Bucharest is a large town deficient in parks, which are in constant threat to be concreted over, and houses with small yards, more frequently used as storage space or garage, rather than garden. Those yards are commonly much smaller than the plot occupied by the house, a consequence of the urban high density living in historic quarters, and in general are treated as a sort of Cinderella, the owner being focused chiefly on the brick and mortar part of the property.
What makes that situation palatable, is the human dimension of many of Bucharest’s historic houses, and the fact that through their decorative details and building materials, a good degree of integration with the local natural environment is achieved. The houses expounding eloquently that context are the ones from the La Belle Époque period, with their Little Paris style details, such as the example seen in the above image.
The photograph was taken in the month of October, with its outbreak of autumnal colours emblematic to the geographical location of this town, in the prairie of the Lower Danube, endowed with a temperate continental climate at the 45 degree north latitude, midway between the Pole and the Equator, making it a good place for admiring the eruption of hues and shades generated by the falling leaves of the trees and flowers of its small gardens.
There is an interesting visual and organic symbiosis between nature and architecture illustrated in the photograph. The house was built in the 1900s decade, a wagon type, with its oblong shape, occupying a quite narrow strip of land that had to accommodate principally the house. In that period, perhaps in order to compensate for the disproportions between the building structure and the garden, the architecture was very much embellished with vegetable motifs such as flower garlands, acanthus leaves and undulating branches characteristic of the decorative panoply of the Little Paris style, which draws its inspiration from neo-rococo and Art Nouveau, fashionable in the domestic architecture of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries.
The materials used for building a house those many decades ago, are also quite organic, ranging from craftsman bricks, lime mortar and plasters, to its wooden structure and ornaments, with walls painted in organic based pigments. The garden alley, as can be seen in the photograph is paved with engineering bricks, distinctive for that era’s backyards, nowadays increasingly replaced with characterless concrete pavement. The wrought iron and glass covering the portico of the house are also in tone with the vegetation of the garden, as are the usually magnificent wrought iron gates of such properties.
The plants growing in a Bucharest garden are generally not cultivated according to precepts of landscaping design, but are a result of tradition and trial and error, which befits best the local environment. Chiefly among them is the grapevine, also seen gloriously in this example. It provides shade during the hot summers, delicious grapes in the autumn and even affords a small production of wine for domestic consumption for some of the dwellers of such houses in central Bucharest.
The gardens are seen as frivolous by most contemporary inhabitants of Romania’s capital, but nevertheless are an essential part of the urban identity and also comfort in such a large and bustling town, something which reminds us of our natural roots, most poignantly during the October leaf falling season.
I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania and its wider region in southeast Europe, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of architectural history and heritage.
If you have a historic house project in Romania, I would be delighted to advise you in aspects pertaining to its architectural history and ways to preserve as much as possible from its period fabric and aesthetics in the course of restoration or renovation works, or to counsel you with specialist consultancy work related to that project. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this website.