Bucharest is known as the Little Paris of the Balkans on account of its La Belle Époque period French inspired architecture. A large number of those edifices, in various states of decay, are still surviving, imprinting a picturesque character to the city. I use the designation Little Paris style to characterise that particular architectural phenomenon, which is an umbrella term encompassing the European historicist styles popular in c19th Europe, of which the French inspired ones had preponderance, adopted in a provincial manner in Romania. The country was then going through a rapid westernisation process, having just escaped from the orbit of the Ottoman world, after over four centuries within that civilization. The architecture emerging in that process was in large part a grafting of western motifs and ornaments of what were basically Ottoman Balkan structures and building technologies. There are of course exceptions from that trend and some of those edifices were built in the same manner as their western counterparts. One of those examples is illustrated in the photographs of the interior presented bellow of a house built in 1902 in Mantuleasa area of Bucharest, which I visited during last week’s tour on the subject of the Little Paris style architecture of the city. The house has been restored and also renovated at great expense in the last few years and it looks as the proprietors did a good job at least for some of its interiors, as the ones presented here. The style of this house is a cross between rococo and Empire, with some Art Nouveau elements, such as the wood stove hatch presented in the image bellow. This magnificent interior gives us a better portrait of the tastes and aspirations of Bucharest and Romanian elites in general in that historical period, their desire to Europeanise in a fast mode adopting and internalising the architecture of the Enlightenment in the decades that spanned the end of the c19th and start of the c20th.
I would like to present you two beautiful Neo-Romanian style wooden picture frames, dating from the early 1910s at a time when the mature phase of Romania’s national style was hugely gaining in popularity, following the success of the Bucharest Great Jubilee Exhibition of 1906 when the new national style of Romania was showcased to the wider public. These fine artefacts are part of architect Madalin Ghigeanu’s collection of documents and objects of Romanian history, to whom I am grateful for allowing the publication of their photographs on this blog. The motifs craved on the frames are an encyclopaedia of Neo-Romanian style decoration: the Byzantine arch, short rope motif columns, ethnographic solar discs, patterns taken from peasant embroideries, etc. Fittingly the frames now host autographed photographs of Queen Marie, Romania’s British Queen, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, in peasant costume, one of the iconic promoters of the Neo-Romanian style since its first years, especially in the field of interior and furniture design, gardening, fashion and painting.
The picture frame above reminds me of a book cover design, which I reviewed on this blog (click here to access article), where a similar pair of column span the Byzantine arch. I like the exquisite solar discs, ever present in Romanian ethnography, and the suggestion of a three-lobed broken arch inspired from the Brancovan church architecture that is carved along the opening of the frame.
The columns in the second example show an abstract rectangular-like configuration of the rope motif, popular in the building architecture, used for wall friezes, and inspired from Curtea de Arges cathedral‘s c16th designs. The solar discs are composed from the customary six rays, an ancestral motif encountered in Indo-European ethnography from Sri Lanka to Ireland, while remaining field is filled with patterns inspired from the embroderies that embellish the Romanian peasant costumes.
I recently had the opportunity to view a flat in a well designed Art Deco – Modernist style apartment block in central Bucharest, dating from the last years of the 1930s. I have been “blown away” by the exquisite ceramic tile (3 x 3cm squares) patterns that embellish the entrance original hallway floor, a fragment of which is shown in the above photograph, which also reminded me of Piet Mondrian‘s paintings of that era. That is in my opinion a first class modernist design, comparable in many aspects with another ceramic tile pattern arrangement, which I documented some time ago (article at this link). It represents an eloquent proof about the quality of the interior design and architecture in general, produced in Bucharest some eight decade ago.
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.