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

Sibiu orthodox cathedral – universalist message in architecture

Sibiu orthodox cathedral, old postcard (1900s), Valentin Mandache collection

The city of Sibiu (Hermannstadt in German, Nagyszeben in Hungarian) is the second largest urban centre of historic Saxon Transylvania. It is, as its varying names show, a multi-ethnic city. The main faith of Sibiu’s ethnic Romanian population is Christian orthodox, with its centre of worship at the majestic cathedral depicted in the old postcard pictured above, inaugurated in 1904 and designed by the Hungarian architects Josef Kamner and Vergilius Nagy. The postcard was published by the Sibiu archdiocese in the period immediately after its inauguration. The crisp drawing and lively hand applied colours convey, in many ways better than a photograph, the architectural message and the monumental proportions of this remarkable ecclesiastical building. The cathedral is modelled after Saint Sophia in Constantinople, embracing also elements of local Trasylvanian architecture and baroque, the style ubiquitous throughout the Habsburg empire, whence Sibiu was then a frontier city in the vicinity of the old Kingdom of Romania. I like the universalist message of its architecture, making references to the church of the first millennium of the Common Era, before the Great Schism and the Reformation, which had its centre in Byzantium. That obvious integrative symbolism was so much in contrast with the ethnic tensions prevalent throughout the Habsburg Empire in its last decades of existence, when the cathedral was conceived and built, a situation that ultimately led to the demise of that once great polity.

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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.

Neo-Romanian architecture in Transylvania before the union with Romania

Neo-Romanian style cultural centre building, inaugurated in 1913 in Seliste, southern Transylvania, then part of the Empire of Austria-Hungary; press cut from a Romanian language Transylvanian newspaper.

The Habsburg Empire hosted an important Romanian population, especially in the provinces of Transylvania and Bukovina. After the the Compromise Act of 1867 which saw the reorganisation of the empire on the basis of a dual Austrian – Hungarian monarchy, Transylvania fell under the direct rule of Hungary, which pursued an unveiled policy of cultural and linguistic assimilation of the other ethic groups making up the province, a policy infamously known as “forced Magyarisation”, a sort of cultural identity cleansing. Those policies provoked a strong reaction from among the targeted nationalities (Romanians, Germans, Slovaks, etc.), which tried through diverse means to preserve their culture. The Romanian population greatly benefited in that regard from the support offered by the authorities of the neighbouring Romanian kingdom, entity called by the Transylvanian Romanians as Tara (the Country). That situation was not unlike that between the c19th Greek state and the Ottoman Empire, regarding the preservation of the cultural identity of the Ottoman Greeks. The Romanian state helped its ethic kin population in Transylvania in setting up a series of cultural centres or sponsored newspapers and magazines. The press cut presented in the image above dates from 1914, just before the start of the Great War, and is from a Transylvanian Romanian language periodic newspaper detailing the inauguration, the year before, of a cultural centre in the village of Seliste in southern Transylvania, near the city of Sibiu (in Romanian)/ Hermannstadt (in German)/ Nagyszeben (in Hungarian). The explanatory text accompanying the photograph points out the Neo-Romanian style architecture of the house, which by itself is a powerful ethnic identity statement expressed in architecture, mentioning that the design was by an architect named Cerna, from the Country (Romania). I like how the journalist defines the [Neo]-Romanian style as “the style of the old boyar cula [fortified yeoman house] encountered in the Country.” The harsh Hungarian cultural assimilation policies and the tensions generated within society backfired in a big way in the aftermath of the Great War, when the targeted ethic groups opted for self-determination, in the case of the Romanians, to unify their provinces with old Romania, facts that ultimately led to the obliteration of the once mighty Habsburg Empire.

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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.

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 27-Feb-09: Art Deco Spa Building in Saxon Transylvania

The 1929 Art Deco style of the 'mud-bath" pavilion in Bazna spa town (Baussen in local German dialect) in Saxon Transylvania, central Romania. (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

Bazna is located in the region known as Saxon Transylvania, traditionally inhabited by ethnic Germans from the c12th until c20th. This industrious and highly civilized community was forced to emigrate during the communist period to West Germany because of the harsh economic conditions and unbearable nationalist policies against ethnic minorities of the state of Romania. This is also an important natural gas producing area, known as the Transylvanian salt domes region, endowed with a geology that contains large such hydrocarbure deposits, which in the inter-war period made Romania one of the main European gas producers and today makes this EU region much less dependent on the capricious Russian gas supply. That complex geology favoured the development of an important spa resort town in Bazna during the Victorian period, when the area was within the confines of the Habsburg Empire. The old post card above shows the mud-bath pavilion (“Schlammbad” in German) during the brief inter-war flourishing of the local German community. It is built in an attractive minimalist, essential early Art Deco style (the year 1929 as is mentioned on the central tower). I like the “Salve” inscription on the pediment of the Art Deco doorway which greets the customers, a typical cheerful spa town decorative artefact used since the Roman times. The photograph is a glimpse of a long gone happy epoch reflected in architecture. Bazna nowadays is littered with ugly modern buildings of uncouth architecture, a consequence of the wild Romanian property boom of the last few years. It is also an expensive place, despite its run down infrastructure in terms of holiday resort. That makes even more poignant the contrast with the beautiful inter-war atmosphere and architecture depicted in the postcard above.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Daily Picture 16-Jan-10: Transylvania Fortress Wall Houses

Typical houses lining up the fortress wall protecting a village church in Saxon Transylvania (Harman/ Honigsberg/ Szászhermány, Brasov county), some dating from late c13th from the time of the first Tatar and Turkish raids over the  region. (©Valentin Mandache)

Saxon Transylvania is the largest rural medieval architectural region left in Europe. It has a very embattled history because of it precarious geographical location at the old frontier between Christendom and the Muslim power projected by the Ottoman Empire and their Tatar allies. The term “Saxon” is an umbrella name given to the ethnic German population, originating in what is today the principality of Luxembourg and its adjiacennt areas in France, Germany and Belgium. They settled in Southern and Eastern Transylvania beginning with c12th through royal patents issued by the medieval Hungarian kings. The devastating Tatar and Turkish raids that began after the region was first overrun during the Great Tatar Invasion of Europe that ended in 1242 (initiated by Genghis Khan and his successors), prompted the locals to build strong defences around their towns and villages. Thus, a very peculiar medieval military-civil architecture emerged in the region, with many examples still surviving today. The main fortifications were built around the village church and also the church itself was transformed in an impressive fortified building as point of last resistance. The wall enclosure had also to accommodate the village population, food and their livestock during the Tatar-Turkish raids and thus every village household had its own assigned fortress wall house and grain storage area  as in shown in the photograph above, which I took in June last year inside the citadel of Harman village (Honigsberg in German, Szászhermány in Hungarian).  There are many surviving such examples in Southern Transylvania, which would constitute an excellent restoration/ renovation project for someone with imagination and passion for medieval architecture. Unfortunately there are not many takers of that opportunity and these exceptional buildings are slowly disappearing through neglect, irretrievably damaged by ignorant locals or razed to the ground by rapacious Romanian property developers.

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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 26-Nov-09: Historic Houses Photo Collage

Historic houses of Romania collage (©Valentin Mandache)

I composed the image above from 60 selected photographs taken during my fieldwork this year, mostly in Bucharest, but also Iasi (NE Romania) and Sinaia (the Transylvanian Alps). In my opinion the collage is extremely suggestive of the exuberant historic architecture found within the territory of Romania: a peculiar crossroad of Western, especially French, and Central European influences blended together on a Balkan background with old Ottoman echoes. I hope the pot-pourri of houses, decorations and ornaments, often painted in garish colours, would give you a more wholesome image of the vast field represented by Romania’s historic architecture. I also use a version of this collage for my Twitter page background, have a look here: http://twitter.com/historo

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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.

Vauban and bastion fortresses in Romania

The impressive Vauban citadel structures of the 17th – 18th century warfare era, with their characteristic star shape and diamond profile bastions, are usually associated with Western Europe defence architectural tradition perfected by the great French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707).

Less well known is the fact that remarkable Vauban type fortresses are also encountered in South East Europe, within the territory encompassed today by the state of Romania, which throughout history has been a borderland between conflicting powers that came into contact in this region.

In the 18thcentury the Ottoman Empire, the erstwhile hegemon of the Balkans came to blows with the advancing Habsburg and Russian empires in the lands between the Carpathians Mountains and the river Danube, where the principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldova, historic provinces of Romania, are located. I describe that very peculiar geopolitical situation as a triple junction point of empires. The convergence of three competing powers within those territories had a powerful influence not only on local military architecture, causing the Vauban fortress type to be widely adopted, but has also produced the odd mix of western and oriental civil architectural styles encountered in today Romania.

I will be presenting here some of the most representative such historic military architectural structures using satellite images from Google Earth, endeavouring to complement them in the foreseeable future with photographs taken in situ, as I will travel throughout Romania and visit those places. The map bellow indicates the location of the citadels mentioned in the article.

Romania's region: a "triple junction point" of empires where the continous state of warfare in the 18th century made necessary the construction of many Vauban type fortresses (like the one refered to in this article and circled on the map)

Romania’s region: a “triple junction point” of empires where the continous warfare between the Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian empires in the 18th century made necessary the construction of Vauban type fortresses (circled locations are refered to in this article)

* Austrian fortresses

Austria incorporated in 1699, after the conquest of Ottoman Hungary, the autonomous Transylvanian principality and its adjacent areas (Partium, Banat). The virtually continuous warfare in this borderland with the Turks and the necessity to firmly secure the territory, determined the construction of strong Vauban fortresses to protect main towns and reinforce strategic points along the advancing front line. Thus one of the oldest and most impressive such fortresses was erected between the years 1714-38 in Alba-Iulia (Hungarian: Gyulafehérvár, German: Karlsburg) the ancient capital of the principality.

The Vauban fortress of Alba-Iulia (Gyulafehervar, Karlsburg), 1714-1738

The Vauban fortress of Alba-Iulia (Gyulafehervar, Karlsburg), 1714-1738. View from 1.9km altitude.

The citadel surrounds the old Roman city of Apulum, one of the oldest continuously settled places in Romania, and its grid of streets sill preserves the Roman layout. The Austrians even used blocs of stone from the old Roman defence walls.

The city of Cluj (Hungarian: Kolozsvár, German: Klausenburg) was, as the seat of the Transylvanian parliament, the Diet, also provided with a Vauban fortress at practically the same Continue reading

BRAN district near Brasov, Transylvania: a concise presentation

The Bran area of Romania enjoys stunning landscapes, a rich history and is visited by thousands of tourists every year. Through the heart of the region, a spectacular mountain pass links the old Saxon town of Brasov (Kronstadt) in Transylvania to the province of Wallachia.

 

Bran Castle

Bran Castle

Furthermore, the famous Bran Castle can be found here. In legend home to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this impressive medieval fortress is a former residence of Romania’s ‘English’ queen, Queen Marie (granddaughter of Queen Victoria), and centuries ago visited by the medieval prince, Vlad the Impaler (on whom it is thought Dracula was based). Historically, the building was a customs point controlling the major trade route between northern and southeastern Europe, the scenic ‘Bran Pass’.

 

Geography/Distances

The Bran Pass is flanked on the west by the rugged crest of Piatra Craiului and on the east by the great peaks of Bucegi, both more than 2000 m (6000 ft) in height. These form part of the Transylvanian Alps, one of the imposing alpine mountain ranges in Europe, which in addition to magnificent peaks, features a great network of streams, rivers and deep gorges. The local climate is continental-temperate; similar to the mountain passes of the Pyrenees or Italian Alps and the natural shelter of the pass favors accumulation of the area’s substantial winter snowfall, perfect for winter sports.

 

Piatra Craiului Mountains

Piatra Craiului Mountains

The arterial road ‘E574’ goes through the pass and leads to Brasov (35km, 350,000 inhabitants) in the north and in a southerly direction passes through the Carpathian highlands to Campulung (a small, picturesque town), Pitesti (200,000 inhabitants) and finally reaching Bucharest after 200 km. The Bran area is further served by a regional road (the future motorway sector) to the Prahova Valley 25 km away, also a major Romanian centre for mountain tourism.

Continue reading