Architectural walking tour in TARGOVISTE – Saturday 13 June

Dear readers,

This is an invitation to an architectural history tour in Targoviste, renowned as the former capital of the former Principality of Wallachia and one of the seats of Vlad the Impaler, among many other fearsome medieval Wallachian rulers of the Medieval era, located north-west of Bucharest, 80km away, in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps. The tour is open to all of you who would like to accompany me, the author of the Historic Houses of Romania blog on Saturday 13 June 2015!

I will be your expert guide in this excellently endowed in old architecture town. Targoviste contains a superb selection of period houses and public buildings, reflecting the styles and architectural evolution of Romania’s provincial towns since late Middle Ages. The locals are proud of the city’s heritage and legacy as a former princedom capital, somehow as Winchester is seen in England, if I may draw that parallel, with ample medieval ruins poignantly reminding its glorious past. The meaning of “Targoviste” in old Romanian language is that of  ”market town”, a true reflection of its medieval and early modern economy, until the advent of the oil industry in the inter-war period that changed its character.  All of that splendid architecture located in the Arcadia like setting of this city is waiting for you to be discovered and photographed! :)

You can read my blog articles detailing aspects of Targoviste’s wonderful historic architecture at this link: https://historo.wordpress.com/tag/targoviste/

Targoviste can be reached from Bucharest by car, train and bus. The tour will take about four hours, starting at 11.30am, with stops at the Princely Court open air museum and Arts museum (entrance ticket to each of this places has to be purchased there), and also for coffee and tea at one of the cafes on the old high street. The train schedule from Bucharest’s Gara de Nord can be accessed here: http://www.mersultrenurilor.ro, while the bus one here: http://www.autogari.ro.

Book by emailing v.mandache@gmail.com or using the comments section of this post. You will be informed of meeting place on booking.

I look forward to seeing you at the tour,

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses (tel: 0040 (0)728323272)

Architectural walking tour in Targoviste – Historic Houses of Romania –

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Historic Houses of Romania - architectural tour in Targoviste

Historic Houses of Romania – architectural tour in Targoviste

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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.

Historic foot mud scraper

I like the historic foot mud scrapers and the contribution they bring to the overall aesthetics of a period building, although they represent a very practical device affixed prosaically on the side of a doorway. Here is an interesting example that I photographed on the steps of the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral in Sibiu, old Saxon Transylvania. It dates from the beginning of the 20th century and its sphinxes must have seen a lot of feet in the meanwhile. Looking at the wear of the blade, I reckon that perhaps over half a million people used it in the last century and a decade.

Foot mud scraper dating from the early 1900, Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, Sibiu/ Hermannstadt/ Nagyszeben

Foot mud scraper dating from the early 1900, Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, Sibiu/ Hermannstadt/ Nagyszeben

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.

Clamshell doorway awnings from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti

Bellow are two wonderful clamshell house entrance awnings that I photographed in Ploiesti, the oil town 60km north of Bucharest. They date from the La Belle Époque period (late Victorian and Edwardian periods) and belong as an architectural “species” to the Art Nouveau current, constituting a part of what I call the Little Parish style built landscape of the urban areas of that period in Romania. The clamshell awnings are widespread in Bucharest, which make me consider them as one of the main architectural symbols of Romania’s capital, but also popular throughout the country before the Great War (which was then formed by the provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia, without Transylvania). Ploiesti was developing spectacularly in that era on the proceeds of the newly emerging oil economy and as an important regional market town. The clamshell awnings are a superb reminder of those times of economic boom and architectural finery.

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Early Neo-Romanian style house in Campina

I have found in Campina, a beautiful town north of Bucharest, on Prahova Valley, during the preparation of the last year’s architectural tour in that location, an interesting Neo-Romanian house, belonging to the early phase of development of Romania’s national architectural style. That period unfurled between 1886, the year when Lahovary House, the first Neo-Romanian edifice was built by the architect Ion Mincu, and 1906, when this design peculiar to this country, was “codified” within the architecture of the great buildings that functioned as pavilions of the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1906 in Bucharest. The Neo-Romanian style subsequently underwent a mature and also a late phase of development until its zenith in the late 1940s.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

This wonderful example from Campina dates, in my opinion, from the 1900s, exhibiting a mixture of Neo-Romanian and Little Paris features, characteristic of the early phase of this design. Specifically Neo-Romanian is the three arched veranda, coloured ceramic medallions or the toothed brick arch above the doorway. Little Paris is the general aspect of the building, a wagon house facing the street, with a typical doorway woodwork and roof finial. The house has probably underwent a series of renovations throughout more than a century of existence, which altered or erased part of its ornaments and other architectural details, the most aggressive such intervention taking place, in my view, in the last few years.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

Nevertheless the structure retains enough original elements and details that preserve its original early Neo-Romanian character. The duo-tone processed photograph above emphasizes even more the outlines of this picturesque house, giving us a better idea about its interesting mix of Neo-Romanian and Little Paris designs.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

The main Neo-Romanian sector is the three arched veranda, a reference to the Christian holy trinity. That is also seen in the three-lobes forming the arch span. The broken arch feature is a reference to the Ottoman-Balkan architectural traditions of this region, as seen in the local Brancovan style churches of the c18th and early c19th centuries, a main source of inspiration for the Neo-Romanian design. The veranda poles are of ethnographic type, as encountered in peasant houses, another fountain of inspiration for the national architecture.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

The most eye catching elements of the facade are the glazed ceramic medallions embellishing the entrance sector or the wall space between the arches and windows. The coloured ceramic on building façades is a Victorian era innovation, that had somehow faint echoes in Romania of that period, seen mostly in early Neo-Romanian edifices. Above is a rendering in that material of a Brancovan church frieze medallion, in its turn inspired from Ottoman-Balkan Islamic architecture. Suggestive for Neo-Romanian is the toothed brick arch, which is an allusion to pre-Brancovan church architecture (as seen for example in Mihai Voda Church‘s brickwork).

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

I particularly like the yellow and blue coloured ceramic medallions pointing out the wall between the arches that together with the brown-red shade of the façade rendering, which originally was probably a Pompeian red hue, used in the decoration of many early and mature phase Neo-Romanian edifices, make up the colours of Romania’s national flag, a peculiar instance that I encountered in few other examples of houses in this design genre.

Architectural hen pen from Fin de Siècle period

Architectural hen pen dating from the 1890s, Targoviste, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The backyards of the period houses often hold hidden treasures and curiosities of architectural history, from fragments of decorations and structures much older than the street façade, to garden gazebos or former farm constructions. I had the rare opportunity to encounter in Targoviste, 80km north-west of Bucharest, a beautiful hen pen structure, dating from Fin de Siècle period, which models a human dwelling at a smaller scale, of a style popular in those times in Romania’s towns. It follows the design of an Alpine chalet, which is part of the spa architecture fashion spread in the 1880s -1890s throughout central and eastern Europe.

Architectural hen pen dating from the 1890s, Targoviste, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

The former backyard of the grand house that contained this hen pen is now exposed to the street following probably the demolition of the building that previously obscured it and sale of the plot of land on which once stood. The pen was of a mixed domestic fowl use, with compartments for hens and possibly ducks or geese within its lower floors and pigeons in the attic.

Architectural hen pen dating from the 1890s, Targoviste, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

I like the wood fretwork on the edge of the roof eave, so typical of the late Victorian period houses. Two pigeon holes flank a larger central door used for keeper’s access, through which is cut a third pigeon hole.

This is an excellent piece of domestic architecture, still quite well preserved and relatively straight forward to restore. It shows the sophistication of the Romanians of more than one century ago, who were most certainly more elevated and finer in their architectural tastes than their nowadays post-communist counterparts.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova

This picturesque c19th pre-railway age bridge is located in the environs of Crasna in the county of Vaslui in eastern Romania. It is known as Podul Doamnei (Lady’s Bridge), spanning about 90 metres over a former riverbed of the river Barlad, which now flows nearby within embankments. The structure dates from 1841, at the height of the Russian Empire’s protectorate over the Danubian Principalities of Moldova and Wallachia. It represents a vestige of of the first modern road building programme in the old Moldovan Principality, promoted by Michael Sturdza, its then reigning prince.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The bridge was on an important commercial road, linking the principality’s highland centres in the Carpathians, where a relative majority of the population lived with crop producing and animal husbandry lowlands. There was also an important local traffic between some of the “itinerant” capitals of the c15th – c17th princes of Moldova, towns as Husi, Barlad or Vaslui, from a time when that institution functioned as a travelling princely court. The emergence of the railway age in Romania, the state that emerged through the union of Moldova and Wallachia in the aftermath of Crimea War, gave a fatal blow to this road’s commercial traffic and the local economy that it sustained. As a consequence nearby villages disappeared, the population moving to more prosperous ones along the railway. Diminished traffic and landslides made the authorities in the mid c20th to change the course of the road and finally in 1981 to close the bridge and declare it an architectural monument, which is still its status today.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

Its designer was major Singurov, a Russian army engineer attached to the Moldavian princely court, charged with the public works, during the protectorate of the Tsarist Empire over the principality. That was a period of reforms that marked the onset of  Westernisation within the Danubian Principalities under the aegis of Russia, known as the Organic Statute (Regulamentul Organic in Romanian) administration, which lasted for two decades, between 1834 and 1854, when the onset of the Crimean War put an end to that relationship. It is somehow ironic on account of the traditional anti-Russian discourse in Romania that the Russians were those who first implemented the benefits of Western cultural, constitutional and economic advancement in this region dominated for centuries by the Ottoman Empire and its civilization. That remarkable process, which nowadays is forgotten or swept under carpet, was magisterially detailed by the American historian Barbara Jelavich in her book Russia and the Formation of the Romanian National State, 1821 – 1878 (Cambridge University Press, 1984). The Doamnei Bridge is thus a beautiful architectural relic of that epoch of upheavals and transformations.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

Prince Michael Sturdza (1794 – 1884), who ordered the construction of the bridge, was a prominent personality of the time, influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, and an able administrator. He was also the first ruler in the Danubian Principalities to free Gypsies (those owned by the court and the monasteries) from their centuries old enslavement. The bridge was part of an ample road building programme of the forth and the fifth decade of the c19th initiated to stimulate the Moldovan economy, financed with proceeds from grain exports, the main revenue making activity in this region until the emergence of the oil industry at the beginning of the c20th.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The architectural style of the bridge is quite utilitarian, although on broad lines is baroque, a style associated with the Westernisation process in Russia itself. The most conspicuous baroque like elements are the decorative panels at the centre of the bridge parapets that contain dedicatory inscriptions on each interior side in Romanian and Latin languages respectively.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The northern side inscription in in Romanian rendered in an peculiar transition lettering, between the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets, another instance of the intense Europeanisation drive at that time, when the Romanians aimed to shed not only the Ottoman influences, but also the Slavic heritage of the Middle Ages, a continuous source of conflict with the Russian overlords.

The inscription reads as: “This bridge is edified by the orders of the high prince [voyvode] Michael Sturdza of Moldova, in his 8th regning year and built under the ministry of Mr. logophete Constantin Sturdza, has been opened to the travelling public on 8 November [Julian calendar] 1841″ (the original Romanian text is as follows: “Acest pod este construit din poronca pre inalt Domn Mihail Grigoriu Sturza V.V. [voyvode] domn Terei Moldovei in al VIII an al domniei ?sale si savarsinduse supt ministeria d log Const Sturza sau deschis pentru călători în 8 Noem 1841″).

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The inscription in Latin is on the southern side at the centre of the bridge, mirroring the first one, and contains a translation of the Romanian text detailed above.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The Latin text: “Pons haec extructa est Jussu Serenissimi Domini Michaelis Grigoriu Stordza, principis regnatis Moldaviae, in octavo anno regiminis sui. Ad finem quae deducia Ministerio D. Logoteta Const. Stu[rdza]. Patefacia Via locibus 8 Novembris 1841″ (source: Podul Doamnei din Chitscani). Both panels are crowned by a coat of arms of the Principality of Moldova, nowadays badly damaged.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The bridge was not a small feat engineering accomplishment for this underdeveloped principality that functioned under sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire and the protectorate of Russia, in effect a double periphery of those mighty powers, far away from their bustling and flourishing imperial cores. The local economy, industry and also architecture will really take off only after the region’s international trade routes, which were represented the Danube waterway and the Black Sea navigation, will be completely freed following the Russian – Turkish War of 1877 – ’78 and achievement of Romania’s independence, recognised by the Treaty of Berlin that concluded that war.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The construction is oriented on a West – East direction which exposes it to a peculiar sort of weathering. Its northern façades are darkened by the strong Siberian origin winds and precipitations that come via the system of open plains and hills linking Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The southern oriented façades are less weathered, preserving more from the original stone texture and colour. The stone used is a local yellow – grey soft limestone of Sarmatian age, type of rocks close at hand in this area of Europe, spread  from Transylvania to southern Ukraine and Russia’s Black Sea region.

Stone bridge from the reign of prince Michael Sturdza in the Principality of Moldova (Vaslui county, Romania) (©Valentin Mandache)

The bridge is said to have had initially just three arches built, with another two added during renovation works in the late c19th.

The author of the Historic Houses of Romania blog, next to Doamnei Bridge, Vaslui county (©Valentin Mandache)

The width of the road supported by the structure is about 9 metres, which could take quite an sizeable traffic, a testimony of the intense circulation of goods and persons of those times.

Doamnei bridge, Vaslui county, Romania – Google Maps

The Lady’s Bridge (Podul Doamnei in Romanian) is now a a lonesome and imposing historical structure in the middle of nowhere, as this Google Maps satellite image corroborates.

Little Paris style pediment in Buzau

Little Paris style pediment, Buzau (©Valentin Mandache)

The example of house entrance pediment pictured above is from the town of Buzau in south east Romania, from the period when the Little Paris style (what I call the c19th French and other western historicist styles interpreted in a provincial manner in Romania)  was in vogue throughout the whole country. The finish is a bit crude, but charming, the assembly truing to emulate the entrance of a Corinthian order temple. I like the monogram of the owner flanked by the year of construction of the house, at the beginning of the La Belle Époque period.

If you would like to find out more about the Little Paris style and how it imprinted the architectural character of Bucharest, I organise a special tour on that theme this coming Saturday, details here: https://historo.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/walking-tour-saturday-24-march-bucharest-as-the-little-paris-of-the-balkans/

Wagon house in Buzau

Wagon type, Little Paris style house dating from the 1890s, Buzau, south east Romania (©Valenitn Mandache)

This type of house is one of the most popular and also picturesque that has been built in Romania’s urban areas of the La Belle Époque period. It is commonly known as a “wagon house” because of its oblong shape, and doorway placed at the centre of its length, the edifice somehow resembling a railroad car. The house in most cases faces the street with its width, often sporting a charming round corner between the garden and street façades, as can be seen in the quaint example presented in this article, from Buzau in south east Romania. I consider the wagon house as a paradigm of the architecture that pervaded that age, what I call the Little Paris style, the local provincial interpretation of the c19th especially French historicist architecture.

Wagon type, Little Paris style house dating from the 1890s, Buzau, south east Romania (©Valenitn Mandache)

The round corner has a floral decorative panel, containing representations of scattered roses, amplifying the impression of peace, bucolic and prosperity of the Fin de Siècle era in Romania. In other instances the round corner is empty or decorated with neo-rococo style panoplies containing the monogram of the proprietor and/ or the year of the construction of the house.

Wagon type, Little Paris style house dating from the 1890s, Buzau, south east Romania (©Valenitn Mandache)

I like the wagon houses, being one of my favourite type of Romanian period edifices, due to their intense quaintness, human scale and use of environmentally friendly construction materials, similar with those used in the centuries before the industrial revolution. This variety of period property is also among the cheapest to acquire and restore now in Romania.

Exquisite villa from the apogee of the Neo-Romanian style

I first published this article in November 2010, but took it offline after a short while, due to a series of Romanian blogging sites which were using the photographs and ideas presented here, without giving any credit to my work, a blatant arrogant behaviour typical of the many so-called specialists that currently infest the post-communist cultural scene, including the history of architecture, of Romania. Many among those mediocrities misappropriate and habitually plagiarise other authors’ work, as I also remember a case a year or so ago when someone from the teaching staff at the Bucharest University of Architecture “Ion Mincu”, a lady named Mihaela Criticos, published a book about the Art Deco style, with a multitude of illustrations pulled out from the web, including from my site, without any necessary acknowledgement being made.

Neo-Romanian style villa, designed by the architect Toma T Socolescu, 1934, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

In the period between the mid-1920s and the mid-1930s, the Neo-Romanian architectural style has reached its apogee. One of the leading architects who has marked that intensely creative decade, was Toma T Socolescu, the most brilliant scion of a famous family of Romanian architects. The house above, although not very sizeable, represents in my opinion one of his finest creations, which is also excellently preserved. It is located in Campina, a prosperous oil town 90km north of Bucharest, close by another house that I documented in an earlier post (an excellent modernist design, which I hypothesized, correlated with information from the locals, that it was designed by a Wehrmacht architect in the 1940s). Remarkable in this example is the highly elaborated and decorated doorway assembly (the door, the wall dressing and the awning). Also noticeable is the ground-floor balcony terrace overlooking a beautiful small garden. The terrace is overlooked by a decorative shield containing the family monogram, “NP”, decorating the door arch keystone. I would also like to mention here the charming first floor veranda, decorated with interesting wood carved pillars that sustain an interesting bell shaped tiled roof, which was modelled by the architect from roof examples that endow many late medieval Wallachian churches. The roof is crowned by a large Neo-Romanian type finial. I had the opportunity to discuss with the proprietor of this architectural jewel, a senior lady, who gave an abundance of information about the designer and year of construction (1934). She also mentioned the struggle to save and maintain it during the long decades of the communist dictatorship, when part of the property was used by the army as housing for its personnel. The proprietor also mentioned the recent restoration and renovation works, which were undertaken with great care and under her close supervision in order to preserve as much as possible from the old building details and fabric. In my opinion she has managed to do that with excellent competence, the house being now, in my opinion, one of the best restored Neo-Romanian style houses in the entire country. The photomontage above and slide show bellow the text are just a few glimpses of this exquisite house designed and built at the zenith of the Neo-Romanian style.

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Prin aceasta serie de articole zilnice intentionez sa inspir in randul publicului aprecierea valorii si importantei caselor de epoca din Romania – un capitol fascinant din patrimoniul arhitectural european si o componenta vitala, deseori ignorata, a identitatii comunitatilor din tara.

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Daca intentionati sa cumparati o proprietate de epoca sau sa incepeti un proiect de renovare, m-as bucura sa va pot oferi consultanta in localizarea proprietatii, efectuarea unor investigatii de specialitate pentru casele istorice, coordonarea unui proiect de renovare sau restaurare etc. Pentru eventuale discuţii legate de proiectul dvs., va invit sa ma contactati prin intermediul datelor din pagina mea de Contact, din acest blog.

Neo-Romanian style chimney stacks in Targoviste

The Neo-Romanian architectural style is an all encompassing architectural order, which was meant to reflect the way of life, history, traditions and art of the ethnic Romanian communities. Among its more peculiar manifestations is the design of chimney stacks, about which I wrote on this blog another article last year. The ones illustrated here are from the city of Targoviste, the erstwhile capital of the principality of Wallachia, about 80 km north-west on Bucharest, in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps. They model the medieval fortress towers of which Targoviste is famous through a large citadel keep built about five and a half centuries ago by Vlad the Impaler.  The fortress tower motif is also used in the design of Neo-Romanian street fence poles, also epitomising the war torn history of these lands located on the fault-line between Islam and Christianity.

Neo-Romanian style chimney stacks, mid-1920s house in Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style chimney stacks, mid-1920s house in Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style chimney stacks, early 1920s house in Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style chimney stacks, late 1920s house in Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

Comarnic wood fretwork

Comarnic wood fretwork dating from the 1890s. (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a wood fretwork panel fragment from among the myriad of such embellishments that adorn house façades on the main street of the city of Comarnic, on Prahova Valley, about 100km north of Bucharest. It dates from the 1890s, created at time of economic well being in the late Victorian period, when the town benefited from the opening of the first direct railway link between Bucharest and Brasov in Transylvania and from there to the rest of Europe, and also because of the set up there of a lime and cement factory, which supplied Bucharest’s booming building industry. Comarnic is the repository of probably the amplest and finest Victorian era wood fretwork architecture in this part of Europe, which is now ignored by the official tourist trails and companies, remaining virtually unknown, despite the town’s relative short distance from Bucharest. The panel presented here is a composition of floral and Romanian ethnographic designs. The ethnographic patterns are constituted by the rope motif short columns of opposing twists and the full and half solar discs adorning their base and capital.

The Military Cemetery of Buzau: history and architecture

Buzau is located in southeastern Romania at the great bend made by the chain of the Carpathian Mountains, a place  of many bloody conflagrations between enemy empires and also nation states. The video presents the Military Cemetery of that town, the sections for the Second Balkan War and the Great War.

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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.

Brief consideration on the Brancovan style architecture

The Brancovan architectural forms, which unfurled in the period between the mid-c17th and first decades of the c18th, epitomised a sublime relation between symbols representing the way of life of that period and the belief system peculiar to the place in which they took shape, namely the Principality of Wallachia. The arhictecture of those edifices mirrored the spiritual universe and psychology of those who erected them and the communities for whom they were built. That is the reason why the symbolism of those monuments contains the answer to the question why the architecture, especially the ecclesiastical design, has acquired a unique language during the Brancovan epoch, leading to the emergence of what we call today the Brancovan style, intrinsic to that principality and pivotal to the underpinning,  in the modern era, of the Neo-Romanian style.

The conceptual tools employed in analysing the architectural phenomenon of that age in central and western Europe are, in my opinion, not wholesomely adequate in examining the stylistic complexity of the Brancovan style buildings, where a more feasible means of investigation would be that used in interpreting the Christian and especially the Islamic architecture of the Ottoman Empire, a realm within which Wallachia was then an integral part.

What we permanently need to take into account is that the Christian message of following the salvation call and example of Jesus, in the conditions of being a subordinated religion to the Muslim one, the supreme faith and also ideology of the Ottoman caliphate, generated an entirely different dynamics of artistic and implicitly architectural expression within the Christian millet that included the then Principality of Wallachia, distinct from what was taking place in countries where Christianity was the uncontested supreme religion and ideology as in Russia or Austria. The Brancovan architecture became thus expressed through coordinates specific to the cultural environment of the Ottoman dominion, searching for the harmony and universality of the mankind within the reality of the political, economic and cultural primacy of the Musslim world. The architecture became in that way a privileged province of free and sophisticated artistic expression, of spiritual travail toward the attainment of the ideals symbolised by the deeds and life of Jesus, which fascinated not only the high minded princes Serban Cantacuzino and Constantin Brancoveanu, during whose reigns what we now call the Brancovan style  took shape and content, but also the Wallachian population, which preserved and insured the continuity of the style after the Phanariot regime was later imposed upon them.

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses

The cupola turret of Mantuleasa church in bucharest, built in 1734 in late Brancovan style. It is probably an inter-war restoration, in close respect of the the original structure (©Valentin Mandache)

Gravestone slabs, mid-c17th, from the beginnings of the Brancovan style, Stelea Monastery, Targoviste (©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.

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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.

1900s Ploiesti doorway

1900s Ploiesti doorway

I found in one of my occasional trips to Ploiesti last summer, a well preserved house dating from the 1900s in a style halfway between neo-baroque and neoclassical, which was also embellished with a splendid wrought iron doorway that displayed some interesting Art Nouveau motifs. The area endowed with the amplest such design was the upper window of the doorway, presented in the second photograph bellow. It shows a flowing, whiplash shape, flower motif typical of the Art Nouveau decorative panoply. The house is illustrative for the urban architecture of the first decade of the c2oth Romania, when the historicist style buildings also encompassed and often seamlessly integrated fashionable Art Nouveau elements, as is the case with this doorway assembly.

The doorway of a 1900s Ploiesti house (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau style ironwork decorating the upper window of a 1900s doorway in Ploiesti, southern Romania (©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 Contact page of this weblog.