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.”
- 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)”
- 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.”
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.
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).
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.
- 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.
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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