Craiova is the county seat of the historical region called Oltenia, an ethnographic area located in south-western Romania (Wallachia). Given its closeness to what, up to World War I, were parts of the Ottoman Empire, Oltenia has been strongly influenced for most of its modern history by Turkish and Greek (neo-Byzantine) patterns in architecture and in other visual elements of local culture (peasant dress, carpets). It is important to state however that these patterns were organically blended with pre-modern Wallachian and Moldavian styles of houses and outfit which, in turn, included features of medieval Western Europe, of which the Gothic elements occupied a rather central position.

One architectural style that masterfully combined the Arab (Moorish) influences with the post-Byzantine ones, coexisting in the Ottoman Empire, and with the local Wallachian ones, was the late 17th-century so-called brâncovenesc style. This style was considered an original architectural expression of the area, and so it was revisited in the 20th century, particularly in the interwar time. It was then called neo-Romanian style and it became the official style of the expanded Romanian Kingdom. It came to include folk elements, as well, hence this vernacular tint along with the historicist appeal presented by the Ottoman and Byzantine imperial allusions was considered the suitable architectural expression of the newly formed state. As a consequence, many public buildings were built in neo-Romanian style in the years around WWI.

Craiova’s Administrative Palace, the Town Hall seat, and the County History Museum represent interesting examples of neo-Romanian style buildings. The current Administrative Palace was built in the years 1907-1913 after the plans of Petre Antonescu, one of the most important propagators of this style in Romanian architecture. The imposing building was constructed by the Italian engineer Giovanni Battista Peressutti, a name associated to many constructions in Craiova, in the said epoch, on the land detained by a rich family of boyars of Northern Oltenia-Hagiade. The current Administrative Palace of the county hosted in 1915 the county’s Museum of Ethnography and Ancient Art, and in the years 1916-1917, at the time when Craiova was occupied by the German army, the Direction of the German Railways. The Town Hall seat is today hosted in the Palace of the former Commercial Bank, a building that was planned in 1906 by Ion Mincu, the architect that established the neo-Romanian style and finished in 1916 by Constantin Lotzu, Mincu’s student. The Comercial Bank Palace belonged to a local Liberal Party politician and vernacular art collector, Constantin Neamțu. After Communists took power, the Palace became the branch of the Historical, Archaeological, and Ethnographic Sciences Academy. The current County History Museum building belonged in interwar time to Ramuri printing house, one of the most successful publishing houses of the time, in the entire country.

 

The attempt to build public buildings in neo-Romanian style, in Greater Romania, was something to be expected, given the connection that architects saw between the local specificities this style highlighted and the need to confer to the entire territory a common national identity. Nevertheless, the same architects combined masterfully the local and the international in the same span of time. Art Deco was a very popular style in Western Europe at the time. The supporters of neo-Romanian style did not hesitate to blend it with Art Deco. This time, the buildings were intended to express the very idea of Art Deco philosophy: modernity. In Craiova, civil engineers like the Italian constructor G.B. Peressutti built block-houses for offices and for living like the so-called Casa Albă (White House) and the current headquarter of one of the Commercial Romanian Bank on Olteț street. 

 

The already mentioned closeness to the Ottoman Empire still survives in a couple of buildings in Craiova. There are instances of buildings whose major influence is the Moorish style. Although built in the last years of the 19th century, the Minerva Hotel and Restaurant and this green chalet you see in the picture below display the purest Arab and Persian influences that one could find on a mosque’s facade. The Minerva Hotel and Restaurant was built in the years 1898-1903 after plans of the architects Thoma Dobrescu and D. Nedelcu. The ground floor was meant to be a passage-way whose exit was in the back street; on the ground floor, a shop, a cake-shop and a cafe were hosted too; the basement was accommodating the laboratory of the cake-shop. The first floor was hosting a club whereas the second floor was dedicated to the hotel rooms. It has been a restaurant and a hotel throughout its entire existence.

Many of Craiova’s prominent personalities, usually politicians, landowners, and/or public intellectuals were active in the capital of the Romanian Kingdom (1881-1921), later Greater Romania (1922-1940). This meant that Craiova was connected to Bucharest’s life throughout the most prosperous ages of the modern state: the years of modernization, at the turn of the 19th century, and the years of expansion and industrialization, between the two world wars. In the age of modernization, Craiova reflected the capital’s tendency of constructing public buildings whose major architectural influence was French academism and French eclecticism, just the way French was the major intellectual influence of the Romanian political and cultural life of the time. The most noteworthy buildings of the range are the current University of Craiova, the Court Palace, and the High School Carol I. The current University of Craiova building was initially the Justice Palace and it was planned in 1890 by Ioan Socolescu. Apart from French eclecticism, the facade displays marked neo-classic influences. The current Court Palace belonged to the Justice Palace. In addition, this one (see the entrance) presents floral elements typical to the neo-Byzantine style, but also Rococo influences seen in the decorations above the windows. The High School Carol I building is another nice example of French academism; it was massively re-built in the 1930s, following a major fire, and the team lead by G.B.Peressutti followed the original design.

Throughout modern times, Craiova was an important trading spot on the travel route spanning from Central Europe to the Ottoman Empire. Many regional traders came to Craiova’s fair to sell their merchandise and many local traders managed to become wealthy by selling their products to the nearby areas. This way, they could afford nice houses and good education for their children. Some of these houses can still be admired in the so-called old centre of Craiova, the trade centre; architects who were building similar houses in Bucharest were invited by the local traders of Craiova to plan their houses here too.  Few instances of these houses can be seen in the pictures below: French eclecticism at its best, sprinkled as it was by Baroque, Rococo, and stylized classicist features.

Another sign of the fact that Craiova was a site of foreign exchanges with Central Europe in the late 19th century is related to the existence of some local buildings that display the most popular style of the time in central Europe, the Jugenstil. The former Palace Hotel, currently administration office of Craiova’s Municipality Entity, was built in the years 1900-1905 based on the plans of the architect Otto Hesselmann. The majestic building that boasts Art-Nouveau (roof but not the cupola) and neo-Romanian patterns (windows) too hosted the National Office for Tourism (ONT), the CEC Bank. Some other Art Nouveau instances of houses are shown below. Nevertheless, French Art Nouveau is not as often met in Craiova as neo-Romanian style and French eclecticism.

This post ends with an interesting example of a church. It is a blend of brâncovenesc style (as seen in the brick structure), and neo–Classicist, Gothic, Baroque, and French eclectic decorations applied on the brick facade.  The church’s name is Saint Ilie and it is located in the very heart of the former trading centre, on the place of an older church, built in 1720. The damages suffered by that one following a destructive earthquake in 1838 led to multiple renovations with the financial assistance of the Otetelișanu family, one of the most known boyar family of southern Romania. These renovations that spanned in the subsequent 100 years entailed works of art authored by famous 19th-century Romanian painters like Constantin Lecca and Gheorghe Tattarescu.

Sources:

https://www.primariacraiova.ro/ro/cladirea-primariei-craiova

Fostul Hotel Palace, azi pavilionul administrativ al Primariei Craiova

https://discoverdolj.ro/places/biserica-sfantul-ilie-craiova-8lhvize_1eawyq

Editura si Tipografia Ramuri, Craiova

One thought on “When East Meets West in Architecture: Public Buildings in Craiova (south-western Romania)

  1. Yes, some very wonderful architecture there. A very nice blending of styles. Wasn’t sure what to expect in a city like this. But I was certainly pleasantly surprised.

    Liked by 1 person

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