I like the historic foot mud scrapers and the contribution they bring to the overall aesthetics of a period building, although they represent a very practical device affixed prosaically on the side of a doorway. Here is an interesting example that I photographed on the steps of the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral in Sibiu, old Saxon Transylvania. It dates from the beginning of the 20th century and its sphinxes must have seen a lot of feet in the meanwhile. Looking at the wear of the blade, I reckon that perhaps over half a million people used it in the last century and a decade.
This is an early type of Little Paris style doorway awning, dating from the early 1890s, being a precursor of the clamshell one, which was typical of the Art Nouveau fashions. Most of these examples, now rare, are in a bad state of repair, and despite the fact that they are important markers of Bucharest’s architectural identity and history, remain uncared and unloved, ignored or even sold for scrap iron, a reflection how the local citizens, after the decades of communism and shallow post-communist transition, value their heritage.
The two images in this article are from the building, which was, in the 1980s, at the height of Ceausescu’s communist totalitarianism, the American Library, the United States’ embassy’s cultural arm. I was a student at the University of Bucharest then and became a member of this library that constituted a true and proper oasis or refuge from the distorted reality and terror of the daily life in Romania under that primitive dictatorship. The building which was then rented by the embassy from the state, was given in the last decade or so, back to its former owners, the Gerota family, who have it now on the market to let out as office spaces.
The US embassy obviously took excellent care of this landmark edifice of La Belle Époque period Bucharest, which is one of the amplest and now best preserved Little Paris style houses of Romania’s capital. I had recently the opportunity to revisit the building and take a series of photographs. I hope that this visual sample presented here would convey something from its magnificence and sense of Bucharest’s character as the Little Paris of the Balkans.
The event is hosted by Cafeneaua Liberala (The Liberal Cafe, in Lipscani quarter of Bucharest), through the invitation the National Liberal Party Bloggers’ Club, Thursday 10 January 2013, 18.30h – 20.30h.
There are two presentations, followed by questions and discussions:
-120 years since the marriage of Princess Marie of Edinburgh with Prince Ferdinand of Romania – by Diana Mandache and
-The “Little Paris” style – architectural identity in the times of King Carol I – by Valentin Mandache.
The partitipants will also have the opportunity to buy the authographed volume entitled “Marie of Romania. Images of a Queen” de Diana Mandache, the first pictorial history of the life of Queen Marie of Romania: http://www.royalbooks.se/produkt/45/marie-of-romania-images-of-a-queen.html, and also the album “HM King Michael of Romania – A Tribute” by HRH Prince Radu http://www.royalbooks.se/produkt/44/h-m-king-michael-i-of-romania-a-tribute.html
We had a wonderful sunlight this autumn, beginning roundabout the equinox in late September until the time I write, in the second week of November. This season at 45 degree north latitude in continental Europe, where Bucharest is located, seems to be exceedingly propitious for architectural photography, with its clear, crisp atmosphere and intense colours. The images in this post are of a house in the Little Paris style (a term which I use to describe the late c19th architecture of Romania of that period, inspired mainly from French historicist styles, rendered in a provincial manner in this corner of South East Europe), a manner of architectural design that imprinted the identity of Romania’s capital ever since its day of vogue in the La Belle Époque period. The photograph was taken on 8 November at midday. It is a pity that the house and the entire surrounding garden is left derelict and damaged through being exposed to the elements or theft. These houses can be relatively easily and cheaply restored, but the actual citizens of Bucharest seem to not understand yet the fatal loss of their identity and heritage though that kind of damaging communist and post-communist attitude.
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.
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.
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
The Little Paris style is an umbrella term which I use to define the architecture inspired especially from French c19th styles, rendered in a provincial manner that acquired a personality of its own in Fin de Siècle Romania and also to a lesser extent to the rest of the Balkans, reflecting the modernisation of the society and fusion in architecture of the western fashions together with local forms. Bucharest is the best place in the entire region to view and study that peculiar type of architecture that emerged in this part of Europe, which because of its high concentration and relatively good state of preservation, is still an important component of the local built landscape. The photographs presented here were shot during the Historic Houses of Romania tour of a few days ago, representing a small sample from the great multitude of such picturesque houses of Bucharest.
Actually this air vent is about 110 years old. It is still in good working order, ensuring the ventilation of a brick lined cellar underneath a flamboyant Little Paris style house in Mantuleasa area of Bucharest. The period houses of this city were much better aired than the ones built during the communist and post-communist periods. Unfortunately those air vents and ducts are now fast disappearing, victims of the botched “renovation” or “modernisation” works performed by the uncouth contemporary inhabitants of Romania’s capital, with dreadful consequences for the integrity of the fabric of those historic buildings.