Traditionally, the mythical symbolism associated with a house doorway is second in importance only to its hearth, identified in spiritual imagery with an altar. As the entry point into this revered space, the doorway through its design, shape and ornamental patterns represents a condensed statement of the house’s soul, character and architectural style.
Architects attach great importance to the doorway design as a conveyor of those messages, a fact most obvious in the case of palaces or grand old houses. A beautifully preserved and presented doorway has also the potential to increase the real estate value of a period property. A telling example is the doorway shown in the picture on the left, which is an abstraction of the entrance of a Greco-Roman temple, with the house owner’s monogram displayed above the pediment. It belongs to a house in the Gradina Icoanei area built in a style, which I call “Little Paris”, influenced by France’s architecture of mid-19th century.
Bucharest has a large collection of period houses where the symbolism of their doorways is displayed in flamboyant designs and motifs. The majority of these houses were built in the course of two building booms: the first one took place between 1880s until WWI and the second during the interwar period. The architectural styles and implicitly the doorway typology of Bucharest’s period buildings can be grouped in three main categories: the Little Paris type (inspired from the urban architecture of France during the Second Empire/ Victorian period), Neo-Romanian (a very popular and fascinating local grass root architectural order based on Romanian traditional civil and religious architecture) and the inter-war international modernist type.
My purpose in this article, announced in an earlier post this month, is to portray examples from the just mentioned tree main doorway types belonging to Bucharest’s period houses. The present post is dedicated to the Little Paris type, followed by another two posts on the Neo-Romanian (Part 2) and the modernist type (Part 3), respectively.
The architecture of Bucharest’s boyar and princely palaces were the first to exhibit French influence architectural styles at the beginning of the 19thcentury. The phenomenon, part of a complex cultural development in the Romanian lands, slowly permeated other affluent social groups like the merchant and little boyar classes and in the second part of the century became ubiquitous in Bucharest domestic architecture, thus imprinting the character of Little Paris to the city. The area where this process of mass adoption started is Lipscani, the old merchant quarter of the city, which contains many early exquisite Little Paris doorway examples. The photograph bellow presents such an example that conveys the abstract idea of a Greco-Roman temple entrance, with the house owner’s monogram worked in wrought iron at the centre of the door windows.
The style was replicated in other quarters that sprang up in the rapidly expanding city toward the end of the 19th and start of the 20thcentury . The following example, from the Cismigiu area, is also displaying the Greco-Roman temple entrance abstraction in a rococo setting recalling French architectural fashions during the Second Empire period. It is interesting to note that this architectural style became popular in Romania with a time delay of about thirty years after its heydays in the French capital in 1870s.
The elaborate and intensely decorative patterns, emblematic of the rococo inspired motifs, correspond excellently with the cultural preferences and tastes of the Romanians, a southern European people of Latin extraction, with a propensity to flamboyance. That is seen in interesting examples of what I call “architectural syncretism”, when these magnificent Little Paris doorways with their 19thcentury classical evocations continued to be adopted, long after that style’s demise, for houses designed in Neo-Romanian and even modernist styles later into the 20th century. I found in Grivita quarter of Bucharest such an example, in the photograph bellow, of a Neo-Romanian house adorned with a beautiful Little Paris type door.
The Gothic inspired designs were also much in vogue during the Victorian epoch in Europe, especially in countries like Britain and Germany, and to a lesser extent in France. In Bucharest, that sober style is particularly rare. Nevertheless, I was able to find during my research for this article, a French Gothic style house in the Natiunile Unite area, with an exquisite doorway in that style; see the photograph bellow:
The doorway design greatly benefited from the technological advances and mass production of construction materials that became available in the Victorian era, such as iron and glass. In a previous article I detailed the emergence of the iron balconies of Bucharest (see also Part 2 and Part 3of that article) as a prominent feature of Romania’s capital period houses during its Little Paris phase of development. These materials made possible the design of elaborate glass doorway awnings in wrought iron frames. The wrought iron was for those times what is the aluminium today and Bucharest contains many examples of ornamental use of this material in connection with glass, such as the example bellow of a large glass early Art Nouveau style awning adorning a Little Paris doorway from Gara de Nord area.
I found in Cotroceni area another interesting example of glass awning within an elaborate doorway setting, where the clear glass awning covers an alcove type platform climbed by symmetrically positioned curved stairs. The focus is the door itself and the wrought iron decorations from its windows that have at their centre the monogram of the house owner. The structure is very picturesque and represents an allegory of the famous symmetrical access stair of the Fontainebleau Palace near Paris, an important source of inspiration for many architects from the time of La Belle Époque.
Another source of inspiration, for the French architects and their Romanian colleagues of that period, was the architecture of the Loire Valley castles, as is seen in the following doorway setting, displaying a beautiful glass awning, that I found in the Victoria Palace area of Bucharest. The most conspicuous Loire Valley castle element is the of pointed roof design, like a side extended steeple; see my article on a country mansion, Casota Conac designed in that style, from southern Romania.
In some instances, such as the example bellow from Cismigiu area, stained glass that filters the sunlight is used in the design, conveying a soothing effect to prospective guests about to enter the house. In this example the beauty of the awning is enhanced by the very elaborate wrought iron decorations that frame the bits of stained glass. Also the two exquisite street lamps on each side of the entrance further amplify the visual impact of this particular doorway setting.
The wrought iron and stained glass materials allowed even more daring shapes such as the very decorative curved awning for the French design doorway composition in the example bellow, which I found in the Cotroceni area.
From the wrought iron framed glass awnings, the next natural step in design was the conservatory type doorway. The example bellow, which I found in the Opera area, presents such a design further enhanced by the addition of two beautiful street lamps on each side of the entrance .
I found in Cotroceni area another conservatory style doorway example, inspired probably by the industrial 19th century design concepts aimed at increasing natural illumination in factories.
Many Bucharest Little Paris type doorways are designed in a provincial manner, a fact which however does not diminish their charm or architectural significance, making them superb period property embellishments. The example bellow from the Brezoianu area is such a telling case in point.
Bucharest is also an excellent exploratory ground for anyone looking for Art Nouveau hidden architectural gems. A brilliant example is the doorway bellow, which I found in Opera area.
I found another such first rate Art Nouveau doorway example in Cismigiu area, adorning a period house built in a Central European variety of that style, dated on the inscription above the door in 1907.
The year 1907 is symptomatic as it marks the end of the economic boom decades that made possible the architectural transformation of Bucharest into a Little Paris. In 1907 there was also a mighty world economic crash, akin with the 1929 one. In Romania that crash culminated with a great peasant revolt, the last medieval type Jacquerie in Europe, ruthlessly put down by the government. Significant is also that only the year before, in 1906, with the occasion of the Royal Jubilee National Exhibition in Bucharest, the Neo-Romanian architectural style, envisioned as a patriotic and more democratic style (understood by all social classes) was for the first time mass promoted among the public. A dozen of years later, after the Great War, the new architectural style became prevalent in the country and the Part 2 of this article is dedicated to the doorways that adorn the Neo-Romanian houses of Bucharest. ©Valentin Mandache
If you are interested in acquiring a period property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to assist in locating the property for you, 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.