Category Archives: Weekly secret

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Martisor tradition in Romania

By | Must read, Traditions, Weekly secret | No Comments

The “martisor” is a red and white string offered as a talisman at the beginning of spring. One folk tale says that the string was spun by Baba Dochia, a mythological old woman identified with the return of spring. During the first nine days of March Baba Dochia spins the wool thread next to her sheep, wearing nine sheepskins that she takes off one at a time each day. As she sheds the sheepskins, the weather gradually turns warmer. She uses the red and white wool to make the threads, the former symbolizing winter and the passing year, the latter a sign of spring and renewal.

In the old days the “martisor” was an important custom, the peasants offered close ones lucky charms or twisted wool threads to protect them from disease and bad luck. With time, a coin recalling the sun was added to the thread.

Since then the “martisor” took various forms. I can’t recall how it was during my grandparents’ time, but I like to think it was simpler than today. Whenever the 1st of March is approaching I find myself looking for the traditional “martisor” which carries some meaning. The list below revolves around the “martisor” that has motifs, fabrics, techniques or inspiration of a traditional nature. For me they’re all beautiful, simple, bearing a story.

The list below revolves around the “martisor” that has motifs, fabrics, techniques or inspiration of a traditional nature. For me they’re all beautiful, simple, bearing a story.

Daciana Ungureanu – Everlasting signs

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In the past few years Daciana, an artist from Novaci with a passion for the traditional values, has been a savior in my quest for the “martisor” as every year she has a different collection of a traditional vein. You can contact her on the Daciana Ungureanu Ethnographic Collection Facebook page.

Mesteshukar Boutique – Shukar Martisor

Mesteshukar

Mesteshukar ButiQ (MBQ) is an active supporter of revaluing the traditional crafts of the Roma people. They have recently opened a showroom on Edgar Quinet No 7 in Bucharest, and can also be found at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Stockholm with an exhibition called Nomadic Design Practices.

The Paper Mill – Cărţişor

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The Paper Mill (workshop on paper making, binding, calligraphy, painting) envisages the “martisor” as a book with covers of handmade paper and pages of recycled paper containing poetry about spring. You can contact them at echipa@moaradehartie.ro or on their Facebook page. Their work can be found at Sophia Bookshop and the English Bookshop in Bucharest, and it’s also available for shipping.

Ionela Lungu – Figurines

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Ionela Lungu is an artist, modeller in clay, photographer and wizard who brings to life figurines based on the characters of Ion Creanga. She charms with photographs of The Ozana River and stories from the Humulesti village. If we are really lucky we can meet her at fairs in Bucharest, Suceava and Iasi and hear her stories live.

Painted Gifts – wooden martisor

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I know Andreea from the entrepreneurship courses we have attended together. We
haven’t got on well with the paperwork and financial tools, but our passion remained unscathed. She has always painted and the muse sometimes even visits her at night, with T-shirts, gift boxes, furniture and painted rooms as proof. She recently started painting martisor on ceramic, wood, fabric, some of them turning into fridge magnets. For orders contact her on her Facebook page Painted Gifts – Cadouri Pictate.

Village Signs – traditional martisor

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I found their Facebook page with photographs of traditional stitches and crafts, which I recommend for their attention to detail. Orders can be placed via private Facebook messages on their page Semnele Satului.

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Kule. Romanian fortified houses

By | Destinations, Must read, Oltenia, Rural break, Weekly secret | No Comments

In Romanian architecture, kula means a type of fortified house, with a simple and compact aspect, with a square or rectangular plan, built on two or three floors. It had the main role of defense, but also of surveillance and living space.

The kule were built by southern Romania’s noblemen in order to defend themselves from the Turkish predator gangs coming from the Danube. Because of their uniqueness, the houses were proposed for the UNESCO world heritage list. The name “kula” comes from the Turkish word kale or kule, meaning tower. There were a lot of them in Oltenia (the southern part of our country), but, unfortunately, out of hundreds of such wealthy houses, only 27 survived (now listed as Romanian historical monuments). More than half of them, without the chance of turning into museums, are in very bad shapes or just ruins now.

Why do we know this word and where have we seen a kula?

  • From Greuceanu, a Romanian fairytale written by Petre Ispirescu. „Greuceanu went to the Green Forrest kula, opened the door with the Dragon’s finger and found there the sun and the moon. He took the sun in his right hand and the moon in his left, threw them up in the sky and everybody was happy.”
Kule. Romanian fortified houses

Ilustratie din basmul Greuceanu

  • from Aferim, Radu Jude’s Aferim! movie, winner of Berlin’s Silver Bear. Talking about the places he found for the movie sets, Jude says: „It was a bit hard to find them, because nowadays it is not simple to find places untouched by modern things like electricity, for example. Part of the set was in Dobrogea, Haleș Monastery near Buzău, cula Greceanu near Horezu, from Măldărești, forests near Bucharest. We kind of searched through all Țara Românească (Romanian Country, southern part of now Romania, where all the action is taking place)”
Kule. Romanian fortified houses

Scena din Aferim – cula Greceanu, Maldaresti

  • From the descriptions of the NeoRomanian style by Valentin Mandache: „One of the first classical NeoRomanian style buildings, which still exists in Bucharest, is the Doina restaurant building, designed in 1892 by Ion Mincu, a famous Romanian architect. Here we can clearly observe in the center of the building the kula prototype, with its fortified bastion like a main element of structural diagnostic and byzantine decorative components, peasant ethnographic motifs and Turkish decorative models.”
Kule. Romanian fortified houses

Bufetul de la Sosea – actualul Restaurant Doina

How do we visit these Romanian fortified houses?

Because the kula structure is so compact, our first reaction is to say „if I see one, I have seen them all”. What is really impressive, despite the present state of these buildings, is that they resisted through all these centuries and they can still tell their own stories.

  • A first way of seeing them is through museums. Among the most popular ones are those included in Curtișoara Gorj’s Traditional Museum Complex: kula Cornoiu and kula Tătărescu. Also, in Măldărești Muzeum from Vâlcea we have kula Greceanu, kula Duca and, also in Vâlcea, kula Bujoreanu from the Traditional Architecture Museum in Bujoreni.
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Kula Duca

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Kula Duca – the retreat door, used whenever the invaders came

Cula Greceanu

Kula Greceanu

Before hitting the road, read the story of the kula you are about to visit. You will find out that most of them have 80 cm thick walls, that when enemies were approaching, the servants would hide the animals in the basement. The noblemen were first hiding at the first floor and they used to put a big wooden stick to surely block the door. If the first floor would become insecure as well, they would climb up a rope, to the defense tower. They would pull out water from the basement well, they had food, they also pulled up the rope/ ladder and waited for the danger to pass. Back in 1700, danger didn’t mean a bomb, so the tower was safe enough.

  • Another way to visit these houses is to book a few nights in a kula. Near Măldărești Muzeum Complex there is Maldăr’s Mansion, a rebuilt kula, initiative of Vasilescu family, opened for the public since 2012. The thick walls, the original oak doors, the vintage furniture and the restaurant food will take you back in time. Although captain Maldăr’s legend has its origin on the kula Greceanu domain, here you can get the stories with all your senses. It appears that the captain was captured by the tartar ruler in one of the tartars invasions. He fell in love with the ruler’s daughter and she obtained its pardon. He came back with the beautiful daughter as his wife and with money. (the term Maldăr means pile in Romanian, and in this context, maldăr was used in „maldăr de bani” – pile of money, or „maldăr de dușmani” – pile of enemies).
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Kula Zatreanu

Kula Zătreanu (also in Vâlcea) was also bought by a businessman who wants to make a mansion out of the XX century kula extensions (Boicescu Mansion) and a museum out of the kula which nobleman Radu Zătreanu built in 1754.

  • The third option is becoming an apprentice in one of the architecture and restoration workshops
    organized by Pierre Bortnowski (inheritor of cula Cornoiu) and Artis Organisation. In 2015 they worked on the shingle roof of the mansion, in 2014 they restored the wooden work, in 2013 they covered the house with new shingles.
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Kula Cornoiu – photo Artis Peritia

  • The forth option is to ask the locals or owners to tell you about the houses. That is how we saw kula Zătreanu and kula Sultănica from Șuici, in Argeș.

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Our big plan is an Oltenia tour, that will happen this year in June, which will include these marvels. Our smaller plan is a special trip, with and about kule. If you want „one-shot” trips, we will also have trips in Oltenia and Muntenia which will include seeing one of the Romanian fortified houses on the way. Find more about what are we planning for you on our Join us on trip! page.

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Nicolae Balcescu Mansion and history

By | Destinations, Muntenia, Rural break, Trips, Weekly secret | No Comments

The indicator to Bălcescu Mansion first appears somewhere after Dedulești, at the foothill of Meridionali Carpathians, when you are almost in Râmnicu Vâlcea. If you are travelling a lot to Transylvania and Oltenia, you cannot miss it every time you pass by, so you start growing a curiosity regarding the place.

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Here, mansion means a house in the Romanian Brâncoveanu style (refers to houses built during 1688-1714, when Constantin Brâncoveanu was the ruler of Wallachia – Țara Românească – the southern part of now Romania), with gothic influences, built up a hill in the first half of the 19th century. The kula (fortified house built in 18th-19th centuries) near the gate, the counter forts, the big veranda windows, the two staircases which lead to the main entrance are enough for the architecture geeks to congratulate themselves for taking a detour and visiting this place.

Nicolae Balcescu’s home

The mansion belongs to the family of Nicolae Bălcescu – a Romanian Wallachian soldier, historian, journalist, and leader of the 1848 Wallachian Revolution. He was born in 1819 in Bucharest and died in exile, in Palermo, aged 33. His family was of low-ranking nobility back then, but looking at the house we would say they were rich.

He was a passionate scholar, furthering his history studies in France and Italy. His liberal views, together with those of his friends that studied in Western Europe, helped the 1848 revolution in Wallachia (back then Romania did not exist). He was, for just two days, both Minister and Secretary of State of the provisional government put in place by the revolutionaries.

You will not find everywhere a house that can take you back two centuries ago. Once you enter, time travelling starts. You step into the saloon, in the dinning room, in Bălcescu’s family bedroom, you come across the place Nicolae Bălcescu grew up with his mother and his four brothers. How they all used to fit in the last room’s small bed remains a mistery…

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You step on the same floor he did, you watch the same beams he did. You admire the garden and the back green hill and you think how much he had to miss these images when he was denied access into our country and he had to die exiled, in Palermo (after the Ottoman Empire restrained the revolution in September 1848, Bălcescu was first arrested, then exiled by the Habsburg Empire).

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Unfortunately, time travelling doesn’t last for long. You can enjoy the Biedermayer furniture only in four rooms, the traditional carpets, ceramics by Corbi (a famous pottery center, which lost its craft in the last ten years) and by Curtea de Argeș. In the other rooms of the mansion we can see an exhibition dedicated to Nicolae Bălcescu, the kind that bores and amazes in the same time.

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Amazes because it is the same for years, so you can see the great communist way of decorating: glass panels for maps and documents, with black letters carefully glued on them, wooden showcases used to present very important documents. It becomes boring because of the same reasons. The exhibition is not doing much for making the regular visitor, Romanian or foreigner, to get closer to Bălcescu’s figure and to understand a bit more about his role in the 1848 big changes.

He was a liberal militating for the introduction of the universal vote and for the peasant appropriation. The revolution didn’t achieve its targets at the moment, but in early 1859, at the close of a turbulent period, Wallachia and Moldavia entered a personal union, later formalized as the Romanian United Principalities, under Moldavian-born ruler Alexandru Ioan Cuza (himself a former revolutionary). Cuza followed the revolutionaries goals and achieved numerous reforms that helped the peasants and the establishment of more modern times.

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Fortunately, at the end of the exhibition tour you end up in the veranda and wonder if you could stay there for hours, with a book and a cup of tea and you would look for inspiration, as the artists who came here probably did. In 1948, Radu Mandrea, one of the Bălcescu family descendants, was forced to donate the domain to the State. A few years later, the communist regime found a big interest in Bălcescu’s figure and the place was transformed into a museum.

On a more happy note, there’s still the garden. With Bălcescu family’s church, moved out of the village, into the mansion domain, with Sevastița Bălcescu’s grave (Bălcescu’s mother), with a big yellow magnolia. The place gives a good vibe, so you might consider taking a blanket and some sandwiches along, for a small picnic.

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Good to know

  • When you enter the gate, there’s a strong ring letting the museum personnel know they have guests, so if you are a big group, you might want to go in all at once.
  • The entrance fee is less then 1 EUR per person; the fee for a guided tour is 1 EUR and the photo fee is also 1 EUR

Our big plan is an Oltenia tour, that will happen this year in June, which will include Nicolae Balcescu Mansion. Our smaller plan are special trips in Oltenia and Muntenia which will include seeing this jewelry on the way. Find more about what are we planning for you on our Join us on trip! page.