Ancient Egyptian symbolism in an Art Deco panel

Art Deco bas-relief panel displaying ancient Egyptian symbolism, mid-1930s apartment house, designed by architect Georges Cristinel, Cismigiu area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a photograph that I shot during last Sunday’s architectural history and photography tour in Cismigiu area of Bucharest. It is an ample bas-relief panel of about 1.2 x 1.6 m containing a theme that makes allusion to ancient Egyptian symbolisms. It adorns the top of the staircase tower of a streamline Art Deco style building designed by the architect Georges Cristinel in the second part of the 1930s. The panel probably depicts a vigorous and vitalist looking family at work (a reference to the “pure” and hard working Romanian family): father, mother and son (the personage with the ancient Egyptian style wig from the lower part). They are engaged in something that looks like building work on a pharaonic scale (signifying the engineering of a highly civilized nation, just as the old Egyptians were), blessed by sunrays bursting from the panel’s upper left hand corner. The three personages, their number is probably another reference to the ancient Egyptian symbolism, namely to the rule of threecharacteristic of the Art Deco style, wear cloth  in the “Pharaoh” manner, loosely trimmed around their waist. In my opinion this panel, through its hints at racial and civilizational purity, is a “Work and Joy” theme, a late 1930s fascist propaganda programme promoted by the Romanian authorities of that era, inspired from similar developments taking place in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, countries with political regimes that by then, in the immediate years before the Second World War, had a huge and unsavoury influence over Romania.

The next Sunday (3 July ’11, 9am-12.00) architectural history and photography tour will take place inFoisorul de Foc (Fire Watchtower) quarter, east-central Bucharest (see a map at this link); meeting point: in front of the Greek Church (the one like an ancient Greek temple from Pache Protopopescu square). I look forward to seeing you there!

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Images from the Cismigiu architectural history & photography tour

Architectural history and photography tour in Cismigiu area, 26 June '11, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

We had a very dense architectural tour last Sunday in the Cismigiu area of Bucharest, with the above photomontage probably conveying something from that reality on the ground. This quarter of Romania’s capital is packed with the remarkable creations of some of the most famous native and foreign born architects, active on the local market starting with the last decades of the c19th; personalities such as Giulio Magni, Horia and Ion Creanga, Ion and Tiberiu Niga, Nicolae Cucu, Gheorghe Simotta, Petre Antonescu or Emil Günes, to cite just some of them. Among the many edifices viewed, I also had the opportunity to show and describe to the participants about the less known or even enigmatic details of this brimful with architectural marvels area. One of them is seen at the centre of the photomontage, the bas-relief, adorning a grand Neo-Romanian style building, depicting King Ferdinand and Queen Marie of Romania in the ceremonial robes from the Alba Iulia coronation that took place in 1922. The panel is very difficult to notice from the street level and probably that is why it escaped the communist era frenzy of destruction of monuments and buildings connected with the royal past. The tour participants were very international, coming from places like Thailand, France and of course this country. I was honoured to see such a high level of interest in this aspect of Bucharest’s identity and heritage. I trust that the participants had thus a nice and productive intellectual day out!

The next Sunday (3 July ’11, 9am-12.00) architectural history and photography tour will take place in Foisorul de Foc (Fire Watchtower) quarter, east-central Bucharest (see a map at this link); meeting point: in front of the Greek Church (the one like an ancient Greek temple from Pache Protopopescu square). I look forward to seeing you there!

Architectural history and photography tour in Cismigiu area, Bucharest (photo: arch. Daniela Puia)

With the participants at the tour, detailing the intricacies of the early Neo-Romanian style of the Ministry of Education building.

Architectural history and photography tour in Cismigiu area, Bucharest (photo: Dana Cernat)

The tour participants walking within the the round of the classics of the Romanian literature in Cismigiu Park, a landscape architecture design, created to lift the morale at the height of the Second World War when the country was losing hundred of thousands soldiers in the senseless alliance with Nazi Germany at the battle of Stalingrad.

Architectural history and photography tour in Cismigiu area, Bucharest (photo: arch. Daniela Puia)

Tour participants together, admiring the majestic outlines of the Cretzulescu Palace (beginning of c20th), a French Renaissance revival style edifice, one of the early creations of the great architect Petre Antonescu.

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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.

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

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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Art Deco style semi-detached houses in Ploiesti

I would like to present you another magnificent period building photographed during my trip last week to Ploiesti, the oil town 60km north of Bucharest. The previous house I wrote about was a La Belle Époque period Little Paris town mansion; that article can be read at this link. This one is a well designed mid-1930s Art Deco example of semi-detached houses, which has an extraordinary personality. The edifice is located on Independentei Street, not far from the city’s main train station. It had escaped, by a miracle in my opinion, the epic 1943 American Air Forces bomber attack that devastated the area, which although was aimed at the destruction of the oil refining industry from around Ploiesti, many stray bombs fell on the city itself. That operation against those oil fields that in the Second World War supplied the German war machine, is known in the military annals as Operation Tidal Wave, one the costliest actions in terms of pilot and aircraft losses of the US Air Forces in Europe.

Art Deco style semi-detached houses dating from the mid-1930s, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

The main feature of the building is embodied by its monumental twin staircase towers around which a multitude of Art Deco design elements get unfurled, from extraordinarily attractive doorways, streamline-like balconies with eyebrow awnings, a well proportioned street fence or ample rooftop verandas.

One of the doorways embellishing the Art Deco style semi-detached houses dating from the mid-1930s, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

The door displays sunbursts among motifs that look like clouds, while the doorway opening is decorated with a “fleshy” Art Deco floral motif, in the manner of the local Brancovan and Neo-Romanian styles, which reminds me of some of architect’s Toma T. Socolescu‘s designs. He was extremelly influential in Ploiesti and Prahova county during the inter-war period and there could be a possibility that he might be the designer of this building too.

The staircase towers: Art Deco style semi-detached houses dating from the mid-1930s, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

The twin staircase towers are embellished with a ziggurat motif, very characteristic of the Art Deco style.

Art Deco style semi-detached houses dating from the mid-1930s, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

The structure, through its wonderful proportions and high design qualities, stands out among the built landscape surrounding it. I hope that the current renovation works, which seem to take place, would bring something back from its former glory.

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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.

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

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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Art Nouveau style door handle

Art Nouveau style door handle, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The photograph presents a beautiful Art Nouveau style brass door handle, which I recently found in the Cismigiu area of Bucharest, adorning a large doorway decorated with neo-baroque motifs, of a Little Paris style house dating from the 1900s. It is a quite rare architectural history artefact find for Bucharest.

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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.

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

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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Quaint Little Paris style house in Ploiesti

Little Paris style house from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

This Thursday I undertook a short trip to Ploiesti, the centre of the Romanian oil industry, 60km north of Bucharest, and managed to photograph a sample of its great multitude of architecturally remarkable houses, built in large part by money generated by its oil wealth and also from Ploiesti’s traditional role as major market town in the region. Its urban development and architectural mix resembles at a smaller scale the historical trajectory followed by Bucharest. One of those noteworthy building, which I encountered there, located on the Independentei Street, is presented in this post’s photographs. It is a picturesque Little Paris style (what I call the French c19th historicist architecture provincially interpreted in Romania of the La Belle Époque period) dwelling, dating probably form the second part of the 1890s or the first years of the c20th at the latest, which seems quite well preserved. This type is often encountered within the territory of the Old Romanian Kingdom (pre-WWI Romania, which did not contain Transylvania and other territories gained after the war). Its general outlines remind me of an evocative Bucharest house from an impressionist style painting, about which I wrote a past article, see this link. I like its compact, box-like appearance, with rounded corners, central wrought iron doorway and ample shell-shape awning. The roof boasts two protruding round attic windows, an ornamental crest and spiky details dotting the drain trough at regular intervals. The decorative register for this type of house is generally inspired from the rococo style panoply, often containing interesting Art Nouveau elements for edifices built at the turn between the c19th and c20th. The Art Nouveau style bits in this particular example are seen in the glazed shell-shape doorway awning and parts of the design of its wrought iron gateway and street fence, fragments of which are presented in the photomontage bellow.

Wrought iron doorway with shell-shape glazed awning, Little Paris style house dating from the late 1890s or early 1900s, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)
Details of the Art Nouveau style elements adorning the gateway of a Little Paris style house (1890s - 1900s), Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

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

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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Neo-Romanian style book cover

Neo-Romanian style book cover, early 1920s (photo ©Valentin Mandache)

The Neo-Romanian style, one of the many national-romantic artistic experiments that emerged in the later part of the c19th in Europe and elsewhere, was expressed not only in architectural creations, but also had interesting manifestations in other visual arts fields, such as sculpture, painting and graphic design. A telling example is the exquisite book cover presented above, embellishing a volume that gathers together writings by Nicolae Balcescu, one of the most prominent leaders of the the 1848 nationalist revolution that swept the Romanian principalities of that era. The publishing house is “Scrisul Romanesc” (The Romanian Letters/ Writing”), based in Craiova, in south western Romania. This Neo-Romanian graphic design, inspired from architectural shapes and motifs, is therefore more fittingly appropriate for a book containing that type of writings, published by a house with that name, in an epoch of intense national pride following Romania’s Great War suffering and achievements. The architectural theme depicted on the book cover originates from the Neo-Romanian decorative register, that in its turn recycles late medieval Wallachian (also known as Brancovan) church architectural elements such as the rope motif represented on the column shafts or encircling the whole design field in an abstract rectangular-like configuration. The Byzantine type arch spanning the columns is decorated by an intricate latticework motif that is a medieval Armenian and Georgian influence in Romanian arts, also adopted within the decorative register of the Neo-Romanian style. I very much like the blue colour used by the graphic designer, which is specific for church and peasant house decoration in north-eastern Romania, in the province of Moldavia and adjacent areas of Wallachia, also found in Ukraine and further afield in Russia, thus also making the design a fascinating assembly of motifs found throughout the region where Romania is located.

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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.

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

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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Images from last Sunday’s architectural history & photography tour in Carol Park area

Architectural history and photography tour of Carol Park area, 19 June '11, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The third architectural history and photography tour took place last Sunday, 19 June ’11, in Carol Park area of south central Bucharest. The park hosted in 1906 the great National Royal Exhibition, held to celebrate King Carol I’s jubilee of 40 years of glorious reign, during which he modernised and Europeanised the country, won its independence from the Ottoman Empire on the battlefield and extended its territory to the shores of the Black Sea. The exhibition has also been intended as a showcase for the new national architectural style, known today as Neo-Romanian. Anyone intending to properly understand this architectural order, needs to study the designs used for the buildings making up that exhibition, the problem being that nowadays, more than one century later, there are just a few surviving remnants of those edifices and artistic creations. I aimed in my tour to chart and mentally reconstruct as much as possible from the old Royal Exhibition, and I believe that I was quite successful in that endeavour, judging from the feedback received from some of the participants. We viewed, for example, a reinforced concrete bridge, a technical rarity for that era, adorned with Neo-Romanian motifs or admired a great sculptural assembly in the Neo-Romanian style. Apart from the park, we visited the surrounding area, where the local architecture was visible influenced by the archetypes showcased at the exhibition. A highlight of the tour was Filaret train station, the first railway terminus of Bucharest, dating from 1869, about which I wrote an article yesterday, click the link here for access. The photomontage above presents some of the interesting buildings from different historical eras encountered during the tour and bellow is a selection of photographs with the wonderful tour participants, together with a slide show encompassing those images.  I trust that the participants had a beautiful day out, shot attractive architectural photographs and enhanced their knowledge about the remarkable architectural history of this corner of Bucharest!

The next Sunday (26 June ’11, 9am-12.00) architectural history and photography tour will take place in Cismigiu historic quarter, west central Bucharest (see a map at this link); meeting point: Izvor tube station (outside eastern exit, toward the fast food restaurant). I look forward to seeing you there!

Architectural history and photography tour in Carol Park area, Bucharest, 19 June '11 (photo: arch. Daniela Puia)
Architectural history and photography tour in Carol Park area, Bucharest, 19 June '11 (photo: arch. Daniela Puia)
Architectural history and photography tour in Carol Park area, Bucharest, 19 June '11 (photo: arch. Daniela Puia)

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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.

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

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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Impressions from my first trip to Venice (February 2000)

For those of you who speak or read Romanian, bellow is a letter send to Diana and a few close friends, detailing the deep impressions left by my first trip to Venice more than a decade ago. The Italian maritime republics, Venice and Genoa, are essential in understanding the history of the Romanian lands, deeply influencing their early medieval history and economy. The principalities of Wallachia and Moldova emerged in large part as an economic consequence of the long distance commerce carried out by Venice and Genoa between north-west Europe and Russia on the one hand and the Byzantine Empire and the rest of the Mediterranean world on the other. Venetian architects, scholars or soldiers were also often employed at the court of the medieval Romanian princes. The Brancovan architectural style, which emerged in the c17th and c18th was in part influenced by Venetian architecture. The Neo-Romanian style, developed in the national-romantic era of the late c19th and the first part of c20th, also found some of its inspiration in Venetian arts and architecture. That is why I recommend in depth cultural trips to Venice and also Genoa to anyone seriously interested in understanding the early medieval Romanian history and the evolution of the the architectural phenomenon in the region nowadays encompassed by Romania.

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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.

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

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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Filaret – the first train station of Bucharest

Yesterday I organised another architectural history and photography tour, the third one so far, which took place in Carol Park area. One of the landmarks viewed was Filaret train station, the first such public transport facility of Bucharest, a terminus of the first railway on the territory of the then Romania, inaugurated in 1869, linking the capital with the Danube port of Giurgiu. This railway line was vitally important for Bucharest, a city on the threshold of an explosive development after it recently became the capital of the newly established state of Romania, one of the fortuitous geopolitical consequences of the Crimean war, among multiple other factors, of that period. The then Prince Carol I, the future monarch of the country, a meticulous military man, well trained in the management methods typical of the industrial revolution in his native Germany, was personally involved in this essential project for Bucharest’s infrastructure. The locals were thus able to travel and do business much faster, by quickly going to the Danube and embark on steamboats that went all the way to the Black Sea and Istanbul or to Vienna and from there by train to Paris. Also the railway was a lifeline for the city, which was now able to easily bring or send goods to and from most of Europe and the Mediterranean. The flamboyant Little Paris architecture (what I call the French c19th historicist styles provincially interpreted in Romania) emerged in a fulminant manner after the railway came into use. The station functioned until 1960 when it was transformed in a coach station and its rails dismantled. Today is still functioning as a coach station and the building with much of its old early Victorian infrastructure deteriorated and much abused. There are discussions to transform it in a railway museum, but as most such type of public projects in Romania, it will probably take another one or even two decades until something will emerge from that proposal. Until then, Filaret train station, an important industrial architecture identity marker of Bucharest, will continue to face indifference from both public and authorities, abuse and decay. Bellow are some image of how the building looks nowadays, covered with modern paint and plaster and a myriad of billboards and other injuries brought about by the Romanian wild capitalism of the post-communist era.

Filaret - the first train station of Bucharest, front façade (©Valentin Mandache)
Filaret - the first train station of Bucharest, unkempt commemorative plaque mentioning its inauguration year (©Valentin Mandache)
Filaret - the first train station of Bucharest, the station's hall, with its glazed roof missing and interior left open to the elements (©Valentin Mandache)
Filaret - the first train station of Bucharest, front façade, ornate cast iron corbels dating from the mid c19th (©Valentin Mandache)
Filaret - the first train station of Bucharest, the front end of the former waiting platforms (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

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

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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Art Deco style zodiac sign on ceramic tile

Art Deco style zodiac sign on ceramic tile (cca 30x30 cm) dating from the mid 1930s on the exterior wall of a house in Popa Nan area of Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

A few days ago I briefly explored an area of Bucharest developed in the inter-war period (southern sector of Popa Nan neighbourhood), where many of the quaint Art Deco houses that are the hallmark of the local architecture are now in a advanced state of deterioration or defaced by aggressive renovations performed by ignorant property owners, so ubiquitous in nowadays post-communist Bucharest. I was quite glad to discover this ornamental ceramic tile, part of a small row of identical such ties, hidden under the roof-eave of a run down mid-1930s house. It depicts, in my opinion, a zodiac sign, which could be either a crab/ crayfish or scorpion. In my view, because of its chunkiness, among other features, is a crab. There are also other messages hidden within this abstract design, like the inclusion of the main body of the creature, apart from the four stylised pair of legs, within a pentagram. The choice of colours is also absolutely gorgeous, still looking fresh as in the days when the Art Deco style was all the rage in inter-war Bucharest. The great pity is the ugly TV cable hanging over the tile, partly obstructing its viewing, another inconvenience encountered practically at every step in this city located on the eastern edge of the European Union.

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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.

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

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 Contactpage of this weblog.