Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest

I tried to profit yesterday of the lull in between snowfalls and blizzards that affect Bucharest at the end of this January, and shoot a few photographs on the theme of atlantes and caryatides that embellish some of the historic buildings of Romania’s capital. If on the one hand the term caryatid (pl.-s/es) is well known, as the female figure appearing to support on her head the architectural structure above, the name coming form that of the sculpted goddesses that sustain the lintel of the Erechtheion temple on Athens’ Acropolis, atlantes, on the other hand, is somehow confusing for being the plural of the term atlas, the classical Greek god that support the world on his head and shoulders, a male counterpart of a caryatid. Bucharest does not have too many such ornaments, which are the province of the high historicist styles, encountered also sometimes on more modern buildings, but for a keen eye they reveal themselves on house corners, side streets or at the top of façades of some of the city’s historic edifices. Bellow is a selection of some of the most impressive atlantes and caryatides that adorn Romania’s capital, put in place in a period spanning from the mid-c19th to the 1930s, in styles ranging from neo-Renaissance, neo-rococo, Beaux Arts to classicized Art Deco.

Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Atlantes at the gate of BCR building (1900s, Beaux Arts style) in University Square, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Detail of atlas at the gate of BCR building (1900s, Beaux Arts style) in University Square, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Caryatides of Bucharest, residential and commercial building in Curtea Veche area, Lipscani quarter, dating from the 1890s. (©Valentin Mandache)
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Detail- caryatid assembly, residential and commercial building in Curtea Veche area, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest, dating from  the 1890s. (©Valentin Mandache)
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Atlantes embellishing a neo-rococo style building dating from the  early 1900s, Smardan Str. area, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Detail of an atlas from the  composition embellishing a neo-rococo style building dating from the early 1900s, Smardan Str. area, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Caryatides flanking the entrance of an 1930s apartment block (arch. Petre Antonescu) in Natiunile Unite square, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Detail of a caryatid (classicized Art Deco figure) at the entrance of an 1930s apartment block (arch. Petre Antonescu) in Natiunile Unite square, Bucharest.
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Terracotta caryatides on top of Stirbey Palace, neo-Renaissance style (Palladian inspiration), dating from the mid c19th, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Detail of a terracotta caryatid, Stirbey Palace, neo-Renaissance style (Palladian inspiration), dating from the mid c19th, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Atlantes and caryatides, Macca – Villacrosse covered passage, 1890s, neo-rococo style, Lipscani quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)
Atlantes and caryatides of Bucharest
Atlas and caryatid- detail from the assembly embellishing the entrance of Macca – Villacrosse covered passage (1890s, neo-rococo style), Lipscani quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

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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

The decorative stone of a Bucharest tube station

Politehnica tube station - ornamental stone
Politehnica tube station, Bucharest – ornamental stone, laid in the mid-1980s, photo Valentin Mandache

Bucharest’s public and private edifices erected in the last two decades, since the fall of communism, are, apart from the general forgettable design, built in high proportion using mass produced imported materials. Most of that is cheap, low quality, characterless and as regards the resulted architecture, can in my opinion, easily be categorised at kitsch. That situation also reflects the tastes and values of the actual generations engaged in building or renovating edifices of this town and country. They are in such stark contrast with the times of in the inter-war and subsequent communist periods when the architectural materials were in greatest proportion sourced within the country. That produced interesting and attractive results, with the ornamental and construction stone sourced in the Carpathian Mountains or in rocky hills of the province of Dobrogea, on the Black Sea coast, which are from that point of view a wonderful geological kaleidoscope, a bottomless source of high quality marble, limestone of different sorts, travertine, granite of various colours and grains, basalts, sandstones, etc.  I have in the image above a sample of that fabulous panoply of ornamental stone used in one of the grand communist era projects, Bucharest’s metro transport system. It shows the pavement of the Politehinca station, composed of red limestone peppered by Jurassic age marine fossils, which was sourced probably in the Apuseni (Western) Carpathians, the rock being formed in a geological age when those parts were a continental shelf covered by the warm seas on the Equator. My Dr. Martens shoes stand on a band of nicely granulated pinkish granite, sourced in my opinion in northern Dobrogea (it may also be from the Apuseni Mountains). The composition is evocative of the geographical and geological identity of this country, a fact which is no longer encountered within the pitiful built landscape of the actual post-communist years.

Little Paris pediment through wires & door

Little Paris through wires
Little Paris pediment through wires, the former American Library, 1890s building in the Little Paris style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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.

Interior door, the former American Library, Bucharest
Interior door, the former American Library, 1890s building in the Little Paris style, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

“The Modernisation of Romania: Royal Destinies” – Presentations and debate at Cafeneaua Liberala, 10 Jan. ’13

Modernizarea Romaniei: Destine Regale
The Modernisation of Romania: Royal Destinies

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.
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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

The most popular 20 Historic Houses of Romania blog articles in 2012

From the blog statistics (click titles to access articles):

  1. The NEO-ROMANIAN ARCHITECTURAL STYLE: a brief guide on its origins and features
  2. ART DECO Bucharest building damaged through ignorance and avarice
  3. Earthquake Events in Bucharest and Their Effect on Historic Houses
  4. Bucharest mid-1930s Art Deco Style House
  5. Superlative Bucharest Art Deco House
  6. CASOTA CONAC: a magnificent Romanian period property with a great potential
  7. Art Deco Style Greek God Bass-Reliefs: Photomontage & Slide Show
  8. The FOUR BUILDING BOOMS of BUCHAREST
  9. The FINIALS of Neo-Romanian style houses
  10. Art Deco Floral Motifs for Birthday Celebration
  11. Bucharest Neo-Romanian style windows
  12. Round towers Art Deco apartment house
  13. Cheerful Art Deco panel
  14. ALLEGORICAL SCULPTURES on the Building of Romania’s National Bank
  15. Bucharest’s Art Deco glass canopies
  16. The Mascarons of Bucharest: Photomontage and Slides
  17. Art Nouveau ironwork ornaments
  18. Art Nouveau Beer Restaurant in Provincial Romania
  19. People from Bucharest’s Art Deco era
  20. Bucharest 1900s architectural ironwork

The author of Historic Houses of Romania blog at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House

I had the honour to be invited, yesterday 21 Nov. ’12, at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House, in the great company of Mr. Radu Campeanu, a veteran of the National Liberal Party of Romania, who spent many years in the Stalinist prisons and in exile (he is among the main re-founders of the party after the fall of Ceausescu’s dictatorship), and Mr. Varujan Vosganian, a leading member of that National Liberals. I spoke about the Neo-Romanian architectural style and how the building hosting the event, Ionel IC Bratianu House, by architect Petre Antonescu – 1908, is one of the archetypes of this design peculiar to this country. I trust that the speech was received with interest, judging from the images and video-recoding presented bellow. VM

The author of Historic Houses of Romania blog at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House. Venue: Ionel IC Bratianu House, Bucharest, 21 Nov. 2011
The author of Historic Houses of Romania blog at the launch of the Liberal Publishing House. Venue: Ionel IC Bratianu House, Bucharest, 21 Nov. 2011

November sunlight and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest

November light and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest, house dating from the 1880s, Patriarchy Hill area. (Valentin Mandache)

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.

November light and Little Paris architecture in Bucharest, house dating from the 1880s, Patriarchy Hill area. (Valentin Mandache)