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.

Daily Picture 14-Feb-10: Spa Town Development Boom in Victorian Era Romania

Sarata-Monteoru spa town in South East Romania, developed by the great Monteoru aristocratic-commercial family in the 1880 - '90s, part of the boom period of spa town developments in late Victorian era Romania. (old postcard Valentin Mandache collection)

Endowed with a geographically diverse territory and the longest sector of the Carpathian Mountains (over 1,000 km length of alpine geology mountain chains), Romania is very propitious for the development of spa towns around the innumerable hot and mineral springs, among stunning natural scenery. The Roman Empire was the first to establish such spas on what is now the Romanian territory (ie the Herculane Spa town in SW Romania) and the occasion occurred again in the Victorian era Romania, 17 centuries later, in a time of peace and prosperity not encountered by this region since the Roman conquest. The old postcard above shows an 1890s image of the pumps’ hall in Sarata-Monteoru spa town in Buzau county, SE Romania, one of the many such towns that sprang up in that era of prosperity. The architecture of these towns was that of similar establishments in Central Europe or France and Belgium. Many of these buildings and facilities still survive today, albeit in a very run down state or even on the verge of demolition, constituting extraordinary potential renovation projects for those willing to undertake such an enterprise. Unfortunately, these old quaint buildings, are also eyed by rapacious and ignorant local property developers.

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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.