Architecture and geopolitics: why Romania’s architecture is so mixed up and in a permanent identity crisis

For those of you who would like to know more about the fascinatingly peculiar geopolitics of the region where Romania is located, I published a while ago an article, presented in the Scribd interface bellow, debating some of its aspects. The very uneven and often stunted development of architecture within the Romanian lands can well be attributed to the millennia old geopolitical instability of the Carpathian region, an area where three mighty overland empires came into contact: the Ottoman, the Habsburg and the Russian realms. The frictions and conflicts between these great polities were often played out within their common periphery, which is represented by the Romanian lands, with terrible consequences for the economic and cultural development of the local communities. The architectural phenomenon was of course one one of the victims of that geopolitical setting.


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.

“Old and New in Bucharest Architecture. How to Preserve our Identity?”- Radio Programme

This was a radio broadcast programme by Radio Romania International on 16 March ’10, 20.00h-21.00h, on the subject of Bucharest’s old buildings and their plight in the last two decades of Romania’s painful transition from communism to democracy and market economy. The debate, entitled “Old and new in Bucharest architecture. How to preserve our identity?”, took place among blog authors specialised on the architectural heritage. The participants were the following: the author of this blog- Valentin Madache (Historic Houses of Romania), Cezar Buimaci (Orasul lui Bucur) and Dan Rosca (Bucurestii Vechi), moderator- Mara Popa. The language used is Romanian; apologises for the non-speakers of this language.


If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating 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.

Daily Image 25-Jan-10: Bucharest’s Old Municipal Coat of Arms

One of the few surviving examples of Bucharest's municipal coat of arms as architectural ornament dating from the period before the Great War. Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The actual coat of arms of Bucharest dates from the 1860s. It contains a representation of the city’s traditional patron saint, St Demetrios, one of the main Christian military saints, an indication of Bucharest’s historic role as a frontier Christendom outpost that faced the confronting Muslim power of the Ottoman Empire and its Tatar allies. The motto is inspired from the Western royal heraldry and reads as “The Fatherland and My Right” (“Patria si Dreptul Meu” in Romanian), an allusion to the fact that the city was a princely seat (the German origin Prince Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen became the chief of state in that period) of a principality, later a kingdom, which embarked on a process of modernisation on Western lines at the height of the Victorian era. The coat of arms was also provided with a mural crown, indicating the urban status of Bucharest. When the communists took over the government and the country in 1948, the coat of arms was forbidden because of its Christian and royal connections. Most of its representations on buildings, monuments and other public places throughout the city were chiselled off or concreted over, with only a handful surviving in difficult to see places. I found the above such rare surviving example placed high above the street level, on the rooftop of the old Scoala Comunala (Public Scool for poor pupils) in the Patriarchy Hill area, and was able to photograph its details only at full zoom length. The school building dates from 1898 and the style of the coat of arms, surrounded by laurel branches and  flanked by two cherubs is in the French inspired decorative styles of the period. In mid 1990s, Bucharest municipal authorities have re-adopted the pre-communist coat of arms in a somehow different format, where however the three main symbols, St Demetrios, the royal motto and the mural crown feature prominently again.


I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.


If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating 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 Romanian Revolution of 1989- Twenty Years On. A Book Review

The communist dictatorship ruled Romania for 42 years (1947-1989)

Twenty years ago this day the anticommunist Revolution has started in Bucharest, after it was sparked a few days earlier by popular protests and fierce clashes in the city of Timisoara. I was a final year student at the University of Bucharest and participated directly in the events as a student union leader at the Faculty of Earth Sciences. It was a truly watershed historical moment, akin with other modern revolutions and I consider myself privileged to have been in the middle of such a genuine transformative social event. There is a lot of controversy about the Revolution, vehiculated especially by the press and grapevine speculation. That made me to seriously study this type of dramatic social change in order to thoroughly clarify for myself the many questions and doubts generated by those controversies. I had the wonderful opportunity to do that during my doctoral studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science within the high quality scholarly environment of the British academia. I gathered a few short conclusions from those studies in a review which I wrote for the Millennium Journal of International Studies, published in 2006, of what I consider to be one of the best books published so far about the Romanian Revolution of 1989 (see the book review text rendered bellow). This is my humble tribute to the two decades anniversary of that wonderful Revolution.

The badly damaged neoclassical facade of the Royal Palace in Bucharest during the December 1989 Romanian Revolution.

This is a book review of one of the most comprehensible books, which I highly recommend, on the Romanian anticommunist revolution.

Millennium – Journal of International Studies, Dec 2006; vol. 35: pp. 237 – 239.

Peter Siani-DaviesThe Romanian Revolution of December 1989 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2005, 315 pp.)

For any scholar interested in the former communist world, Romania is an odd case in many ways. The late-Soviet and East European studies discipline, at its heart a Russian and Slavic- centred field of enquiry, was always inadequately equipped to deal with the peculiarities of a Latin country deeply anchored within the political culture of southeast Europe. As a result, works published on Romania by western academics even since the fall of communism are still limited in number and scope. The country deserves more attention because of its size and strategic importance due to its former position as the second largest Soviet satellite state in Europe. Its foreign and military policy was also quasi-independent from Moscow, and it was governed by one of the harshest communist dictatorships, which, in 1989, underwent a uniquely violent regime change akin to the classical revolutions.

Peter Siani-Davies, with this highly detailed book, represents one of the few notable exceptions to the rule regarding academic publications on Romania. He sets himself the enormously ambitious task of charting the events of the Romanian revolution between December 1989 and January 1990. His chief objective is ‘to provide as accurate and as credible a narrative of the revolution as possible’ (p. 6). He also, to a lesser extent, seeks to ascertain the relevance of these events to the current debates about the nature of revolutions.

There was little public dissent in Romania during the forty-two years of communist rule. The party, through its well-oiled structure and large security apparatus that included political police (the dreaded ‘securitate’), militia (militarised police), army, and armed workers’ formations (‘patriotic guards’), constituted a totalitarian regime of truly Orwellian dimensions governing an impoverished population of over 22 million. The revolution, in just a matter of days, pulverised this monstrous monolith and reached a climax when the presidential couple, the regime’s symbolic embodiment, was executed on Christmas Day 1989.

The Romanian revolution has achieved notoriety as the first ‘televised revolution,’ its dramatic events being witnessed, or indeed shared, live worldwide. That was a decisive factor in its swift dissemination and the virtually instantaneous mobilisation of Romania’s population from towns to the remotest villages. It heralded a new era in which mass instantaneous communication facilitated by today’s technology had a direct impact and rallied masses of people over a large territory immediately, an event without precedent.

The book contains seven well balanced chapters in which the first and last deal with the causes, mechanisms, and theoretical implications of the Romanian revolution, while the other five recount the peculiar course of the revolution with theoretical and historical cross-references.

To the extent that a clear pattern of events might be accentuated and pursued in the book’s dense texture, the reader senses the major role that Romanian nationalism played throughout the revolution.. The communist regime’s legitimacy rested chiefly on its claim to be the sole guardian of national identity against internal and external threats. This was turned completely on its head once Ceausescu ordered the troops to open fire on demonstrators, thereby ‘killing Romanians,’ a phrase that spread like wildfire, as a horrified population heard in the first days of revolution from clandestine recordings broadcast on western radio stations. The author is absolutely right to point out that these gruelling incidents personified a ‘Manichean battle between good and evil’ (p.79), but he fails to develop the importance of nationalism as one of the major causes of the revolution that also conditioned its course. That would have been better achieved by a more extensive recourse to Keith Hitchins’ seminal writings charting the evolution of Romanian national formation or even those by the long forgotten Robert William Seton-Watson. I am also not convinced by the attempt to put the phenomenon of nationalism into perspective using mainly Katherine Verdery’s anthropological considerations on Romanian identity (pp. 202-203). A more apt framework for the Romanian case is offered instead by Walker Connor’s notion of ethnonationalism, which is based on myths of common descent, or Miroslav Hroch’s thinking on the identity of ‘small nations’.

This is a book full of information that gives the reader the impression that Peter Siani-Davies has read every source in English, Romanian, and French pertaining to the Romanian revolution and has gone through the most obscure press-communiqués issued during those momentous events. He even mentions the abnormally warm weather for a country with Siberia-like winters as a crucial environmental factor that enabled a large number of revolutionaries to confront the repressive forces day and night. Occasionally, the weight of detail obscures the clarity of the narrative, but this book will remain a mine of information for all those interested in Romania in particular and revolutions in general. It is also the first serious attempt in any language to present and explain this pivotal event in recent Romanian history and politics.

Valentin Mandache

Valentin Mandache currently researches the geopolitics and historical geography of Romania at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was a student in Bucharest during the revolution of 1989.

Street fights in Bucharest, December 1989
The Romanian Revolution of December 1989, Athenaeum Square, Bucharest

This post has initially been published on ‘Diana Mandache’s weblog: Royal Romania’: