Manichean Symbolism on Neo-Romanian Style Panels

Neo-Romanian style circular decorative panels with Manichean representations: the battle between good (eagle) and evil (reptiles) adorning the street wall of an early 1930s house in Stirbey Voda area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The Romanian folklore and traditional peasant beliefs, as well as the indigenous brand of Christianity (officially denominated as “Greek Christianity”, in reality very much blended with local ancient pagan beliefs) contain many references to epic Manichean battles between the good and evil forces. One of the usual representations in the Romanian visual arts of the good forces is that of the protector eagle, while the evil forces are symbolised by reptiles- snakes or dragon like lizards. I found two very telling such representations in the form of the circular architectural panels presented in the photographs above, which adorn the street wall of a grand Neo-Romanian style house in one of the central quarters of Bucharest. I am just overwhelmed by the dynamism and drama of these two well rendered scenes, in which the protagonists are clutched in a deadly fight, with no clear winner in sight. These two panels are some of the finest Neo-Romanian style Manichean symbolism representations that I encountered so far in my architectural photography work in Bucharest; another similar theme panel can be seen here, about which I wrote a post in June this year.

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I endeavor through this 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 Contact page of this weblog.

Ornamental Neo-Romanian Style Roof Ridge Crests: Photomontage & Slide Show

Ornamental Neo-Romanian style roof ridge crests - photomontage (©Valentin Mandache)

The Neo-Romanian architectural style is as a rule an ornate order with motifs imagined by the architects from the period between the late c19th and the interwar period, when this style was popular, as a coalescence of sources that during the previous centuries made an impact on the architecture and decorative art of the Romanian communities. These sources range from late Medieval Wallachian church architecture, peasant art to Ottoman Balkan ingredients and even old Venetian Renaissance style components. The roof is an important locus for unfurling that splendid and highly particular decorative panoply, where the most important constituents are the roof finials, the ornamental ridges, the tiles, the eaves, the drain pipes and the decorative elements embellishing the roof opening (air, vents, attic windows, etc.) The ridges are among the most spectacular such artifacts, just as flamboyant as the finials that accompany them on the very top of the roof, together crowning the building as an architectural apotheosis. They are meant to draw attention from a long distance and make an impression on the visitor. I wrote a post, a few months ago, about a particular example of roof ridge (click here for access) and detailed its filiation from equivalent ornaments found on peasant dwellings and some old Wallachian churches. I have gathered, during my fieldwork, a small collection of photographs of such beautiful ornaments, and put together a representative sample for your edification in the form of the above photomontage. Those images can also be seen in greater detail in the slide show bellow. I like how these ornaments convey in a concentrated space a great deal from the very nature and personality of this remarkable national-romantic era architectural style, peculiar to Romania.

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I endeavor through this 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.

Wallachian Identity

The Wallachian Eagle, St. George's church, Bucharest (Valentin Mandache)

Wallachia is one of the three former principalities that together with Moldavia and Transylvania forms modern Romania. Indeed this former European state is the core of the country as it contains the city of Bucharest, the sixth largest EU metropolis (close to three million inhabitants). From an architectural point of view Wallachia is important because the initiator of the Neo-Romanian style, the architect Ion Mincu and subsequent Romanian architects used prominently, in their Neo-Romanian designs, late medieval Wallachian church inspired motifs and decorations and also traditional Wallachian building types and representations. “Wallachian” is also one of the main Romanian regional identities, the equivalent of a Midlander, Yorkshireman or East Anglian in England. This regional identity acted and was seen as a national identity for over five hundred years while Wallachia functioned as a state, since its foundation in 1330, at first independent, then under Hungarian suzerainty and later as an Ottoman Christian protectorate that kept its indigenous administration and native aristocracy, until the formation of the modern Romanian state in 1859 when afterwards the principality was abolished. There is a surprising scarcity of correct and properly documented sources on the internet about Wallachia, in fact I was not able to find any worth recommending (beware of the Wikipedia entry for Wallachia which is sub-standard and highly inaccurate to say the least!). The best work which I would recommend to anyone interested in this quite enigmatic former European state, a sort of the principality of Navarre transplanted from the Pyrenees in the Carpathians, is that by the great French geographer Emmannuel de Martonne: “La Valachie. Essai de monographie geographique” (Colin, Paris 1902). I am a Wallachian myself, being born in Buzau county, in the eastern part of the old principality. The word “Wallachian” means “frontiersman” or “foreigner” and has the same etymology and linguistic root in old Germanic and Slavic languages as the word “Welsh” or “Walloon”. Wallachia is thus etymologically the same as the British country of Wales or the Belgian province of Walloonia. The most prominent Wallachian identity sign or marker that can still be encountered today as an ornament or decoration on old surviving aristocratic palaces or medieval churches, is the heraldic sign of that principality: a spread wings eagle holding a cross in its beak and sitting on a rock, flanked by a Moon crescent and Sun disc with human face features. That heraldic sign of Wallachia is displayed in the above photograph which I took at the St. Georges’ church (c17th) in Bucharest. In fact this particular ornament is a modern high quality restoration/ recreation in reinforced concrete of a former stone sculpted structure that was in that place prior to extensive restoration works on the church building in the 1930s.

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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.

Quintessential Neo-Romanian Style Balcony

A beautiful Neo-Romanian style balcony of a well proportioned design featuring a decorative panel with the peacocks in the Garden of Eden motif and two massive fence posts crowned by exquisite flower pots modelled after Byzantine church candle holders. The balcony adorns a late 1920s house in Traian area of Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

Early Type Neo-Romanian Window

An early type (1910s) Neo-Romanian style window from Mosilor area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The Neo-Romanian style features a number of types/ phases and directions of development throughout its history as an architectural order. What I call the early Neo-Romanian style is how it was imaged and presented by the architect Ion Mincu, the initiator of this style, and his students, in its first phase of development. This type was fashionable from the 1890s until the end of the Great War, when the style entered what I call the citadel type of the development (see a citadel type example by clicking here), subsequently evolving on a multitude of directions and fashions. One of the most obvious characteristics of the early Neo-Romanian style is the recycling of late medieval Wallachian church architectural motifs, which in their turn derive in large part from a rich Byzantine and Ottoman Islamic decorative register. The window example in the image above, which I photographed in the Mosilor area of Bucharest, belongs to that phase or type of development. The window panes resemble those of the Southern Romanian churches, together with the spiral grooves on the side columns or the heavy arch that spans them. The abundant grapevine frieze and the two stylised floral Greek type crosses flanking the arch are also taken from the church decorative panoply. I very much like the two white painted eagles from the top edges of the picture, which represent the heraldic sign of the old Principality of Wallachia, another symbol present on local church decoration stating the secular power of the princes, vassals of the the Sublime Porte, that once ruled over the lands of Southern Romania.

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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.

Ornate Neo-Romanian Style Window

An elaborate wood frame Neo-Romanian style window adorning a late 1920s house from Buzesti area of Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The ornaments of this exquisite window are inspired especially from the late medieval Wallachian church motifs (spiral and Byzantine type colonnettes, the grape vine abstraction surrounding the glazed area, etc.) I like the symmetry and balance achieved by the designer of this window between the many different size ornaments and panes of glass. Although the natural light flows inside the building in a less than ideal manner, the window is quite luminous for the standards of the Neo-Romanian order, an usually corpulent architectural style.

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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.

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

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 21-Mar-10: Neo-Romanian Style Roof Ridge Ornament

Neo-Romanian style roof ridge ornament, adorning a late 1920s grand house in Mihai Voda area of Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The ornamental roof ridge embellishing many of the Neo-Romanian style house, together with their roof finials (see my article about this particular artefact here) are some of the most peculiar looking decorative elements adorning buildings in this architectural style particular to Romania. I was very amused when one of my readers in a comment/ email compared them with “Star Treck” spaceship antennae . The Neo-Romanian roof ridge is inspired form its wooden equivalent found on shingle roofed peasant houses in the villages of the Carpathian Mountains and also from the ornamental roof ridge of some of the late medieval Wallachian churches, which are in their turn inspired from Byzantine/ Ottoman Balkan motifs. I photographed the example above a few days ago in the first proper spring light this year. It is a well designed Neo-Romanian style roof ridge, cross-inspired from peasant and church models, adorning a beautiful grand edifice in the Mihai Voda area of Bucharest.

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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.

Magnificent Wallachian Church Floral Motifs

A photomontage of resplendent c18th Byzantine style floral motifs, Stavropoles church, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The small c18th Stavropoleos church in Bucharest is perhaps one of the most beautiful religious buildings in the entire eastern church world. The building has been a main inspiration source for the architect Ion Micu when he initiated in late c19th the Neo-Romanian style, the only original architectural order created in Romania. Mincu lovingly restored the church between 1904 – ’10, toward the end of his life, when he also added a well designed cloister and outbuildings (see here an article and also a video on that subject). I am always most impressed, when visiting this church, by the flamboyant, colourful and full of life floral motifs decorating its exterior walls and cloister. That spurred me to put together the photo-montage above and thus try to make better known to the outside world this wonderful floral panoply, which resides at the heart of Bucharest. The cloister decoration was created by Mincu and contains a beautiful rendering, with an excellent spatial impression, of two floral motifs from the church register (seen here on the top-centre and right-hand-corner sectors of the above collage).

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Daily Picture 6-Mar-10: Tatar Village Mosque from ‘Times of Yore’

Tatar village mosque, Dobrogea, Eastern Romania. (old postcard -1920s-Valentin Mandache collection)

There is something exuding timelessness in this beautiful 1920s postcard (which I found at an antique fair in Bloomsbury, London), depicting Tatar villagers from Romania’s Dobrogea region on the Black Sea coast, gathering for prayer at their poor, but exceedingly picturesque rural mosque. The imam voices his loud calls from the top of a pile of stone slabs resembling a basic minaret, surrounded by pious village elders. On the mosque rooftop a stork nestle calmly, ignoring the humans around her and their peaceful daily business. Under the roof eave, above the doorway, there is also a swallow nest, thus completing the idyllic atmosphere from this ‘times of yore’ village. The native Muslim population of Romania, composed mainly of ethnic Tatars and Turks, lives in Dobrogea/ Dobruja, a province on the western coast of the Black Sea that has been for more than half a millennium an integral part of the Ottoman Empire. Historic Dobrogea is a much larger region shared with neighbouring Bulgaria, adjacent to the Black Sea, and subject of intense controversy and disputes between the two countries. The Romanian province is about three quarters the size of Wales, endowed with a peculiar geography more akin to a Mediterranean rocky landscape (in fact it seems that the name Dobrogea/ Dobruja comes from an old Bulgarian word meaning “stony land”), in sharp contrast with the landscape of the lower Danube steppe that unfurls to its west. The Tatar and Turkish settlements with their Muslim culture have developed a distinctive and beautifully quaint rural architecture and habitat, which nowadays is fast disappearing as money and modern construction materials have become widely available in the region. The image above is a small sample of that old ‘Arcadia’, at peace with itself and its environment, which this region and its natives have enjoyed until recently. On the other hand, the Tatar and Turkish old houses that are now available on the market in the Dobrogea villages, would constitute some of the the cheapest and most rewarding renovation/ restoration projects for anyone willing to take up such at challenge at the eastern confines of the European Union.

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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.

Video-architecture: The Art Nouveau Style of Amzei Church

Romania was the scene of a very particular Art Nouveau style variety architecture in which traditional Byzantine, Ottoman and Romanian peasant vernacular – ethnographic motifs were brought together with wonderful results. Amzei Church in Bucharest is one such iconic example of Romanian Art Nouveau style. It was designed by the architect Alexandru Savulescu and inaugurated in 1901. The Neo-Romanian architectural style is also often expressed in an Art Nouveau matrix, especially in examples of buildings dating from 1900s – 1910s period and Amzei church design shows that evolution in its incipient stages.

Art Nouveau - Byzantine style votive painting by Marchetti Umberto (1901), Amzei church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The Western entrance of Amzei church, building designed by architect Alexandru Savulescu in the Art Nouveau - Byzantine style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Video-architecture: Bucharest’s Anglican Church

This is my first weekly architectural video blogpost!

The Bucharest Anglican church with its standard issue late Victorian Gothic style, designed by the Romanian architect V. Stefanescu, is quite a singular architectural presence in Bucharest, a city endowed with a rich Byzantine church architecture and a very incongruous mix of civilian architectural styles from French inspired, native Neo-Romanian, Art Deco, modernist to communist brutalist. The church was built in 1914-’20, and during the Cold War has been the sole functioning official Anglican church behind the Iron Curtain.

I mentioned in the video Queen Marie of Romania as a ‘niece of Queen Victoria’. She was in fact the British Sovereign’s granddaughter. The inadvertence was generated by the fact that ‘niece’ and ‘nephew’ in Romance languages such as my native Romanian, cover both English ‘granddaughter’/ ‘nice’ and ‘grandson’/ ‘nephew’ terms.

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I endeavor through this weekly architectural history video series 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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Daily Picture 30-Dec-09: Griffins Protecting the Garden of Eden Panel

Neo-Romanian style decorative panel on late 1920s house, Stirbei Voda area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The theme of the above splendid decorative panel, which I photographed during the recent snowfalls, is that of the biblical griffin(s) guarding the Garden of Eden. It is a recurrent theme in medieval church architecture and decoration, especially in its Byzantine branch. It is also one of the favourite decorative themes of the Neo-Romanian architectural style, together with that of the peacock. The specific Romanian element in the panel here is the Garden of Eden is represented as a vine plant endowed with rich clusters of grapes, a metaphor of Romania as a land of plenty (seen as an earthly Garden of Eden), where the vine grape is an over-abundant fruit and also one of the country’s main agricultural crops.

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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 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.

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

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.

Stravopoles Church Cloister. Short Video

I just made this short video featuring the cloister of the beautiful and architecturally significant c18th Stravopoles church in Bucharest: