Roxana Coman: Dealing with a Contested Past? Ottoman Architectural Influence in Wallachia and Moldavia

The subject of Ottoman architecture in the Balkans has produced a vast body of research, either on regional, local or global scales, in the attempt to fully understand the phenomenon. Historians and architectural historians have attempted to categorize this type of heritage, have analyzed it from different perspectives, and architects have used it as a source of inspiration in their modern creations. Therefore, the issue of the Ottoman-Turkish house as it was named by Maurice Cerasi is a complex, multilayered and multinational one. However, one of the main aspects regarding this Ottoman heritage is how it was perceived during the age of nation building and immediately after.

The aim of my research is to decipher the transfer of symbols and meanings from Ottoman heritage in the Romanian countries. The Ottoman influence in Romanian residential architecture has gone through various stages: it became a significant part of the local architectural stylistic in the 18th century, it was gradually replaced by the more modern and fashionable Western trends with the beginning of the 19th century, and it coexisted with Western architectural language in the 19th (Romanit Palace, Văcărești-Bellu house, etc) and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The Neo-Romanian style integrates a series of Ottoman/Oriental elements into a style that is supposedly traditional. What can be ascertained so far is that the subject of the Ottoman influence in residential architecture or Ottoman heritage in the Romanian principalities was analyzed in a dissipated manner but there are still unanswered questions.

Romania was left with only a few known examples of Ottoman influence in residential architecture: a few houses in the former Armenian district in Bucharest (most notably Melik house), Hagi Prodan’s house in Ploiești, Manuc’s inn, Brancoveanu-Mavrocordat manor in Tătărani, Nicolau manor in Brazi, so on. Many of these examples are actually a combination of traditional vernacular architecture with various Ottoman/Balkan influences. Working under the assumption of a liminality of Ottoman influence in the civil architecture of the Romanian countries, I would surmise that the data is still insufficient to be able to answer it with certainty. The undeniable fact is that this type of architecture is present in the two former provinces of the Ottoman Empire and backed by different forms of sources, while the extent can cover merchants, boyars and some ecclesiastic architecture. The forms of this influence are diverse, which is congruent with other Balkan provinces. Moreover, there are questions that can only be answered with a more in-depth analysis and a case-by-case investigation such as: who were the master builders? What is the origin of the building materials? What do these houses add to the known connections between the Romanian countries and the other Balkan countries? With what regional style can we compare these houses to? Do ethnically-diverse owners equal a diversity in architectural forms? And so on. I intend to answer these question in the research project regarding 18th-century architecture in Bucharest. I would also stress the fact the previous attempts at constructing an extensive inventory of this type of architecture in the Romanian countries are incomplete to say the least.

Roxana Coman is a museologist working at the History Department of the Bucharest Municipality Museum, with activities ranging from museum education to research, curatorial practices and collection management. Her research interests include: Art History, Cultural History, History of Museums and Collections, History of Mentalities, Museum education. She has published widely in books and journals such as the Journal of Ottoman Heritage Studies and Brukenthalia. Orientalism as seen from the East and the Ottoman influence in Wallachia and Moldavia have been the main topics of her research so far, with her doctoral thesis being the stepping stone for research outside of the art historical approach on the presence of Orientalist themes in modern Romanian art in her MA and BA theses. Moving towards a cultural history of  representations and discourse about the Orient observed in the two Romanian principalities during the second half of the 19th century, Roxana’s doctoral research, conducted under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Viorel Panaite, and titled “Orientul și spațiul românesc: între model cultural și reprezentare (1856-1881)” (The Orient and the Romanian Countries: Between Cultural Model and Representation, 1856-1881), has taken into consideration the various instances in which the relation between what was considered to be Oriental and what was outlined as Romanian has been shaped.


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