Little Paris pediment through wires & door

Little Paris through wires

Little Paris pediment through wires, the former American Library, 1890s building in the Little Paris style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The two images in this article are from the building, which was, in the 1980s, at the height of Ceausescu’s communist totalitarianism, the American Library, the United States’ embassy’s cultural arm. I was a student at the University of Bucharest then and became a member of this library that constituted a true and proper oasis or refuge from the distorted reality and terror of the daily life in Romania under that primitive dictatorship. The building which was then rented by the embassy from the state, was given in the last decade or so, back to its former owners, the Gerota family, who have it now on the market to let out as office spaces.

The US embassy obviously took excellent care of this landmark edifice of La Belle Époque period Bucharest, which is one of the amplest and now best preserved Little Paris style houses of Romania’s capital. I had recently the opportunity to revisit the building and take a series of photographs. I hope that this visual sample presented here would convey something from its magnificence and sense of Bucharest’s character as the Little Paris of the Balkans.

Interior door, the former American Library, Bucharest

Interior door, the former American Library, 1890s building in the Little Paris style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

November sunlight and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest

November light and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest, house dating from the 1880s, Patriarchy Hill area. (Valentin Mandache)

We had a wonderful sunlight this autumn, beginning roundabout the equinox in late September until the time I write, in the second week of November. This season at 45 degree north latitude in continental Europe, where Bucharest is located, seems to be exceedingly propitious for architectural photography, with its clear, crisp atmosphere and intense colours. The images in this post are of a house in the Little Paris style (a term which I use to describe the late c19th architecture of Romania of that period, inspired mainly from French historicist styles, rendered in a provincial manner in this corner of South East Europe), a manner of architectural design that imprinted the identity of Romania’s capital ever since its day of vogue in the La Belle Époque period. The photograph was taken on 8 November at midday. It is a pity that the house and the entire surrounding garden is left derelict and damaged through being exposed to the elements or theft. These houses can be relatively easily and cheaply restored, but the actual citizens of Bucharest seem to not understand yet the fatal loss of their identity and heritage though that kind of damaging communist and post-communist attitude.

November light and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest, house dating from the 1880s, Patriarchy Hill area. (Valentin Mandache)

Princess’ Nest: a royal tree house in the Transylvanian Alps

Princess’ Nest, Princess Marie of Romania’s tree house in Sinaia. Old post-card (1900s), Valentin and Diana Mandache collection.

Queen Marie of Romania is well known for her multiple artistic qualities, ranging from writing, furniture design to theatre. She also indulged in architectural pursuits, especially in matters of interior design (see her remarkable creations at Pelishor Castle in the Transylvanian Alps for example) or gardening, ideas which she condensed in an interesting essay published in the 1920s, entitled “My Dream-Houses“. Somehow less known is a peculiar tree house structure, illustrated in the old post-card above, built following Marie’s detailed specifications, which she used for recreation in the years when was a crown princess of the Romanian Kingdom. It was known as “Princess’ Nest”, located on the property of the grand Pelesh Royal Castle in Sinaia. Bellow is the finest description of this phantasy house, which I so far found  in my research, by Maude Parkinson, an expert gardener from England who worked for many years in the service of the Romanian Royal House:

In the neighbouring forest Princess Marie, as she then was, had a “Crusoe” constructed. I understand that she adopted the idea from a celebrated arboreal restaurant in the Forest Fontainebleau, which is named after the castaway of Juan Fernandez.

A strong wooden platform was constructed amongst the trees at a considerable height from the ground, and upon this was built a house consisting of two rooms, a kitchen, and a salon.

The kitchen is fitted up with everything necessary for cooking simple dishes or preparing tea. The salon is very prettily furnished, and books in plenty, drawing and painting materials, etc., are always to be found there.

The Queen only takes her special friends to visit her “Crusoe” and a very charming retreat it is. The windows and open door command a most beautiful view. Access to the “Crusoe” is gained by means of a ladder with wide steps, which is let down when required. When the visitors are safely up, they remain there shut in three sides by foliage and cut off from communication with the world bellow save by telegraph, for a wire connects it with the palace. Nothing disturbs the perfect calm and quiet at such a height, and many pleasant hours have been spent by her Royal Highness and a chosen few in that little nest. Nest is indeed the word, for that is the meaning of the Roumanian name “cuib” by which the retreat is generally known.

Maude Parkinson, “Twenty years in Roumania”, London 1921

Victorian era coloured glass in Bucharest

Victorian era coloured glass, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The photograph above shows a sector of one of the picturesque Bucharest glazed entrances that adorns a Little Paris style house, dating from the 1890. The structure still preserves some of its beautiful coloured glass panes, artifacts used with great effect in that era to decorate doorway windows, conservatories or wall windows. The coloured glass sheet was quite an expensive item more than a century ago, compared with its transparent counterpart, still not yet mass produced. The palette of colours available was usually reduced to four strong hues: red (ruby), blue (dark blue), yellow (amber) and green (moss), which are all included,  a rare such instance for Bucharest, within the iron frame of this particular conservatory type entrance. From my field observations of edifices built between 1880s – 1910s, the ruby glass is most frequently encountered, followed in order by the dark blue, amber and green panes.

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.

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork

The Fin de Siècle period was a time when the architectural ironwork, expressed largely in wrought iron designs, became affordable as a construction material and architectural embellishing, adopted throughout the globalised world of the late Victorian era. The tone was given by the famous Eiffel Tower built for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, which represented a climax for ironwork structures, traced back to the Crystal Palace pavilion of the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.

Bucharest was a rapidly developing city in those years before the Great War, with many buildings being erected in the then fashionable historicist styles, which I collectively call the “Little Paris” style, inspired mostly from French c19th architecture. Many of those buildings were embellished with exquisite wrought iron elements, from balconies, doorway assemblies, gates and street fences, conservatories, etc., which constitute now a definitory parameter of Bucharest’s historic built landscape.

I would like to present in the following photographs just a tiny part from the multitude of those architectural ironwork structures, dating in this instance mostly from the 1900s, found now throughout Romania’s capital. In my view they are quite well preserved when taking into account the upheavals experienced by the city in the last century since they were put in place and the general lack of maintenance of the last few decades. It is not hard to imagine how a basic restoration of these structures would notably increase the aesthetics of this metropolis and emphasise in a very positive way its identity; unfortunately there is still a long way for its post-communist inhabitants to learn and understand that.

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork: gate and clam shell doorway awning structures, Icoanei area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork: gate and clam shell doorway awning structures, Dacia area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork (detail of the above): clam shell door awning structure, Dacia area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork: ornamental doorhandle in the shape of a sphinx, Mantuleasa area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork: doorway awnings and gate, Mosilor area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork: conservatory structure, Mosilor area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork: clam shell awning structure, Mosilor area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork: floral ornaments of a street fence structure, Piata Romana area(©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork: balcony structure embellished with the house owner's monogram, Gara de Nord area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork: entrance conservatory structure, Gara de Nord area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork: gate, street fence and doorway assembly structures, Patriarchy Hill area (©Valentin Mandache)

Historic Houses of Romania checking out the forts of Bucharest

I undertook, some month ago, an exploratory trip around Bucharest, visiting a number of the more accessible forts and batteries built in the late c19th in the reign of King Carol I. That was in the perspective of organising there a specialist history and architecture tour (by appointment only) in one of the week end days next month (October ’11). The designer and supervisor of those huge military works, some of the largest in late Victorian Europe, is the Belgian general Henri Alexis Brialmont, famous also as a designer and builder of the first modern fortifications that defended Liège and Antwerp in his home-country. The remarkable defence complex surrounding Romania’s capital, now disused and left unmaintained, stretches over a circumference of 72km, containing a series of 18 forts placed at a distance of 4km from each other with another 18 batteries placed in between the forts. Bellow is a gif composition photograph of me posing inside Popesti fort in the south-east of Bucharest’s fortification ring, location marked with a red circle in the second image. The third image is a Google Earth satellite view of the city, on which the fort ring is marked, while the last image is a scheme of one of those forts.

You are invited to register your interest in visiting some representative examples of these forts and batteries in the comments section of this article or by email-ing me (v.mandache@gmail.com). VM

The forts of Bucharest: the author in the underground of Popesti fort, SE Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest forts sketch map (source: “Fortificatia Permanenta Contemporana”, by D.I. Vasiliu, Revista Geniului, Bucharest 1934) – location of the above photographic composition is marked in red.

The ring of forts and batteries that once were meant to protect Bucharest: masterpiece of general Henri Alexis Brilamont. View from 35.0km altitude.

Bucharest fort type I (source: “Fortificatia Permanenta Contemporana”, by D.I. Vasiliu, Revista Geniului, Bucharest 1934)

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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.

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.

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.

Exquisite Comarnic wood fretwork for birthday celebration

Today is my birthday and I would like to celebrate it in style :) with the photomontage of samples from the extraordinarily flamboyant wood fretwork decorations that adorn the gables, balconies, verandas, columns and often most of the façade of the end c19th houses that line up the main street of the city of Comarnic on the Prahova Valley, north of Bucharest. These are jewels of vernacular architecture created at a time of economic well being in the late Victorian period, when the region greatly benefited from the opening of the first direct railway link between Bucharest and Brasov in Transylvania and from there to the rest of Europe. I recommend anyone visiting this beautiful place, only 90 minutes by train from Bucharest. Unfortunately the Romanian heritage authorities do not promote it in any way and the Comarnic fretwork houses suffer damage and some are even demolished as a result of Romania’s amateurish and misguided tourism industry development policies.

Wood fretwork (end c19th) decorating the high street houses in Comarnic, Prahova Valley (©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.

Nothing is new on Wallachian roads

A mid c19th road in Wallachia, southern Romania. Old engraving by Adrian Schreyer, etched by F. Krostewitz, published in the United Kingdom by the "Magazine of Arts" (Valentin Mandache collection)

Because today is 1 April with its jokes and pranks, I thought that an amusing historical reference to the perennial bad state of repair of the Romanian roads would be very much in that spirit. The engraving above, which is more than one and a half century old, presents to the then British readers of the “Magazine of arts” a typical highway in Wallachia, now a province in southern Romania. The road is full of mud, menacing water puddles and deep trenches made by heavy horse drawn carriages, which probably made a hell from the life of poor animals, as one can see from the expression on their faces in the engraving. In my experience, the situation is not much different today, with Romania’s roads full of potholes, and in many instances muddy and criss-crossed by water filled trenches just as in the above image. It just shows a “deep” local tradition in that respect and that the government ambitions to make Romania a top tourist destination have a long way to go.

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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.

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

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.

Burned down Art Nouveau style building

This once charming Art Nouveau building, dating from the end of the 1890s, has been ruined in a fire, during the property boom of the late 2000s in Bucharest. It is located in Lipscani, the old commercial quarter of Bucharest, an area that for a decade and a half after the fall of communism was left derelict by the city authorities, despite its obvious huge tourist  potential. During the last property boom, many historic buildings in the area were targeted by rapacious property developers for the valuable land plots  which they occupy. A favourite method of destruction, in order to obtain the much coveted demolition permit for historic buildings, was the arson, usually blamed on squatters who sometime occupied those properties. Lipscani has  started in the last two years to experience a sort of a renaissance as a place full of cafes and restaurants and it is just hopped that such an entrepreneur would revive or least save the beautiful Art Nouveau façade of this building. Bellow are recent photographs containing details of these rare for Bucharest type of ornaments.

Art Nouveau style building dating from the end of the 1890s, Lipscani area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau style building dating from the end of the 1890s, Lipscani area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau style building dating from the end of the 1890s, Lipscani area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau style building dating from the end of the 1890s, Lipscani area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Nouveau style building dating from the end of the 1890s, Lipscani area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

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

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.

Fin de Siècle building in Buzau

The building presented bellow is a good example of a Fin de Siècle (1899 according to the inscription on the pediment) merchant house from the town of  Buzau in south east Romania. Today the edifice hosts a state kindergarten. Its façade is quite well preserved and denotes a picturesque provincially interpreted French c19th historicist style, in this case inspired from rococo and classical motifs crammed together on a relatively limited space. This is what I term as “the Little Paris style” architecture that was very popular in Romania of that time. I like especially the well preserved cast zinc acroterion that crowns the top of the arched pediment. The edifice as a whole looks like a wedding cake, reflecting the quite frivolous tastes of many well-to-do Romanians of that era who made their fortune in large part from grain exports and associated activities. That was in a way the equivalent of the Gilded Age for this country, a sort of peculiar aspirational interpretation of the then western manners and tastes in a region at the margins of Europe of deep Ottoman-Balkan traditions and mentalities. The edifice has unfortunately lost in the recent years its original resplendent wood frame doorway and windows, replaced now by modern plastic frame double glazing. The irony is that the finances  that paid for that kind of destructive renovation often originate from EU structural and integration funds intended for modernising the country to European standards, which in the case of Romania’s built heritage cause more damage than save.

Fin de Siècle provincial historicist style building; former merchant house from Buzau, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

Fin de Siècle provincial historicist style building; former merchant house from Buzau, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

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I endeavour through this daily 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.

The symbols of “Romania’s Economy” within the architectural panoply from the Ministry of Agriculture building in Bucharest

This is a video-description of one of the amplest and best designed architectural panoplies symbolising the economy Romania during the Fin de Siècle period, inspired from the Greek – Roman mythology, hosted on the building of the Ministry of Agriculture in Bucharest, designed in 1895 by the French architect Louis Blanc.

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I endeavour through this daily 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.

Little Paris style roof eave

Little Paris style roof eave, 1890s house, Filaret area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This image is a telling example of what Bucharest’s Little Paris style is about- a Romanian provincial manner interpretation, during Fin de Siècle period, of French c19th historicist style fashionable at that time in the country and in a somehow lesser degree throughout the former Ottoman domains of the Balkan peninsula (ie the neo-Rococo elements  seen in this instance in the pediment and classical-like pilasters and capitals) combined with Ottoman – Balkan motifs (the flowery cassettes making up the frieze, the rope motif on its base, the intricate wooden roof eave support arms, the elongated wrought iron ornaments decorating the trough on the roof edge, etc.)

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I endeavour through this daily 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 Contactpage of this weblog.