco vein, while Belli Brothers’ inclining toward the Neo-Romanian lettering style.
This is a beautiful park architecture assembly from the 1930s Bucharest, designed by the sculptor Constantin Baraschi, in the later Neo-Romanian style, destroyed during the first decade of communism and reconstructed in 2006.
Pigeons, such as the one in the animated image above, shown next to an imposing Neo-Romanian style rooftop finial, are in my opinion an organic part of the message and ornamentation of period houses. Pigeons are among the “environmental panoply” that adorns those edifices, together with with other animals, which in Bucharest’s case number sparrows, crows, swallows and their nests, sometimes gulls, red squirrels or from the plants’s world ivy and grape vines, high climbing roses or multicoloured flower plants beckoning passers by from window sill and balcony jardinières.
One of the tenets of the Neo-Romanian style‘s philosophy is integration of the architectural design within the natural environment of the country, envisaged as a sort of biblical Garden of Eden, similar with how the c18th Brancovan churches, from which the style draws a great deal of its inspiration, were seen as fragments of paradise on earth in this war torn region of Europe dominated for centuries by the Ottomans. That Arcadia like atmosphere of a family home is conveyed in the Neo-Romanian architecture through the use of a rich panoply of specific decorative elements. The jardinières are in that respect some of the most effective means to achieve that serendipity effect. They come in a wide diversity of shapes and decorations, positioned in high visibility spots in and around the house, such as on window sills, documented in previous articles on this blog. For this post I gathered a few illustrations of bowl type jardinières from the great multitude that adorn inter-war Neo-Romanian style houses. They are installed on doorway balustrades, atop street fence poles, flanking balconies, or in other prominent locations. The flowery and ornamental plants that grow in them, as seen in images presented here, transmit something from the pleasantness that characterised Bucharest of eight and nine decades ago, when most of those jardinières were put in place.
I photographed the Neo-Romania style houses presented bellow during the walking architectural tours which I organised in the Patriarchy Hill area. They date from the apogee phase of the development of Romania’s national style, which took place between the second part of the 1900s (starting with 1906, more precisely, when this architectural style was presented to the larger public with the occasion of the Great Royal Jubilee Exhibition of that year in Bucharest) and the late 1920s (when the Art Deco and Modernist styles became serious contenders on the local architectural scene).
This is a well proportioned house embellished with a beautiful roof crest flanked by finials. The ample veranda is particularly attractive with tri-lobed arches, short columns decorated with the rope motif and elaborated floral gallery panels. The ceramic tile roof is inspired from the shingle roof encountered on peasant houses in the region.
The above edifice is again amply embellished with Neo-Romanian motifs, the most prominent being the mock cula tower (fortified yeoman house from south western Romania) at its centre, a beautiful colonated first floor veranda with tri-lobed arches and a well designed attic that is also provided with a veranda boasting ethnografic motifs. On the ground floor is space for shops, while on the floors above are living quarters. Unfortunately the recent renovations have disfigured this remarkable building, the old ceramic tile roof being replaced with an ugly metallic one, while most of the wooden window frames are now impersonal plastic frame double glazing.
The mock cula tower is again obvious on the Neo-Romanian style dwelling from the above photograph. The building is provided with an impressive arched doorway and two ethnographic verandas.
The omnipresent mock cula tower is again visible in the make up of the house presented in this image. Apparently there are not references to the holy trinity in its decorative and structural elements, as the Neo-Romanian style would usually require, probably because of the small space available for such expressions. I believe an exception was the main window, which now has a plastic double glazing frame, where the original one would have been a church triptych inspired one.
Bellow is the photograph of a beautiful Neo-Romanian style rooftop finial presented in seven image processing instances, thus exuding something from its powerful symbolism or even magic. It is an ethnographic type finial, modelling a wood carved pole, an artefact encountered in the decoration of Romanian peasant houses.
This is a run of the mill type of Neo-Romanian style house dating from the late 1920s, during the mature phase of development of Romania’s national style, just before the Art Deco and Modernist designs and building technologies made their triumphal entrance of the local architectural scene. The house is located in Domenii quarter in north west of Bucharest, a residential quarter developed mostly in the inter-war and wartime years by the upper middle classes. The edifice contains the essential Neo-Romanian features like the aparent cula tower (inspired from the c17h – c19th fortified yeoman houses in Oltenia in south western Romania) that makes up the corner (on the left hand side of the above photograph).
Another Neo-Romanian feature is seen in the triptych like windows and veranda, making allusion to the Christian trinity, inspired in their turn from the c18th Wallachian renaissance architecture (known as the Brancovan style).
The doorway awning is also inspired from Brancovan designs encountered at monasteries in Oltenia region.
The house has a heavy aspect due to the use of brick and wood in its structure and not much concrete and steel. It would represent a superb potential renovation and restoration project, which would probably consider the addition of another, more airy, floor in the same style and a new roof in the same manner, using ceramic tiles reminding the wooden shingle that from time immemorial covered the peasant houses in this part of the world.
Book by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org 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)
I found another old architectural ironwork company plate, this one one the grand doorway of the Neo-Romanian style Marmorosch Blank Bank building in Lipscani area of Bucharest. The plate reads as “J. Haug, Str. Isvor, No. 8, Bucuresci”, the spelling indicating the writing fashions of the 1910s, which corresponds with the period when the building was erected. The metalwork is of highest quality and is easily restorable, although the edifice, one of the most magnificent Neo-Romanian style architectures still in existence, is now left derelict in the very centre of Romania’s capital, in danger of irreversible deterioration, a telling testimony of the lack of care and even awareness of the Romanian authorities and public about their diminishing architectural heritage.
This is an ample example of Neo-Romanian style wooden jardiniere that makes use of ethnographic motifs encountered in Romanian peasant art, containing details found in other elements of a Neo-Romanian house, such as the arches supporting the flower pot holder, similar with the corbels of doorway awnings. The jardiniere adorns the window base of a large house in Cotroceni quarter of Bucharest, dating from the mid-1920s, period which represents the apogee (mature phase) of Romania’s national architectural style. This edifice and many others of high architectural history value are part of the forthcoming Historic Houses of Romania tour in Cotroceni area (scheduled for Sunday 8 April ’12).