I would like to invite you to a walking tour on the subject of the unique to Romania, Wallachian architecture, also known as Brancovan, an enthralling artistic current of fusion between local Byzantine traditions, Islamic ones of the Ottoman Empire, together with European Renaissance and Baroque elements, an expression of this land being at the juncture of the European and the Oriental civilisations. It emerged in the Principality of Wallachia, chiefly in the 18th century, in an age of stability and prosperity for this frontier province of the Sublime Porte. Bucharest became firmly established as its capital in that period, and, as a result, is endowed with a great assembly of architectural monuments displaying this singular style.
The tour is scheduled to take place on Saturday 18 September 2021, between 11.00h – 13.00h. This cultural excursion could be of interest to any of you visiting Romania’s capital as a tourist or on business, looking to understand the character of this metropolis, through discovering its peculiar and fascinating old architecture, and the social and economic processes underlying it.
Although Bucharest is now a national capital within the European Union, linked primarily with Central and Western Europe, for most of its history, until the last quarter of the 19th century, the town was part of the Ottoman world, of the same mighty empire as Mecca, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo or Tunis. That will give you a perspective of the enormous influence of the Turkish sultanate in this corner of Europe. Add to those geopolitical and cultural coordinates, the remarkable situation of Wallachia, together with neighbouring Moldavia, as the only Christian protectorates of the Islamic empire of the Porte, with their own Christian princes and aristocracy, not colonised with Muslim populations. The mix constituted a civilisational Petri dish inside which the Wallachian (Brancovan) art and architecture got crystallised and evolved. Its European Renaissance and Baroque inputs came via the circuitous route of Istanbul too, through the absorption of Enlightenment ideas by the cosmopolitan Ottoman capital, fanned over to its provinces, and not how one would expect, from the next door Austrian Empire, present over the Carpathian mountains, in Transylvania, where their rugged crest was not only a geographical obstacle with Europe, but also a cultural barrier.
In essence the Wallachian architecture looks like the coalescence between a church and a mosque. To the fresh eye of the visitor, it resembles a puzzling kaleidoscope of Byzantine, Central Asian, Russian – Tatar, or Spanish Moorish facets, a place where East meets West. The Wallachian style is thus a Christian artistic expression within the reality of the political, economic and cultural primacy of the Muslim dominion of the Ottoman realm. With its keel arches, sustained by Byzantine columns, mocarabes, rich floral decorations of Persian inspiration, Baroque pilasters and Renaissance window and doorway surrounds, the Wallachian design is an unique expression of artistic genius, which in the subsequent modern era of the national state became the main source of inspiration for the national architecture, the Neo-Romanian style, another vital component of the local built landscape.
The tour covers parts of Bucharest old town in Lipscani area, and adjacent stretches, where we will analyse the Wallachian architecture in the context of the contemporary town, in order to make sense of its message. The focus is on ecclesiastical edifices, like Coltea, Stavropoleos or the New Saint George’s churches, displaying most comprehensively and flamboyantly the elements of the Wallachian style. We will also examine and discuss some of the extant or reconstructed Ottoman buildings, providing us an image of the town as it was between the late 17th century and the early 19th century, when the Wallachian design emerged and thrived, such as the Lime Tree Grove Han (inn), Manuc Han, or remnants of the Old Princely Court. We will revisit the times of Serban Cantacuzino and Constantin Brancoveanu, princes of Wallachia, during whom the style has reached its zenith, and then chart its evolution amid the long 18th century, of the Phanariot regime, in this principality.
All of that alluring collection of quality Bucharest architectural heritage is awaiting for you to discover as part of this Historic Houses of Romania cultural experience.
Book by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or using the comments section of this post. You will be informed of the meeting place after I receive the booking. There is a limit of five participants to this tour, which will take place according to the Covid regulations in force on that day.
I look forward to seeing you at the tour,
Valentin Mandache, architectural historian, tel: 0040 (0)728323272
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.