A Museum-Synthesis Of The Romanian Ethnological Patrimony


The architecture of a country is, perhaps, the most accurate expression of its history, and nothing can give us a more certain insight into the past and more authentic knowledge of a civilisation.
By what it has achieved throughout time, Romanian architecture has, besides its beauty, this value of historical knowledge.Its monuments make up the living chronicle of the Romanian past. These particularly sensitive statements by architect George Mihai Cantacuzino synthesise the essence of the documentary value of architectural monuments. As a sign of the human presence within nature, as an expression of man's interior universe, architecture characterises the individuality of the community[1], simultaneously illustrating its social command, its material and technical potential and, last but not least, its artistic sensitivity. That is why the vernacular architectural monuments that have been transferred to the 19 open-air museums in Romania constitute reference points with a special documentary value. They have been selected by specialists according to rigorous scientific criteria as representative of an ethnographic area or a historical period. By becoming exhibits, these documents are subjected to preservation-restoration treatments that protect them from possible changes and deterioration they could have suffered in their original location, either because of natural conditions or because of neglect of the old buildings in the favour of the new. Romania is a country with an exceptional cultural, ethnologic and tourist potential. Its open-air ethnographic museums synthesise folk culture and civilisation from various areas (e.g. the open-air section of the Transylvanian Ethnographic Museum in Cluj or the Maramures Museum in Sighetu Marmaţiei) or from the whole country (the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum in Bucharest). Together with those organised thematically (the Museum of Pomiculture and Viticulture in Goleşti, the ASTRA Museum in Sibiu), they offer by their numerous monuments a serious documentary basis for supporting and illustrating the idea of the continuity, of the spatial and temporal unity, of the harmony of the vernacular Romanian architecture.The traditional Romanian village reveals a profound understanding of nature, which has resulted in its subtle placement in nature, sensitive discretion, steady harmony of the plane sequence, from the almost horizontal slant of the reed or tile covers to the immensity of the plains, from the steep four-sided roofs of clapboard or hay to the surrounding hills and mountains. The picturesque character of our villages is given by the lush vegetation, by the fact that, given their need for water, they often spread on valley slopes, integrating in the variety of landscapes[2]. The households, set at a distance from the lanes, stand out as points of intersection of the natural spaces and those created by man, as elements that involved the creative intervention of the peasant in nature.The traditional peasant house has always expressed the essential connection between peasants and nature. And this because the earth has offered the materials the house is built from, the mountains, waters and forests have determined the position of the settlements, and the sun movements have conditioned the orientation and grouping of the rooms. The first owner of a house would be the master mason or his apprentice. This direct, affective and effective participation in the building of the house gives it an initial soul, a unitary harmony obvious both in the exterior appearance and in the organisation of the interior. And although every house bears the seal of its creator's sensitivity and personality, as well as that of the natural and socio-economic conditions in which it was made, the traditional architecture of peasant houses is characterised, among other things, by a continuous spatial and temporal unity.We are going to mention several general features that can be found in all the regions of the country, obviously with certain variations depending on the local social and economic realities. A first thing to remark on is the isolated position the house usually has in relation to the other annex-buildings belonging to the household. Second, the house consistently faces east, south, south-east, it has "its windows towards the sun," as most informants say, and is at some distance from the lane. Another common feature is the plane arrangement of the main rooms in a single row, along the axis parallel to the orientation direction of the house.Various types of planes can be found in different areas in the same periods, functioning as constant elements of unity of the vernacular Romanian architecture. Their evolution can be chronologically followed and illustrated by the document-monuments in the permanent exhibition at the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum. Thus, the mono-cellular plane, which brings all the daily and festive activities of the family into one room, is illustrated by three exhibits from different epochs and areas: Zăpodeni, Vaslui, 17th century, Răpciuni, Neamţ, 19th century, and Şerel, Hunedoara, 19th century.The houses with a room and a hallway (Dumitra, Alba, 19th century; Sălciua, Alba 1815; Măldăreşti, Vâlcea, 1812; Năruja, Vrancea, 19th century; Mastacăn, Neamţ, 19th century), as well as those with a room, a hallway and a pantry (Moişeni, Oaş, 1780; Şurdeşti, Maramureş, 18th century; Straja, Suceava, 18th century) show how widespread these plane types were.Successive stages in the planimetric evolution of the traditional peasant house were determined by the appearance of the house with a hallway and two rooms, one for daily life, the other one receiving the function of representation ("the clean room," "the festive room"), as well as by that of the house with a hallway, two rooms and one or two pantries, used for storing food and various traditional utensils. Exhibits from Trăisteni, Prahova, 19th century; Chiojdu Mic, Buzău, 18th century; Stăneşti, Argeş, 19th century; Nereju, Vrancea, 19th century; Dumbrăveni, Suceava, 19th century; Sârbova, Timiş, 1821; Chereluş, Arad, 18th century; Tilişca, Sibiu, 1874; (houses with hallway and two rooms), as well as those from Câmpanii de Sus, 19th century; Şanţ, Bistriţa-Năsăud, 1896; Ruşeţu, Buzău, 20th century; Curteni, Vaslui, 1844; Fundu-Moldovei, Suceava, 19th century; Ostrov, Constanţa, 19th century (houses with hallway, two rooms and one or two pantries) illustrate the spatial and temporal continuity of this type of plane.The unity of plane arrangement of these houses is echoed by the structural unity of the interior organisation, in ways specific to every plane type. The major architectural element of the interior of a peasant house, irrespective of the plane type it belongs to, is the heat provider. This polarises a great part of the domestic activities: this is where the food is prepared, sometimes it allows for bread baking, at other times it has sleeping space, the smoke reaching the attic ensures the smoking of the produce left there for this purpose, and it always heats up one or even two rooms, by the so-called "blind stove" system. The heat provider is placed centrally in the house plane, so that the heat can be used to the maximum.The position of the "thermal block"[3] determines to a great extent the organisation of the interior and the placement of the furniture according to the weight centres: the hearth corner, the bed corner, the table corner. There is a whole range of object shapes, proportions and colours at work within the coordinates of this structuring network. It is a space where the talent and sensitivity of the builders and inhabitants are fully manifest, rendering each piece unique. The intimacy and warmth of the interior space, unifying features characteristic of peasant houses all over the country, are achieved by a rich and varied inventory of textile objects, furniture, ceramics, paintings on wood and glass, clothes, domestic utensils, as well as by the low ceilings with visible beams.[4]However, the interior space, so balanced and so harmonious, is not closed in upon itself, it is not isolated from the exterior but open to it through the porch. The porch – low or high, on one side only or on 3 or 4 sides of the house, with or without a lookout – dominates and determines the composition of the façades, ensuring the flow between the interior and exterior spaces. The unitary evolution of the porch can be traced by analysing some of the monuments in the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum, which come from different areas and periods – from the house from Şurdeşti, Maramureş, 18th century, with its horizontally spread foundations, to the house with an open porch from Straja, Suceava, 18th century; from the house with a porch with posts and without a parapet from Ostrov, Constanţa, 19th century, to the house with porch and posts and brickwork parapet from Stăneşti, Argeş, 19th century.The development of the peasant house along an axis parallel to the plane orientation towards the sun is noticeable in the façade, in the horizontality conferred by the parapet of the porch. Made of plastered brickwork or fretwork planks or planks joined by laths, the banister is the line of equilibrium of the composition, separating the registers of light and shadow and giving monumentality and plasticity to the façade.[5] In the low Carpathians area, the porch expands into a lookout, a dominant element that modifies the composition of the façade. Keeping its eaves at the same level as the rest of the eaves, preserving thus the initial volumetric unity of the house, the lookout does not appear as a foreign intervention but as a dynamic impulse coming forward of the façade.[6] Usually asymmetrically placed, it concentrates in its decorations all the talent and craftsmanship of the house builders. Monuments such as those from Chijdu Mic, Buzău, 18th century; Trăisteni, Prahova, 19th century; Măldăreşti, Vâlcea, 1912; Năruja, Vrancea, 19th century; Audia, Neamţ, 19th century; Voitinel, Suceava, 18th century, illustrate the unity of the way in which the spatial and structural problems have been solved, as well as the great variety in decorating Romanian lookouts. The horizontality of the traditional peasant house is determined by the three great plastic and volumetric registers, built from different materials and using different techniques: the foundations, the walls and the roof. The use of natural materials – stone, wood, hay, clay – as building materials all over the country, depending, of course, on the local geographical conditions, is an expression of the structural unity of Romanian architecture. The way of combining the materials, together with the purely geometrical forms of the walls and roof volumes, the subtle dosage of light and shadow and the harmonious colours represent elements of specificity and of connection to nature.The Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum is a museum-synthesis of the Romanian ethnologic patrimony, placed in the residential area of Bucharest, a dynamic capital whose cultural life is defined by the quality and complexity of the events it hosts. The museum is a place that concentrates Romanian tradition and spirituality, a place that defines and, at the same time, recovers our cultural identity. It possesses a wealth of exceptional monuments, objects and information. Preserving, restoring and displaying in the best of lights the values of this truly national museum have always been priorities, as well as elements of continuity, of the museological activities of the institution. The often tumultuous history of the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum records the alternation between periods of accumulation and periods of stagnation or even regress, determined equally by economic and political factors.The period 2002-2004 represents one of the most dynamic in the existence of the institution and is marked by its reclaiming of the central place it deserves in the cultural landscape of the country, both at a scientific level, by prestigious events and publications, and at a more popular one, by the complex activities oriented towards a large audience. The public is the main beneficiary of any museum's activity, and the fact that the number of visitors has doubled in 2004 in comparison to 2002, reaching 200,000, represents the most eloquent argument supporting the idea that the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum has risen from its own ashes. It is the most visited museum in Bucharest, the most visited open-air museum in Romania. It is a permanent invitation to come back but also an invitation to get to know directly the values of the Romanian cultural patrimony by starting on itineraries of cultural and ethnological tourism unique in value and picturesque character.
[1] Constantin Joja, Sensuri şi valori regăsite/Recovered Meanings and Values, Bucureşti, 1981, p.22[2] V. Caramazinu-Cacovschi, Peisajul estetic vitalizant/Vitalising Aesthetic Landscape, Bucureşti, 1978, p.119.[3] Petre Antonescu, "Despre casele ţărăneşti de la Muzeul Satului," în Studii şi cercetări de etnografie şi artă populară/"On the peasant houses in the Village Museum," in Studies and Research in Ethnography and Folk Art, MSAP, 1981, vol.1, p.58. [4] Constantin Joja, Sensuri şi valori regăsite/Recovered Meanings and Values, Bucureşti, 1981, p.22[5] Constantin Joja, Sensuri şi valori regăsite/Recovered Meanings and Values, Bucureşti, 1981, p.84.[6] Ibid., p.88.

by Iuliana Ciotoiu