Balchik, a resort with Romanian royal connections on the shore of the Black Sea

Today most of the Romanian Black Sea shore is, with the exception of the Danube Delta area, a mostly uninteresting flat plain, dotted with large industrial facilities and grey communist era hotel and residential developments. However, the country had between 1913 – 1916 and 1918 – 1940 a southern rocky seaboard with spectacular vistas, which is now part of Bulgaria. In the inter-war period Queen Marie of Romania built there, in the port city of Balchik (the ancient Greek colony of Dionysopolis, founded in c7th BCE), her most remarkable holiday palace, endowed with a magnificent garden and a multitude of guest houses, over a period stretching a decade, from 1927 to 1936. Some of the best Romanian architects of the time contributed with their creations, such as Emil Gunes or Henriette Delavrancea Gibory. Taking the queen’s example, many well to do Romanians also erected summer residences of a superb architectural quality that are still in large part in place and well looked after. The coast around Balchik faces the south and is protected behind by a series of rocky hills and cliffs from the cold winds and winter weather that come over the open Pontic steppe from as far as Siberia and menaces most of the rest of the country.

The inter-war period has thus been a glorious time for Balchik, which saw the wealthy spending summers in the luxury of their seashore villas, and the emergence of a remarkable painters’ and writers’ colony that took advantage of the glorious southern sunlight, appealing coastal landscape and enjoying the picturesque and welcome of the local community that was in important part Turkish, Tatar and Bulgarian.

Balcic - villa Tenha Yuvah - Diana Mandache collection

Balchik – villa Tenha Yuvah (Turkish for “Quiet Nest”) within the Royal Palace grounds – Diana Mandache collection

Queen Marie and her family spent many a great summer holiday at her palace and gardens in Balchik, taking pleasure fast boat rides along the shore. Everything exuded the happiness and well-being peculiar of that period of history, much the same as other European aristocrats, wealthy individuals or famous artists enjoyed places in the Mediterranean or the Gulf of Mexico.

Romanian Royals enjoying a boat ride, Balcic - Diana Mandache collection

Romanian Royals enjoying a boat ride, Balchik – Diana Mandache collection

Remarkable for Balchik and the times when Marie put it on the holiday map as an idyllic place, was the worlds apart contrast of life and aspirations with the Soviet Union’s Black Sea shore communities, over the not far away border. Balchik’s flourishing years as a royal resort overlap with Stalin’s party purges, the killing and sending to prison of countless wretched souls. Romania in less than a decade after Marie built her seaside palace became one of its first victims.

This post was initially published on Diana Mandache’s weblog under our joint authorship.

Princess’ Nest: a royal tree house in the Transylvanian Alps

Princess’ Nest, Princess Marie of Romania’s tree house in Sinaia. Old post-card (1900s), Valentin and Diana Mandache collection.

Queen Marie of Romania is well known for her multiple artistic qualities, ranging from writing, furniture design to theatre. She also indulged in architectural pursuits, especially in matters of interior design (see her remarkable creations at Pelishor Castle in the Transylvanian Alps for example) or gardening, ideas which she condensed in an interesting essay published in the 1920s, entitled “My Dream-Houses“. Somehow less known is a peculiar tree house structure, illustrated in the old post-card above, built following Marie’s detailed specifications, which she used for recreation in the years when was a crown princess of the Romanian Kingdom. It was known as “Princess’ Nest”, located on the property of the grand Pelesh Royal Castle in Sinaia. Bellow is the finest description of this phantasy house, which I so far found  in my research, by Maude Parkinson, an expert gardener from England who worked for many years in the service of the Romanian Royal House:

In the neighbouring forest Princess Marie, as she then was, had a “Crusoe” constructed. I understand that she adopted the idea from a celebrated arboreal restaurant in the Forest Fontainebleau, which is named after the castaway of Juan Fernandez.

A strong wooden platform was constructed amongst the trees at a considerable height from the ground, and upon this was built a house consisting of two rooms, a kitchen, and a salon.

The kitchen is fitted up with everything necessary for cooking simple dishes or preparing tea. The salon is very prettily furnished, and books in plenty, drawing and painting materials, etc., are always to be found there.

The Queen only takes her special friends to visit her “Crusoe” and a very charming retreat it is. The windows and open door command a most beautiful view. Access to the “Crusoe” is gained by means of a ladder with wide steps, which is let down when required. When the visitors are safely up, they remain there shut in three sides by foliage and cut off from communication with the world bellow save by telegraph, for a wire connects it with the palace. Nothing disturbs the perfect calm and quiet at such a height, and many pleasant hours have been spent by her Royal Highness and a chosen few in that little nest. Nest is indeed the word, for that is the meaning of the Roumanian name “cuib” by which the retreat is generally known.

Maude Parkinson, “Twenty years in Roumania”, London 1921

The blog author in Balcic on the Black Sea coast

Balcic - Queen Marie of Romania's Palace gardens on Bulgaria's Black Sea Coast

Historic Houses of Romania blog author enjoying, in the summer of 2009, the magnificent gardens of Queen Marie of Romania’s Palace in Balcic, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea coast. The palace complex and gardens are one of the finest and most representative pieces of architecture produced in inter-war Romania. Balcic and the southerly facing coast around it is a place reminding more of the Mediterranean than the Balkans and Central Europe that in general characterise Romania’s geographic and man-made landscape, which made it a sort of local Riviera for the Romanian elite in those happy days before the conflagration of the Second World War and what followed after. The place is teeming with Romanian villa architecture of the golden 1930s decade, which will constitute, together with the Palace, the subject of two Historic Houses of Romania tours in the late spring and early autumn in 2012. Watch this space! :)

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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 Contact page of this weblog.

Fin de Siècle Romanian royal wedding and architecture

Because the whole planet seems now captivated by the recent wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, I thought it would be a good idea to post an article touching the subject of historic Romanian architecture in the context of another wedding, more than a century ago, involving Romanian royals. Bellow is a very rare old postcard depicting the official cavalcade accompanying Marie, the Princess of Edinburgh, freshly made a Princess of Romania through the marriage with Crown Prince Ferdinand, when she first arrived, after the marriage ceremony and honeymoon, in her adopted country on the 24 January (4 Feb.- Julian calendar) 1893. Marie’s coach is seen acclaimed by Bucharest’s citizens, passing by two of the city’s architectural landmarks of the late Victorian era: the Unirii Market Hall (in the background), a large and beautiful iron frame structure similar with the ubiquitous Les Halles Centrales found in many of the late c19th French towns and the majestic Beaux Arts style building of the Brancovensc Hospital Establishment (in the foreground). Both these wonderful edifices, so important for Bucharest’s identity, were savagely demolished by the communist authorities in the mid-1980s, during dictator Ceausescu’s infamous vast and architecturally coarse remodelling of large areas of central Bucharest for his infamous “Victory of Socialism” project. That area is today full of ugly and badly maintained massive communist apartment blocks, which are also among the most expensive properties in Romania’s capital- a measure of the dismal level of culture and confused identity of the post-communist inhabitants of this city.

The arrival of Princess Marie of Edinburgh/ Romania in Bucharest, in Feb (Julian calendar) 1893, passing by the Brancovenesc Hospital building and Unirii Market Hall (old postcard dated 1901, undivided back, Diana & Valentin Mandache collection)

For more information on Queen Marie of Romania see “Marie of Romania. Images of a Queen” by Diana Mandache, Rosvall Royal Books, 2007.

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

I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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

If you plan acquiring or selling a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing and transacting the property, specialist research, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Soon to be published… (via Jurnal de istoric)

From the royal historian Diana Mandache- a new book soon to be printed in Sweden and distributed in many West European countries and on the North American continent- it contains the correspondence between Marie Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia, Duchess of Edinburgh and of  Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and her daughter Marie, the Crown Princess of Romania.

In curand... … noua mea carte ‘Dearest Missy’ per aspera… … Read More

via Jurnal de istoric