Ottoman period sheep bell from Casota, Buzau county

Ottoman period sheep bell from Casota, Buzau county
Ottoman period sheep bell from Casota area, Buzau county, photo: Valentin Mandache

I have been shown in one of my recent visits to Moray Letham, the owner and restorer of Casota conac in Buzau county, about one hour drive from Bucharest, this interesting sheep bell, which is marked in its upper part by a moon crescent embracing a star, the symbol of the Ottoman state that once dominated these parts of south east Europe. Moray acquired this interesting piece of history from a local peasant. I photographed it against two of Moray’s pieces of c19th French antiques, an artificial stone lion and the pink marble counter top of a cupboard, which are intended to furnish the restored French neo-Renaissance style mansion in the villge.

It is hard to put a date on it, when the bell was made, as the Ottoman Empire is not effectively a lord of this region since the sixth decade of c19th. Following that reasoning, it is possible that the bell should have been produced locally not long before or roundabout that time. My opinion is that the bell is of a more recent date, perhaps an import from neighbouring Bulgaria, which remained under the Ottomans until the end of the 1870s and gained independence in 1908. The Romanian shepherds from the area went sometimes over to Bulgaria to trade their products. The same is true for Bulgarian traders and shepherds who frequently were heading over the Danube to Wallachia and further afield. Thus this bell could have been brought by someone in that process. There is also another possibility, if we take into account that the government settled in southern Romania in the last decades of c19th, until the Great World War, a large number of Vlachs, speakers of Romanian related languages from the Balkans. This bell could well have been brought over by one of those Vlach families  whose quintessential traditional activity is shepherding, when they came from their former places deep in the Ottoman Balkans.

Whichever is the origin of this sheep bell, it represents a tangible testimony of the quite recent history of these places, of the cultural and economic links between the peoples of the Balkans, which are now so much obscured by national borders, official national narratives and nationalist views of history, things which in general are far removed from the reality on the ground.

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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

Ethnographic identity veranda poles

Ethnographic veranda poles, mid-1930s Neo-Romanian house, Campina, southern Romania (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a well preserved example of veranda poles adorning a large mid 1930s Neo-Romanian style house in central Campina, southern Romania, inspired from the ethnographic motifs of Prahova county. The main particularity of this ethnographic province is that it features a mix of Carpathian and Ottoman Balkan (especially Bulgarian-like) ethnography. The Carpathian ethnographic motifs and artefacts are typically very geometric and angular, a sort of “peasant cubism” reflecting the artistic traditions of a population settled in the area since the first arrivals of the Indo-European populations more than five millennia ago, seen here in the shape and symbols of the capitals adoring the poles. The Ottoman Balkan ethnography is characterised by a more cursive, round geometry with floral motifs, reflecting the influence of the subsequent waves of populations that settled the area in the course of history from Slavs and especially Central Asian origin Turkish populations, seen here in the motifs embellishing the poles’ base. The veranda poles presented in this photograph, the creation of a talented and well informed inter-war Romanian architect, display excellently in their choice of motifs the ethnographic identity of the people of the area where the house was built; it is practically a statement of regional Prahova county identity.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily 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 a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing 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.

On the Village Green 110 Years Ago

A Sunday dance, "hora" in Romanian, with the participation of all local classes, on the village green sometime in late 1890s in Southern Romania. (Old postcard - Valentin Mandache collection)

The old postcard above shows a typical village green from the lower Danube plains region Romania at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. The scene is that of a Sunday dance, or “hora” in Romanian, an energetic round dance where eligible young peasant men and women met and danced together in their Sunday bests (homespun and richly embroidered with ethnographic motifs costumes). The custom is still present in many of Romania’s villages, especially in the more isolated mountain communities. The Sunday dance was a very important village event, even more important than the church service, at which often also participated the local landlord, the estate administrator and their families. The photograph above shows on the left hand side a covered horse carriage, which most probably belongs to the local land owner, the “boyar”, the wealthiest local, who came from his nearby country mansion, or “conac“. Next to it is another somehow more modest carriage which probably belonged to the estate administrator, the “arendas” in Romanian, and further to the right is another really modest horse drawn carriage which probably belonged to one of the local state officials like the teacher or policeman. In the middle of the round dance is the orchestra, usually a gypsy band composed by musicians from the local gypsy community, descendants of the former estate slaves, an ethnic group that was freed by the state only in mid-c19th, after half of millennium of slavery. They play at the usual instruments in this region like a portable zimbalon, violin and lute, etc. There is a group of two ladies in c19th town dress on the right hand side of the photograph who keep a formal distance from the peasants; they are presumably members of the landlord’s family. There are however some in the crowd in town dress that mingle happily with the peasants. The village green is surrounded by an assortment of peasant houses- in the foreground two modest, basic houses with thatched roof, typical of very poor peasant families. Next to their right is the fence surrounded courtyard of a wealthier peasant with a better house, that has a shingle covered roof. In all the image is a wonderful glimpse of a happy moment in the life of a Romanian village at the height of the Victorian era, and a good document that nowadays helps in understanding the psychology and way of life of the Romanian peasants for anyone interested in visiting these areas or buying a traditional house there.

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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.

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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 Picture 16-Mar-10: Traditional Peasant Gate from a Transylvanian Alps Village

Traditional peasant gate from Muscel ethnographic area, Romania (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)
Traditional peasant gate from Bran ethnographic area in the Transylvanian Alps, Romania (early 1930s postcard, Valentin Mandache collection).

The ancestral villages that dot of the Carpathian Mountains are still preserving many examples of traditional houses boasting beautiful ethnographic decorations. Some of these buildings are now on the market at quite reasonable prices, but unfortunately often the buyers’ intention is to demolish the old structure and put in place a more profitable and in their vision more prestigious modern building. One of the most conspicuous elements that form a traditional peasant house assembly is the wooden gate which gives access to its front yard. It has, in many cases, monumental proportions and is decorated with exquisite wood-carved ethnographic motifs, being a powerful symbol associated with marking the limits and passage between the unpredictable outside world/ cosmos and the venerated and well ordered space of the family house seen in peasant lore as the worldly equivalent of a cosmic temple that has the hearth as its altar. The image above shows such a monumental example from the Bran area of the Transylvanian Alps. It is a model which has hardly changed in this region since the Iron Age when efficient tools were first available to carve hard wood timber (oak, etc.) The traditional costumes of the peasant women gaily chatting in front of the gate also follow patterns from times immemorial. Elements of this type vestments are present on stone monuments from two millennia ago when the Roman Empire conquered the area, such as on the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome. In conclusion, those intending to buy, restore/ renovate a traditional peasant house in the Carpathian region, must pay special attention to its front yard gate and in cases in which it has been destroyed (not an unusual occurrence during of the last seven decades of communism, followed by a chaotic transition to democracy), seek to recreate this essential artefact.

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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.

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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 13-Mar-10: Peasant Wooden Gate for Town House

An exquisite and well preserved wood-carved (oak) gateway, exhibiting ethnographic motifs found in the villages of southern Romania, embellishing a mid-1930s Neo-Romanian style town house. Sincai area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

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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.

Tatar Village Mosque from ‘Times of Yore’

Tatar village mosque, Dobrogea, Eastern Romania. (old postcard -1920s-Valentin Mandache collection)

There is something exuding timelessness in this beautiful 1920s postcard (which I found at an antique fair in Bloomsbury, London), depicting Tatar villagers from Romania’s Dobrogea region on the Black Sea coast, gathering for prayer at their poor, but exceedingly picturesque rural mosque. The imam voices his loud calls from the top of a pile of stone slabs resembling a basic minaret, surrounded by pious village elders. On the mosque rooftop a stork nestle calmly, ignoring the humans around her and their peaceful daily business. Under the roof eave, above the doorway, there is also a swallow nest, thus completing the idyllic atmosphere from this ‘times of yore’ village. The native Muslim population of Romania, composed mainly of ethnic Tatars and Turks, lives in Dobrogea/ Dobruja, a province on the western coast of the Black Sea that has been for more than half a millennium an integral part of the Ottoman Empire. Historic Dobrogea is a much larger region shared with neighbouring Bulgaria, adjacent to the Black Sea, and subject of intense controversy and disputes between the two countries. The Romanian province is about three quarters the size of Wales, endowed with a peculiar geography more akin to a Mediterranean rocky landscape (in fact it seems that the name Dobrogea/ Dobruja comes from an old Bulgarian word meaning “stony land”), in sharp contrast with the landscape of the lower Danube steppe that unfurls to its west. The Tatar and Turkish settlements with their Muslim culture have developed a distinctive and beautifully quaint rural architecture and habitat, which nowadays is fast disappearing as money and modern construction materials have become widely available in the region. The image above is a small sample of that old ‘Arcadia’, at peace with itself and its environment, which this region and its natives have enjoyed until recently. On the other hand, the Tatar and Turkish old houses that are now available on the market in the Dobrogea villages, would constitute some of the the cheapest and most rewarding renovation/ restoration projects for anyone willing to take up such at challenge at the eastern confines of the European Union.

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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.

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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.

Symbols and Messages of a Peasant Rug

A peasant rug from the Buzau ethnographic area of South-East Romania. (©Valentin Mandache)

This post is relevant for those interested in the peasant and traditional houses of Romania, looking to find out clues about the meaning and significance of the myriad of ethnographic symbols decorating this ancestral type of habitat. Traditional rugs, such as the one I photographed above, are essential decorative and spiritual artefacts that contribute to the make-up of a peasant house. This particular example exhibits an abstract human figure multiplied seven times (a number with miraculous beneficial properties in local mythology), in shades of red and black (see bellow for meaning) that has his/her arms suspended up in the air, denoting the worshipping of the Sun god, represented in this instance by the repeating rhomboidal figure on the rug’s border area. The chromatic range is formed from variations of three colours with fundamental ethnographic significance: black (earth), red (fire) and white (air-space-spirit). I very much like the stubborn persistence of old pagan worshiping elements in local ethnography, which can be encountered in every corner of a peasant house in the Carpathian region, dating probably from the times when the first Indo-Europeans settled the area more than 5,000 years ago, or even from earlier populations, despite the last two millennia of relentless “assaults” from the organized Christian religion. In fact there is an intense and lively intermingling and even syncretism within the local peasant culture between the Christian and ethnographic symbolism, that gives it a peculiar character, which just captivates the outside observer. The beautiful rug in the image above is actually a treasured present from my grandmother, a peasant woman from the Buzau ethnographic area of South East Romania, which she gave me about ten years ago to decorate my house in London and thus bring me luck and insure protection against the local Thames Valley malevolent spirits 🙂

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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.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

1900s Roof Eave with Local Dissemination

Roof eave adorning an early 1910s trader's house in Buzau, eastern Romania. (©Valentin Mandache)

I photographed the above exquisite roof eave in the old commercial quarter of the city of Buzau in eastern Romania. It is a creation inspired from the roof eaves of the Buzau Commune Palace, built in a peculiar Art Nouveau – Neo-Romanian style in 1903, about which I posted a short video-article some weeks ago. There are also some vernacular elements used in this roof eave decoration, like the protruding fusaiolles on the horizontal arm of the eave, a decorative feature encountered throughout the old Ottoman Balkan realm, of which Buzau together with southern and eastern Romania have been once part. What I found very interesting is the quite wide dissemination of this type of roof eave (where the main distinguishing element is the circle sector taming the harsh right angle between the eave’s vertical and horizontal arms) throughout Buzau county area. It can be found adorning a number of old vernacular architecture houses in some of the local villages. I know that in my birth village, Goldeanu-Silistea, in southern Buzau county, that there are at least two houses (built in the early 1930s by local wealthy peasants) that use a variation of this type of roof eave. It represents a very interesting  phenomenon of architectural style transfer/ dissemination from a prestige edifice, built in a high architectural style, to the aspirational craftsman built houses belonging to wealthier and more educated local traders and peasants.

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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.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Daily Picture 31-Jan-10: Bucharest Adobe House

A very rare Bucharest adobe (sun-dried brick made of clay and straw) house, built in the first decades of c19th. Popa Soare area. (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest, for most of its history, has been a gathering of villages scattered within a propitious fording place on the Dambovita – Arges river intefluve used initially by transhumant shepherds and their flocks on their seasonal migration between the pastures of the Transylvanian Alps and the Lower Danube plains and later by traders as a staging post on the great commercial road between Central Europe and the market towns of the Ottoman Empire. The domestic architecture of those times had much in common with that of the rest of the Ottoman Balkan region and the Mediterranean world in general. The house above, which I photographed in Popa Soare area, used to be a very usual type in the city beginning with c17th until the intense urban transformation of Bucharest on West European lines during the Victorian period. It is an adobe house (sun-dried brick made of clay and straw), plastered with a mix of clay and fine sand and painted in pigmented whitewash, a type which can be encountered from Turkey to Spain and Mexico. The decorative veranda poles are again of a Mediterranean type, called “zapata” in Spanish American architectural terminology, also encountered from Turkey to the rest of the Mediterranean and the Spanish offshoots in the New World. The house is an extreme architectural rarity in today Bucharest and a witness of the long forgotten connection of this city with the Mediteranean and Oriental worlds through the conduit of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire.

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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.

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Arts and Crafts House within Royal Palace Grounds

A guest house inspired from the Romanian peasant type dwellings, built in the 1920s and located within the Scroviste royal palace grounds, on lake Snagov shore, North of Bucharest. (©ANR/ Valentin Mandache)

The image above shows one of the guest houses from within the grounds of Scroviste royal palace, on the shore of Snagov lake. It is a design combining the peasant house and Neo-Romanian architectures within a peculiar Arts and Crafts matrix (see my earlier post on Romanian Arts and Crafts architecture for details). The house has a ground floor pergola made from wooden poles carved with ethnographic motifs. Similar type carved poles adorn the extended first floor veranda. The palace gardens were landscaped by Fr. Rebhun, a talented and prolific Austrian landscape architect, very active in Romania in those decades, with many completed royal and public park commissions (Royal Pelesh Castle gardens, Cismigiu Park in central Bucharest, etc.) . What I like in this instance in terms of landscape architecture is the pergola with climbing roses, the house nestled between two imposing trees and the peasant stone stone cross at the base of the right hand tree, which together with the wonderful architecture of the house and its special location on the shore of a prairie lake constitute a metaphor of the Romanian peasant life and country’s natural landscape, an excellent product of those very creative decades of early c20th in this country.

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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.