Saturday, 18 May 2013

Romania–Buildings Pt. 1: Exteriors

I decided to split the post I intended doing on the buildings of Romania because there was just so much – I was completely bowled over by the different styles in the various regions, their beauty, and their total otherness from anything I’d experienced before. In this post, I intend sharing pictures showing the different styles of the exteriors, and in subsequent posts, I shall concentrate on the interiors, and on the building techniques we saw in action during the extraordinary period of transition when we visited – a real building boom!

In the cities, the buildings tend to be stone or brick built, and the churches are in the traditional Byzantine style of the Orthodox Church, covered richly with wall paintings inside, as you saw in my previous post – the picture of the church in Baia Mare where the blessing of the wedding rings took place. Here are a couple of pictures taken in the capital city, Bucharest, the second of which is a church.

In my last post, I mentioned the little German town of Cisnadie. The faded pastel shades and dilapidated condition of the place enchanted me – it had a fragility which made me feel that if something were not done soon, the place would eventually sink back into the earth, but the worst that could happen would be for it to be tarted up and made into a bland tourist attraction! I felt privileged to be there to witness its faded charm.


Here is a house at Beles.

A lot of buildings have aluminium roofs, which weather to a soft pale grey, but when they are new, they shine like silver in the sun!

We spent a day at Banffy Castle near Cluj. This ancient building was a ruin, but it was being restored by an international team. I took far too many photos to share on here, but here’s a sample:

Here is a portion that has been restored.

There are numerous monasteries in Romania, now enjoying a comeback after severe repression during the Ceausescu era. Here is the gate to the one at Rohia.

This is the chapel at Rohia.

The buildings in the monastery complex are roofed with aluminium, weathered to its soft grey finish.

Maramures is famous for its wooden buildings, and especially for the elaborate carved wooden gates in the villages – it seems that the Romanians in this region suffer from a serious case of Keeping Up with the Joneses – they all try to outdo each other and some of the gates are distinctly over the top!

A common feature is swags of chains hanging from the arches – this is a good example of one of these. The chains, like the rest of the gate, are carved from wood, and of course, they had to be carved from a single piece, showing great skill in the woodcarver’s art. You can also see the traditional cable-style carving.

Here’s a detail of another carved gate. This is a very traditional style of Romanian carving.

This is one of the typical Transylvanian wooden churches in Maramures. You can see the carved wooden detail running along the length of the building, and also the roof covered with wooden shingles. I shall be showing you more of these when we look at the construction of buildings. There are metal grave crosses in the foreground, and the wooden objects leaning against the church wall are coffin carriers.

Here’s a detail of the roof. The church roofs are often constructed in layers like this, rather like the beautiful oriental roofs of China.

This is one particular style of shingle. The overall pattern is delightful, and the wood weathers unevenly, giving a subtly mottled effect. Every shingle is hand-carved.

The grave markers (I can’t call them gravestones because they are made of wood!) are absolutely gorgeous. They often have pictures of the deceased, and some information about their life.

This particular one marks the grave of a lady, shown here with her spindle and distaff. There is a very famous cemetery in Sapanta, in Maramures, but unfortunately we didn’t get there. It is called the Merry Cemetery because of all the delightful and amusing pictures and anecdotes about the people buried there. If you Google it you can find lots of images. It’s such a lovely tradition, and it makes this final resting place of the dead a cheerful and happy place, rather than a sorrowful one.

We visited the old synagogue in Baia Mare.

I was reduced to tears inside, as we were shown round by an elderly Jewish man who clearly loved caring for this now virtually abandoned building. The Jews of Romania suffered horribly in the Holocaust and few returned. The pews contained the old books and prayer shawls, and it was a touching memorial of a once-thriving and devout community.

I will show you some more pictures  of its beautiful interior in the next post.

Returning to the wooden churches of Maramures, Surdesti boasted the tallest wooden spire in Europe – not sure if this still holds true, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

The entrance to the church.

Here’s a rather different style of Maramures house – covered in brightly coloured tiles!

These metal gates and railings are a very common sight all over the country.

Another decorated house, this time near the Prislop Pass in the Carpathian Mountains.

Notice again the aluminium roof. There are some wooden shingles on the building beyond.

At Varatec, up in the north-east of Romania near the Moldovan and Ukrainian borders, we found this house with a distinctly Russian appearance.

If it’s over-the-top you want, look no further than the famous Romanian gypsy palaces!

Finally, no journey around the buildings of Romania would be complete without a glimpse of the painted monastery of Moldovita.

This exterior wall painting depicts the Battle of Constantinople in 717-8 AD, which stopped the advance of Islam into Europe.

This is only a sample of the photos I took. It was really hard to choose which to include. There were far too many to include interiors in this post, so they will have to wait!


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