Romania’s capital city Bucharest began to modernise after 1830. Gaetan Burelly was one of the less-known architects who contributed to the modernisation of the city and its transformation from an Oriental-looking merchant town into a European capital
The rich activity of this architect has recently been revealed by archive research. Gaetan Burelly was the first Wallachian architect to further his higher education in Paris. His work consisted mainly in restoration works on churches and pubic buildings.
Until recently, his name was mostly connected to a house bought by Ion Mincu, the initiator of the Neo-Romanian architectural style, in the Pitar Mos area, a building that today houses the headquarters of the Order of Architects. The building, which was restored by Ion Mincu, was in fact designed by Burelly, and in the 19th century it was the residence of the famous playwright Ion Luca Caragiale, who was married to Alexandrina, one of the architect’s daughters. It is from Alexandrina that we learn more about Burelly from documents dating from the interwar years. Her father’s exact date of birth remains unknown, but it believed to be sometime between 1813 and 1820.
Alexandrina’s account of her paternal grandparents is closer to fiction that reality, however, says art historian Oana Marinache: “She tells us that Gaetan’s parents were a Russian woman and an Italian man with Florentine roots. This multicultural couple arrived in Wallachia, via Constantinople, during the later part of the Phanariot rule. Antonie and Ana Burelly settled and formed a family in Bucharest. They had several children, male and female. Thanks to the family’s social and financial status, Gaetan was able to go to Paris for his studies when he was an adolescent. We found his school record at the Fine Arts School in Paris. Gaetan didn’t stay there long though, as he didn’t finish his education. The two years he studied there, between 1848 and 1850, were enough for him to set up his practice as he returned to Wallachia.”
Back in the country, Gaetan Burelly got married to Agatha Floru in 1850. The couple had two boys, both of whom died very young, and three daughters, one of whom was Alexandrina, Caragiale’s future wife. Shortly after his return, Burelly became the architect of the Wallachian principality, thus joining the mainly French, Austrian and German architects employed by the local ruling families, such as Ghica, Ştirbey and Bibescu, to work for them. At that time, there were very few Romanian trained architects and building engineers.
Oana Marinache has more: “Gaetan Burelly was promoted in 1855, as he was held in high regard by ruler Barbu Stirbey. From 1855 to 1859 he held the position of chief architect of the capital city. Before him, holding that position were architects of French origin. The position was extremely time-consuming, so his output did not include any private works. In Bucharest, there are no private residences designed by Burelly. Apart from his house, which at present is the headquarters of the Order of Romanian Architects, and the religious buildings he restored, he did not have time to work on private projects, because he spent a lot of time supervising the construction sites he coordinated.”
One of the buildings on which Gaetan Burelly conducted restoration works was the National Theatre in Bucharest inaugurated on December 31st based on designs by the architect Anton Heft. The building underwent a number of repair works, including restoration of its interiors and façade, and Burelly was involved in all these works. He also supervised upgrading works on the Romanit Palace on Calea Victoriei, which housed the first government headquarters around 1855. Today, the building houses the Museum of Art Collections.
A new stage in Gaetan Burelly’s career began around 1865, when be became a church architect for the Department of Religious Affairs. During this period, he contributed to the restoration of many religious buildings not only in Bucharest, but also in other places across the country. For Gaetan Burelly, the career of architect in public service ended around 1874. While the date of his birth is still uncertain, we do know the date of his death, namely 1896, a date engraved on his tombstone in the Bellu Cemetery in Bucharest.