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.
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.”
Based on this belief, the Romanian peasant considers that his house is the center of a spiritual life…
Until the beginning of the 20th century, the traditional house was a single-storey structure, built of adobe, or with logs, employing corner joints.
The roof was initially thatched, or covered with spruce shingles (dranita, sindrila).
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.
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.
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.
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.
On her wedding day, the peasant woman’s dowry was exhibited on prispa.
Christmas carolers were singing the songs here.
It’s where they used to store the gifts for the dead on the day of the funerals.
Some women were casting spells from the prispa.
In summer, the family used to sleep here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
According to the traditional mentality, every essential event (birth, wedding, death), had to take place at home, otherwise it was considered atypical.
Ernest Bernea – The Romanian Village Civilization, Ed. Vremea, Bucuresti, 2006.