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Old Houses and their Meanings

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Old Houses from Romania and their Meanings

I have always had a strange feeling about the old houses. It has nothing to do with fear, it is much rather a curiosity and nostalgia. I try to imagine how life was back then, and suddenly that house becomes animated with peasants doing things. Then I wonder if these people ever imagined that their house will be abandoned…that is why we like to find them and bring a new life into them.

Romanian House

The Romanian Traditional House – Center of a Spiritual Life

“When God created the world, the Sun, the Moon and the Stars were walking among people, keeping them warm, so He didn’t think about offering the human being a shelter. Then, He got angry with people and moved the stars up into the Sky. People looked for new ways to protect against the cold and rain. They found shelter in caves, but, as their number was increasing, they needed more space. God demonstrated his love in goodness toward His creation, suggesting them to build houses on the ground.”

Traditional House
Traditional House

Based on this belief, the Romanian peasant considers that his house is the center of a spiritual life…
Romanian Traditional House

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the traditional house was a single-storey structure, built of adobe, or with logs, employing corner joints.
Corner Joints

The roof was initially thatched, or covered with spruce shingles (dranita, sindrila).
Traditional House

Traditional Barn

The mountain dwellings with taller roofs allow the rain and snow to run off easily.

Mystical Elements of a Peasant House

A domestic bird was sacrificed before starting to build the house. On foundation, they were putting coins and apotropaic texts.

Toader Hrib

Exterior carvings, such as the Sun, the Moon, two horse heads, the snake, represent solar symbols, which are meant to protect their house.

Prispa – A Mystical Space Where Rites Associated With Birth, Wedding And Death Were Taking Place.

Prispa, a built-in open platform, surrounding the outside walls, with a bench, a place to observe and to be observed, marks the crossover between public and private.
Museum House

A cerdac (gang) is a prispa with a balustrade, supported by carved columns, looking like a balcony, built in the facade, or in two or three sides of the house.
Romanian Traditional House

This construction not only offers protection against precipitations, but it is also considered a mystical space, where rites associated with birth, wedding and death were taking place.
Old House

On her wedding day, the peasant woman’s dowry was exhibited on prispa.
Old House

Christmas carolers were singing the songs here.
Romanian Traditional House

It’s where they used to store the gifts for the dead on the day of the funerals.
Romanian House

Some women were casting spells from the prispa.
In summer, the family used to sleep here.
Traditional House

The Threshold – Mainly Used In Rites Of Passage

Another element of magic and meaning is the threshold (prag), mainly used in rites of passage. The bride and the groom were received on the threshold by their godfathers and parents-in-law.
Traditional House

The Window And It’s Meaning

The small and low windows used to serve for kidnapping the girl whose parents didn’t agree with the relationship.
Old Window
If the family lost a children before, they would sell a newborn to a relative or a stranger through the window, and after a few hours, the mother would redeem the child with the same money she received. The redeem, together with the name change of the child were taking place on the prispa.
Carolers were hitting the front window with sticks, while singing Christmas songs.
Traditional House

The Stove (Vatra) – A Gateway To The Sky

The stove (vatra) is the central element in a peasant house, where the peasant woman and her daughters were preparing the food.
Traditional Stove
Besides this, vatra is considered a gateway to the Sky, a point of connection between Earth and Sky. To bring luck, the peasant woman was giving birth to her first child while sitting on the vatra. Here, they were treating the evil eye and foretelling the future. It was considered the most important, safe and sacred place of the traditional house.
On the other hand, the chimney was visited by witches, demons, the-one-who-flies (zburatorul). The “zburator” or “sburator” is the myth of a demon that takes the shape of a young handsome man, visiting women in their sleep. Dimitrie Cantemir wrote about the myth in Descriptio Moldaviae (1714-1716). Zburatorul appears as “a ghost, a young, handsome man who comes in the middle of the night at women, especially recently married ones and does indecent things with them.”
The soul of the dead people were leaving through the chimney.
Old Chimney

According to the traditional mentality, every essential event (birth, wedding, death), had to take place at home, otherwise it was considered atypical.
Straja Romania

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Ernest Bernea – The Romanian Village Civilization, Ed. Vremea, Bucuresti, 2006.


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