I just had a short visit to the beautiful Antim Monastery in the very centre of Bucharest. It is a superb building gathering many motifs and styles from the Ottoman world of the c17th and c18th that I need to thoroughly investigate, analyse and meditate upon.
I am always enthralled when reading old inscriptions in Romanian that use the Cyrillic script. They have for me a profound identity appeal, speaking from the depths of time when versions of this script, adapted for the sounds and needs of the Romanian idioms, were used to render the language since at least the early c16th until the mid c19th, when it was replaced by the Latin script. The first monumental literature work in Romanian, the Bible of Bucharest, produced in 1688, the equivalent of King James Bible in terms of richness of expression and language standard settings in this part of the world, was printed in a beautiful Cyrillic type, itself a great work of art. The Neo-Romanian architectural style has in large part conserved the enchanting aesthetics of the Cyrillic letters thorugh its architectural rendering of the Latin types in coordinates that remind of the old alphabet. A beautiful example of such old Romanian language (in the Wallachian dialect) inscription is the commemorative plaque dating from 1842, presented in the image above, which is affixed on the exterior of the southern wall of Domnita Balasa church in central Bucharest. The content of the inscription is an extraordinary chronicle of Wallachian history and identity, the principality of which Bucharest has been the capital, before the official emergence of the state of Romania through the union of this princedom with Moldova, one of the geopolitical consequences of the Crimea war. I have transcribed bellow that text in Latin letters, keeping as much as I could from the way the old Romanian language words were rendered, amid a general lack of punctuation typical of the writings of that period:
Acest sfant si dumnezeiesc lacas in care se praznuieste cea intru marire innaltare dela pamant la ceruri a mantuitorului nostru s-au radicat din temelie la anul 1751 de raposata Domnita Balasa, fiica lui Constantin Voevod Basaraba Brancoveanul cu toate incaperile dupanprejur oranduindule spre locuinta saracilor celor fara adapostire la care au inchinat toata starea sa si a sotului sau banul Manolache Lambrino = Dar vremea ce toate le-invecheste aducand la darapanare toate incaperile, stranepotasau banul Grigore Basaraba Brancoveanul, odrasla cea din urma in care sau sfarsit acest slavit si vechiu neam al Basarabilor, si al Brancovenilor, leau preinnoint adaogandule la anul 1831 iar la anul 1838 Ghenar intamplanduse infricosat cutremur care darapanand si sfanta biserica, dumneaei baneasa Safta Brancoveanca nascuta Bals, sotia raposatului ban, ce au zidit spitalul brancovenesc silau inzestrat din casa sotului dumisale ca o stapana si efora iconomisind din veniturile acestei sfinte biserici si jertfind si din ale dumneaei, au ridicato din temelie in locul cei vechi marindo si frumutando, spre pomenire vesnica care sa savarsit prin osardnca staruire a epitropilor numitului spital ce sint si a sfintei biserici, caminarul Manuil Serghia si stolnicul Ioan Nadaianu la anul mantuirii : 1842 :
[approximate translation of the above Wallachian dialect text] This holly and godly place in which is celebrated that great ascension from earth to heavens of our redeemer, has been built from the ground up in the year 1751 by her who passed away, Domnita [Princess] Balasa, the daughter of Prince Constantin Basaraba Brancoveanu, with all its rooms and dependencies given to the poor homeless people to whom she and her husband, the governor Manolache Lambrino, have bequeathed all of their possessions = Nevertheless, as the time that passes away and weathers everything, those rooms crumbled away too, and her grandson, the governor Grigore Basaraba Brancoveanul, the last scion in whom the glorious and venerable Basarab dynasty, and the Brancovans, have ended, has rebuilt and extended them in the year 1831; in the meanwhile in the year 1838, a great and terrifying earthquake has occurred damaging the holly church; then she the governess Safta Brancoveanca nee Bals, the wife of the late governor, who has built the Brancovan hospital with her husband’s funds, to which she was fully entitled, and as a trustee, with saving from the revenues of this holly church and also her own funds, has completely rebuilt the church from the ground in the place of the old one, extending and embellishing it, deeds that will forever be remembered, and finished through the unwavering diligence of the administrators of the named hospital, Manuil Serghia and Ioan Nadaianu in the year of the redemption : 1842 :
What is impressive in that text, apart from the bewitching resonance of the Romanian language spoken more than one and a half century ago, is the profound veneration for both the Basarab princely dynasty that created and led Wallachia in the Middle Ages until the beginning of the c18th, and for the prominent aristocratic Brancoveanu family, reflecting the deep Wallachian national identity of the inhabitants of Bucharest and the principality of that era. Wallachia was at that time a proper state, functioning as a protectorate of the Ottoman Empire, with a half millennium of tumultuous history intrinsically linked with those princely families. The unionist current that sought the creation of a Romanian state through the union of the Romanian speaking principalities of Moldova and Wallachia and other such territories, was not so overwhelming or popular as the Romanian nationalist histories written after the creation of Romania in 1859 would let us believe. The text in the inscription also refers to the fact that a catastrophic earthquake took place in Bucharest in 1838 and about the extraordinary charitable work of the last Basarab and Brancoveanu scions, vividly illustrating an enchanting picture of Wallachia of 170 years ago.
The old Cyrillic inscriptions in Romanian are easily readable for those who have a minimum knowledge of that script, coupled with some basic cognition of Greek and Russian. It is deplorable that the secondary or high school curriculum in Romania does not include at least a few lessons of old Romanian language rendered in the Cyrillic alphabet, thus to open to as many people as possible an immense chapter of their cultural and linguistic identity that lays hidden behind the nationalist political smokescreen of the last century and a half when the Slavonic heritage of Romania has been actively suppressed or in many cases destroyed.
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.
Most of what is now Romania has been for centuries a part of the Ottoman Empire. The principalities of Wallachia and Moldova, and also at a later date Transylvania, where the only autonomous Christian protectorates of this empire, governed by Christian princes, where permanent places of Muslim worship or settlement where not allowed, following special c15th autonomy treaties with the Porte. For about one hundred years, from the beginning of the c18th, Wallachia and Moldova where governed by princes from the great Istanbul Greek families, loyal subjects of the sultan, who lived in the Phanar quarter of the great city, hence the generic name of their rule in the Danubian principalities as the Phanariot regime. They opened this peripheral region, previously dominated by the Hungarian and Polish kingdoms, to the culture and economy of the rest of the realm of the Padishah. Bucharest thus became a city where one could encounter traders from as far as Damascus, as well as Tripoli or Cairo. Also representatives of diverse Christian sects and denominations from throughout the Ottoman Empire found in this city a welcoming home. One of them was the Patriarch Sylvester of Antioch, in Syria, a mainly Arabic speaking church, who resided in Bucharest during the fifth decade of the c18th, a period of bitter struggles within this church that led to its split into an Orthodox and a Greek Catholic branch, in communion with Rome. Prince Constantine Mavrocordatos, the ruler of Wallachia and a member of the the very prominent Ottoman Greek family of Mavrocordatos from Istanbul, that had a crucial role in the Greek Enlightenment, granted, in 1747, to the Patriarch of Antioch and his suite of Arabiac speaking monks, the Bucharest church of “Saint Spiridon of Trimutinda” (known today as “The Old St Spiridon Church“) and other revenue making properties in the city. The photomontage above and the slide show bellow the text show the impressive doorway of this church, decorated with a votive inscription in Romanian (rendered in Cyrillic characters), Greek and Arabic languages, containing Prince Constantine Mavrocordatos’ solemn statement granting the church to the Patriarch Sylvester of Antioch and his congregation. The Arabic text is a rarity for Bucharest and Romania in general, where Muslims, in conformity with the special Christian protectorate status of Wallachia and Moldova within the Ottoman realm, where not allowed to build places of worship. By contrast, Arabic speaking Christians, were responsible for one of the such rare old inscriptions of Bucharest. The votive inscription also contains a medallion with the symbols of Wallachia (an eagle) and Moldova (an auroch head) together, denoting the fact that Constantine Mavrocordatos was appointed by the Sultan to rule at one time or another in both principalities. I very much like the particular design of this doorway, a beautiful mingling of Ottoman Islamic and Byzantine shapes, that became the hallmark of the Romanian church architecture of the c18th and the c19th, from where the architect Ion Mincu, the initiator of the Neo-Romanian style has found a rich source of inspiration. This inscription is a witness of an epoch when this land was part of a great empire that stretched from Budapest to Mecca, and how fashions and styles from far away lands blend and enrich each other, resulting in processes that can take centuries in new vitalist artistic expressions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I just made this short video featuring the cloister of the beautiful and architecturally significant c18th Stravopoles church in Bucharest: