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.

Ethnographic veranda pole

Ethnographic veranda pole, early 1930s Neo-Romanian style house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

There was a certain trend within the Neo-Romanian architecture for using ethnographic motifs, which unfurled at its highest intensity between the late 1920s and the late 1930s, transcending its mature and late phase of development, expressed especially in wood carvings decorating structures such as verandas, stair balusters, balconies, doorways, etc.  The wooden veranda pole in images presented above and bellow is such an example, of exquisite quality, inspired from the peasant art of regions of southern Romania (Wallachia).

Ethnographic veranda pole, early 1930s Neo-Romanian style house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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.

iPhone photo of the day: St. Catherine’s Church, Bucharest

St. Catherine Church, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is St. Catherine’s Church (Biserica Sfanta Ecaterina) in Bucharest’s Patriarchy Hill area (I organised an architectural tour a couple of weeks ago there), which as a place of worship dates from the c16th, but the actual building is from the early 1850s. It is in a provincial neo-baroque style, a quite sporadic design for a church of Byzantine rite, epitomizing the process of modernisation and Europeanisation of the Romanian society of that era, following the national revolutions of 1848 and drive toward modern nation building and independence from the Ottoman Empire, the erstwhile oriental overlord of this region. The iPhone photo has been perspective corrected in Lightroom and cross-processed in Picassa, giving it this interesting vintage postcard aspect. That impression is charmingly enhanced by the exposed brick facade produced by the current restoration works.

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.

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.

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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.

Old Bucharest pebble road

Old Bucharest pebble road, Radu Voda monastery gardens, (©Valentin Mandache)

Before the advent of cubic stone paved roads in the mid-c19th and tarmac laid ones around 1900s, most of old Bucharest’s streets were unpaved at all. The few ones deemed essential enough to have them surfaced, such as Podul Mogosoaiei (now called Calea Victoriei), the main artery that linked the city with the north of the then Wallachian Principality, were paved paved with heavy oak planks, a timber provided in abundance from forests in the hilly area about 70km to the north. The smaller important inner city roads, such as those in Lipscani, the commercial quarter, or those used for princely or religious ceremonies, were paved with pebbles collected from the Dambovita riverbed, the main river course that crosses the old city. Nowadays roads surfaced with timber are of course long gone, while there are still surviving rare short stretches of pebble surfaces, mostly within the courtyards of some old churches. The photograph above shows one of those antique pavements, surviving within the Radu Voda monastery courtyard, a very short distance from the Dambovita river, from where the pebbles were sourced. The stones were transported by the river over perhaps thousand of years from the Bucegi Mountains in the Transylvanian Alps, where the Dambovita river source is. I examined them closely and was able to see the mountain rock geology from which they originate, which is mainly a sedimentary formation known as Bucegi conglomerate, which dates from the Cretaceous times, being found at altitudes  between 1000 and 2000 metre high. This small stretch is very picturesque and a telling vestige of Bucharest’s old urban fabric and identity,  which in large part has disappeared from its built environment.

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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.

Neo-Romanian wooden jardiniers

Bellow are presented two Neo-Romanian style wooden jardiniers, which I photographed during last month’s architectural history and photography tour in Targoviste. They adorn the exterior walls of a large and beautiful house from that that city, which I wrote about it in an article last year. I like the simple, clean design of these useful and very decorative artefacts, which manages to encompass allusions to ethnographic motifs (i.e. the small wooden “x”-es alluding to wood carvings decorating peasant houses). The delicate arched consoles supporting the jardiniers represent also an echo from those inspiring sources, similar with the design of Neo-Romanian style doorway awnings such as seen in the example which I detailed in an earlier article at this link.

Neo-Romanian wooden jardiniere, 1920s house, Targoviste (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian wooden jardiniere, 1920s house, 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.

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

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 Deco style school

I continue here the series of posts dealing with the historic architecture of the city of Ploiesti, the major oil extraction and refining centre of Romania. Today I would like to present a remarkable Art Deco style school building, dating probably from the second part of the 1930s, located on Republicii Boulevard, just across the street from the Art Deco era tram, which I documented in a post published yesterday. The school is named “St. Basil Gymnasium” (“Colegiul Sfantul Vasile”), presenting a symmetrical street façade, where the rule of three is noticeable in the window partitions at its centre. The building features a number of interesting Art Deco elements, seen in the following photographs, comprising details such as well designed doorways for boys (“baieti”) and girsl (“fete”) to a nicely preserved 1930s clock. I will let the photographs to speak for themselves and hope that you would enjoy this short visual Art Deco in this corner of south east Europe.

Art Deco style school, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style school, entrance for girls, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style school, detail of the doorway ironwork featuring the Greek key motif, a suggestion that the school is envisaged as a "temple of learning", Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style school, entrance for boys, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style school, detail of the doorway wall opening decoration, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style school, detail of the doorway for boys pediment, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style school, detail of the doorway for girls pediment, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style school, detail of the letter architectural rendering used for doorway inscriptions, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style school, close up of the late 1930s, made in Germany clock, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style school, details of the side façade and doorway, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style school, Ploiesti (©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.

Art Deco era streetcar

Art Deco era streetcar, Michael the Brave Park, Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

The streetcar in the above photograph is a transport history exhibit placed in Michael the Brave Park in Ploiesti, the major oil production and refining centre of Romania. It dates from the 1930s, a time when the Art Deco architecture was highly fashionable there, along with the Neo-Romanian style. Ploiesti boasts the largest, in my opinion, Art Deco style building in the south east Europe: the Central Market Halls, designed in the first part of the 1930s by the great architect Toma T Socolescu, a native of the area, and also a multitude of other such wonderful edifices, such as the house which I documented in this blog article. The tram seen here, with its fine and simple outlines, also reminds of the Art Deco fashions found besides architecture, in a multitude of domains such as industrial machinery or jewellery design.

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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.

Carpathian dwarf rooster

Carpathian dwarf rooster photographed in the late afternoon October light, Comarnic, Prahova county(©Valentin Mandache)

Continuing with my posts praising the wonderful autumnal light of which we benefit here at 45 degree north latitude in the lower Danube region of Europe, I would like to present you the image of a splendid domestic bird photographed in October last year in Comarnic, in the foothills of the Meridional Carpathian mountains (the Transylvanian Alps). It is a free range, two or three years old, dwarf rooster, proud in its immaculate plumage and in an excellent state of health. Organic farming is one of the main attractions for anyone considering buying a country property in Romania, and this photograph is one of the innumerable proofs in that regard :)

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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.

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house

The quaint looking Ottoman Balkan and early Neo-Romanian type house, presented in the photographs bellow, dating probably from the last two decades of the c19th, sits in the backyard of the Military Topography Department of Romania’s Ministry of Defence, in the Ion Mihalache boulevard area. The building is probably one of this army branch’s first headquarters, left as a piece of heritage, as more modern edifices were erected in its vicinity in the subsequent decades.

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house, late c19th, Ion Mihalache area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The structure is typical for the domestic architecture in the region of northern Ottoman Balkans, where similar buildings, dating from the mid c18th until late c19th, are encountered nowadays also in Bulgaria or European Turkey. The house has a symmetric arrangement, sits atop a “half buried” basement, with a big protruding veranda adorned with wooden ethnographic poles that sustain large decorative column pediments adorned with floral motifs in stucco, forming three-lobed (a references to the Christian trinity) broken arches between columns.

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house, late c19th, Ion Mihalache area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The pediments are also sometimes crowned by a rich frieze of wooden fretwork (as can be seen in the above image). This genre of house was typically built by Christian small traders or or small landowners of the late Ottoman era.

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house, late c19th, Ion Mihalache area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

What is unusual in this example is the presence of early Neo-Romanian style elements, seen in the decoration of the doorway (see the second photograph), the window pediments or the wall frieze, which were probably added as this patriotic style became popular in the last decade of the c19th, fusioning with local consecrated styles such as the Little Paris in urban areas or Ottoman Balkan in countryside or provincial towns as we can see here (the Ion Mihalache area was in that period a good few kilometres away from Bucharest).

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house, late c19th, Ion Mihalache area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The window pediments and the wall frieze as seen in the above and bellow photographs are picturesque references to the late medieval church architecture of Wallachia (Curtea de Arges cathedral inspired motifs).

Ottoman Balkan and Neo-Romanian type house, late c19th, Ion Mihalache area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The building has most probably endured many renovations and transformations in the last century of its existence, but it is still conserving quite accurately its transitional architectural character from an Ottoman Balkan design to timid, but eloquent early Neo-Romanian style elements, making it an excellent sampler of the cultural atmosphere of that era of intense transformations in Romania.

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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.