Modern Romanian culture, past and present, seems to not being able to blend harmoniously the two major civilizational trends that, since the fall of the Roman Empire, became known as Western and Eastern. Starting with the Enlightenment (e.g. which became influential at the end of the 1700s in this area), the public mind have been split in the two opposite directions, which were coated in black-and-white, that is negative and positive meanings: East was primitive and barbarian, West was advanced and enlightened. This attitude started its career as a political programme once with the establishment of modern Romanian state, in 1859. In agreement with the fact that the institutional framework was an emulation of the French and Belgian political structures of the time, Romania was supposed to follow the Western dynamics and forget the Oriental past as defined by the years as subject of the Ottoman Empire, and of the latter`s cultural influences. The perfect symbol for this state of affairs was the king, of a prestigious European dynasty, Hohenzollern. Later, in the interwar time, when the expanded Romanian state sought to play a regional role, this political programme was reversed, namely, the local specificities were to be praised in the detriment of the `decadent` West. The best expression of this phenomenon was the Neo-Romanian architecture, a style that appreciated the Eastern aesthetic elements but it did this selectively, picking up those features associated to symbols of Byzantine power, to ancient mythical motives, to folk representations of the world, in short, those things meant to visually re-write history from a heroic standpoint. In communist times, this old debate continued, the nationalist-communism of the 1980s being the supporter of protochronism, a cultural trend that exalted the political values of the ancient people that inhabited the area before the Roman conquest, the so-called Dacians, in the detriment of the modernists who saw the Western politics and culture as an ideal to which Romanians should strive. Even today, the two camps are as split as ever: on the one hand the supporters of multiculturalism and tolerance, and on the other hand, the proponents of local identity, which, in their understanding is a mix of religion (e.g. of which many pagan elements), protochronism, and national mythology.
An interesting expression of this state of affairs is the Cantacuzino Castle located in Bușteni, a mountain resort of Prahova Valley. The castle belonged to Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino, one of the richest members of the Conservative Party, a political organization that disappeared after the First World War from the Romanian political scene. The castle was finished in 1911, its construction took five years, and, thanks to its architecture and interiors, it had the ambition of being the representation of local political power in contrast to the `foreign` power as represented by Peleș Castle, the summer residence of Carol I, the head of Romanian Kingdom, construction that was located in the neighbouring mountain resort, Sinaia.
The castle was built by an important architect of the time, Grigore Cerchez (e.g. he was the chief-architect of Bucharest, the capital), who was the promoter of the so-called Neo-Romanian style in architecture. In the last years of the nineteenth century, he initiated a series of projects of public buildings (e.g. and private residences, like the one of Cantacuzino) that would culminate in interwar time in a style with a distinct identity and followers. The Neo-Romanian style was to become the visual expression of the Greater Romania`s nationalism.
This castle, overlooking the mountains (e.g. the Southern corridor of Carpathians), more precisely the Caraiman Peak, which displays now the Cross dedicated to the Heroes of the Nation (e.g. a monument built to honour the victims of the First World War) is a modest construction by the standards of castles located in Western Europe, but the interior is telling. It represents an architectural expression dedicated to the cult of a family, Cantacuzene family, and to the other kindred aristocratic families. First and last, this castle has a function of representation. The owner, Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino, went as far as asking the renown historian of the time, Nicoale Iorga, to study the archives of the family. The attempt had the expected results, and Cantacuzino could prove the lineage with the famous imperial Byzantine family bearing the same name. Seen from this perspective, the castle is a museum of heraldry, given that Cantacuzino tried to show at a visual level the archeology of the local power: not only genealogical trees, but also coat of arms and symbols of the most important imperial, noble, and boyar families connected in a way or the other with political power in the area. Indeed, Murano stained glass, Cordovan leather, Carrara marble served as background or frames for displaying the emblems of the other two imperial families: Komnenos and Palaeologus; 10 aristocratic families (e.g. who served as political rulers over Wallachian and Moldavian Principalities): Basarab, Brâncoveanu, Bibescu, Cantemir, Ghica, Mavrocordat, Moruzi, Racoviță, Rosetti, and Sturdza; 14 of the most prominent local families of boyars: Balș, Crețulescu, Dudescu, Golescu, Grecianu, Năsturel-Herescu, Palladi, Văcărescu, etc. (pp. 30-1). This display of 27 coats of arms and emblems representing families that had been associated with the local political scene for some centuries until the arrival of Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was the pride manifesto of a family, and, by extension, of a social category, which would be gradually removed from the political arena once with the advent of mass politics. Their misunderstanding of the present was touching but not unique. In the neighbouring Principality of Moldavia, Rosetti-Roznovanu family developed the same ambition, namely of being considered the genuine contender to the Romanian throne on the account of its lineage and past political deeds.
Back to Bușteni Castle, we still have to add that all the compounding elements of the interior (e.g. the furniture did not survive the changing fortunes of the building) including the doors, the stained glass, the freezes, the ceilings, the window panes, the fire places, the door handles tell the story of a family, and fulfil the function of displaying the local crafts and raw materials (e.g. oak, limestone). We will see in the following pictures that the visitation of local tradition via architecture involved the specificity according to which the doors, the windows, and the arcades made a harmonious whole, round shaped, small, opposing the majesty of the Gothic and its angular shapes. Indeed, anthropological arguments have been brought to speculate over the arguable theory that the Neo-Romanian style has a degree of intimacy and coziness which many Western styles like the Gothic and the Baroque lack.
Reference: M. Cristescu, R. Șandru, , A.M. Haiducu, Cantacuzino Castle, Bușteni, Romania, Transilvania Expres, 2015.