A new geographical perspective on Prince Charles

Architects have, at the very best, an ambivalent attitude to Prince Charles. He is seen as being over-wedded to traditional architecture and as interfering in an unwarranted manner in planning decisions. And his pet project of Poundbury is largely seen as irrelevant and soulless.

Architects have, at the very best, an ambivalent attitude to Prince Charles. He is seen as being over-wedded to traditional architecture and as interfering in an unwarranted manner in planning decisions. And his pet project of Poundbury is largely seen as irrelevant and soulless.

So it was interesting on a recent visit to Romania (and admittedly among non-architects) to see how differently he is regarded there. It is not so much that his attitudes are different as that they seem more relevant there.

Romania has, despite the worst efforts of Ceaucescu, deeply rural traditions. It is a beautiful mountainous country covered in the forests that have sustained grazing and bears and wolves. There is a feeling now that there is enormous financial pressure from without and from corrupt officials to exploit the country for short-term gain. Prince Charles, with his love of tradition, seems to fit right in.

In the Saxon village of Viscri, near Brasov, Prince Charles has become part of the effort to preserve the village’s architecture despite the fact that most of the Saxon families have left. (We were lucky enough to see a Saxon wedding, but it was apparently the first in two years). Prince Charles has bought a house there – a house in a street, not a palace – and was apparently planning to visit a couple of weeks after we were there. This is the house:

The owner of the local guesthouse said approvingly that when he arrives, he flies to the nearest airport and then comes in by car over the bumpy road – no royal helicopters. Apparently the prince likes to walk and look at wildlife, but he has also been involved in an enterprise to build a kiln and make bricks in a natural manner. And the village has the country’s first reedbed system for treating sewage and using the clean water produced for agricultural irrigation. Thanks to Prince Charles.

In fact we seemed to be on a bit of an unwitting Prince Charles pilgrimage. Our three-star hotel in Sighisoara had a photo of him in reception because he had stayed there. And in the lovely village of Breb in Maramures, the country’s most old-fashioned area, there is a house known as Prince Charles’ house. 

In fact it is a wooden house, rescued from another village when it was under threat, by the Mihai Eminescu Trust, of which Prince Charles was a patron until 2013. He is also involved with the campaign to protect forests which has led to a temporary ban on timber exports.

And as if this is not enough, Romania seems to have ignited a sense of humour in the prince. Referring to the fact that Vlad Teppes, also known as Dracula or Vlad the Impaler and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s wonderful but very fanciful book, Prince Charles apparently said ‘I feel I have a stake in the country’. Boom boom.

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