Potlogi Palace: on the borderland between restoration and imagination

The Neo-Romanian architectural style is based on a multiplicity of sources from throughout the regions of Romania, chiefly among them churches and palaces built during a period centred on the reign of the Wallachian prince Constantin Brancoveanu (1688 – 1714). The architecture developed throughout that era is usually termed as Brancovan (other terms are Wallachian or Romanian Renaissance), representing a very peculiar, flamboyant mix of southern Romanian and Ottoman Islamic motifs together with European Renaissance (northern Italian) and baroque elements. Unfortunately, not many of those extraordinary buildings are still around, due to wars, frequent invasions by armies of the neighbouring empires, earthquakes or devastating great fires. Also an important proportion of the remaining edifices were in the course of time heavily altered.

The relative scarcity of such archetype structures, was something about which even Ion Mincu, the initiator of the Neo-Romanian style, complained about at the end of the c19th. Consequently many of the old Brancovan buildings had to be reconstructed in the modern era on the basis of disparate surviving fragments, using a a great deal of imagination in putting them together.

A case in point is that of Potlogi Palace, presented in images bellow, built by the prince Constantin Brancoveanu at the height of his power and during the flourishing of the Brancovan style in Wallachian arts and architecture.

Potlogi Palace, late c17th, southern Romania

The edifice, completed in 1698 – ’99, was destroyed by an invading Ottoman force just a decade and a half later, in 1714, as part of the reprisals for prince’s supposed collaboration with Peter the Great of Russia, and left in a ruinous state for the next two and a half centuries. The Palace, for the next two and a half centuries, became a shadow of its former glory, having a multitude of circumstantial uses, and in the end left in ruin (see the above photograph).

Potlogi Palace, late c17th, southern Romania

The restoration of Potlogi Palace was undertaken only in 1955, during the communist regime, and closely followed the Brancovan models developed at the Mogosoaia Palace, another great edifice from that period, restored in the 1920s by the great Romanian architect George Matei Cantacuzino. He also initially faced a ruin there and had to copiously use his imagination in the restoration work, taking clues from the architecture of the Brancovan period monasteries of Vacaresti (in its turn destroyed in the 1980s by the dictator Ceausescu), Hurezi, Stavropoleos and Doamnei church.

Potlogi Palace, late c17th, southern Romania; photo taken in 2007 (©Valentin Mandache)

A brief and insightful account of the restoration works is given in the publication “Studii si Cercetari de Istoria Artei”, vol. 1, 1960 (Romanian Academy).

Potlogi Palace, late c17th, southern Romania, photo taken in 2007 (©Valentin Mandache)

The way how the palace looks today is obviously a creation based on many suppositions, disparate remains, and, as I mentioned, imagination. The resulting majestic outlines, nevertheless manage to convey a good impression of how the great Brancovan era edifices were and the originality of that architecture.

Potlogi Palace, late c17th, southern Romania, photo taken in 2007 (©Valentin Mandache)

The veranda decorations and architectural details, in the image above, are a close rendering of those from the Mogosoaia Palace, which in their turn were designed by the arch. GM Cantacuzino, inspired, in this case, mainly by elements encountered at the Hurezi and Vacaresti monasteries.

Potlogi Palace, late c17th, southern Romania. Inauguration inscription by its founder, prince Constantin Brancoveanu; photo taken in 2007 (©Valentin Mandache)

The dedicatory inscription, shown above, one of the few surviving elements from the original palace, is in the Cyrillic script, used in Wallachia and Moldova until the alphabet reform of the mid-18th and mentions in initials on its corners the name and title of Potlogi Palace founder: “Io [I], K [Constantin], B [Brancoveanu], V [Voivode/ Prince]“.

Potlogi Palace, late c17th, southern Romania; the palace cellars, photo taken in 2007. (©Valentin Mandache)

The structure of the palace is sustained in great part by a single massive central pillar in the underground, pictured above.

Potlogi Palace, late c17th, southern Romania; photo taken in 2007 (©Valentin Mandache)

The image above presents the Byzantine double headed eagle, part of prince Brancoveanu’s coat of arms as a member of the old Cantacuzene imperial family of Byzantium; 1950s reconstruction.

Potlogi Palace, late c17th, southern Romania; photo taken in 2007. (©Valentin Mandache)

The photograph shows part of the interior stucco decoration with Persian and Ottoman motifs in the genre of the c17th Wallachian palaces, modelled after similar type decoration found at Doamnei church and other Brancovan era buildings.

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I endeavour through this daily series of 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.