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.
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.
The photograph above shows a sector of one of the picturesque Bucharest glazed entrances that adorns a Little Paris style house, dating from the 1890. The structure still preserves some of its beautiful coloured glass panes, artifacts used with great effect in that era to decorate doorway windows, conservatories or wall windows. The coloured glass sheet was quite an expensive item more than a century ago, compared with its transparent counterpart, still not yet mass produced. The palette of colours available was usually reduced to four strong hues: red (ruby), blue (dark blue), yellow (amber) and green (moss), which are all included, a rare such instance for Bucharest, within the iron frame of this particular conservatory type entrance. From my field observations of edifices built between 1880s – 1910s, the ruby glass is most frequently encountered, followed in order by the dark blue, amber and green panes.
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.
This is a relatively well preserved example of wagon type house (built on a narrow strip of land, of an oblong shape, with the entrance placed on its length, hence the “wagon” shape) in the Little Paris style. That architecture flourished in the La Belle Époque period in Bucharest and many other Romanian towns, being a picturesque local interpretation in a provincial manner of French and other c19th Western historicist styles, grafted on local traditional Ottoman Balkan structures. The house in this photograph was recently mended and crudely painted over with modern DIY store sourced paints. I am glad the proprietor preserved the old window wooden frames and used plain metal sheet for the roof, as this type of house was usually covered. The building preserves its old glazed entrance, with some quaintly coloured glass panes still in place.
This is the place where the well attended and fascinating today’s architectural tour about the Little Paris style architecture (what I collectively term the Fin de Siècle architecture of Romania inspired mainly from French c19th historicist styles) of Bucharest came to a close. The building used to be a tradesman’s house, now in the property of the local authorities, hosting the population registry office. Its particular style is a flamboyant French neo-rococo, with some neo-Gothic echoes such as the medieval knight armour representations at the base of each Corinthian-like pilasters. The most delightful in my opinion is the wooden doorway, well preserved and straight forward to restore. The monogram of the first proprietor of the house, “N.S.” is visible on the ironwork of the two door windows and on the entrance pediment. The building follows the general plans of a “Pompeii house” with a central hall illuminated by a lantern up on the roof, with rooms distributed around the hall. The Little Paris style houses are among the cheapest period properties in Bucharest and Romania’s citys, being also a rewarding potential restoration project for anyone brave enough to undertake such a task.
The example of house entrance pediment pictured above is from the town of Buzau in south east Romania, from the period when the Little Paris style (what I call the c19th French and other western historicist styles interpreted in a provincial manner in Romania) was in vogue throughout the whole country. The finish is a bit crude, but charming, the assembly truing to emulate the entrance of a Corinthian order temple. I like the monogram of the owner flanked by the year of construction of the house, at the beginning of the La Belle Époque period.
If you would like to find out more about the Little Paris style and how it imprinted the architectural character of Bucharest, I organise a special tour on that theme this coming Saturday, details here: https://historo.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/walking-tour-saturday-24-march-bucharest-as-the-little-paris-of-the-balkans/
Some of Bucharest’s period houses still boast their picturesque insurance plates, as is the case of the dwelling presented bellow. These started to appear in a noticeable number during the first decade of the c20th, once the city adopted proper urban planning rules and developed a fire service able to cover the whole area of the city. It was a sign of civic responsibility and also of status, because paying insurance rates was something which only a minority of the citizens could afford in those times.
The insurance of a house was very advisable in Bucharest, a crowded city, with many wooden structures, which already faced a devastating conflagration, the Great Fire of Bucharest of 1847. Once a proprietor insured his house, the insurance company affixed a metallic plate with the company logo on the street façade of the edifice. The lettering style and spelling of Bucharest’s name are typical for the 1890s – 1910s period.
The building is wagon type house and dates from 1912, as inscribed on its pediment, a prosperous year for Romania, after the great world recession of 1907 and just before the Second Balkan War in which Romania participated directly. That brief period of prosperity and solid urban and architectural development went up in smoke during the expensive Balkan conflagration and the immensely more devastating First World War, when Bucharest fell under the occupation of the Central Power armies.
The construction year of the house, 1912, inscribed on its entrance pediment is contemporary with the period when the lettering style of the insurance plate and and the way how Bucharest’s name is spelled was in use.
The well designed Little Paris style house and its insurance plate described in this article constitute a bit of a bright spot within the uneven and precarious historical development of this city and country, located in one of the most unstable geopolitical regions of c20th Europe.
Versiunea in limba romana la: http://casedeepoca.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/casa-in-stil-mic-paris-asigurata/
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.