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Braşov. Atmosphere, architecture and urban space. An urban anthropology exercise

A photography concept-exhibition
2022, December 16 – 2023, April 02 | Art Museum Braşov, Romania

The exhibition presents pairs of twin photographs emblematic for the architectural and urban development of Braşov. The photos are part of a research project I carried out (2009-2014), completed with the album Brașov. Atmosphere, architecture and urban space (2015). The idea was the symbolic closing of an arch over time, starting at the end of the 19th century and arriving at the beginning of the 21st century, presenting photographs taken in the present-day city from the same places where the old photographers took the photos in the past. The photos of the past come from the collection of the County Service of the National Archives in Brașov and from my personal collection, and those of the present-day city are signed by me. The project represents an extensive urban anthropological exploration in an attempt to demonstrate that the city is alive and that, even if, one by one, fortifications, buildings and urban spaces, were built, transformed, demolished, replaced (in the natural attempt to respond to the challenges of each present from the past and to the particularities of the various changing ways of life), it experiences the paradox of constantly transforming and, at the same time, remaining the same. The generative idea of ​​the research relates to understanding the fact that, beyond the transformations that both the city, on the scale of its life, and man, on the scale of his life, experience without being able to oppose time, neither the city nor the man are finite entities, but permanently in states of mutatis mutandis, the only thing that can remain through time being an intangible one: the emotion of our connection with our city. The opening of the exhibition took place on Friday, December 16, 2022, with the famous aria Crai Nou, from the operetta of the same title composed by Ciprian Porumbescu (1882), the first operetta in the Romanian language, whose first performance took place 140 years ago in Braşov. The exhibition was introduced by professor architect Augustin Ioan, Ph.D. (Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism, Bucharest), architect Răzvan Dracea (president, Romanian Order of Architects, Braşov-Covasna-Harghita Branch), art historian Radu Popica, PhD (Art Museum Braşov) and Bianca-Maria Bălşan (manager, Art Museum Braşov).

inside expo

inside expo

Cultural events during the expo (photo sources/credits: public Facebook and/or Instagram profiles of Brasov Art Museum. Thanks to Brasov Art Museum and to all the entities that chose my exhibition as the setting for related cultural events. Thanks to Brasov Art Museum for hosting and reflecting these events in media.

emblematic photos

walking inside

about Brașov with love

The present Brașov of the past and the past Brașov of the present

Corona, the first documentary mention of Brașov, dates from 1235 and can be found in Catalogus Ninivensis. Many centuries snowed, blossomed, riped and dried over Brașov and many lives, step by step, appeared and dissapeared in Brașov, leaving various signs in our consciences and on the body of the city underneath theTâmpa mountain. Of course, the architects’ perspective, by chance or not, born in Brașov is a privilege for an easier immagination exercise. But no immagination exercise is complete without the main character of this project.
She arrived in Brasov in 1842. Explorer by vocation, she started to travel all over the city, to discover it, to make friends and the community accepted her since with all her qualities and flaws. She is Photography and this project is a recovery approach: it is an attempt to reconstitute the history of the urban transformations preserved in over 170 years of photography in Brașov of Brașov, from the moment photography arrived in the city with the first photographer of the city, Gottfried Barth, to 2015 when the city celebrated 780 years of documentary mention.
Photography’s arrival in Brașov is at a distance of 16 years compared to the “unofficial” moment of the invention of Photography, c.1826, when Nicéphore Niepce (1765-1833) obtained a heliogravure considered the first photography of the history – Point de vue pris d’une fenêtre du Gras a Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, at a distance of only three years from the “official” birth date of the photography – January 7, 1839 when the French Academy of Sciences recognized the invention, at a distance of only one year from the moment when W. H. Fox Talbot invented the negative/positive photography in 1841 – calotype, and four years before the apparition of the world first book illustrated with photographs – The Pencil of Nature, realized by Talbot in 1846.
Photography literaly means writing with light from the greek words phos, photos – light and graphe, graphein – to write. The photography forerunners have written with light and we are doing the same thing each time we “make” a photography, most of the time without remembering an over two centrury history of efforts, passion, courage, enthusiasm and human ingenuity related to photography. If photography had been only a few decades late a whole visual history of mankind would have been lost if we only think at the big Albert Kahn’s project, The Planet Archive.
If photography had arrived a few decades later than 1842, the whole visual history of the urban transformations of the second half of the XIXth century and at the beginning of the XXth century would have been lost together with the men, places, events, art and, architecture and the urban scene we see now written with Light.

I. From Solomon’s rocks (Pietrele lui Solomon) through Schei and Groaveri towards Prund
The whole area of Brașov’s Schei makes gradually and in the most extraordinary way the transition from the intramuros urban world of the fortified city to the nature. The streets are sinuous, waving along the valley, and the houses, the yards and the gardens seem as if they have been weaved one nearby the other. Everything seems like melting into the forests protecting with a big hand this old place of Romanian soul having as symbolical heart the St. Nicholas Church. Everything seems as if it is preserved by its inhabitants in order to to be permanently discovered. The life here is slow and quiet, with an old and untroubled rhythm except maybe once a year on the Junilor parade from the Tomii Sunday (the first Sunday after the Orthodox Easter), starting from the Unirii Square, crossing all the old city and coming back through Schei at Solomon’s rocks for the final celebration. The meeting of Schei with the fortified city happens in Groaveri and Prund, a place of passage from the rural atmosphere to the rigid urban universe of the fortified city. This is the place where the Schei universe ends and the fortified city starts, the place where you can hear Brasov’s heart beating and pulsing louder and louder from the Council Square (Piața Sfatului).

II. From Prund on După Ziduri, passing by the White Tower and the Black Tower towards Livada Poștei
Behind the Walls (După Ziduri) promenade is the place of the teenagers’ intimacy, the place of the hidden and “guilty” walks, the quiet shortcut between Livada Poștei and Schei if you want to take a break from the city’s noise and excitement in a quiet walk with your thoughts. Behind the Walls promenade is a place of passages and of the well defined limits between different “worlds” even if it is about Schei versus Livada Poștei or urban world versus nature. Passing from Schei, Groaveri and Prund towards Livada Poștei I have the feeling I am a grain of sand in a clepsydra. Along the walls and the Graft brook or on the paths remained from the old Royal Promenade connecting Livada Poștei by the towers and the Belleview, the space and time are being redefined during the discovering and rediscovering of this place and it really takes you from one universe to another. In the same way Schei seems a cascade of little houses, narrow and sinuous streets and miniature gardens bursting from Solomon’s Rocks, Livada Poștei seems a cascade of large streets and promenade spaces and big buildings bursting from După Ziduri. The shadowed world of the limits abruptly changes in Livada Poștei in the sunny world of the great openings and transformations of the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. In an instant, here, the medieval city disappears: the time gets “flesh” and the space is re-written at a different scale compared to the medieval context from intramuros.

III. From Livada Poștei through Brașovechi and Blumăna to Under Tâmpa Promenade (Promenada de sub Tâmpa)
The whole journey from Livada Poștei and the old Royal Promenade towards Under Tâmpa Promenade, the entire urban creation called Aleea Rudolf, the little city’s Ring reminding of Wien, the entire transformation of the place that once was just another extramuros of the city is Brașov’s “ticket” for its status as cosmopolite city. Luckly photography arrived in Brașov in 1842! Big coincidence that all the great transformations of the city started by 1857, especially on this side in such a perfect position to be photographed from the Citadel’s Hill (Dealul Cetății) at that time free of tall vegetation. Big chance for posterity and for the photographers of the second half of the 19th century to have a period of 15 years to photograph the city before its big transformations and more, to be present to also photograph its change! Due to this context, we, the nowadays inhabitants, with our Brașov full of cars, noise, advertising and life in hurry, we can be the witness’ of the past, of the people from yesterday and of their own Brașov, calm, pigmented with carriages and coaches and having a peaceful life. If something gives the measure of Brașov’s transformations and of its entrance into modernity, this is the place, this sort of boulevard of the city of the monuments, coming from a forest of trees and diluting itself into a forest of houses.

IV. From Blumana on the Under Tâmpa Promenade (Promenada de Sub Tâmpa) towards Groaveri
The Under Tâmpa is the promenade of the official lovers, of the old ladies, of the families with kids, bikes, roller skates, trolleys, grandparents and nephews. The Under Tâmpa Promenade is the promenade of the old couples Sunday dressed, it is the perfect area for the daily jogging, it is the wooden benches’ universe letting you read the newspaper, commenting it and commenting in the same time the people passing by who surely make the same in your regards. The Under Tâmpa Promenade is the place of the conventional “official” Brașov, the perfect place for the people who want to escape from the city but not to far from it. Viewed, heard and smelled from here, the city is being perceived in movement, frame by frame, away but still at a human scale. From here one can also start climbing the path to Tâmpa Mountain if in need for more action and a bird perspective over Brașov and its surroundings. Walking on the top of Tâmpa Mountain is like a initiatic travel. The natural reservation offers surprises and revelations almost at every step, its paths are shadowed and painted with sun spots, the insects and the flowers seem jewels lost at every step and the peak of the mountain offers the city totally and in absolute value. How spectacular is the city-mountain relationship intermediated by the Under Tâmpa Promenade! How wonderful stays the Mountain near by Brașov! How beautiful stays Brașov under Tâmpa!

V. From the fortified city streets toward the Council Square (Piața Sfatului)
Symbolically, it seems that the historical Brașov is governed by the number 7 because this is the number of its historical districts: four in intramuros – Portica at South-East, Corpus Christi at South West, Petri at North-East and Catharina at North-West, and three suburbs – Brașovechi, around the St. Bartolomeu Church and the areas along the streets Lungă and De Mijloc, Blumăna, delimited by the streets Castanilor, 15 Noiembrie, Eroilor and Cuza Vodă and by the University Hill, and Schei, the old Romanian settlement on South West. This is my Brașov, not the entire urban area with the rest of its urban extensions in the work and “bedroom” quarters. I love this Brașov governed by the number 7! I love its human scale spaces and buildings, I love its unstandardized diversity, I love its perfume of history, I love its delicate atmosphere, I love the unexpected of its perspectives, I love its civilization of narrow passages and streets, this universe seeming as if it is hold in the palm of Tâmpa’s hand and of the entire valley. Especially I love my intramuros Brașov with its urban life and energy pulsing through all its streets as veins radiating right from its symbolic heart, the Council Square – Piața Sfatului. If I have to name only one thing that would catch Brașov’s identity, this would be its Agora, Piața Sfatului, the place from where all the roads come and go, all the meetings, all the stories, the space crystallizing the sense and the feeling of the place, a heart beating, the Axis Mvndi for me.