Public Works From The Time Of Carol I. Acts Of Founding And Commemorative Medals By Nicolae Şt. Noica

clockwise from top left (see also What's old in Gallery): The Athenaeum, The National Bank, The Palace of Justice, CEC Bank, Romanian Peasant Museum, Domnita Balasa Church, Gheorghe Lazar School, University (detail).

(Lucrări publice din vremea lui Carol I. Acte de fundare şi medalii commemorative), preface by acad. Mugur Isărescu, Governor of the National Bank of Romania, edition supervised by Stelian Ţîrlea, Cadmos Publishing House & Kultura Association, 2008, 176 pages.
Many of the public works built then are still standing erect and represent, through their distinction, monumentality, and attention to artistic detail, a coat of arms of the cities in which they stand.
No one can contest the fact that the 48 years in which king Carol I ruled the country changed the face of Romania. In less than a half of a century, a quasi-feudal country, underdeveloped, still trying to find its own identity (the union of the principalities of Moldova and Wallachia had just taken place seven years before) has passed through several stages of development, gaining at the end of the period the status of a modern kingdom, about to synchronize itself, from all points of view, with the European civilization of those times.
At his arrival in the country, in 1866, the very young German prince was about to suffer a shock. Accounts from that era talk of the pestilential atmosphere of a Bucharest that was enveloped in dust – or sunk in mud, depending on the weather – in which people defecated nearby fences or next to the corners of a house and dead animals were abandoned in the middle of the street, from where the dead bodies were picked up days or weeks after the smell became unbearable. The desolate landscape, the Romanian way of living, and the habits of Phanariot origin caused several moments of depression to the young Carol, who after the first five years spent in Bucharest, was convinced with great difficulty not to quit this oriental adventure in favor of a comfortable life at home. Fortunately, the versatile politician Ion C. Brătianu as well as other counselors convinced him to continue. And the results did not have to wait long to appear, especially after securing of the country’s independence (1878) and the transformation of the United Principalities into the Kingdom (1881).
Carol I’s era can be called the act of birth of the Romanian modern civilization. To it are accredited the founding of the institutions fundamental for the functioning of a modern state, as well as an architectural boom that gave Bucharest the face of an honorable European capital, and most of the cities throughout the country engaged as well in a competition for renewal and development. Many of the public works built then are still standing and represent, through their distinction, monumentality, and attention to artistic detail, a coat of arms of the cities in which they stand. The Buzău-Mărăşeşti railway, the bridge at Cernavodă, the harbor of Constanţa, the Romanian Athenaeum, the National Bank of Romania, the Palace of Justice in Bucharest, the Palace of Justice in Galaţi, the CEC Palace in Bucharest, the Ministry of Agriculture, Commerce and Estates, the Palace of the Chamber of Commerce (presently the headquarters of the National Library) the Ministry of Public Works (presently the City Hall of the Municipality of Bucharest), the Geological Institute (presently the National Geology Museum), the National Museum (presently the Romanian Peasant’s Museum), the Palace of the University of Bucharest, the National School of Bridges and Roads, the School of Arts and Industries of Bucharest, the Higher Veterinary School, the “Carol I” National College of Craiova, the “Gheorghe Lazăr” National College of Bucharest, the Domniţa Bălaşa Church, the St. Nicholas Cathedral of Galaţi, the Cathedral of Constanţa are the most important edifices built from public funding during the reign of Carol I. To these we must add the private residences of Bucharest and other important cities, all giving Romania its modern face, so familiar to the generations that followed. How was this miracle of development possible? Where did the ideas come from, what were the materials used for the construction of such durable edifices, and, first of all, how did they raise the money for the almost simultaneous achievement of so many extremely expensive projects?
The charming album of Nicolae Şt. Noica, Lucrări publice din vremea lui Carol I. Acte de fundare şi medalii commemorative (Public Works from the Time of Carol I. Acts of Founding and Commemorative Medals) offers an explanation of the mystery. By studying the archives, the author reveals a type of organization in which responsibility, earnestness, professionalism and care for the correct spending of public money were not just empty words. From the way that the building funding documents are written (the esthetics of pagination, the editing style, the fact that the papers were signed by all those involved, from the king, the Royal House representatives, all members of the government to the… electrical engineer), the earnestness of the contest, with the participation of the most famous international firms of that time, for the selection of the most appropriate project and of the team to put it into effect, all generates a generous enthusiasm and the sincere ambition to build it solid. Furthermore, as it is well emphasized by Mugur Isărescu in the preface to the volume, ever since the moment of the Profession of oath and faith, on 10th May 1866, Carol I told Romanians about “an internal plan of modernization of the economic, political and military structures of the county.”
The album Public Works from the Time of Carol I. Acts of Founding and Commemorative Medals is a masterpiece in the true meaning of the word. Of an impeccable graphic quality, rich in illustration, in which archive and present-day images make an arc over time; it is made to be read breathlessly, proving that, if there is talent and passion, the distance between engineering and art is not really that big as some would think. “Narrated” by a refined spirit, such as Nicolae Şt. Noica, engineering becomes pure art, capable of bringing joy both to the eye and the mind.
Browsing this wonderful book you can’t avoid asking yourself, horrified, what’s happening to present-day Bucharest? How can it be permitted to construct near these edifices built with love, material sacrifices and infinite care for detail such deformed mastodons, whose place, one can tell even from the Moon, is not there. If nothing will happen and the various urbanism and historical monuments protection committees will continue to react in the same standards as in the last years, the architectural identity of Bucharest will be completely compromised in the shortest time possible. Left in the hands of incompetent and/or corrupt civil servants, the face of the Capital is becoming, day by day, increasingly hideous.
The exquisite album by Nicolae Şt. Noica, Public Works from the Time of Carol I. Acts of Founding and Commemorative Medals, brings back to memory the “Little Paris” and makes us suffer even more the gashes on contemporary Bucharest’s bleeding heart.
Romania literara weekly, May 30, 2008
Translated by Max Gavrilciuc 

by Tudorel Urian