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

Neo-Romanian roof finials shaped as steam train smoke stacks

The finials adorning the roofs ends of the Neo-Romanian style house are some of the most spectacular elements of this architectural style. They come in a diversity of shapes from those resembling hay stacks to medieval weapons or ethnographic totemic poles. During a visits last year to Sinaia, I found the very unusual finial examples presented in the photographs bellow, which adorn the monumental Neo-Romanian style train station of this famous Romanian mountain resort from the southern slopes of the Transylvanian Alps. Their shape resemble that of the steam train smoke stack, a very usual sight in the late 1920s when the main section of the railway station has been built (I believe the architect is Paul Smarandescu, but some of my readers may know better about that and look forward for their opinion)

Neo-Romanian style roof finial shaped as steam train smoke stack, Sinaia train station (©Valentin Mandache)


Neo-Romanian style roof finials shaped as steam train smoke stack, Sinaia train station (©Valentin Mandache)

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I endeavour 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 Contact page of this weblog.

Romanian Architectural History Christmas!

A very Happy Christmas from Diana & Valentin!

The Historic Houses of Romania blog finishes its second year of intense activity :) and wishes to celebrate the Christmas with the photograph (inverse colours) of a beautiful 1890s wood lattice panelled house from the city of Comarnic in the Transylvanian Alps! Valentin & Diana Mandache

Mock Half-Timbered Neo-Romanian Style House

Mock half-timbered Neo-Romanian style house, dating from mid-1930s, Sinaia, the Transylvanian Alps. (©Valentin Mandache)

The architecture of the mountain resort of Sinaia in the Transylvanian Alps, 120km north of Bucharest, is a colourful and interesting gathering of period styles ranging from the historicist orders of the late c19th to the Neo-Romanian, Art Deco and modernism of the inter-war period. Some of the imposing chalets of Sinaia display unusual combinations of architectural orders, such as is the case shown in the photograph above, which I managed to shoot during a downpour on one of many mountain slopes criss-crossing the town. The main features of this house are in the vein of the Neo-Romanian style from the arches of the corner tower veranda, flanked by Byzantine type columns, to the finial crowning its spire or the aspect of the chimney stack, etc. The odd presence here is the mock half timber façade decoration and the steep angle of the tower spire, elements inspired from German historicist architectural models. Responsible for that interesting juxtaposition is the fierce local competition, if I can put it that way, between the architectural models fashionable in Sinaia during the inter-war period. There was much prestige attached to the patriotic Neo-Romanian style, which was also exercised by the Bavarian renaissance style of the Royal Pelesh Castle, one of the country’s most prestigious edifices, hosted within the town’s confines. The architect in the case of this particular chalet seems to have solved the conundrum faced by the owner in that regard, by combining elements of the two architectural orders. The results are quite attractive in my opinion and constitute another proof of the effervescent creative atmosphere of that era in 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 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.

Campulung-Arges: An Architectural Pot-Pourri

The historic architecture of Campulung-Arges and its environs, southern Romania (photos: Daniel Bobe, old PCs: private collection, montage: Valentin Mandache)

The city of Campulung in the county of Arges has been for a brief period in the c14th the first capital of the Principality of Wallachia, the core of modern Romania. The landscape setting of this urban centre and its satellite villages is one of outstanding natural beauty, in a valley within the Sub-Carpathian piedmont, dominated by the craggy peaks of the Transylvanian Alps. It is located on the old trade route between Wallachia and the Saxon towns of Transylvania, part of the important continental commercial road that linked in the Middle Ages central Europe to the markets of Constantinople and later those of the Ottoman Empire. The rich cultural traditions of the local communities and the propitious location for economic development have produced a beautiful historic architecture abundantly seen in that of the peasant houses, the well preserved old aristocratic villas or in the emblematic buildings that house local government authorities or industrial establishments. The architectural styles are diverse and range from specific ethnographic Romanian, Ottoman Balkan to c19th Alpine chalet, Art Nouveau, Neo-Romanian, Art Deco and even International Modernist. In an attempt to impart a glimpse from that amazing architectural heritage I have put together here a photomontage and a slide show of contemporary photographs and old postcards. The photographs were kindly supplied by Daniel Bobe, a Campulung citizen who has indeed very good reasons to be proud of his city’s 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 16-Mar-10: Traditional Peasant Gate from a Transylvanian Alps Village

Traditional peasant gate from Muscel ethnographic area, Romania (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

Traditional peasant gate from Bran ethnographic area in the Transylvanian Alps, Romania (early 1930s postcard, Valentin Mandache collection).

The ancestral villages that dot of the Carpathian Mountains are still preserving many examples of traditional houses boasting beautiful ethnographic decorations. Some of these buildings are now on the market at quite reasonable prices, but unfortunately often the buyers’ intention is to demolish the old structure and put in place a more profitable and in their vision more prestigious modern building. One of the most conspicuous elements that form a traditional peasant house assembly is the wooden gate which gives access to its front yard. It has, in many cases, monumental proportions and is decorated with exquisite wood-carved ethnographic motifs, being a powerful symbol associated with marking the limits and passage between the unpredictable outside world/ cosmos and the venerated and well ordered space of the family house seen in peasant lore as the worldly equivalent of a cosmic temple that has the hearth as its altar. The image above shows such a monumental example from the Bran area of the Transylvanian Alps. It is a model which has hardly changed in this region since the Iron Age when efficient tools were first available to carve hard wood timber (oak, etc.) The traditional costumes of the peasant women gaily chatting in front of the gate also follow patterns from times immemorial. Elements of this type vestments are present on stone monuments from two millennia ago when the Roman Empire conquered the area, such as on the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome. In conclusion, those intending to buy, restore/ renovate a traditional peasant house in the Carpathian region, must pay special attention to its front yard gate and in cases in which it has been destroyed (not an unusual occurrence during of the last seven decades of communism, followed by a chaotic transition to democracy), seek to recreate this essential artefact.

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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 19-Feb-10: Alpine Chalet in the Carpathian Mountains in the 1910s

Villa Cantacuzio in Calimanesti spa town, an Alpine type chalet very popular in pre-Great War Romania among wealthy Bucharest families. (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

The Victorian era and the period until the Great War has seen the development of numerous spa towns in the Carpathian Mountains, the Alpine geology chain that straddles Romania on a length of over 1,000 km. I wrote a blogpost last week about the Sarata Monteoru spa town detailing this developmental process. The old post card above, dating from 1910s, shows a newly finished grand chalet, of an architectural type similar with contemporary examples form Switzeland or Southern Germany, located in Calimanesti spa town in the Transylvanian Alps (the southern section of the Carpathian Mountains). The house servants, local peasants among them, together with some of the owner’s family, the Romanian branch of the Byzantine imperial family of the Cantacuzene dinasty, pose for the photographer in front of the building. The villa is still standing nowadays, as many such buildings throughout Romania, but in a very precarious state because of the last two decades’ lack of maintenance, ownership disputes or affected by the usual unprofessional renovations, which are unfortunately the trademark of a majority of Romania’s post-communist historic house owners.

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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.

The Glazed Façade of c19th Beer Restaurant

A well preserved intricate late c19th beer restaurant glazed façade located in Sinaia city park; the Transylvanian Alps. (©Valentin Mandache)

The mountain resort of Sinaia, in the Transylvanian Alps undertook a fast development in the last quarter of the c19th once the railway that crossed the mountains, connecting Bucharest with the rest of Europe was opened, and the Romanian Royal Family built its magnificent summer retreat there, the Pelesh Castle. A multitude of private individuals also erected attractive Alpine chalet type villas throughout the town as week end or summer residencies to escape the sweltering weather of Bucharest. Businesses were flourishing in the booming resort and the restaurants and casinos were some of the most obvious manifestations of the emerging prosperity. The above photograph, which I took in early spring last year, shows an early example of such Sinaia establishment: a beer restaurant with what once must have been a large front garden. It uses a relatively cheap timber frame structure and glazed surface, with interesting saw-cut latticework on some of its sectors.  It lays now empty, perhaps because of ownership disputes among the descendants of pre-communist owners, or more probably because the new owners intend to demolish it in order to make way for a more profitable modern building (the structure is listed and the easiest legal way to obtain a demolition permit is to leave it, in a discreet way, deteriorate beyond repair- a terrible phenomenon affecting the built heritage of Romania on a huge scale). The timber-frame restaurants were popular in late c19th small town Romania, many of them still surviving in various states of repair, constituting excellent potential renovation projects for those willing to undertake such an enterprise.

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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.