Constructing the Heritage: Patriotic Field Trips and National Style in Romanian Nineteenth-Century Architecture

This study[1] discusses the role of field trips in shaping the architectural heritage at the end of the nineteenth century, taking primarily into account the case of Romania, within the broader local context. Throughout the nineteenth century, architects across Europe focused upon inventing national styles that were conceptualized as stemming from local architectural traditions[2]. Such an endeavor called for providing specifically local features to architectural vestiges, more precisely, for finding in the earlier architectural production of a confined national territory at the same time similarities at a local scale, as well as differences with respect to other parts of this territory. Instituting this national heritage— which the contemporary production was meant to emulate—is a lengthy process, mostly because even though its existence has been postulated, such a heritage was still to be identified as such. The conceptual relation between the past—undergoing patrimonialization—and the present – the vision of the past as inspiring a future this present is expected to engender, in other words, the manner of historicizing time itself[3] – bears relevance for the phenomenon labelled by François Hartog as “regimes of historicity” which governed the nineteenth century[4]. Field trips played an essential role in looking for, and setting forth what was to become the tradition. At an early stage, trips facilitate the immediate experience of vestiges, a prerequisite for mapping and inventorying the architectural past. At a deeper level, patriotic field trips spark “patrimonial emotions”[5] that blur the distinction between travel literature and scientific discourse, so that scrutinizing the relation between the act of travelling and the conceptualization of architecture—intensely shaped by “the work of imagination”[6]—contributes to understanding the processes through which an until then “invisible” edifice becomes a “lieu de mémoire”[7]

1. A local architecture as yet untouched by the presence of genius loci

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, architectural practices in the Balkans were rather homogenous. Many cities in the Balkans displayed a residential architecture similar to that of the cities in Anatolia, a similarity often noted by foreign travelers[8]. Local variations are definitely there, but they are inconsistent with the ethnic distribution and they do not overlap with the subsequently established political borders—one cannot speak, for instance, of an “orthodox” or an “Albanian” architecture[9].

Apparently, even the inhabitants established no connection between residential architecture and ethnic or religious identity. Their perception of architecture is difficult to assess, since architecture seems not to have been conceptualized, and written sources regarding buildings are scarce. Edifices hardly appear in the travel literature produced locally, and these infrequent remarks don’t include descriptions, as a rule. For instance, when travelling in 1857 through Bulgaria to Istanbul, Dimitrie Bolintineanu describes Ruschuk (nowadays Ruse) as having “irregular houses on the brink of collapse. Filthy, narrow lanes”[10]. If seeing the ottoman residential architecture as “irregular” and city streets as “narrow, filthy” represents a trope for future generations of travelers, for Bolintineanu such features seem to apply not generally, to all ottoman settlements, but only to those he deems poorly managed, since he describes other towns with similar architecture as characterized by “utmost order, cleanness and prosperity”[11], and finds Istanbul (especially the district of Pera) and Smyrna (nowadays Izmir) to be beautiful[12]. Bolintineanu shares the interest shown by his contemporaries towards the architecture of Antiquity, which he describes in detail, and pays much attention, as do most of the nineteenth-century travelers, to the state of the roads and the possibilities for accommodation, finding no other features pertaining to architecture worthy of mention. Bolintineanu finds Bulgarian villages and towns tidier than the Turkish ones, but does not remark on differences in their general aspect, nor does he identify differences in the residential architecture of the Christians, as opposed to that of the Muslims. His interest lies with the quality of buildings, and not with their aspect. An edifice is beautiful if it is large and made of high-quality materials, while a city is beautiful if it is clean and has night lighting. The same criteria apply in evaluating architecture from other areas, not only that of the Ottoman Empire, but also that of Central or Western Europe[13]. Travelling to Paris, Nicoale Sutzu considers that beautiful cities must display wide streets and large buildings, and he finds those features in Odessa and throughout Galicia, while Vienna is crowded, and villages in France, “paltry”[14]. Travelers do not find anything “typical”; differences, if any, are in the register of prosperous vs. impoverished, clean vs. dirty, regular vs. irregular, or large vs. small, and these criteria apply equally to the Orient and to the Occident, to an architecture with which the travelers were familiar and to one which they might have considered different from that in their native land. For them, describing architecture did not entail an ethnographical approach. One might argue that these travelers—otherwise well-educated and attentive to the ways in which people from the visited areas speak, dress, or behave—simply didn’t have a particular interest in architecture, or the required vocabulary for describing it (even though they were perfectly apt to describe ancient ruins, or medieval or Renaissance architecture). But highly educated people with professional training had a similar outlook. Ion Ionescu de la Brad describes in detail settlements in Dobroudja and some areas of Wallachia[15]. Trained as an agricultural engineer, he must have followed some classes in architecture, putting them to use in his attempt to create a model village in Moldavia[16]. However, his writings show no evidence of a possible perception of architecture as reflecting the ethnic or national features of its creators.

The fact that residential architecture had for these writers no ethnic or religious connotations is proven not only by the descriptions generated through travelling outside the authors’ native land, but also by those inspired by journeys within their own countries. The detailed monographs of the Bulgarian settlements written between 1846 and 1876 by local amateur geographers, though including frequent descriptions of architecture, do not associate the residential buildings with ethnicity, or with religion: there are in these writings no recorded differences between the houses inhabited by Christians or by Muslims, or between the houses inhabited by Bulgarians, Turks, or Greeks, and when the churches are labelled “Greek” it is as a marker of their orthodox confession[17].

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, vernacular architecture undergoes a process of historicization. Though not seen as aesthetically valuable, this kind of architecture elicits the attention of the cultivated amateurs involved in processes of patrimonialization. In contrast with new architectural styles borrowed from the West, most often through the mediation of foreign architects working locally, vernacular architecture came to be gradually conceived as specific for the local environment. Contemporary building practices were frequently conceptualized as supplanting and replacing a local tradition on the brink of extinction. Most relevant for this aspect is the report written in 1881 by Pantazi Ghika (to which I will return), which includes among the buildings worthy of patrimonialization examples of vernacular architecture of recent provenance: “The residence [from Frumoasa Monastery] is in a completely different style, similar to the oriental architecture that was adopted in both parts of Romania towards the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth century, so that from this point of view they are devoid of historical interest”[18]. Pantazi Ghika argues, however, that this type of architecture is worthy of interest at least for documentary reasons, that it deserves to be preserved, and that it could even serve as a model for contemporary architects: “One could nonetheless demand […] that the character and style of this architecture be respected as such. Though they are buildings in oriental genre, and with a style of present-day architecture, still, they date from the beginning of our century, and that genre and style of architecture was abandoned here for more than fifty years, it was lost and has completely disappeared from our new buildings. It is thus useful to preserve that style in some monuments, so that the future generations may be acquainted with the style in use here at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and take them into consideration, alongside other models; these buildings must be preserved because they are a part of the history of our architecture, and because though every lustrum or even year brings progress to science and art, it is nonetheless true that ancient models have good and beautiful parts, and that even the times of decadence have their usefulness for study”[19]. Though there is no connection between this report – which draws the attention of the authorities to vernacular architecture – and the interest of architects such as Ion Mincu and Ion N. Socolescu for this type of architecture, it is worth mentioning that non-religious buildings, which are, moreover, associated with an interval seen as decadent, stir the interest of the cultural elite of the time and become relevant not only for literary writings, but also for the architectural practices that take their cue from them.

In the case of religious architecture in the Balkans, the differences between cultic edifices used by different religions or confessions are obvious, but their styles are not seen as embodying an ethnic identity. In the third decade of the nineteenth century, cultivated amateurs begin to wander through their countries in order to collect coins, inscriptions and documents concerning the medieval rulers, while the architectural vestiges are only rarely taken into consideration as relevant for the emerging national histories. In 1846, Janko Šafarik was commissioned by the Serbian Ministry of Education to engage in a research trip in order to record all the valuable vestiges he would be able to identify[20]. His travel report, accompanied by drawings, includes several medieval churches, but they are found relevant especially because of the wall paintings including the effigies of the donors, the funeral monuments sheltered within, or the manuscripts from the monastic libraries, and not because of their architecture. However, when describing Manasija, Šafarik considers that it represents “the peak of slavo-byzantine building manner […], that all orthodox Serbs, or Slavs in general, should take as an example or as a model. Henceforth, when building churches or monasteries, Serbs should take the planning from Manasija, Žiča, Ravanica as their starting point”[21]. Though this report was not published, his recommendation was familiar to the intellectual milieu and was observed: a law issued in 1862 stipulated that new churches should be built in accordance with “byzantine planning”[22]. It should however be noted that this provision regulated the use of byzantine models for the sake of their adequacy for an orthodox church, in a context where most of the churches built in the territories inhabited by Serbs (including those from the Habsburg Empire) were built in western styles, associated with Catholicism. The reference to the byzantine architecture was therefore meant to emphasize religious rather than ethnic identity, as will be the case over the following decades.

In 1884 Melchisedec, Bishop of Moldavia, travels through Bulgaria and does not identify any Bulgarian feature in the visited churches[23]. Although interested in heritage, and the first to document inscriptions in medieval Moldavian churches, Melchisedec does not consider the medieval architecture in Bulgaria as belonging to the byzantine tradition, nor as expressing a local character, but evaluates it instead, much as he does residential architecture, based on criteria of size and building materials, and appreciates recent architecture at the expense of the ancient one. During his journeys, Melchisedec looks for significant vestiges in places associated with medieval rulers, expecting churches and monasteries built by important political figures to have survived and to be monumental, and respectively, the encountered monumental structures to have been commissioned by important political figures.  

2. Travel Literature and the History of Architecture

While in the first part of the nineteenth century architecture was seen as disconnected from its social or political context, in the second half of the century Western-trained architects returned to their homelands convinced that these countries must possess a specific traditional architecture that awaits discovery and promotion through contemporary creations. At Western education institutions, travelling was already part of the process of acquiring knowledge, as essential as workshop or library study. The unmediated encounter with monuments was considered essential for adequate training.[24] Initially the study trips followed the already established route of the Grand Tour. However, as the Grand Tour came to be conceived less rigidly, and travelling became more accessible, travel destinations of the architects also diversified. As Cesar Daly confirmed, “The patriotism of the keen traveler, who has seen and observed a lot of foreign nations, acquires higher and more noble dimensions; it has a more intellectual and complete character than the patriotism of the one who has never left his home lands”.[25] Travels also underpin the “discovery” within the established architectural styles of different characteristics in particular geographical areas, and these are on occasion seen as “national”; attention is also being paid to vernacular architecture. Thus, the architects from the Balkans came back from their Western studies both with the conviction that their countries had an as yet unwritten history of architecture, and that this history can only by identified through travel.

In their early attempts at recovering the vestiges of the past, the difficulty encountered by the Romanian architects was that of not knowing what these vestiges were. To use the material remains of the past as a basis for future creations was a frequently rehearsed idea in all fields of Romanian culture in the nineteenth century.[26] Initially, the interest for the ruined monuments can be perceived in literature. In poems written in the second half of the nineteenth century authors described themselves standing next to ruins and being struck by the greatness of a glorious past. They used the ruins as a backdrop in order to advise their contemporaries to take their ancestors’ example and fight for independence. This might explain why these ruins are frequently fortifications, towers that remind of medieval battles, of resistance in the face of enemies, of the military genius of the voivodes. Following the romantic tradition, in these poems the reader is reminded that life is perishable, and so is any construction. However, they are also accompanied by moral patriotic injunctions addressed to their contemporaries. Initially, these ruins had no names, they were generically identified as “ruins of old”. Later on, authors become more specific, and the ruins are associated with significant places in contemporary history writings, such as the “ruins of Tismana”, the “ruins of Cozia”, etc.[27]

Following the example of poets, architects and art historians studied the ruins, monuments and other remnants of the past, to include them in a national patrimony. They saw them as “symbols of past ideas and deeds. They are guides for our history, and if we wish to be steadfast in our lives, we must forge our behavior through the study of the past, vividly embodied in secular buildings.”[28]. Architects, archeologists or art historians studied monuments first noticed by poets also elsewhere in the nineteenth century. For example, Mistra was studied by architects and archeologists after Goethe had placed there a scene from Faust.[29] The custom of literary meditations in front of ruins was so ingrained that even when architects visited ruins that were already significant for the history of architecture they often did not describe what they saw, but praised an abstract glorious past, and criticized the present, seen as decaying. For example, French architects and art historians who were among the first generations of fellows at the École Française d’Athènes did not study the Parthenon, as would have been expected of them: they did not describe its architectural features, did not take measures, nor did they undertake archaeological excavations. Instead, they had the revelation of Ancient Greece, of the greatness of Antiquity, they were seeing in their minds’ eye Aristotle walking among the ruins, etc.[30] 

Alexandru Pelimon, traveller in Wallachia, showed a similar perspective when he recounted his trip in 1858: “As I approached the monument, with utmost respect and worship, the venerable antiquity revealed itself in front of my eyes, with its copper and steel arms she fought with against the barbarian hordes that once made frequent invasions. In this gigantic monument, I perceived the traces of Goths, of Scythians, of Sarmatians, Huns, Tatars. It faced the anger and harshness of history to survive in front of us with just a few blemishes, and speaks to us about the past.”[31]  

Pelimon described all the buildings he considered of some interest following the same pattern: he named the founders recalling their historical significance, and then detailed the natural landscape surrounding the monuments. Therefore, the fame of the founders justified the significance of the buildings, even when it lacked aesthetic or monumental significance. The natural setting was described in such a way as to appear as a projection of the architectural function of the monuments. For example, the mountain peaks are seen as unassailable when they are close to old fortifications, but as protectors when they are next to monasteries. Indeed, the patriotic perspective made architecture and geography relate to each other; the former is naturalized, while the latter is anthropomorphized. Moreover, the value of a building is given by its capacity to be a record for a turbulent history, identified not only through the presence of defensive architecture, but also through decaying churches: “Violent traces of the barbarian times left some of the saddest marks on some of the most sacred monuments that survive. For example, gun shots through the walls, saints scratched by the tips of pointed weapons, broken stones and erased inscriptions, all made by chance or on purpose. All these left me shaken by what had once happened here!”[32]

The travel notes of Pelimon are of particular relevance for his time not just because he provided concrete dates and information about the places he visited. His discourse is especially telling for the blurring of the boundary between travel literature and the earliest non-literary texts (whether aiming or not to be “scientific”) from the second half of the nineteenth century. Both types of texts follow a similar underlying reasoning. In his travels, Pelimon visited antique ruins, medieval, as well as pre-modern ones. In the case of the antique monuments, his discourse is informed by his general knowledge of history and archaeology, backed by a scientific perspective and a professional jargon that had been developed already in the European academic community. When Pelimon visited Roman ruins, he described their plan, materials and construction techniques. However, when he visited churches, he was compelled to use a scenic and psychological perspective because that type of architecture did not have an already defined academic discourse that could be resorted to in describing it. With the exception of Saint Sophia in Istanbul[33], whose architecture has nothing in common with the churches Pelimon might have encountered in Wallachia, Byzantine architecture or that related to it had been very little and unsystematically studied.[34]


Henri Trenk, Curtea de Arges, watercolour, 1860
National Arts Museum, Bucharest
 

To describe the churches he visited in an adequate vocabulary, Pelimon could have resorted to a limited number of sources, among which the book dedicated by Couchaud to medieval churches on the Greek territory[35] stands out; or the texts published by Russian archeologists regarding the medieval architecture of Crimea and the Black See Coast, published in the first three decades of the nineteenth century, almost exclusively in Russian.[36] Perhaps the most relevant description in this respect is the one Pelimon devoted to the Episcopal Church of Curtea de Argeș:  

“It displays four towers above, two big and two smaller ones. The ones in front are in Moresque style, twisted as if both were about to fall. To describe the many ingenious designs and figures that ornate the church from top to bottom and that are all different would be a most arduous work. Such work could hardly be accomplished because these drawings and flowers are so many that the eye cannot comprehend them all and the writer’s hand is incapable to describe their true shades, their true beauties and the impressions they make on the soul of the viewer!… Around the middle, the monument is surrounded by a strip with ingenious and colossal weaves that display fish scales and various flowers. Above this strip are sculpted disks or rosettes forming a row, and each is an original artwork, delicately and very ingeniously conceived. […] Between and above them are ornaments, wandering lines in which one can see the true artistic genius, and narrow albeit frequent window frames. One can see, then, reliefs, corniches, gothic ornaments close to the eaves and above them yet again a row of frames and flowers. There are so many delicate stripes found everywhere around the beams and the frames, small flowers and lineal labyrinths drawn as if they were mosaics, arches bellow the big tower that look precisely like brows and above them a crown of intricate carvings. The next tower has an eave that displays the same marble coronation, and together with the two towers in Moresque style thy all have the same kind of decorations and flowers that can also be found in the main building.”[37]

Pelimon is obviously familiar with a specific jargon, but he is at pains in applying it to the monuments he attempts to describe. He cannot say anything regarding the plan of the church, its elevations, construction materials and techniques, and the stress on decorations (including the references to Moresque architecture) suggests an inherently orientalizing outlook towards the monument. For Pelimon Curtea de Argeș is beautiful because of its ornaments, and so it is also for the foreign travelers who preceded and succeed him, and who were inclined to see the church as an oriental monument, and therefore, richly decorated.[38]

The episcopal church of Curtea de Argeș is indeed a good example for the overlapping of travel literature and scientific studies and also for the way in which the artistic value of a monument is established through the intersection of the views of foreign and local travelers and writers. Both views alternate between an academic attitude and a subjective expression of emotions, between the (self)orientalizing perspective and the national or patriotic one. An early description of a foreign traveler in Wallachia is that of William Wilkinson in 1820: “Courté d’Argis […] The whole of the exterior work is entirely of carved marble, something in the style of the steeple of St. Stephen’s church at Vienna, but far more elegant. The whole produces a very striking effect; and, as it has perfectly preserved its original beauty, it is certainly a monument that the Wallachians may boast of in any part of Europe.”[39] In spite of the fanciful character of this description – for it is difficult to comprehend what could have determined Wilkinson to compare the Romanian church with Saint Stephen in Vienna – it is reproduced almost ad litteram by Mihail Kogalniceanu in 1837[40].

The first scientific monograph about the Episcopal Church of Curtea de Argeş was written by Ludwig Reissenberger and published in Berlin in 1860, subsequently translated into French and presented at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, in 1867. For Reissenberger, the church is a type of byzantine architecture significant not only for the local context, but also because it attests to the vitality of Byzantine art in a period for which the established view was that this art was decaying. Dimitrie Berindey translated part of the monograph and published it in the journal Revista Română in 1862, accompanying it by a short essay titled “Răpide ochire asupra Architecturei Byzantine” [A quick survey of Byzantine Architecture], in which he considered the old Romanian architecture as belonging to the Byzantine tradition, but eliciting local features. He stated that the Episcopal Church of Curtea de Argeş does not have a direct Byzantine prototype, because it has original elements seen both in the plan and decoration of the church. In 1898, the church at Curtea de Argeş is described as the summa of specifically Romanian architecture, a metaphor not only for the national architecture, but also for the local landscape, historical destiny, poetry, folklore, and finally for the national unity itself: “The sensation produced by this temple – unique in our country – is that of enrapturing the viewer’s soul. The delicacy, finesse and elegance of the shapes, the perfection of proportions, its location in the majestic wilderness of nature, they all spark in our soul an indefinable sentiment of melancholy that obsesses us, penetrates slowly, much like the view of the sun setting enthralls us and fills us with sadness. Standing in front of this temple without compare, this poem in stone, we feel as if we were hearing a song of sorrow [doina] reverberating through the mountains. Even the two towers that seem to fall point to the fate of our two countries, whose existence in history seemed to be about to come to an end at each instant, but which nevertheless survived.”[41]

The age of a monument does not guarantee its relevance for establishing the architectural cannon in the second half of the nineteenth century. The main church of Cozia Monastery – although one of the oldest in Wallachia – became important only through literature. Initially architects visited it out of patriotism, and only afterwards discovered that it had an interesting architecture. Until it was mentioned in poetry, the architecture of Cozia was not noticed. Around the middle of the nineteenth century it was described as badly maintained;[42] in the third decade of the nineteenth century it was almost abandoned, and when the main thoroughfare next to it was built in the 60s it passed through the monastery’s courtyard, separating the church and some cells from the chapel. In spite of having Cozia as a source of inspiration for his well-known poem “Umbra lui Mircea” [Mircea’s Shadow at Cosia], this is how Grigore Alexandrescu described the monastery in 1842: “About three hours away from Râmnic […] lies Cozia. As a work of architecture, the monastery is similar to most of the others. Only the name of its founder reminds us of some great deeds, kept alive by the sound of the waves that soak the high monastery walls and bow in passing at the graves of our heroes.”[43]. In 1858, Alexandru Pelimon is disappointed with Cozia: “The appearance of this monastery is very worn-out […] my eyes were not satisfied. The only thing that could be important for the visitors, and that indeed enchanted me, are the picturesque locations of the mountains, the Olt river that flows beside the monastery, and the traces of the Emperor Trajan seen in that admirable road, built by the Roman armies.”[44] In the 1881 inventory of the patrimony the church is described as “Built in a rather heavy style and decorated with Arab ornaments carved in stone”, and it is not considered a significant monument, whereas the chapel is “in Byzantine style […] and one of the most precious architectural monuments.”[45] Only in 1903, when Petre Antonescu published a monograph dedicated to the church of the Cozia Monastery, its position as a prestigious monument was secured, this being a first instance in a long process of appropriation (and thus nationalization) of the Byzantine tradition.[46]

As mentioned above, the scenic and psychological perspective noticed frequently in travel literature is also found in inventories of the ecclesiastical patrimony, conducted in 1881, when the Minister of Culture, V. A. Urechia, commissioned several connoisseurs to undertake trips to document the churches and monasteries in Romania.[47] Reports of these travels were authored by Pantazi Ghika for Moldavia, and by Ioan Slavici and George Mandrea for Wallachia. Although the writing style of these reports varies, they have in common the stress on the inscriptions identified at the monuments at the expense of the paintings to be found there, the ranking of monuments according to the importance of the founders, and the structuring of the writing by following the pattern already seen in Alexandru Pelimon: after the transcription of the founding inscription and the mention of other documents found in a church or monastery, the authors devote some lines to the natural setting, insisting on its picturesque character. The value of the monuments is given most of the times by their capacity to inspire patriotic sentiments.[48] This sort of approach demonstrates the impact of descriptions in travel literature on the creation of the academic discourse. Even if Alexandru Pelimon and other travelers did not aim to establish an architectural canon, they contributed to the creation of a new chapter in the history of architecture.[49]

An emerging new attitude can nevertheless be identified in these reports. If initially ruins were seen as proof of glorious past deeds, of the political history, they were now increasingly seen as witnesses of cultural history. Architecture gradually becomes more important in itself, and this is why more stress is placed on monuments valued from an aesthetic point of view, which in the nineteenth century meant monumentality and rich decoration. Furthermore, the Episcopal Church at Curtea de Argeș became a reference for the emerging architectural canon. Most of the comparisons made by the authors of the reports are between this church and other monuments. For example, the artistic value of the Trei Ierarhi Church in Iași is argued on the basis of the fact that it can be compared with Curtea de Argeș[50]: “from an architectural point of view it is the most meaningful original artwork in Iași, built in the style of Curtea de Argeș church and it is, a few differences aside, an accomplished imitation of it.”[51]

While in Pantazi Ghika’s report churches and monasteries are described in the order the author visited them, as in a travel report, the text by Ioan Slavici and George Mandrea is organized according to criteria most likely devised by the architect Mandrea, since they suggest a functionalist approach to architecture and heritage.[52] The visited monasteries are split into five categories, according to the way in which they have been used in the authors’ view, and according to the way in which they could still be of use nowadays: “I. Burial places for Lords, Boyars and their families; places of a more private than public character. […] II. Places of accommodation for travelers. […] III. Fortresses of sorts. […] IV. Places for hosting those who have sinned, the demented or the ones disabled from birth, whether blind, deaf and mute, or dumb. […] V. Finally, the number of purely religious places is small.”[53] In spite of this functionalist approach, what stands out is still the historical significance of the monuments and the role of the monasteries in fostering national sentiments: “Our monasteries are only in the second instance religious establishments. What gave birth to them is firstly the spirit of national safeguarding, and those who founded them and endowed them with part of their wealth found reward in their forlorn hopes that their nation will flourish.”[54]

3. Architecture and Genius Loci

            The role of ruins in the history of architecture is complicated by their own theoretical traditions. In the West, these theoretical traditions are closely related to philosophy or to the literature contemporary to their formulation, but Romanian architects educated abroad appropriate them as common knowledge that doesn’t require further questioning. In the 18th century ruins are a catalyst for reflections on the origin of architecture because, being on the brink of “returning” to “nature”, they reveal architecture’s natural character.[55] In a simplified form these ideas become widespread in 19th century Western academies, as proven by the curriculum of the courses in the history of architecture.[56] In addition, in conjunction with the “nationalization” of geography and landscape, the aforementioned ideas tend to strengthen the identification of the “natural” with the “national”, where “natural” is a rather vague concept. Frequently, “natural” is that architecture that can be linked to an understanding of tradition that has remained below conscious recognition, that is, to one which does not refer to the academic tradition of neo-classicism through which a past architecture is consciously and ideologically “revived” in the present, but to the “spontaneous” architecture, devoid of a written tradition, such as the rural/vernacular architecture, be it oriental or medieval.


Carol Popp de Szathmáry, Episcopie de Curtea de Argis, photographs (1866)
Library of the Romanian Academy, Bucharest, Prints Cabinet

            The first occurrences of the conjunction between nature and ruin on Romanian territories coincide with the first travels for inventorying national heritage. In 1860, Alexandru Odobescu, Cezar Bolliac, Alexandru Pelimon, Dumitru Papazoglu, Henri Trenk and Gheorghe Tattarescu were assigned by the Ministry of Culture the task of devising study trips during which they were expected to document all the monasteries and churches in Wallachia and Moldavia, the most relevant of which were to be included in “national catalogues”.[57] The main objective of these inventories was the movable property, believed to be endangered if left in the custody of priests and monks (some of the objects were brought to Bucharest, especially by Odobescu; they form one of the cores of the National Museum of Art Collections). Thus, an important part of the drawings and paintings produced by Trenk and Tattarescu depict inventoried precious objects, and fulfil the role of accompanying the inventories; but the examples that were considered truly representative and were to be included in these national albums consisted of architecture in a more or less ruined state, placed in picturesque natural settings, and people dressed in traditional costumes. These “archaeological and picturesque albums” were to be viewed at the National Museum in order to serve as a model to those interested in “national topics”, but they were also to be sent to the 1862 International Exhibition in London, in which Romania did not participate in the end. Such images of architecture and nature of the homeland had therefore an educational and documentary purpose, being at the same time able to perform the national identity in the context of a universal exhibition. The architecture, nature and folk of a region were necessarily conjoined, and together they formed a unique homogenous and unitary aggregate, the authentic image of a national state.

            Geography doesn’t only provide a passive framework which allows the national spirit to manifest itself, but can have an active role: “A people, in order to be able to produce art, must above all feel beauty, so that this feeling would eternally manifest and thereby develop itself; the very nature of its country must be beautiful. […] A beautiful nature innately forms the aesthetic education of a people and ensures for it an aesthetic background”, writes Petru Verussi.[58] Following this line of thought, since natural conditions exist, it means that a particular art should have developed in Romania, one which architects and historians are required to discover and to make known. Petru Antonescu notes that the source of local particularities and the necessary conditions for the development of an autochthonous art are to be found in geography and in ethnic specificity: “We met all the necessary conditions for an artistic movement to be constituted and for it to thrive. […] The mountains, hills and, especially, plains of our country have their own poetry and color, which differ from those of other lands; our race is a type well defined through appearance, apparel and language. In what other country will you find the deep valleys of the Carpathians, bearing fast and boiling waters which break into wild perspectives, darkened by the thickness of the trees? […] With this ethnic background, so rich and so strikingly picturesque, and under the shelter of an economic development that has long been flourishing in Romania, it was impossible for an art of our own country not to be born and cultivated”.[59]

            The architects who create the Romanian national style in the last decades of the 19th century are thus convinced that Romania has an architectural tradition, even though it is only fragmentarily known. During the process of conceptualizing this tradition and turning it into a history of Romanian architecture, the urge to travel and to have unmediated contact with the monuments is constantly emphasized. The role of study trips is rather ambiguous however, both for the beginning of research activities and for architectural practice. On the one hand, it is not at all clear to what extent those who set out in search of the heritage “discover” new monuments and to what extent they identify, in the monuments they visit, features that they believe to be real even before having witnessed them with their own eyes. Pantazi Ghika qualifies most of the monuments he travels to as being of “Byzantine style”, regardless of the time of their construction (the 18th century included), and of their character, because he grounds his observations on the prerequisite that architectural tradition in Romania has to be of Byzantine origin.[60] Literature dedicated to byzantine art generally hesitated between identifying Byzantine architecture as a style with specific formal characteristics, and associating said style with the Orthodox denomination.[61] Being orthodox, Romanian intellectuals were anticipating they will find, in Wallachia and Moldavia, an architecture based on the Byzantine tradition, and these assumptions influenced their immediate contact with the monuments. On the other hand, when it comes to inventing the national style, it is difficult to distinguish the part played by the direct survey of the monuments in relation to mediated knowledge. In conceiving the Lahovary house, his first project in the “national style”, Ion Mincu admits to using images of houses in Wallachia without having seen them[62]. The architect Simotta, one of Mincu’s students, even claims that Mincu would have first seen the monuments from the Brâncoveanu times (which he proposed to emulate in his work as an architect) outside the capital only in 1911.[63] This statement is unlikely, and it is disproved by the reports of Mincu’s first biographer, Nicolae Petrașcu[64], but it is relevant that to an architect like Simotta it might have seemed plausible that part of Mincu’s sources of inspiration have been known only through the mediation of texts and images. Furthermore, the extensive repertoire of decorative elements used in the Romanian national style doesn’t correspond to the breadth of known and studied heritage, since Moldavian architecture was rarely used as reference, while the Episcopal Church in Curtea de Argeș remained a constant landmark.

Curtea de Arges, photograph (around 1886)
Credits: Grigore Tocilescu, Biserica episcopală a mănăstirei Curtea de Argeş restaurată în dilele M. S. Regelui Carol I sfinţită din nou în diua de [12] Octomvrie 1886, (Bucharest, 1866).  Library of the Romanian Academy, Bucharest

            When it comes to the residential architecture used as a reference in the Romanian national style, its Ottoman character and the fact that it isn’t particular only to Wallachia, since it is encountered in all the Balkans and in Anatolia, are frequently ignored, despite the immediate contact, through travels, with this type of architecture. Actually, Ottoman residential architecture is gradually regarded as being specific to various countries in the region, and is construed as “national” in all the Balkan countries and in Turkey: while in the first part of the 19th century it wasn’t conceptualized as bearing any religious or ethnic identity, in the first decades of the 20th century it became the “National Revival house” in Bulgaria, the “Albanian house” in Albania, the “Northern Greek house” in Greece, the “Macedonian house” in Macedonia, the “Serbian mansion” in Serbia, the “Turkish house” in Turkey and the “boyar house” in Romania.[65] The nationalization of this Balkan and Anatolian common architectural heritage doesn’t take place in the absence of direct contact with the monuments – even Ion Mincu could have noticed, at least on the occasion of his trip to Constantinople, that the vernacular architecture of 18th century Bucharest can be encountered in a larger area. But the way in which the relation between vernacular architecture and geography was conceived at the time takes precedence over direct experience. As with natural landscape, which molds the character of a people, “natural” architecture is the expression of its spirit and is, therefore, particular to it. If a building is the product a subliminal sedimentation of the tradition of a place, it is considered specific to this place, regardless of the fact that similar constructions can be found in other territories. Even when similarities are noticed, they fade in the face of differences seen as defining and expressing a local spirit. The specifically local character of this architecture isn’t identified through fieldwork, it isn’t established through a process of systematization of the formal characteristics of the buildings visited during travels. Rather, architects set out in search of this uniquely local character, starting from the premise that it exists and has to be found, and if a journey is undertaken with the purpose of identifying a specific architecture, then this architecture is identified. The importance of study trips lies precisely in the dynamic and unstable relationship between what the traveler already knows and what he sees, between what he anticipates, what he experiences, and what he conceptualizes.


[1] The research incorporated in this study was partly undertaken during my participation in the research project Balkan Histories: Shared, Connected, Entangled, coordinated by Roumen Daskalov and financed by the European Research Council; part of it has been published in a lengthier chapter as Ada Hajdu, “The Search for National Architectural Styles in Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria from the Mid- Nineteenth Century to World War I,” in Entangled Histories of the Balkans. Volume Four: Concepts, Approaches, and (Self-)Representations, ed. Roumen Daskalov et al., vol. 4 (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 394–439. My study relies also upon research conducted as Principal investigator in the project ”Ion Mincu: a regionalist perspective and an evaluation of his local insertion”, financed by the Order of Architects in Romania in 2012.

[2] For Romania, see Carmen Popescu, Le style national Roumain. Construire une nation à travers l’architecture. 1881–1945 (Rennes-Bucharest: Presses Universitaires de Rennes & Simetria, 2004); Shona Kallestrup, Art and Design in Romania, 1866–1927: Local and International Aspects of the Search for National Expression (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006). For the Balkan states, see Carmen Popescu, “Un patrimoine de l’identité: l’architecture à l’écoute des nationalismes,” Études balkaniques 12 (2005): 135–71.

[3] For the relation between natural and historic time, see Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past. On the Semantics of Historical Time, transl. Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004 [1985]).

[4] François Hartog, Régimes d’historicité. Présentisme et expérience du temps (Paris: Seuil, 2003).

[5] Daniel Fabre, ed., Émotions Patrimoniales (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2013).

[6] Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalizations (Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). For a theoretical framework analyzing the relation between travel and the conceptualization of space and architecture, making also use of the concept of imagination as theorized by Appadurai, see Jilly Traganou, Miodrag Mitrasanović, Travel, Space, Architecture (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), esp. 4–27.

[7] According to Pierre Nora, “un lieu de mémoire dans tous les sens du mot va de l’objet le plus matériel et concret, éventuellement géographiquement situé, à l’objet le plus abstrait et intellectuellement construit”. Pierre Nora, “Entre mémoire et histoire: la problématique des Lieux,” in Les Lieux de mémoire. Tome 1: La République, ed. Pierre Nora (Paris: Gallimard, 1984), XVII.

[8] Maurice Cerasi, “The Formation of Ottoman House Types: A Comparative Study in Interaction with Neighbouring Cultures,” Muqarnas 15 (1998): 116–56.

[9] Tchavdar Marinov, “Chya e tazi kăshta? Izmislyaneto na bălgarskata văzrozhdenska arhitektura”, in V tărsene na nălgarskoto: mrezhi na natsionalna intimnost (XIX-XXI v.), ed. Stefan Detchev (Sofia: Institute for the Study of Arts, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 2010), 325–404.

[10] Dimitrie Bolintineanu, Călătorii pe Dunăre şi in Bulgaria (București: Tipografia Iosif Romanov, 1858), 54.

[11] Bolintineanu, Călătorii pe Dunăre, 65.

[12] Dimitrie Bolintineanu, “Călătorii la Ierusalim în sărbătorile Paștelui și în Egipt,” in Opere, vol. 6, ed. Teodor Vârgolici (Bucharest: Minerva, 1985 [1856]).

[13] For instance, Nicolae Sutzu, Amintiri de călătorie. 1839–1847 (Iaşi: Polirom, 2000), or Theodor Constantinescu, O călătorie la Constantinopoli (Iaşi: Tipografia Foaiei Săteşti, 1844).

[14] Sutzu, Amintiri de călătorie, 168.

[15] Ion Ionescu de la Brad, Excursion agricole dans la plaine de Dobrudja (Istanbul: Journal de Constantinople, 1851).

[16] Ion Ionescu de la Brad, Ferma model și Institutul de Agricultură în Moldova (Iași: Tipografia Institutului Albinei, 1847).

[17] For instance, Stefan Zahariev, Geografiko-istoriko-statistichesko opisaniena Tatar-Pazarshiiskata Kaaza (Vienna: L. Sommer & Cie., 1870), or Liuben Karavelov, Zapiski za Bălgaria i za bălgarite (Sofia: Knigoizdatelstvo Ignatov, 1940 [1867–1868]). For Bulgarian amateur geographers, see Desislava Lilova, “Balkanite kato rodina? Versii za teritorialnata identichnost na bălgarite pod osmanska vlast,” in Krayat na modernostta, eds. Georgi Tchobanov, Albena Vacheva (Sofia: Litnet, 2003), 27–62. For an analysis of the image of settlements in 19-century Bulgarian literature, see Alexander Kiossev, “Plovdiv: The Text of the City vs. the Texts of Literature,” in History of the Literary Cultures in East-Central Europe, ed. Marcel Cornis-Pope, vol. II (Amsterdam-Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2006), 124–44.

[18] Pantazi Ghika, Monumente Naționali. Monastiri și biserici ortodocse. Raporturi de la comisiunile întocmite pentru cercetarea lor. Partea I (Bucharest: Tipografia Statului, 1881), 23.

[19] Ghika, Monumente Naționali, 25.

[20] Janko Šafarik, nephew of Pavel Josef Šafarik, visits Sabac, Obrenovac, Valjevo, Loznica, Čačak, Karanovac, Kraljevo, Studenica, Ljubostinje, Krusevac, Ravanica, Manasija, Pozarevac, Smederevo; a few years later he becomes the first director of the National Museum in Belgrade. In the same report, he labels the visited buildings as “beautiful ruins built in the byzantine manner” (referring to the alternating layers of brick and stone) and suggests that the votive portraits should be copied and placed in the National Museum, to remind all visitors of the “glorious ancestors”. He makes drawings of the monasteries of Žiča, Kruševac, Ravanica și Manasija, and considers Kruševac to be byzantine. 

[21] Janko Šafarik, Izvjestije o putovanju po Serbiji 1846 godine (Valjevo: Zavod za zaštitu spomenika kulture „Valjevo”, 1993), 23.

[22] The decree is part of a new law regulating new buildings in Serbia. Dušica Živanović, “Počeci proučavanja vizantijske arhitekture u Srbiji,” Niš and Byzantium 2 (2003), 393–403

[23] His Holiness Melchisedec, “O excursiune în Bulgaria,” Revista pentru istoria, arheologie și filologie 4 (1885), 501–32 and 5 (1885), 113–23.

[24] For “the intellectual tradition that links traveling epistemologically to the production of knowledge” and a review of the academic literature that approached this intellectual tradition from various perspectives see Jilly Traganou, „For a Theory of Travel in Architectural Studies,” in Travel, Space, Architecture, 5–6.

[25] César Daly, “Introduction,” Revue Générale de l’Architecture et des Travaux Publics 21 (1863): 9.

[26] John Neubauer, Mircea Anghelescu, Gábor Gángó, Kees Mercks, Dagmar Robers, Dinko Župan, “1848,” in Marcel Cornis-Pope, John Neubauer, History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe. Junctures and Disjunctures in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, vol. I (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2004), 263–92 and esp. 283–89.

[27] For example, Alexandru Hrisoverghi, “Ruinelor Cetății Neamțului” (1834); Ion Heliade Rădulescu, “O noapte la ruinele Târgoviștei” (1836); Grigore Alexandrescu, “Trecutul. La mănăstirea Dealului” (1843).

[28] Nicolae Gabrielescu, „Publicul și monumentele,” Analele arhitecturii şi ale artelor cu care se leagă 1 (1890):  3–4.

[29] Kostis Kourelis, „Byzantine Houses and Modern Fictions: Domesticating Mystras in 1930s Greece,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 65/66 (2011/2012): 297–331.

[30] Eleni Bastea, The Creation of Modern Athens. Planning the Myth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

[31] Alexandru Pelimon, Impresiuni de călătorie în România (Bucharest: Imprimeria Națională a lui Iosif Romanov, 1858), 31–2.

[32] Pelimon, Impresiuni de călătorie, 110.

[33] On the image of Saint Sophia in Istanbul at the time see Ludovic Bender, “Regards sur Saint-Sophie (fin XIIe – début XIXe Siècle): prémices d’une histoire de l’architecture Byzantine,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift, 105 (2012): 1–28; Silvia Foschi, “Santa Sofia di Constantinopoli: immagini dall’Occidente,” Annali di architettura 14 (2002): 7–33; Robert S. Nelson, Hagia Sophia, 1850-1950: Holy Wisdom, Modern Monument (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

[34] On how Byzantine architecture became the focus of attention of the architects and architectural historians before the second half of the nineteenth century, especially in correlation with the interest for the architecture that preceded the Gothic one, and would later be named Romanesque, see Jean Nayrolles, L’Invention de l’art roman à l’époque moderne (XVIIIe-XIXe siècles) (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2005). For the more general interest in Byzantine art see J. B. Bullen, Byzantium Rediscovered (London: Phaidon, 2003).

[35] André Couchaud, Choix d’églises Bysantines en Grèce (Paris : Lenoir, 1842).

[36] Pınar Üre, Byzantine Heritage, Archeology and Politics between Russia and the Ottoman Empire: Russia Archeological Institute in Constantinople (1894-1914) (PhD diss., London School of Economics and Political Science, 2014), 47–92.

[37] Pelimon, Impresiuni de călătorie, 73–4.

[38] For the stress on the decorations in descriptions of architectural monuments from places considered oriental see Kourelis, „Byzantine Houses and Modern Fictions”.

[39] William Wilkinson, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with Various Political Observations Relating to Them (London: Longman, 1820), 16.

[40] „Tout l’extérieur de cet édifice, dit Wilkinson, est un marbre ciselé dans le style du clocher de Saint-Étienne à Vienne, mais beaucoup plus élégant. L’ensemble produit un grand effet, et comme il a conservé parfaitement sa beauté primitive, c’est certainement un monument que les Valaques peuvent citer avec orgueil quelque endroit de l’Europe que ce soit.” Mihail Kogalniceanu, Histoire de la Valachie, de la Moldavie et des Valaques Transdanubiens (Berlin: Librairie B. Behr, 1837), 48.

[41] Nicolae Idieru, Istoria artelor frumoase. Architectura, sculptura, pictura, musica din toate timpurile şi din toate ţările, inclusiv Rumânia (Bucharest: Tipografia Joseph Gobl, 1889), 148.

[42] Petre Antonescu, Monastirea Cozia (Bucharest: Editura Carol Göbl, 1903).

[43] Grigore Alexandrescu, „Memorial de călătorie,” in Meditații, elegii, epistole, satire și fabule (Bucharest: Tipografia națională a lui Ștefan Rassidescu, 1863), XVIII (Memorialul was first published in series in Propăşirea, 1844). Besides this brief evaluation of architecture, Alexandrescu is struck also by the votive painting in the nave, by the graves inside the church and by some ruined buildings on the other side of the river Olt.

[44] Pelimon, Impresiuni de călătorie, 111.

[45] Ioan Slavici, George Mandrea, Monumente Naționali. Monastiri și biserici ortodocse. Raporturi de la comisiunile întocmite pentru cercetarea lor. Partea a II-a (Bucharest: Tipografia Statului, 1881),233.

[46] Antonescu, Monastirea Cozia.

[47] The decision of the Minister is as follows: “Mr. Ion Slavici, Ms. Hintz, painting teacher at Asil, Mr. architect G. Mandrea, to visit the monasteries and churches from the districts Mehedinți, Gorj, Romanați, Vâlcea, Dolj, Olt, Argeș, Muscel, Dâmbovița, Prahova, Teleorman, Vlașca și Ilfov, to distinguish the artistic from the historical ones. A second commission will look at the monasteries and churches from the other side of the country.” The document is reproduced in Ghika, Monumente Naționali, III–IV.

[48] For example, Socola is classified as a third rate monument because its founder, Alexandru Lăpușneanu, was not included in the pantheon of the official political history. “Regarding the historical interest I believe […] that Socola Monastery is not of first order of importance among the monuments that remind of our great and glorious past. The time of Lăpușneanu, both his first and second rule on the Princely throne of Moldavia, is not among the most beautiful, with great national deeds, nor with brilliant military successes. […] For these reasons I believe it is legitimate to classify Socola Monastery among the historical monuments of a third degree interest”, Ghika, Monumente Naționali, 12.  

[49] My observations are based on the similarities between the situation in Romania and the one in Greece, as it has been analysed by Kostis Kourelis, who remarks on the importance of travel literature for the creation of a new chapter of architecture, that of Byzantine architecture in Greece, and of the common scenic and psychological perspective in both the travel literature and in the first scientific texts. See Kostis Kourelis, „Early Travelers in Greece and the Invention of the Medieval Architectural History,” in Architecture and Tourism: Perception, Performance, Place, ed. Medina Lasansky, Brian McLaren (Oxford–New York: Berg, 2004), 37–52.

[50] The Trei Ierarhi church in Iași is „built in the style of the Argeș monastery”. Ghika, Monumente Naționali, 32.

[51] Ghika, Monumente Naționali, 34.

[52] George Mandrea studied „Hochbau-Abteilung“ at Königlich Sächsischen Polytechnikum in Dresden between 1877 and 1880. This educational institution functioned alongside the Fine Arts School in the same city. Contrary to this latter school, at the Polytechnic Institute the technical aspect of architecture was stressed, as was the functionality of architecture. Mandrea studied art history with Richard Steche (who taught a course on „praktische aesthetik”, directly inspired by Semper and whose main work was to document the architectural heritage of Saxony).

[53] Slavici, Mandrea, Monumente Naționali, 179–80.

[54] Slavici, Mandrea, Monumente Naționali, 180.

[55]Cosmin Ungureanu, “Peisaj cu ruine. Artificiu și natură în Franța veacului al XVIII-lea”, in Di suo’ maniera e di suo’ aria. Studii în onoarea Ancăi Oroveanu, ed. Ruxandra Demetrescu, Irina Cărăbaș and Ioana Măgureanu (Bucharest: Editura Universității Naționale de Arte, 2012), 100–17.

[56]The commonplace character of these ideas is demonstrated by their constant use in the first art history handbook published in Romanian by Nicolae Idieru. According to this author, the more “primitive” an architecture is, the more cogent is its “natural” character. For example, “the architecture of the Chinese” is only a variation of the primeval tent: “Generally, we can claim that Chinese art is grotesque and barbaric, and in architecture they seem to have used a tent as an archetype for monumental buildings. Those numerous wooden poles, lacking bases or capitals, which support the ceilings of constructions, represent, according to Mr. Hope, the archaic stakes; roofs, which, when viewed from in front of those poles, seem to project in the distance their backs and ribs – retaining the convex shape – are the skins and cloths hanging on ropes and bamboo stalks; in the curved edges jutting from these roofs we see the hooks used for hanging unfolded skins and cloths; finally, we cannot help but recognize, by the expanse, the low heights and the crowding of different parts, all the shapes and distinct character of the dwelling of those shepherds whose descendants the Chinese are”. Nicolae Idieru, Istoria artelor frumoase, 14–5.

[57]Aurelian Sacerdoțeanu, “Cercetări istorice și pitorești prin mănăstirile noastre acum optzeci de ani. Lucrările lui Al. Odobescu, H. Trenk și G. Tătărescu”, excerpts from Arhiva Românească 6 (1941) and 7 (1942). Sacerdoțeanu published, in these two excerpts, the archival documents pertaining to the inventorying travels conducted in the year 1860 and the reports of these trips, presented to the Ministry of Culture in 1861.

[58]Petru Verussi, “Despre arta națională”, Analele arhitecturei și ale artelor cu care se leagă 7 (1891): 152.

[59]Petre Antonescu, Arhitectura religioasă la Români. Cele mai vechi biserici. Partea I (Bucharest: Stabilimentul grafic Albert Baer, undated), 4–5. But also Nicolae Petrașcu: “In architecture, old churches, princely palaces, castles and fortresses, boyars’ courts, monasteries, inns, our fountains, had a monumental appearance, with a bold character, proving the flourishing of the arts. It is known that the highest vocation of architecture is for it to answer to its function as well and as beautifully as possible. Old principles of construction, both those of religious architecture, the type of which we have at Curtea de Argeș, and of lay architecture, fully correspond to this truth. In religious architecture, although the character of the byzantine style was largely adopted, its decorative disposition and harmony is particular to the land of the country. In civil architecture, our low, white buildings, with high roofs, with wide eaves, with thick walls, with porched vaults with wooden pillars, with platforms or porches, were better suited to the large spaces and climate in Wallachia, where our summer is sunny and warm as in Africa, and winter is freezing as in Russia. They bear witness to the fact that our forerunners reflected before starting to work and they could recognize the beautiful.” Nicolae Petrașcu, “Cuvânt începător,” Literatura și arta română I (1896): 11.

[60]Pantazi Ghika, Monumente Naționali, 8–9 (for the example of Socola).

[61]For the tensions and overlaps between these two historiographical approaches, see Cyril Mango, “Approaches in Byzantine Architecture,” Muqarnas 8 (1991): 40–4.

[62]Carmen Popescu, Le Style, 55–9.

[63]Gheorghe Simotta, Arhitect Gheorghe Simotta (ed. Irina Patrulius) (Bucharest: Simetria, 2003 [1965]), 9.

[64]Nicolae Petrașcu, Ioan Mincu (Bucharest: Cultura Națională, 1928), 29–37.

[65]Tchavdar Marinov, “’Chya e tazi kăshta?’”.


Ada Hajdu (1978, Târgu Mureș – 2020, Bucharest) was a mentor for many generations of students, a prolific scholar and a core member of the Department of Art History at the National University of Arts in Bucharest. She published two important books, Architecture and National Project. The Romanian National Style, (NOI Media Print, Bucharest, 2009), and Art Nouveau in Romania, (NOI Media Print, Bucharest 2008, second edition 2013), as well as seminal studies in the field of modern architecture in Central and Eastern Europe. These include: “The Search for the National Architectural Styles in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria from the Mid-Nineteenth Century to Word War I”, in Entangled Histories of the Balkans, vol. IV, R. Daskalov, D. Mishkova, T. Marinov, A. Vezenkov (eds.), (Brill, Leiden, 2017), pp. 394-439; “The Pavilions of Greece, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris”, in Balkan Heritages. Negotiating History and Culture, Maria Couroucli, Tchavdar Marinov (eds.), (Ashgate/ Routledge, Farnham, 2015), pp. 47-77; “The urban development of Herculane health resort in the nineteenth century and the architecture of its spa establishments”, in Spicilegium. Studii în onoarea Corinei Popa, Vlad Bedros, Marina Sabados (eds.), (UNArte, Bucharest, 2015), pp. 219-233 (in Romanian). A rich and meaningful career was moreover recognised by the winning of the major European Research Council Starting Grant for the project “Art Historiographies in Central and Eastern Europe. An Inquiry from the Perspective of Entangled Histories” (2018-2023), of which she was the Principal Investigator.

Besides her academic achievements and inspiring thoughts and writings, Ada Hajdu was a true friend to all those with whom she worked, her warmth and kindness matching the tireless devotion she invested in both her teaching and scholarly activities. She was a constant supporter of students and young scholars, always ready to share her research and to help others develop their own projects.

On 15 July 2020, Ada Hajdu was posthumously decorated with the Order of Cultural Merit by President Klaus Iohannis of Romania.


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