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Traditional houses in rural Romania (case traditionale romanesti)
Upon arriving in her new home country in 1869, the young wife of Prince Carl of Romania noticed in her writings: “Every Roumanian makes a point of living in his own house, if it be but of mud, with no floor, with the four walls falling apart, and a thatched roof. Ask the humblest petitioner where she lives, and she will reply: In casele mele (In my own houses!)”.
Traditional rustic architecture is divided into :
– single-leveled house; sheds are usually built separately.
– 1-2 storey house. The ground floor (or cellar in the case of 1-story house) is used for food storage; if sheds are built separately, the ground floor may be residential as well.
– dugout house (bordei) – though rarely used in modern times, it represents the oldest type of dwelling known to mankind. Found in the lower plains (especially Dobrogea), it was inherited from Neolithic cultures such as Cucuteni. Underground houses maintain constant temperatures, therefore they are cool in summer and warm in winter.
The porch (veranda) is an ever-present element in Romanian rural houses. It is often times decorated with flowers, or covered by vineyard leaves. The rooms have low ceilings with beams, which helps mantain heat.
The houses are always surrounded by flower gardens, homegrown fruits, vegetables, vineyards etc.
Genuine rural houses (as opposed to new houses built in “traditional manner”) are today refereed to as casa batraneasca in Romanian.
Pre-Christian pagan mythology in traditional Romanian folk
The various motifs found in architecture, clothing, pottery, dance etc were not simple decorations but they stem from pre-Christian beliefs transmitted from distant ancestors. Many Pagan symbols are universal, being found around the world before Christianity, Islam and other religions replaced the system of beliefs.
The most prevalent is the solar motif, which is omnipresent in Romanian folk art. The sun circle was a symbol of life, fertility and it was believed to attract positive energy. The Pagan beliefs were directly connected to nature, which also implied respect for the surrounding natural environment. In Romania, Christianity continues to co-exist along Pagan rituals until today.
The decorative motifs varied depending on the region. When a house lacked exterior decorations, a branch from a pine tree was instead placed above the door in order to protect the household.
The supporting poles of the pridvor (front porch) iwere often sculpted into the “twisted rope”, the symbol of infinity which is protected the household and connected the earth to the infinite sky.
The facade of most houses was not orientated towards the street, but towards the inner garden which was an intrinsic part of the household. The house and garden are considered the sacred place where the family lives its life and everything is in harmony – the family, the animals, the plants. The house was also important because it was the sacred place where traditions were taught and passed along.
The horse motif – the horse represented majestic beauty and its directly connected to the sun – in popular beliefs the life-giving sun was traveling across the sky in a chariot drawn by white horses; the “twisted rope” motif (funia răsucită sau împletită) which signifies infinity and the connection between earth and sky (this inspired the Infinity Column of Brancusi) and many other nature motifs (trees, birds) that show man’s connection with nature.
The peasant did not consider his household and land a private property where he had absolute rights, but instead considered it a good of the community offered by God in order to care for it and to help perpetuate life. The land was a gift from ancestors which he transmitted to descendants to ensure the endurance of the family, of the community and of life in general.
Up until the forced industrialization of the 1960’s, traditional houses were built with specific materials, native to the region – like the Istrita rock (Piatra de Istrita) used in Buzau county.
Starting with industrialization, peasants were forced to replace traditional building materials with the cheaper and widely used cement. From now onward, many symbolic paintings disappeared and are still disappearing from the exterior walls, being painted over or covered with another layer of cement.
A comprehensive photo collection of architectural styles from Muntenia (from the historical region of Vallachia): www.muntenialapas.ro/proiecte/culegere-de-arhitectura-traditionala-din-muntenia
Following a joint project with the Astra Village Museum from Sibiu, the real estate business saw an opportunity to expand and promote business through the idea of building traditional houses for cheap prices with imported materials.
While the real estate business profits from building poor imitations of traditional houses in the idea that they are “passing on the tradition”, many of the original houses with historical value are abandoned and left to deteriorate.
To understand the dynamics of rural communities and their evolution throughout history, go here The Romanian village.