In another article, we were stating that Western European architectural styles like Gothic, Baroque, Rococo, and even neo-Classicism, seen as expressions of a Western civilisation, were countered at the turn of the twentieth century by local versions aimed at representing the regional and the national specific as expressed by religious and/or folk architecture. These attempts displaying marked regional features bore the name of Secession, or `the young something` movements like Młoda Polska, as they wanted to depart from the syncretism of the past styles labeled as historical or academic (e.g. Vienna and Paris are still iconic cases of the visual battle led by the supporters of the new architecture against the architectural narratives of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). Of the most succeeded local styles that followed the principles of Secession we mention those bearing the spell of the peasant design in Central and Eastern Europe like the so-called Hutsul Style (Western Ukraine, today), or Zakopane Style (Southern Poland), or Szekler Style (Central Transylvania) (1). Nevertheless, like in the case of all purisms, the Secession related styles had their fair share of influences. Although they claimed to be pure representations of the German, or Hungarian, or Ukrainian, or Polish spirit, most of them ended up including despised Byzantine and Ottoman models, proof of the vicinity with areas under these influences.
Indeed, Jugendstil or Art-Nouveau are usually connected with Western and Central-Eastern Europe, but there were interesting expressions in the Southern Europe as well. Here, although it claimed specificity in its own right in their aim of translating an aggressive nationalism, the architectural styles inspired by Secession started by being the heirs of French historicism and supporters of the Beaux-Arts theories (Ștefănuț, 76). Urban anthropologist Ljubinka Stoilova documented the Art-Nouveau houses of Sofia, Bulgaria, emphasizing the French or the German influences. The somewhat official adoption of an Art-Nouveau style around the turn of the twentieth century in the area (e.g. in 1906, in Romanian Kingdom, with the occasion of the first National Exhibition, a Neo-Romanian architectural style was presented as the nec plus ultra of the Romanian visual arts, hence most of the public buildings were built in that style at the time) showed the preoccupation for purism that would touch a decidedly intolerant political message in the interwar time. The Art-Nouveau as expressed in a Neo-Romanian style lasted longer than its Western version in the sense that it reached its peak in the interwar time and boasted of ethnical specificity. Yet, was it really specific?
Apart from its already mentioned French roots, the Neo-Romanian style relied heavily on fifteenth and eighteenth century architecture (Ștefănuț, 76-7), more precisely on the monasteries of Stephen the Great, the medieval ruler of Moldavian Principality, and on the palaces of Constantin Brâncoveanu, the pre-modern Wallachian ruler. The choice was not coincidental, both figures being seen as defenders of Christianity. In the Romanian national mythology, Christianity, eastern orthodox Christianity more precisely, is perceived as a quintessential feature of Romanianness, where the latter is seen as an isolated island among other cultures and religions like, notably, the Muslims. It follows that the religious element in the Neo-Romanian style is overwhelming. Fifteenth century Moldavia mostly had religious architecture imbued with some Western influences like Gothic style through Polish mediation (e.g. the Jagiellonian Poland was close and it exerted cultural influence over the Moldavian Principality), whereas Wallachia through both secular and religious buildings in the mentioned period filtered the Byzantine style and adopted Baroque features via the …Ottoman mediation. This mix would be known as brâncoveanu style, called this way after the enlightened ruler of Wallachia of the eighteenth century. At the end of the nineteenth century, when all these styles got crystallized in a supposed national style, brâncoveanu style witnessed the addition of a peasant element in the form of cula, a fortified type of building that was not typical to the Romanian space, but rather to the overall Balkan one, being typical to Albania or Bulgaria, as well (Ștefănuț, 80).
In the pictures below, we present two typical instances of Neo-Romanian style that can be found in Bușteni, a small town on the Southern corridor of the Carpathian Mountains (South-Central Romania). As one would expect, the most relevant public buildings built in this style are in Bucharest, the capital, but Bușteni, located in the meeting point of the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, hosts an interesting selection of fin-de-siècle villas whose façades display a richness of influences, Balkan, vernacular, religious, Byzantine, etc., etc.
The first building, Electrica, belonged to the National Company of Electricity, and, as we can see in the pictures, it represents a passage from Neo-Romanian style to modernism, a style that was very influential in the interwar time. The second building, the Casino-Palace Hotel, built in the years 1909-1912 represents a rather typical example of the style. The other buildings shown in the selection express French and Viennese versions of historicism like the house with red geometric decorations on the façade and the Sans-Souci Villa, the Bușteni version (e.g. the carefree Violetta Villa, as it is written on its façade).
(1) A discussion related to these regional versions would require an article in itself, hence we just reproduce here the photo representing the façade of the magnificent building of what once was the Dniester Insurance Company in Lviv, Western Ukraine (e.g. built in 1892).
Ada Ștefănuț, Art Nouveau in Romania, Bucharest: Noi Media Print, 2008, pp. 75-111.
Article about old houses in Bușteni, http://ziardebusteni.ro/2014/02/26/locuri-si-oameni-care-au-fost-arhitectura-aproape-disparuta-a-busteniului/ [accessed 6th February 2018]
Shona Kallestrup, `Romanian `National Style` and the 1906 Bucharest Jubilee Exhibition` in Journal of Design History, Vol. 15, No. 3 (2002), pp. 147-162.
Żanna Komar, Julia Bohdanova, Secession in Lviv, Cracow: WZ; KEW, 2014.