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Traditional architecture

Folk architecture

Visitors that venture on the roads to the more isolated mountain villages can still see many traditional buildings – genuine documents of our ancestors’ life. Unfortunately, they gradually disappear from the landscape to be replaced by modern, more comfortable buildings that may led to a uniform and far from the traditional style in the area.

The old buildings distinguish themselves by their smaller dimensions, much simpler technique, balanced proportions, and harmonious decorations. Until the end of the twentieth century, local inhabitants used to build their own houses, as the shapes and the technology were simple. Carpenters were hired only to build more important constructions such as mansion houses, churches, schools, houses with decorated Newly weds would leave their parents’ home, setting up their own household on the land given by their parents. Using the knowledge and experience of their elders, they would build the house they needed easily. They strictly observed certain stages and habits such as preparing the materials: the stone for the foundation, the logs for the walls, cut according to the specifications and needs and carved at the ends for joining; the beams, rafters, and laths for the roof, on which shingles were fixed with yew nails; the clay and the lime for plastering and whitewashing the walls. When all materials were ready, a voluntary collective work was organised with kin and neighbours. Within a few days, they would build a two- or three-room house such as Ion Creangă’s home in Humuleşti, or elsewhere where an elderly person lives (e.g. Gârcina, Piatra Şoimului, Borleşti, Roznov, Hlăpeşti …), or where a hearty heir still preserves the old house out of respect for their parents or grandparents. Building the old stables, livestock shelters, corn barns, fences, and plain gates was easier. People used light materials, e.g. branches, straw, and reed.

The dwelling – the most important construction in the household was build very carefully to satisfy a family’s living conditions. In the beginning, they used to build one-room houses but gradually they added the entrance hall, the larder, and the second room. Over the last half a century, people built houses with new plans and shapes.

The old house – the one-room one or the one with one room and an entrance hall has been the common peasant’s dwelling until very recently. The mountain house was built with joined rounded logs and covered with long shingles, whereas the house in the plain was built on rammed ground and erected on forks, and a thatched roof. The primary room in the old houses was the fundamental cell, which was the basis for later additions and development of all types of evolved traditional houses. The old layout inside the room expresses the steadiness of the people in Moldova and a certain social status: the large hearth with an oven and chimney, placed at the corner near the entrance; the bed on which the Sunday clothes were on display and the dowry chest at the end on which woven cloth and the pillows piled up; the long benches in the corner; the dish shelf behind the door; the low round table in the centre, with lots of low stools around, the crowds of children would race to; the earthen floor, bonded with clay, and the ceiling with beams, darkened from the fire in the hearth. The few woven cloth – wall rugs, bench rugs, and towels – woven in wool or hemp and decorated with stripes, i.e., “vrâste”, in vegetal colours would adorn the sober interior, with a faint light coming through the small windowpanes. A large peasant family would lead their life in such conditions throughout the centuries and even millennia. They would bring to life their children, bring them up, they would sleep, cook the meals, and the wives would spin the wool and weave all items that were necessary to dress the family members and to decorate the house. Moreover, still within this space they would spend the holidays, the evening sittings and would pass the traditions from mother to daughter, from father to son, in a harmonious and peaceful atmosphere, respect and faith. Of interest would be the fact that the more developed peasant houses have also observed the multiple functions of such a room.

The traditional house had two rooms, an entrance hall in-between and groove between the two slopes of the roof. This dwelling most appropriately met the needs of a diligent family. Each room had precise functions that were kept until the present times. The most important development was the aesthetics as people added a rich decorated veranda with a porch. This was worked in carved wood. In addition, the interior organisation underwent significant improvement such as rugs and embroidered wall rugs, curtains and pieces of furniture influenced by the urban style. Hence, the house became a useful and aesthetic ensemble – representative for the family’s social status and esteem. Strolling on the small street of the villages of Pluton and Dolia – Pipirig, Nemţişor-Vînători Neamţ, Curechiştea-Grumăzeşti, Ghindăoani, Mitocu Bălan-Crăcăoani, Cuejdiu-Gârcina, Poeni-Piatra Şoimului, Nechitu-Borleşti, and many others, to this day, one can admire houses with beautiful verandas that impress by their rich and harmonious distribution of decorative elements.

Stables, sheds, and barns have underwent a similar progress, from simple to complex, from archaic to modern, from the cheapest materials to more durable ones, from smaller shapes to larger and beautiful ones. From among these buildings, we mention the “breasted” stable that displays on the upper side fretwork called “flower façade.

The most important change can be seen at the entrance gate to the yard, which reached massive wooden shapes, with a high roof and sizeable dimensions. The gate elements were decorated with ornamental compositions, carved, sculpted or fretted, on the poles, large gate panels or the panels of the smaller gates for the people’s access, the eaves, and the “lids” of the roof. Displaying outstanding aesthetic qualities, the gate has become a means to represent the family’s prestige. Beautiful gates are still crafted in the villages at the foot of the mountains and the artisans try their hand with newly created or borrowed decorations.

Public buildings are part of the architecture of a settlement: the church, the school, the hospital and the apothecary, the inn, the village hall, the well and the wayside crucifix. These constructions have been built in shapes appropriate to their functions, observing the architectural style specific to the times and with dimensions that would suit the community. In the beginning, all looked like larger houses, more carefully worked and with more decorations.

The wooden church is the oldest, the most important and the most beautiful construction in a community. The main cultural and social buildings in the community developed around it. Stonemasons, carpenters, joiners, and icon painters have used for these churches the best and most durable materials and the most perfect tools and techniques, besides the most beautiful and imposing shapes. As they were intended to the small local communities, these wooden churches were small, but built with great skill and talent. In the county of Neamţ, there are many old wooden churches still in use, interesting relics and valuable documents that are now part of the historical heritage. From among such wooden churches we would like to mention some with exceptional artistic value such as the church in the Văleni district – Piatra-Neamţ, commissioned in the sixteenth century by Petru Rareş, Sagna (fourteenth century), Căşărie (1656), and Sărata (1752) – in the commune Dobreni, Pocrov – Neamţ Monastery (1714), Sihla-Vînători-Neamţ (1763 and 1813), Ţibucani (1774), Farcaşa (1774), the Vînători district of Piatra-Neamţ (1776), the Sarata district – Piatra-Neamţ (1780, moved on Mt Cozla), Bistricioara-Ceahlău (1780), Popeni-Pipirig (1807), and others. Many of the wooden churches, some rare beauties, were unfortunately lost due to time or the elements, e.g. Bîrcu-Goşmani – commune Români (early eighteenth century, destroyed by a storm in 1950 and rebuilt in the Bistriţa Monastery graveyard ), Cozla, in Poiana Draga, on Mt Cozla – Piatra-Neamţ, and many others. These numerous testimonies of spirituality are genuine folk architecture jewels, built in the most authentic Moldavian style. Alongside the medieval monuments in stone or brick in Piatra-Neamţ, Târgu Neamţ, Războieni, Tazlău, Vânători-Neamţ, Agapia, Văratec, Sihăstria, and others, the wooden churches are the pride and joy of the landscape in the Neamţ area, proudly carrying their legends and historical meaning. In order to see them, visitors should venture on side-routes, along the valleys, in the quiet woods or wilderness of the rocks and cliffs, where people used to hide them from the eyes of the evildoers.

The public schools founded in mid-nineteenth century were built in wood or brick. Among the first and largest was Schola Poblica in Târgu Neamţ, built in 1852. The number of schools in the early twentieth century increased under the guidance of Spiru Haret, minister of education, when the school-house-type, i.e. Casa Şcoalelor, was widely spread. Some of them have survived in Piatra-Neamţ, Vînători-Neamţ, and Cracăul Negru.

Inns or highway inns were built in large numbers throughout the Neamţ County, as this was the crossing area between Moldova and Transylvania, between Bucovina and Muntenia, with a high density of circulation of people and goods, with many modern tourist and cultural sights.

Among the highway inns, we mention those in the villages of Şerbeşti-Ştefan cel Mare, Oşlobeni-Bodeşti, Girov, Urecheni, Răbâia-Petricani, Roznov, Bălăneşti, Boureni-Roman and those in many of the market towns Neamţu, Piatra, and Roman. Hanul Ancuţei [Anca’s Inn] Mihail Sadoveanu’ immortalised in his prose resisted to the test of time, was restored in 1967 and is now opened to the public.

There were many smaller inns in villages Ghigoieşti-Girov, Corni-Bodeşti, Vad, Unghi, and Cârligi – the commune Ştefan cel Mare, Bălăneşti, Tazlău, Bozieni, and many others, among which a notable one, Hanul de la Cârligi, in the commune Ştefan cel Mare, remained in its original form

Traditional folk architecture has a special aesthetic and documentary value, i.e. knowledge, experience, craft, feelings, and a multitude of meanings that the words house and hearth include, such as the native village, the parents’ home, and the holy family.

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