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 houses!)”
The traditional rustic architecture is the personalized Romanian style which developed through centuries.
Rustic architecture is divided into :
– single-leveled house; sheds are usually built separately.
– 1-2 storied house, built especially in the mountain area but can also be found in the plains. The ground floor is used as cellar and storage room; if sheds are built separately, the ground floor is 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 the 6000 years old Cucuteni culture. The “bordei” type of dugout is found only in Romania, Moldova and Ukraine (with whom it shared Neolithic culture).
The porch (veranda) is an ever-present element in all Romanian rural houses. It is often times decorated either with flowers, or covered by vineyard leaves. The rooms have low ceilings with beams which helps mantain heat.
The houses are surrounded by gardens with flowers, homegrown fruits, vegetables, vineyards etc.
Architectural styles vary greatly, as can be seen in old photos taken in various regions (source: Imago)
The most simple traditional type of house was single-leveled and had a front porch.
Romanian peasant family house in 1894
Gates decorated with various astronomical motifs that date from the pre-Christian era. The solar sign is a legacy of the Cult of the Sun. The folk motifs are believed to protect the house, bring fertility and attract positive energy.
Wood, a plentiful resource in Romania, was always used in construction. Woven fences around the house were common.
House in Alba
House in Bran
House in Danube Delta, Dobrogea. Roofs are made of local reed, and colors are light like Mediterranean houses.
“Casa lui Closca” (Closca’s memorial house) – Romanian peasant who fought for the civil rights of oppressed Romanians in Transylvania. The memorial house, located in Rosia Montana, has a traditional rock foundation and front porch.
1901 Dambovita abandoned house built in traditional style
Traditional Romanian house up in the mountains of Transylvania. Colonizers established settlements in the plains and lower plateaus while Romanians had settlements higher in the mountains according to their pastoral life.
House in Buzau
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 of the Pagan symbols were 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, the newly-adopted Christianity continued to coexist along Pagan rituals until today.
The solar motif was found in almost every item of the household, along with other motifs. When Christianity appeared, a cross was included in the solar circle.
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.
Decorative motifs connected to older writings.
Unbeknownst to many is the fact that the old peasant houses carry astronomical symbols hundreds and thousands of years old – legacy stemmed from common universal values once shared by ancestors and other populations around the world.
The supporting poles of the pridvor (front porch) in most regions were often sculpted into the “twisted rope”, the symbol of infinity which is meant to protect the household from bad spirits and connects the earth to the infinite sky.
The infinity and the columns of the sky represented by “twisted rope” motif (funia răsucită sau împletită) found in the pillar of the front porch. This was believed to protect the house from bad spirits and connect 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 were 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.
A few other motifs: 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, some of them 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 this period onward, many symbolic paintings disappeared and are still disappearing from the exterior walls, being painted over or covered with another layer of cement.
1920’s peasant house in Romania. The ancient “tree of life” motif (pomul vietii) painted near the door – a sacred symbol found all across the ancient world and still present in Romanian art folk. After forced industrialization, many symbolic paintings disappeared and are still disappearing from the exterior walls, being painted over or covered with another layer of cement.
Cellar/ storage room
House in Valcea, Muntenia
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
Reconstruction (after Trajan’s column) of traditional Dacian dwellings
Traditional romanian house of Apuseni mountains
Saivan (sheep winter shelter)
Traditional houses in Salciua
Dugout house (bordei) – built mostly in flat regions, they are efficient as they protect from heat and cold.
Gorj traditional house dated 1802
Reconstruction of Ardeu Dacian citadel, dated 100 BC (source)
Reconstruction of Ardeu Dacian citadel, dated 100 BC (source)
Map of rural architectural styles in Romania
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 how history has affected their evolution – read here The Romanian village.