Bellow are three interesting images of glazed balconies/ verandas pertaining to the three main styles that characterize the architecture of Bucharest: Little Paris (last quarter of the c19th until the Great War), Neo-Romanian (late c19th – late 1940s) and Art Deco (1930s and ’40s). From what I found in my fieldwork, usually the glazed structures are not contemporary with the original building, but added as an improvement or embellishment in renovations works of the first or second decade after the edifice is put in place. The main attraction of a glazed structure, be it a balcony, doorway or light-well is in fact its exquisite ironwork, its frame, exemplified here in the second photograph showing the Neo-Romanian glazed balcony. Sometimes there are bits of original glass panes still surviving within the ironwork, which in the case of the historicist c19th Little Paris design comes in beautiful colours typical of the Victorian era coloured glass.
This is a small doorway awning of a type belonging to the late Neo-Romanian style, which unfurled between the late 1920s until the end of the Second World War. That phase of Romania’s national architectural design is characterised by a reduction to fundamentals of its decorative register, often expressed in Art Deco and sometimes Modernist coordinates, in a medium that made ample use of modern construction technologies, such as reinforced concrete, steel and glass. The outlines of the awning are clearly reduced to essential, especially the arched corbels, embellished with the rope symbol, a religious as well as an ethnographic motif. There are also representations of other ethnographic elements throughout the structure, in the same abstract vein. The whole assembly integrates itself quite harmoniously with the rest of the architecture of the house, making it an interesting late Neo-Romanian design.
The superlative building of the Romanian Athenaeum, which is rightly considered the architectural symbol of Bucharest, contains a series of five mosaic medallions, each about 1 m in diameter, depicting past glorious rulers of Romanian lands, on its iterior frieze behind the colonade supporting the pediment. The one at the centre is that of King Carol I of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen (1839 – 1914), the moderniser of Romania, under whose reign the country undertook an epic process of cultural Europeanisation and economic reform, after more than four centuries within the orbit of the Ottoman Empire. I believe that the mosaics are the creation of the famous painter Costin Petrescu, a proponent of the Neo-Romanian style within the graphic arts, who also painted the great circular fresco representing the history of the Romanian people, unfurling along the wall of the Athenaeum’s auditorium. The medallion shows the king in regalia, cloacked with a coronation mantle and crowned with the steel crown made from Turkish canon captured by his army on the battlefield during the Independence war of 1877. The medallion is, in my opinion, one of the most expressive representations of King Carol I, which fortunately was left untouched during the communist rule, conveying his energetic spirit and vision that made him such an all time popular and praised leader of this country.
There was a certain trend within the Neo-Romanian architecture for using ethnographic motifs, which unfurled at its highest intensity between the late 1920s and the late 1930s, transcending its mature and late phase of development, expressed especially in wood carvings decorating structures such as verandas, stair balusters, balconies, doorways, etc. The wooden veranda pole in images presented above and bellow is such an example, of exquisite quality, inspired from the peasant art of regions of southern Romania (Wallachia).
Bellow is the image projected against the blue sky, in seven different processing sequences, of what is probably one of the most elaborate c19th (1890s, Little Paris style) lamp-post in Bucharest, which in its heydays functioned by burning gas. Actually there is a pair of them hosted in Domnita Balasa churchyard in the centre of the city. Each particular appearance reflects, in my opinion, the various moods of Bucharest’s “architectural soul”.
The photograph above shows how the Arch of Triumph of Bucharest used to look before the structure that nowadays adorns the square with the same name was put up in the mid-1930s. The architect of both monuments is Petre Antonescu, one of the most important designers of the Neo-Romanian style. The edifice has been a provisional one, erected in 1922 with the occasion of the October that year’s celebrations in Romania’s capital of the coronation of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie. It had a reinforced concrete core, with façade details and ornament from plaster and wood. The Great War had dreadful consequences for Romania’s economy, the population suffering from diseases and often famine in the first years after the conflagration. The lack of resources was the reason why the official coronation of the country’s royal couple was organised only in 1922 in a quite low key mode. The limited finances and the short notice that the architect had to cope are responsible of the somehow clumsy proportions and the basic, not exactly a master-work design of the Arch. It is however a large scale monument that expounds the Neo-Romanian style in the first stages of its mature phase, a patriotic architectural statement of a people that came out victorious in the aftermath of the Great War.
Video by Valentin Mandache, author of the blog Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca (www.historo.wordpress.com) about the architecture of the Geological Museum in Bucharest, a masterwork of arch. Alexandru Stefanescu in the mature variety of the Neo-Romanian style, built in 1906. Location: Kisselef Boulevard, Bucharest.
One of the tenets of the Neo-Romanian style‘s philosophy is integration of the architectural design within the natural environment of the country, envisaged as a sort of biblical Garden of Eden, similar with how the c18th Brancovan churches, from which the style draws a great deal of its inspiration, were seen as fragments of paradise on earth in this war torn region of Europe dominated for centuries by the Ottomans. That Arcadia like atmosphere of a family home is conveyed in the Neo-Romanian architecture through the use of a rich panoply of specific decorative elements. The jardinières are in that respect some of the most effective means to achieve that serendipity effect. They come in a wide diversity of shapes and decorations, positioned in high visibility spots in and around the house, such as on window sills, documented in previous articles on this blog. For this post I gathered a few illustrations of bowl type jardinières from the great multitude that adorn inter-war Neo-Romanian style houses. They are installed on doorway balustrades, atop street fence poles, flanking balconies, or in other prominent locations. The flowery and ornamental plants that grow in them, as seen in images presented here, transmit something from the pleasantness that characterised Bucharest of eight and nine decades ago, when most of those jardinières were put in place.
The Great Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1906 has been a momentous event for the culture and economy of the young Kingdom of Romania. It has also marked, through the elaborate and high quality Neo-Romanian design of many of its pavilions, the onset of the mature phase of this style. The exhibition’s chief edifice was the Palace of the Arts, presented in the images bellow, which was envisaged as a gathering place of what was considered the finest products of the Romanian people throughout its history. That was also the central message of the event, publicised as as a dual celebration of, on the one hand, King Carol I’s forty years of glorious reign, which saw the gaining on the battlefield of the country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire, the subsequent Europeanisation process and the phenomenal growth of its economy, and also, on the other hand, marking 1,800 years since in 106 CE the Roman Empire under Emperor Trajan conquered the ancient kingdom of Dacia located where in modern times the state of Romania emerged, a historical milestone that ignited the formation of the Romanian people and language. The 1906 exhibition was thus imbued with an intense and picturesque patriotic sentiment typical of the La Belle Époque period that had powerful reverberations throughout the whole of the Romanian speaking world, which at that moment included large swathes of territory under the sovereignty of other states, such as Transylvania in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire or Bessarabia, then a province of Russia.
The Palace of the Arts is shown in all its glory in this colour poster published in the monthly magazine “Vulturul” (“The Eagle”, a reference to the country’s coat of arms). The issue date is Sunday 2 July 1906 (in the Julian calendar, in official use then in the country). It presents the official opening ceremony of the exhibition in the presence of the Royal Family and a welcoming public, which took place on 6 June (it closed on 23 November that year).
The Palace of the Arts was in a way the Romanian response to the tradition of iconic exhibition buildings inaugurated by the Crystal Palace in London half a century before, epitomizing the ambitious aspirations of that young Balkan nation. It contained a large glazed roof over a central structure embellished with Neo-Romanian style elements and ornaments and also references to the classical architecture, considered then as the purest form of architecture. Its designers were the architects Victor Stefanescu and Stefan Burcus, the contractor being the engineer Robert Effingham Grant, a Romanian of British origins.
The central figures of this poster were the royal couple, King Carol I, an excellent administrator, brought up and trained in the military industrial complex of the mid-c19th Germany, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, an internationally renown writer, known after her nom de plume as Carmen Sylva. They are presented receiving the homage of the population and in two prominent medallions flanking the image of the palace.
The monarch has been the supervisor of the exhibition works, a role in a way similar to that of Prince Albert for the London event of 1851, while the general manager was Constantin Istrati, an accomplished scientist.
The Royal Family is present at the opening, King Carol I (second from right), Queen Elizabeth next to his left, while the Crown Prince Ferndinand and Crown Princess Marie are at his right. The children of the princely couple are in front, from left to right: Princess Elizabeth, Princess Marie, Prince Carol and on the right the little Prince Nicolas. A peasant woman graciously offers them a bunch of flowers.
The poster also presents in some detail the public participating at the ceremony, Bucharest people and visitors in a relaxed attitude, proud of their country’s achievements embodied in that great exhibition.
I like the presence of persons wearing peasant costumes, as is the group on the left hand side of the image above, who were probably proper peasants and also higher class individuals, including aristocrats, representing a patriotic fashion introduced and promoted by Queen Elizabeth and Crown Princess Marie, who incidentally were of foreign extraction, the first a German and the second of British and Russian origins, at the local royal balls and other major functions.
In 1923 the Miliary Museum of Romania was established within the Palace of the Arts building, functioning until the late 1930s when the building caught fire and later, in 1943, demolished with the intention to erect a more modern museum edifcice. Those plans never came to fruition because of the war and the Stalinist takeover of 1947. However, a grandiose communist heroes mausoleum, which is now probably the most beautiful architectural structure of the communist era, was been built there in the late 1950s.
I would like to express here my thanks to architect Madalin Ghigeanu, who kindly provided this poster, part of his ample collection, for publication.
I photographed the Neo-Romania style houses presented bellow during the walking architectural tours which I organised in the Patriarchy Hill area. They date from the apogee phase of the development of Romania’s national style, which took place between the second part of the 1900s (starting with 1906, more precisely, when this architectural style was presented to the larger public with the occasion of the Great Royal Jubilee Exhibition of that year in Bucharest) and the late 1920s (when the Art Deco and Modernist styles became serious contenders on the local architectural scene).
This is a well proportioned house embellished with a beautiful roof crest flanked by finials. The ample veranda is particularly attractive with tri-lobed arches, short columns decorated with the rope motif and elaborated floral gallery panels. The ceramic tile roof is inspired from the shingle roof encountered on peasant houses in the region.
The above edifice is again amply embellished with Neo-Romanian motifs, the most prominent being the mock cula tower (fortified yeoman house from south western Romania) at its centre, a beautiful colonated first floor veranda with tri-lobed arches and a well designed attic that is also provided with a veranda boasting ethnografic motifs. On the ground floor is space for shops, while on the floors above are living quarters. Unfortunately the recent renovations have disfigured this remarkable building, the old ceramic tile roof being replaced with an ugly metallic one, while most of the wooden window frames are now impersonal plastic frame double glazing.
The mock cula tower is again obvious on the Neo-Romanian style dwelling from the above photograph. The building is provided with an impressive arched doorway and two ethnographic verandas.
The omnipresent mock cula tower is again visible in the make up of the house presented in this image. Apparently there are not references to the holy trinity in its decorative and structural elements, as the Neo-Romanian style would usually require, probably because of the small space available for such expressions. I believe an exception was the main window, which now has a plastic double glazing frame, where the original one would have been a church triptych inspired one.