Monday, 29 April 2013

Mogoşoaia palace


Mogoşoaia palace, near Bucharest, was built by the great voivode and later martyr Constantin Brâncoveanu between 1698 and 1702, when the Dutch usurper, William III was on the thrones of England and Scotland. 

It always looked to me like an Indian palace and I found that there is a reason for this. Indian Mughal architecture is really Persian and Constantin Brancoveanu's buildings were very influenced by Persian styles. The Stavropoleos church, in the old town in Bucharest, is another good example. So is the church of Fundenii Doamnei, also nowadays in Bucharest.

The Romanian Orthodox Church a few years back canonised Stephen the Great (though my friend Emil Perhinschi, says Stefan cel Mare should be translated as Stephen the Old) despite the saint having been said to have had an illegitimate child in every town to which he laid siege. (I mentioned this to an extremely devout lady I know in Suceava country, who regularly takes food to hermits and attends Mass daily, and she said 'Well, he was a man.') Stephen the Great also impaled his enemies through their anal sphincters, just like Vlad the impaler and other mediaeval monarchs. I do think that Constantin Brâncoveanu, who was martyred, along with his family, because he refused to convert to Islam, would be a better candidate for canonisation. When his teenage son wavered about conversion to Islam,  Constantin Brâncoveanu encouraged him to be true to the faith.

On the subject of martyrdom, and without disrespect to these very brave heroes, I really fail to see why a forced conversion under pain of death matters.  This discussion, according to Gibbon, has been going on sotto voce since the reign of Nero.

Mogoşoaia was renovated by Princess Teresa Bibescu in the 1920s and the plaster removed to show the beautiful brickwork, a beauty purchased at the expense of anachronism, although, unlike with mediaeval and Tudor beam buildings in England, where I think the beams should not be exposed, I feel exposing the brickwork at Mogoşoaia was a good idea. Mind you, the attractive red of the bricks is one of the things that makes the palace remind me of one in India. 

British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith's daughter, Elizabeth Asquith, who married Prince Antoine Bibescu, lived here for some years. 

In the 1990s Mogoşoaia, then twenty minutes at most by car from the centre of Bucharest,  felt utterly rustic, but now the lake is fringed with the hideous villas of prosperous customs officers and police colonels.

My friend Sarah, or rather Silvia Colfescu on Sarah's blog, has written very interestingly about Mogoşoaia here. Rather than repeat or steal her information, I recommend you read her piece. There has been enough plagiarism in Romania recently.


  1. "King Stephen the Great"

    Not really a king :).

    Best translation would be the Italian "Doge" since the rulers were elected and responsible, very much like a Doge of Venice or Genoa, and many of their decisions were countersigned by their ministers.

    The formal election always took place, even when the "Domn" was appointed by the Sultan; before the Sultan started appointing the local rulers the elections were sometime formal, simulated under the threat of an armed force, but a lot of times without overt pressure, and virtually anyone could be a candidate to the position of "Domn" by using the subterfuge of declaring himself an illegitimate son of a former ruler or to be a descendant of a former ruler, including descendants (real or fake) of former Byzantine emperors, or descendants (real or fake) of rulers of the other of the two Danubian Principalities.

  2. Emil thank you for sharing your erudition. Actually I know 'King' is wrong - a slip which I now correct. Do you have anything to tell us about Mogosoaia or Brancoveanu?

  3. not sure the Mogoşoaia architecture is Persian, looks very Venetian to me: check out the funny arches on windows; the main difference is there are fewer windows, and the first level that is reserved for some firing slots near the service gates in the back. Brâncoveanu had another mansion built at Potlogi, not very far from Bucharest, in the same style. As I see it, it's a very traditional "cula" (a fortified mansion) with some Venetian architecture added on top to give the thick walls and the firing slots some glitter :). In the XVIIth century Italy was the favourite destination for ambitious and rich young men to get more education than the private Italian tutors could offer at home. Brâncoveanu himself had an Italian secretary, one Antonio Maria del Chiaro, who wrote some memoirs ( ) .

    Stavropoleos and most of the other late churches were built on a very Roman (well, late Roman) style, no Oriental influences there, especially no Persan influences since they had not much direct communication with Persia. I forgot the name of that particular style (it was something about a Greek crossthat) but I have it on good authority it's not Persian :) but a very standard way of building churches: the basic plan is the cross with short arms of equal length, and to that the more ambitious projects added a longer/wider nave, towers on top of the nave, made the lobes of the cross with straight walls and angular corners or with rounded walls etc. Stavropoleos was paid by one relatively rich merchant, so he went for the basics: the cross and a very short nave in front.

    Brâncoveanu was no saint, and the story about him being killed for the faith is apocryphal. He was involved in politics and intrigues from Moscow to Rome and from Vienna to Constantinople. He got involved with the a faction in Constantinople and when that faction fell into disgrace he followed his partners to the chopping block.

    1. Mogosoaia belongs to the Brancovenesc style (indeed heavily influenced by Venetian and Ottoman architecture), along with Stavropoleos and others.
      No architect on this pretty Earth of ours would have put firing slots on the first level of a palace because: 1) in this case, it mainly hosted the servants' rooms, and 2) the palace is placed in a courtyard and surrounded by defence walls, annexes and a lake. The dimensions of the windows are the result of various aesthetic and practical reasons.
      Tough to argue with an architecture student.

      The circumstances which brought Brancoveanu to Istanbul along with his sons and his son-in-law are much more complex in nature. There's Toma Cantacuzino and the Russo-Turkish War in 1711, the voievode's riches (considered fabulous because he basically bought the relations with the Porte) which the Turks searched for after his death and of which they found very little, his uncle, Constantin Cantacuzino, who wanted the throne for his own son, Stefan, and the list could go on.
      However, none of these was the decisive factor that led to his death. Before he was tortured and beheaded, he was given the possibility to live, conditioned only by his conversion to Islam. A clergyman would probably frown upon the simpleness of my explanation, but martyrdom, Mr. Wood, is basically one's refusal to give up their religion ended in death. Reason? "De cel ce se va rusina de Mine si de cuvintele Mele, in neamul acesta [...] si Eu Ma voi lepada de el inaintea Tatalui Meu, Care este in ceruri" translates, more or less, into "Him who will be ashamed of Me and My words, in this place [...] I will forsake before my Father, Who is in Heaven." Converting to another religion obviously applies. Therefore, Brancoveanu chose the eternal, spiritual well-being in Heaven over the ephemeral earthly one.
      Even tougher to argue with someone from the family - one with a lot of historians, by the way.

  4. Thank you. You know much more than I but what about carvings on the outer walls of Fundenii Doamnei?

  5. don't know much about Fundenii Doamnei and have not seen it

    this site agrees that some decoration there are very Persian, inspired from book miniatures ... "Remarcabil este decorul neobisnuit al fatadelor, care include motive ornamentale in stuc preluate din miniatura persana: masute cu vaze de flori, chiparosi, havuzuri, palate, ramuri inmanunchiate de lamai."

  6. Thank you - I think that Venetian architecture was influenced by the East but not sure if by Persia.