Romanian architecture

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Romanian architecture is diverse, including medieval architecture, modern era architecture, interwar architecture, communist architecture, and contemporary 21st century architecture. In Romania, there are also regional differences with regard to architectural styles.


All over Europe, the beginnings of the Middle Ages are marked by the decline of the urban life that characterized the Roman Empire. In Western Europe, the cities that survive are those with political or administrative functions. Unlike how it is in Western Europe, in the Romanian areas, after the end of the Roman structures, urban life completely disappears. Romanian cities develop differently in Wallachia and Moldavia compared to the Western ones, including those from Transylvania, being more of some big villages than cities.[1]

In mediaeval architecture, influences of Western trends can be traced, to a greater or lesser extent, in all the three lands inhabited by Romanians. Such influences are stronger in Transylvania, and weaker in Moldavia, in forms absorbed by local and Byzantine tradition. In Wallachia, Western elements in architecture were even fewer; there, from the 14th-century architecture was based on the local adaptation of the Byzantine model (the Princely Church in Curtea de Arges and the Cozia Monastery).

There are monuments significant for the Transylvanian Gothic style preserved to this day, in spite of all alterations, such as the Black Church in Brașov (14th and 15th centuries) and a number of other cathedrals, as well as the Bran Castle in Brașov County (14th century), the Hunyad Castle in Hunedoara (15th century).

Transylvania also developed fortified towns extensively during the Middle Ages; their urban growth respected principles of functionality (the usual pattern is a central market place with a church, narrow streets with sides linked here and there by archways): the cities of Sighișoara, Sibiu and Brașov are remarkable examples in that sense. Building greatly developed in Moldavia, too. A great number of fortresses were built or rebuilt during the reign of Moldavia's greatest prince, Stephen the Great (1457–1504). Suceava, Neamț, Hotin, Soroca and others were raised and successfully withstood the sieges laid in the course of time by Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople .

It was during his time that the Moldavian style, of great originality and stylistic unity, developed, by blending Gothic elements with the Byzantine structure specific to the churches. Among such constructions, the monumental church of the Neamț Monastery served, for more than a century, as a model for Moldavian churches and monasteries. The style was continued in the 16th century, during the rule of Stephen the Great's son, Petru Rareș (1527–1538, 1541–1546). The main innovation was the porch and the outwall paintings (the churches of Voroneț, Sucevița, Moldovița monasteries). These churches of Northern Moldavia have become famous worldwide, due to the beauty of their painted elegant shapes that can be seen from afar.


Interior of a peasant house from the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum (Bucharest)

During the middle ages in Romania there were two types of construction that developed in parallel and different in point of both materials and technique. The first is the popular architecture, whose most spectacular achievements were the wooden churches, especially those in the villages of Maramureș, Banat and Apuseni Mountains, where the tradition is still carried out today. In Maramureș, in Surdești village, the 54 m high church tower built during 1721–1724 is among the highest of this kind in Europe. The second consists mainly of monasteries, as well as princely seats or boyar mansions. Most of the old lay edifices were destroyed by time, wars, earthquakes and fires.

Romanian Pre-Modern popular architecture was produces using perishable materials and simple techniques. Certain historical, social-economic and geographic factors led to it becoming different depending on regions and eras. In general, a peasant house was made of 2, 3 or 4 rooms, each having a particular purpose. The most important room was the one in which the family spent their everyday life, often also called «cameră a focului» (fire room), because here is the stove. Another chamber is known as «tindă», most often used for passing. A room for keeping food and clothes is placed in different positions, sometimes having separate entry, or even being an independent structure. The 4th room, when it existed, was «camera curată» (the clean room), furnished and decorated in a special way. Used only for guests, it was used for storing valuable goods or the girls' dowry. The porch (prispă) appears quite often in the plan of popular Romanian dwellings. Because of the surrounding forests, popular architecture develops mainly in wood. Mainly oak and fir, rarely beech and birch, were the main building material, many times the only one, which Romanian peasants used for building dwellings. Something that really influenced the exterior of a house was the roof, which was highly influenced both by existing materials and the climate of the region where it was built. At the beginning, it was exclusively made of long rye or wheat straws, or of reed in the swamp regions. Over time, towards the 17th and 18th centuries, the straws are replaced with shingle, very often set with wooden nails. Tiles and metal sheets appear quite late, being more expensive and harder to find materials.[14]

Brâncovenesc (17th and 18th centuries)[edit]

The 17th century, the zenith of the pre-modern Romanian civilisation, brought about a more significant development of outstanding lay constructions (elegant boyard mansions or sumptuous princely palaces in Moldavia and Wallachia, Renaissance-style lordly castles in Transylvania), as well as the expansion of great monasteries. The latter were endowed with schools, art workshops, printing presses, and they were significant cultural centres. To this period belongs the church of the Trei Ierarhi Monastery in Iaşi, raised in 1635–1639, a unique monument due to its lavish decoration with carved geometric motifs, coloured in lapis lazuli and golden foil, all over the facades. The architectural style developed in Wallachia, especially under the reigns of Matei Basarab (1632–1654) and Constantin Brâncoveanu (1688–1714), is of a remarkable stylistic unity. The Brancovan style is characterized by integration of Baroque and Oriental features into the local tradition. Some examples are the Hurezi Monastery in Oltenia or the princely palace of Mogoșoaia, both of which are lavishly decorated, with beautiful stone carvings, stucco work and paintings.

The 18th century (the Phanariot rule) brought to Wallachia and Moldavia elements of Oriental influence in urban civil architecture, where the number of religious constructions decreased relatively.

Early and mid 19th century[edit]

In the first half of the 19th century, urban life grew considerably and there was a Western-oriented modernization policy. During this century, the predominant style was Classicism which lasted for a long time, until the 20th century, although it coexisted in some short periods with other styles. Foreign architects and engineers were invited here since the first decade of the 19th century. Most of the architects that built during the beginning of the century were foreigners because Romanians didn't have yet the instruction needed for designing buildings that were very different compared to the Romanian tradition. Usually using Classicism, they start building together with Romanian artisans, usually prepared in foreign schools or academies. Romanian architects study in Western European schools as well. One example is Alexandru Orăscu, one of the representatives of Neoclassicism in Romania.

Classicism manifested both in religious and secular architecture. A good example of secular architecture is the Știrbei Palace on Calea Victoriei (Bucharest), built around the year 1835, after the plans of French architect Michel Sanjouand. It received a new level in 1882, designed by Austrian architect Joseph Hartmann[17][18]

The Cuza period (1859-1866)[edit]

During the reign of Alexandru Ioan Cuza between 1859 and 1866, Neoclassicism was the dominant style. The Gothic Revival style was also popular. Buildings from this period are quite rare, most of the city centres from the Old Kingdom being primarily built between 1866 and 1914, during the reign of king Carol I of Romania, who ruled Romania after the abdication of Cuza.

The Belle Époque (1877–1916)[edit]

More buildings are built during the second half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th, as the creation of the new modern Romanian state, after the Unification of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1859, needed new administrative, social-economic and cultural institutions. This way, during a relatively short period, some administrative palaces had to be built, not just the governmental ones, but also smaller communal palaces in different cities, and also private homes. Many of them were built in the Classicist style, like the Romanian Athenaeum on Calea Victoriei (Bucharest).

Towards the end of the century, many administrative buildings and private homes are built in a style known as «Beaux-Arts» or «Eclectic», brought from France through French architects who came here for work in Romania, schooled in France. The National Bank of Romania Palace on Strada Lipscani, built between 1883 and 1885 is a good example of this style, decorated not just with columns (mainly Ionic), but also with allegorical statues placed in niches, that depict Agriculture, Industry, Commerce and Justice. Because of the popularity of this style, it changed the way Bucharest looks, making it similar in some way with Paris, which led to Bucharest being seen as "Little Paris". Eclecticism was very popular not just in Bucharest and Iași, the two biggest cities, but also in smaller ones like Craiova, Caracal, Râmnicu Vâlcea, Pitești, Ploiești, Buzău, Botoșani, Piatra Neamț etc. This style was used not only for administrative palaces and big houses of wealthy people, but also for middle class homes.

During the mid and late 19th century, the Gothic Revival style appears in Romania too, as a manifestation of Romanticism. In general, Romanticist artists, not just architects, saw the Middle Ages as a fantastical era. This way, the adoption of Gothic Revival architecture seems very normal for Romanticists in Western Europe. This isn't the case for Romanticists in Russia and in Romania. However, the Gothic Revival style spread here too, good example of this style being the Palace of Culture in Iași, and the Niculescu-Dorobanțu Mansion and Casa Universitarilor in Bucharest.

Industrialization brought some engineering feats such as the King Carol I Bridge (later renamed Anghel Saligny Bridge). Built between 1890 and 1895 in over the Danube, when it was completed it then became the longest bridge in Europe and the third in the world.

Art Nouveau appears in Romania during the same years as it does in Western Europe, but a few buildings were built here in this style. The famous of them is the Constanța Casino.[30]

Residential architecture[edit]

Besides administrative buildings and the residences of wealthy people, there were also built many city-houses with a street facade and a garden, belonging to middle class individuals, like doctors or workers.

The national or Romanian Revival style[edit]

During the 1890s and 1900s, the Romanian Revival style appears and is developed. Ion Mincu, who studied at the École des Beaux-Arts from where in 1884 receives his architect diploma, is the first Romanian architect who, rejecting the Beaux-Arts style, promotes traditional Romanian architecture. During his 30 year career, studying the old Brâncovenesc monuments, he built using this style, with works like the Lahovary House [ro], the Kiseleff Roadside Buffet [ro] or the Central Girls' School in Bucharest. Although thought in foreign schools and academies, other Romanian architects, like Petre Antonescu or Cristofi Cerchez, start building in this style. Romanian Revival buildings are erected both before and after WW1, the 1920s being probably the peak of popularity.[41]

Between the wars - Romanian Revival, Art Deco and modernism (1918–1940)[edit]

Bauhaus Modernism - Strada C.A. Rosetti no. 43 (Bucharest), 1933, by Marcel Locar

The interwar period and the WW2 one was dominated by two styles: Romanian Revival and Modernism (under the form of Art Deco, Stripped Classicism and later Bauhaus). Before becoming mainstream, Modernism was in a conflict with the adepts of the Romanian Revival style. They blamed Modernists for lacking a National spirit. However, this opposition will fade away over time, as Modernism became the dominant style.

Art Deco was a type of modernism which appeared in France as a style of luxury and modernity, highly associated with the Roaring 20s. It was present in Romania during all the interwar period, creating a "luxurious and exuberant architecture, representative for the capitalist success",[46] according to Ana Maria Zahariade. This style was used for administrative buildings, small apartment blocks of a few levels, and houses.

Later, in the 1930s, Bauhaus Modernist ideas appear in Romanian architecture, being very popular among young architects and the progressive bourgeoisie. Reinforced concrete apartment blocks and houses were built, made up of basic shapes, with horizontal or corner windows, usually with no symmetry. A typology of apartment blocks are the symmetrical U-shaped ones with courtyards. Important architects that built without decorating their buildings, similar with the International Style, include Horia Creangă, Duiliu Marcu, Octav Doicescu and Grigore Ionescu. Chronologically, the first architect that adopted without restraints Modernism was Marcel Iancu, who also designed some Cubist villas. The period of popularity of Bauhaus Modernism intersects with intense modernizations of Bucharest from the interwar period, thus certain areas having a high density of tall Modernist buildings. Some good examples of this are the Gheorghe Magheru Boulevard and some parts of Calea Victoriei in Bucharest.

During WW2, architectural activity was very low.[47][48]

The first "Blockhouses"[edit]

This term of American origin refers to the buildings with multiple levels, built during the 1920s and 1930s, in various parts of the central area of Bucharest. The buildings of the Nicolae Bălcescu Boulevard in Bucharest are mostly of this type, good examples of Romanian Modernism. Due to the fact that there were no seismic precautions during the intrwar period, these blocks are dangerous when it comes to earthquakes. Because of this, today some of them have red circle stickers, highlighting the risk of crash.[55]

The Communist period (1948-1989)[edit]

From 1948, the new Communist regime - so-called people's democracy - began to have a big control over all aspects of life, including architecture, dictating a uniform bureaucratic vision of urbanism and architectural design. This is when Bauhaus-like Modernism ends in Romania, being replaced by Stalinist architecture. Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej was premier of the Socialist Republic of Romania from 1947 until 1965. He began the country's policies of industrialization, with infrastructure development for heavy industry, and construction for mass resettlement to new industrial and agricultural centers away from Bucharest and other principal cities.

Prior to the mid-1970s, Bucharest, as most other cities, was developed by expanding the city, especially towards the south, east, and west. High density dormitory neighbourhoods were built at the outskirts of the city. Some, such as Drumul Taberei, Titan, and Giurgiului have architectural and/or urban planning value.


Centrul Civic, in Bucharest
The skyline of many cities became dominated by standardized apartment blocks, like this row in Bucharest

Nationalism, characterizing the last stage of Romanian communism, did not extend to contemporary Romanian architecture. Romanian Systematization was the program of urban planning carried out under the communist regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu (r. 1965–1989), after his 1971 visit to North Korea and China. It forced projects, designed with an architecture of pre-fab technology, that resulted in the construction of high density dormitory neighborhoods, with huge housing blocks of numerous eight to ten-story buildings housing flats, that leveled core district cityscapes. The fast urban growth respected neither traditional rural values nor a positive ethic of urbanism.

Traditional urban central areas and rural towns were destroyed in a process sarcastically dubbed Ceaușima. They were replaced by conglomerates of blocks of flats and industrial projects. His 'Food Complex' buildings (Circ al foamei), dubbed Hunger circuses, were identical large domed buildings intended as produce markets and food hypermarkets. Ceauşescu also imposed the erection of monumental public buildings, of a dull and eclectic classical solemnity.

The dominant example of the intrusion of Ceaușima egotism into the traditional urban fabric is the Centrul Civic (civic center) in the capital, with its grandiose and huge government palace built by Nicolae Ceauşescu, the 'Palace of the People' now post-revolution renamed the Palace of the Parliament. The civic district's construction necessitated the demolition of much of southern Bucharest beyond the Dâmboviţa River, with 18th and 19th century neighborhoods and their significant architectural masterpieces destroyed. The dominating government Palace is the world's largest civilian building with an administrative function, most expensive administrative building, and heaviest building. It and other edifices in the Centrul Civic are modern concrete buildings behind neoclassical quasi-fascist marble façades.

Contemporary (1989–present)[edit]

The Romanian Revolution of 1989 ousted Nicolae Ceauşescu and communist rule. The post-revolution Romanian culture has, in architecture and planning, been developing new concepts and plans for the country's needs of functionality and national aesthetics in an international context. Many modern 21st century buildings are mostly made of glass and steel. Another a trend is to add modern wings and façades to historic buildings (for example the Headquarters of the Union of Romanian Architects building).

Examples of post-communist architecture include: Bucharest Financial Plaza, Arena Națională, City Gate Towers, Bucharest Tower Center. Modern high rise residential buildings include the Asmita Gardens.

See also[edit]


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  • Celac, Mariana; Carabela, Octavian; Marcu-Lapadat, Marius (2017). Bucharest Architecture - an annotated guide. Order of Architects of Romania. ISBN 978-973-0-23884-6.
  • Lăzărescu, Cezar; Cristea, Gabriel; Lăzărescu, Elena (1972). Arhitectura Românească în Imagini (in Romanian). Editura Meridiane.

External links[edit]