Mărturii româneşti peste hotare. Creaţii româneşti şi izvoare despre români în colecţii din străinătate. Serie nouă, vol. 5: Serbia – Turcia, Bucureşti
This is the latest volume of the New Series of Romanian Traces Abroad, the continuation of the work begun by the late historian Virgil Cândea more than five de cades ago. The author wished to gather in a centralized manner the alienated cultural heritage originating from the territory of present-day Romania, documents and works of art produced by foreigners during their stay there or by Romanians abroad, as well as foreign works funded or requested by Romanian patrons. It is not an exhaustive endeavour since the rigorous methodology takes into consideration only items that can be precisely identified and localized and it is thus subject to further additions. Considering this, it is possible to see future addenda to the volumes. Readers can find information about the methodology used in gathering and publishing the items in the first volume of the New Series, in Romanian as well as in English. The group of editors from the Institute of South-Eastern European Studies and ‘Nicolae Iorga’ History Institute in Bucharest, lead by Ioana Feodorov, has set out on the laborious work of publishing and bringing up to the date the pieces of information gathered by professor Cândea during 1960 –1989. Published in a first form in 1963, Virgil Cândea started the first series of Romanian Traces Abroad in the early 1990s, with the first volume appearing in 1991 (Austria – Greece) and the second one in 1998 (India – The Netherlands, as well as additions to Albania – Greece). The first four volumes of the current New Series appeared in 2010 (Albania – Ethiopia), twice in 2011 (Finland – Greece and India – The Netherlands) and in 2012 (Poland – Russia). The third volume marked the end of the re-editing process of the material already published by professor Cândea, and it was followed by pieces of information from the professor’s personal notes, up to then unpublished. This fifth volume represents thus unpublished material from his archive as well as updates from a wide group of scholars, regarding Serbia, Syria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, USA, Sweden, Tunis and Turkey. Different from the first series, independent countries that in the past were part of entities such as Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia and were thus listed under those titles, now have their own section. In the fifth volume this of course applies to Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia. As with the first four issues of the New Series, the latest one benefits from the editor’s note both in Romanian and English, making it accessible to a larger audience. At first the work may seem intimidating to the inexperienced researcher due to its large number of abbreviations. Nonetheless, the informative lists at the beginning of the volume are more than comprehensive. Tables presenting the system used to transcribe Arabic script into Latin script (for the Arabic, Ottoman Turkish and Persian languages) are also given.
This volume’s highlights are undoubtedly the sections regarding works found in the United States (p. 203 – 350) and in Turkey (p. 377 – 519). Besides being a testimony of the important Romanian community living there during the last couple of centuries, the pages regarding the USA also bear witness to the intense exodus of cultural works from all around the world. It was in the Houghton Library of Harvard University that Virgil Cândea
discovered in 1984 the long-lost original Latin manuscript of Dimitrie Cantemir’s most crucial work,
The History of Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire, written around 1714 – 1716 during the Moldavian prince’s exile in Russia, which was used by Nicholas Tindal for his famous English translation of 1734. This achievement emphasized the importance of searching foreign archives and collections for presumably lost works. It is also important to note that such initiatives give benefit not only to the national heritage of Romania but also to the wider area with which this country shares a common history. Cultural ties between Romania and the USA were also enriched by the visits of important state persons such as Queen Mary and historian Nicolae Iorga.
Considering Romania and Turkey’s historical ties it is no wonder that the section regarding the political heir of the Ottoman Empire occupies such an important place in this book. Most traces consist of course of written material. Thousands of documents and manuscripts found today in Turkish archives record different aspects of Romania’s past. An important number of them were collected as microfilm copies and stored at the National Archives in Bucharest in the past decades by leading Turcologists such as Mihail Guboglu, Mustafa Mehmet, Tahsin Gemil or Valeriu Veliman. Since many chronicles of the Ottoman Empire include aspects regarding the Danubian Principalities,
Romanian Traces Abroad can be a useful tool for tracking down the manuscripts of these works. Following the aftermath of the First World War and the ensuing Greco-Turkish War, population and archival exchanges occurred between the two countries. The author, editors and collaborators of the third and fifth volumes, which deal with Greece and Turkey respectively, underwent a considerable amount of effort to insure that the items are listed in their correct location. The editor, Ioana Feodorov, suggests that a centralized effort by one or more institutions of the Romanian Academy should be made in order to systematically analyze the Ottoman Archives for more documents regarding Romania’s history (p. IX). The Ottoman Archives of the Prime Minister’s Office in Istanbul (Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi) were recently moved to a new location in the Kağıthane district that has seen its fair share of controversy regarding storage conditions, with some critics fearing that a number of documents have been permanently damaged. Other Romanian traces abroad which only recently have started to get some well deserved attention are the buildings erected by or for Romanian notables in Istanbul, the former capital of the Ottoman Empire. Even though most of them are now lost, in the past the city was literally dotted with mansions and palaces like the ones of the envoys of Wallachia and Moldavia (Eflak Sarayı, Boğdan Sarayı) or the many possessions of rival princes Dimitrie Cantemir and Constantin Brâncoveanu. As in the case of Greece (especially for the regions of Mount Athos and Epirus), Istanbul is home to a number of churches and schools that were either erected by Romanian leaders, furnished by them or to which churches and monasteries in Wallachia or Moldavia were dedicated. The Church of Eflak was even home to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for a short time at the end of the sixteenth century, before moving to its present location in the church of St. George in the Fener district, at the turn of the seventeenth century. Religious patronage was one of the main aspects by which Romanian culture manifested itself in the Balkans up to the secularization of Church properties in 1864 during the reign of prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza. The series would have benefitted and possibly attracted a larger audience if it also contained at least a few depictions of the works presented. It would have probably been too much of an effort to include illustrations to the already hefty publishing endeavour. I think it is worth considering the possibility of a future illustrated companion or an album related to the series. The editors are aware that the present day conflict in Syria may have lead to permanent destructions of items mentioned in this inventory. Most of the contributions regarding this country were gathered by professor Cândea in his trips to Aleppo and Damascus during 1968 – 1980. Who knows if the manuscripts of Cantemir’s Arabic Divan or the numerous Christian religious books printed in the Danubian Principalities will survive the ongoing conflict which has devastated, amongst others, the city of Aleppo, a centre of the Syrian-Orthodox church and benefactor or many donations from the princes of Moldavia and Wallachia. The fresco from the church of St. George in Hama, painted by a Romanian cleric in the 1970s was already damaged during the Hama Uprising of 1982, just several years after its completion (p.135). The series’ value is thus further emphasized as a record for future generations, when the consequences of war may no longer permit the study of original items. The series’ initiative is even more welcomed today considering the large number of Romanians living and working abroad who represent the means to produce new works of cultural significance. I think that initiatives such as this series are important in maintaining the cultural identity of those living abroad, to maintain a strong cultural tie with their place of origin. The Romanian Government’s apparent lack of interest in its citizens abroad has led to widespread manifestations during the November 2014 presidential elections which have arguably turned the favours for one of the candidates. This proves the importance of keeping a close tie with the people living, working and studying abroad, who have become such an important factor in the last decade. Romanian Traces Abroad represents just such an effort, although on a different scale, of cataloguing and keeping record of the Romanian cultural heritage that has been spread out throughout the world.
University of Bucharest Romania