Street lamps and full moon in Bucharest’s old centre

Street lamps and full moon in Bucharest’s old centre (©Valentin Mandache)

Last week there was a full moon at this latitude and we also had an unusual Indian summer weather for the month of October. I took the photograph above in the evening while walking by Bratianu Boulevard, watching toward one of the side streets around New Saint George’s church, which is a more run down area of Lipscani, the old commercial quarter of Bucharest. In my opinion it conveys something from the peculiar half-Oriental – half-European identity of this city on the eastern edge of the European Union. The ramshackle Little Paris style buildings, small shops and people going about in the warmth of the night, in the clear-obscure generated by the the moonlight in competition with the makeshift street lamps are evocative for that type of character of which Bucharest abounds.

Article in Business Review about the Historic Houses of Romania tours

Article in Business Review (Romania), 1-7 October ’12 issue, about the Historic Houses of Romania tours

The main English language periodical in this country dedicated to the expatriate business community has recently published an auspicious article about the Historic Houses of Romania architectural tours and activity. The piece is written by Anca Ionita, the publisher of this magazine, and can be read at this link: “Bucharest houses with a history”. I was also pleasantly surprised to see an inset with my image and a short description of what I am doing in the field of historic architecture at the top of Business Review’s front page. The expatriate business community is one of my main target audiences, and thus hope that this article would make better known Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca among this highly educated public.

Bucharest ant superhighway

This is a sample of Bucharest’s environmental identity, a metropolis in south east Europe located midway between the North Pole and the Equator, with a temperate continental climate. We had quite an Indian Summer this October 2012 in Romania’s capital, with some apple or chestnut trees flowering again, or ant colonies, such as is the case here, being highly energized to look for food or change the place of their colony, when they should normally prepare for hibernation. Is this another proof that there is a climate change process going on?

Church royal chair featuring King Ferdinand’s cypher

Church royal chair with King Ferdinand’s cypher, Mantuleasa church, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

A number of Romanian orthodox rite historic churches in Bucharest and other places of importance throughout Romania contain ceremonial chairs, named “thrones”, dating mostly from the period of the Hohenzollern – Sigmaringen dynasty (1866-1947) destined for the use of the metropolitan/ patriarch and of the chief of state who at one time or another visited, consecrated or re-consecrated that building. The chair destined for the sovereign (there were two chairs if he was accompanied by his spouse) usually displays the cypher of the crowned head who first visited the building, assisted or gave his blessing to those important ceremonies, sometimes also containing other hallmarks of Romanian royalty, such as the crown or coat of arms. A royal or princely cypher is a monogram of the reigning ruler, formally approved and used on official documents or displayed on public buildings and other objects of public use or owned by the state, such as postal boxes or military vehicles, etc.

The image above shows an interesting example of a royal chair from Mantuleasa church in Bucharest (a beautiful Brancovan style monument, restored in 1924 – ’30, in the reign of King Ferdinand and his descendant, King Carol II), photographed during a recent Historic Houses of Romania tour in that area. The chair displays Ferdinand’s cypher, a stylised back-to-back double “F”, as he was the monarch who officially inaugurated the restoration works. On top of chair’s back there is also an interesting representation of Romania’s state crown, the famous steel crown made from the melted metal of a canon captured in the 1877 Independence War. The whole assembly is rendered in the mature phase Neo-Romanian style, with ethnographic solar discs and acanthus/ vine leave carvings, constituting an interesting ceremonial furniture example expressed in the national design style. King Ferdinand’s cypher is a rare sight nowadays, the chair presented here bringing back memories of this remarkable sovereign, who strove all his life to keep a reserved and dignified public profile.

Clamshell doorway awnings from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti

Bellow are two wonderful clamshell house entrance awnings that I photographed in Ploiesti, the oil town 60km north of Bucharest. They date from the La Belle Époque period (late Victorian and Edwardian periods) and belong as an architectural “species” to the Art Nouveau current, constituting a part of what I call the Little Parish style built landscape of the urban areas of that period in Romania. The clamshell awnings are widespread in Bucharest, which make me consider them as one of the main architectural symbols of Romania’s capital, but also popular throughout the country before the Great War (which was then formed by the provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia, without Transylvania). Ploiesti was developing spectacularly in that era on the proceeds of the newly emerging oil economy and as an important regional market town. The clamshell awnings are a superb reminder of those times of economic boom and architectural finery.

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)
Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)
Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

The blog author as tour guide

I have been quite busy doing bespoke architectural tours in Bucharest in the last few weeks. I hope that reflects an increase in the awareness among the public about the importance of the local architectural heritage and its educative value. Bellow are a few photographs with yours truly, taken by participants at some of those tours.

The blog author as tour guide: Piata Victoriei area tour, Bucharest, 1 Sep. ’12
The blog author as tour guide: Mantuleasa quarter tour, 9 September ’12, Bucharest
The blog author as tour guide: Art Deco and Modernist Bucharest tour, 22 August ’12
Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca blog author as tour guide: 9 September ’12 in Mantuleasa quarter, Bucharest

Art Nouveau letter box plate

Art Nouveau letter box plate dating from the 1900s, Mosilor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest is an interesting Art Nouveau province, located at the geographical and in many aspects architectural periphery of this style. That is why the Art Nouveau designs occur mostly fragmentary, in small bits and pieces on buildings that display overall conservative c19th historicisit styles or on some early Neo-Romanian edifices. That makes them less visible for the the untrained eye, constituting one of my favourite past-times to spot them. The letter box plate from the image above is one of those discoveries, adorning the Little Paris style doorway of a 1900s house in Mosilor area of Bucharest. Its lettering style renders, somehow in a provincial Art Nouveau manner, the free flowing plant leaves so peculiar for this style, making it quite evocative for the manifestation of this current in this part of the world.

Princess’ Nest: a royal tree house in the Transylvanian Alps

Princess’ Nest, Princess Marie of Romania’s tree house in Sinaia. Old post-card (1900s), Valentin and Diana Mandache collection.

Queen Marie of Romania is well known for her multiple artistic qualities, ranging from writing, furniture design to theatre. She also indulged in architectural pursuits, especially in matters of interior design (see her remarkable creations at Pelishor Castle in the Transylvanian Alps for example) or gardening, ideas which she condensed in an interesting essay published in the 1920s, entitled “My Dream-Houses“. Somehow less known is a peculiar tree house structure, illustrated in the old post-card above, built following Marie’s detailed specifications, which she used for recreation in the years when was a crown princess of the Romanian Kingdom. It was known as “Princess’ Nest”, located on the property of the grand Pelesh Royal Castle in Sinaia. Below, is the finest description of this phantasy house, which I so far found  in my research, by Maude Parkinson, an expert gardener from England who worked for many years in the service of the Romanian Royal House:

In the neighbouring forest Princess Marie, as she then was, had a “Crusoe” constructed. I understand that she adopted the idea from a celebrated arboreal restaurant in the Forest Fontainebleau, which is named after the castaway of Juan Fernandez.

A strong wooden platform was constructed amongst the trees at a considerable height from the ground, and upon this was built a house consisting of two rooms, a kitchen, and a salon.

The kitchen is fitted up with everything necessary for cooking simple dishes or preparing tea. The salon is very prettily furnished, and books in plenty, drawing and painting materials, etc., are always to be found there.

The Queen only takes her special friends to visit her “Crusoe” and a very charming retreat it is. The windows and open door command a most beautiful view. Access to the “Crusoe” is gained by means of a ladder with wide steps, which is let down when required. When the visitors are safely up, they remain there shut in three sides by foliage and cut off from communication with the world bellow save by telegraph, for a wire connects it with the palace. Nothing disturbs the perfect calm and quiet at such a height, and many pleasant hours have been spent by her Royal Highness and a chosen few in that little nest. Nest is indeed the word, for that is the meaning of the Roumanian name “cuib” by which the retreat is generally known.

Maude Parkinson, “Twenty years in Roumania”, London 1921

Photos from the architectural walking tour in Piata Victoriei area on 1 September ’12

Historic Houses of Romania walking architectural tour in Piata Victoriei area, Bucharest

The character of Piata Victoriei historic area of central Bucharest has been in large part determined by the architecture embellishing two important boulevards that cross the quarter: Calea Victoriei, the oldest thoroughfare of Romania’s capital, and Lascar Catargiu, an artery opened in the late c19th as a show-piece of the then modern urban planning and architecture, roads that meet in the great square Piata Victoriei that hosts Romania’s government’s headquarters. This blog post shows a sample of the designs viewed at the recent Historic Houses of Romania in the area.

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