Monday, February 18, 2013

Mogosoaia, Brancovenesc and other spelling bee challenges I've enjoyed

A couple of months ago, I partook in an architectural walking tour throughout the city of Bucharest.  I came away from it knowing two things for certain.

1. A ten minute explanation in Romanian can be boiled down to a one minute one in English. As the only foreigner in the group, I was grateful to have the guide translate his explanations for me but couldn't shake the lingering doubt that the soliloquy he had just given in his native language included more than just "This building was built in the 18th century. It is an example of the classic Brancovenesc style of architecture."- which brings me to the second thing...

2. There is such a thing as a Brancovenesc style of architecture and it is pretty spectacular. Particular to Romania, it is a mix of Italian and Ottoman styles and is named after Constantin Brancoveanu, the prince of Wallachia from 1688-1714.  Consequently, it is not surprising that one of the best examples of this style can be found at Mogosoaia Palace, Brancoveanu's summer home, just a short distance outside of the city. Recently, I had a chance to return to this most picturesque place.

I say return because back in 2005, when I first started coming to Romania, I took a city tour, led by my soon to be great friend, Laura, that included a visit to Mogosoaia. Of the many surprises that awaited us there, none was greater than strolling the palace grounds and coming across a prone, yet respectably massive statue of Lenin.  He, along with a Commie buddy of his, had been unceremoniously dumped in the backyard.

We had Laura ask the custodian why exactly they had these throwback to the country's past languishing on the grounds. Why not just dispose of them, as so many former communist countries have done? Her answer, which could not have been more perfect, "Just in case."

Sadly, my recent visit revealed that both Lenin and pal were evicted two years ago during the refurbishing of the grounds and adjacent park. When asked, again by Laura, where they might be, the new custodian suggested that perhaps Putin had repatriated them back to Russia.

What had not changed was the spectacular sight of the palace itself.  Kept in wonderful condition, it is now both a museum and a cultural center, hosting modern art exhibitions and concerts.

Armed with the knowledge I had acquired on the walking tour, I was able to better distinguish the various elements of the Brancovenesc style: the stone carvings, often in floral or geometric patterns, the arched windows, the prominent staircases and the proliferation of wide open spaces.

More than anything, I simply enjoyed having this fantastic place almost entirely to ourselves, something that I do not imagine is possible during the summer.  Yet, I am eager to return for a third time and check it out then, you know, just in case...

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