Manufacture of wooden houses

Traditions, symbols and superstitions in the construction of old peasant houses

Wood was an important building material in the past. Many people think that wooden houses are specific to mountain areas, but wood is also found in houses in the highlands, even if it is not as visible. In the mountains, with forests over large areas, wood was not a problem and houses were made of whole logs or square beams. In the lowlands, with fewer forests, wood was used for the house's load-bearing structure and then covered with clay plaster. Trees being rarer, wood was an expensive material and whoever had them in their yard had wealth. You remember acacia Moromete's?

Every piece of wood that came from the tree was appreciated and nothing was wasted. Branches were used to make walls. Laid horizontally, between the posts, formed a braid that stiffened with clay (which was also a very good insulator). The walls were also plastered with clay and painted with lime to which a drop of blue dye - sineal - was added to make them bright white. The porch posts, the eaves guard, the doors and the windows were left visible, and were decorated with carvings and cut-outs that looked like real embroidery. In addition to their aesthetic role, the elements included in the decoration were also intended to protect the house.

Symbols carved in wood are also found on other traditional buildings in the country. We discover the art of folk craftsmen on the old wooden churches and monasteries, on the houses and gates of Maramures, on the pillars and roof trusses of the houses of Bărăgan, Oltenia or Dobrogea, on the households of the Saxons and Saxons of Ardeal or those of Bucovina, on the troughs of the villages or on the benches at the gates. The carved symbols come from the distant past, most of them from the pre-Christian period, and were made to protect and purify the house, the village and the members of the community.

traditional wooden houses

Symbols and superstitions used to build wooden houses

Popular beliefs and superstitions were already in place before construction began, with people paying close attention to the time of felling and where the tree came from. The tree was never cut from deep in the forest, from the dark areas 'where evil spirits hide'. It was felled at the full moon and only brought home on weekdays when there was no fasting (Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday). This was the only way to protect the house and give the workers a good day's work. The felled trees, which were to be used in the construction of the house, were decorated beforehand to bring good luck and abundance. When the skeleton of the house was erected, a young tree would be placed on the highest part of the roof. It was meant to protect both the workers and the new building from fire and lightning. It is a tradition still preserved in the villages of the Bărăgan and Moldova.

From the first trees that were felled, four pieces were left in the forest for fire, water, thunder and God. In this way they hoped to appease the spirits and the house built from these trees would be protected from the evils mentioned and others they did not think of (wood for God). If a tree was struck by lightning, it was not used in any way to build houses.

But folk beliefs are diverse and don't stop at building customs. Many of them were related to the way work was done or to events during construction. There were also superstitions related to life itself. For example, in Wallachia it was believed that if a pregnant woman gathered sawdust from the jelly (very large sawdust) used to gel the planks in her lap, she would give birth to a baby with curly hair.

traditional wooden houses

The most common symbols of folk architecture

From the time of construction, various symbols were inlaid in the wood to protect the workers, the house and the future inhabitants. The sources of inspiration were the surrounding nature, daily activities and the stars of the celestial vault. Each element was assigned a protective role and carved with the belief that they would be better protected from the evils of the world. Here are some of these symbols and their meanings:

  • twisted rope - symbolizes infinity, the link between heaven and earth, life with good and evil going together
  • the sun - represents life and has several representations: circle, star, a round face
  • The hive - brings abundance in the house
  • the tree of life - life without end, life without death, but also verticality
  • the tree - life, verticality
  • snake - guardian of the household (house snake)
  • wolf's tooth - defender against charms
  • horse's head - maretion, guardian against evil spirits (it was carved at the ends of the roof beams at the corners of houses)
  • the rooster - diligence, greatness; hope, because its crowing chases away the darkness associated with evil
  • peacock - the beauty of life
  • the pillar of life - the link between heaven and earth, the aspiration to divinity (the inspiration for Brancusi's Infinity Column)
  • ram's horns - courage, virility, fertility
  • triangle - holy trinity
  • the cross - faith.

The same symbols were also used on animal shelters, fences or gates. No one ignored the protective role of symbols and risked divine punishment by ignoring them.

traditional wooden houses

Symbols that purify and beautify

The symbols were also well highlighted on the gates. Best seen on the Maramures gates, those in Bukovina or in the Saxon and Szekler villages. Even passing under the gate had symbolic value. In the old days, it was the man who went out - to work, to trade or to battle. On his return home, he was supposed to come laden with the evils of the world, diseases, curses and spells, and entering the symbol-laden gate purified him. Only then, cleansed of evils, could he go to his wife and children.

The tradition of decorating houses and gates has been preserved in some places to this day. In addition to the old symbols, images have emerged that depict the daily life of community members. Folk craftsmen thus try to immortalise the present in wood, which is also a way of writing the history of places.

Old houses convey information about us, our history and customs. They are roots that keep us connected to these places. Instead of demolishing them, we could try to modernise them, keeping their appearance and history embedded in them. I lived years ago, while on holiday in a village in Germany, in a house several hundred years old. It had been altered on the inside to bring in the amenities of the modern world, but the transformation had been done with care and attention, with elements of the old structure being blended with contemporary ones. On the outside it looked like a very old house, without being dilapidated. The original appearance had been entirely preserved. The house had never been sold, the current owner being the descendent of the people who built the house hundreds of years ago.

We should also try to save old peasant houses. Modern building solutions are so diverse and we can live in such a house without depriving ourselves of the benefits of civilisation. And if it is impossible to save the whole house, we can try to save parts of it, beams, guards, old wooden gates that convey the idea of continuity. Let the symbols carved into them remain, and so let us learn about ourselves.

traditional wooden houses

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.

Add comment

Add a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Subscribe to newsletter