Down on the Herăstrău lakeside, right in the middle of Romania’s capital city, the wandering traveller will encounter an authentic Romanian village, rich in monuments and artifacts from the XVIIth century, all the way up to the XXth century, representative constructions originating from important ethnographical regions which have been granted a second life at the National Village Museum „Dimitrie Gusti”.

The idea of an open-air museum in Romania came about in the second half of the XIXth century. In 1867, Alexandru Odobescu, an eminent man of culture, suggests an exhibition on vernacular architecture pieces in a purposely designed pavilion during the Paris Universal Expo. A few years later, the savant Alexandru Țzigara Samurcaș would advocate bringing to the National Ethnographic, Industrial, Decorative and Folk Art Museum of Bucharest a number of „complete authentic households from every important area inhabited by Romanian people”, a project which succeeded in 1909 with the showcase of a peasant home from the county of Gorj.        

                Europe, in the 1930’s, used to exhibit only two open-air museums: The Skansen Museum in Stockholm (Sweden, 1891) and the Bygdøy Museum in Lillehamer (Norway). Our country was host to the Ethnographic Museum of Transylvania, from „Hoia” Park in Cluj City, founded in 1929 by professor Romulus Vuia, showcasing regional constructions, and the National Village Museum in Bucharest (today called the „Dimitrie Gusti” National Village Museum) inaugurated in 1936, exhibiting national constructions.


                To bring about the fruition of the Village Museum, Professor Dimitrie Gusti, the founder of The Sociological School of Bucharest, underwent and sustained over a decade of intense theoretical research coupled with field work and curatorial experiments in order to fulfill a vision. As head of the sociology department for the University of Bucharest, Dimitrie Gusti has organized between the years 1925-1935 several monographic interdisciplinary research campaigns on a large number of villages (Fundu Moldovei, Suceava County, Nereju – Vrancea County, Drăguș – Brașov County, Dragomirești – Maramureș County, Clopotiva – Hunedoara County, Runcu – Gorj County, Rușetu – Buzău County etc) aided by a team of specialists from a wide array of practices (sociologists, ethnographers, folk researchers, geographers, statisticians, doctors etc), also with the help of students.     




The cultural and scientific experiences, hard conception work, moral and financial support given by the Royal Prince Charles Foundation, have laid the groundwork to build in a minimum of two months, starting March 1936, a museographic exhibition of exceptional value. This short time frame was used by field teams (students and experts that also participated in the research campaigns) coordinated by Dimitrie Gusti and H. H. Stahl to acquire peasant constructions from researched villages (houses, annex household buildings, churches, technical installations), also interior objects (furniture, ceramics, fabrics, tools etc.) regarded as representative for their places of origin.


In conformance with mandatory standards of authenticity, and abiding vernacular construction traditions still employed today, master crafters from the villages that hosted the constructions have worked to reassemble the buildings and monuments under the supervision of Henry H. Stahl and Victor Ion Popa.

 The Village Museum’s official inauguration took place on the 10th of May, 1936, in the presence of King Charles II, followed by a public opening a week later, 17th of May, 1936. 


                The Village Museum, in its early days, between the years 1936 – 1940, had an area of 4.5 hectars of land. This land was used to host 33 authentic household assemblies, transferred from the researched villages: houses with annex buildings, a church (from Dragomirești village, Maramureș County), a triptych religious monument, technical installations and a swing set. The lay out for the buildings was made following an elaborate plan made by the playwright and scenographer Victor Ion Popa.         


                In the conception of the Romanian Village Museum as a sociological museum, professor Dimitrie Gusti and his team of collaborators have considered to be their duty to showcase the verity of village lifestyles, as the authentic Romanian villagers were committed to living it. In this regard, families of peasants originating from the researched villages, would have inhabited the houses in the Museum. The residents were the original owners of the households, they came to Bucharest bringing everything they needed to live on Museum premises, including poultry and animals.


                The merits held by the Sociological School run by the savant Dimitrie Gusti cannot be contested, they were true, but so were the conditions that led to the degradation of some monuments and museum objects following handle and use, adequate patrimony conservation and restauration treatment methods were not yet employed due to historical context.


                In the year 1940, following the annexation of Basarabia regi0n, a part of Bucovina region and Herța Land to the Soviet Union, the municipality of Bucharest has decided to house families of Bucovina and Basarabia refugees inside Museum households. The fact that no alternative solutions were found to relocate the people, they remained on Museum premises up until 1948. These conditions led to a cease in Museum activities. Consequently, the improper use of monuments, due to inhabitation, led to the distruction of numerous household inventory pieces. Lost inventory pieces worthy of mention also consist of the decommissioned monuments from 1937 (six windmills from Basarabia, one Macedonian house, a house from Caliacra, a floating windmill and a fishery), following the opening of a construction site to build The Elisabeta Pallace.  


                The public reopening of the Village Museum in 1948 under the management of Gheorghe Focșa, a former student of Professor Dimitrie Gusti, and a member of the monography teams, marks the beginning of the second phase in the evolution of the institution. The first order of business undertook by Gheorghe Focșa was to evacuate the inhabitans in order to stop the deterioration process of patrimony. In the same time, attention was focused on developing a team of specialists with specific qualifications, as before the war, the institution had hired a single administrator.


                Beyond the hardships of the communist regime, that took their toll on the Museum, on the strength of director Gheorghe Focșa’s professional leadership and his refuse to concede to limitations and pressures issued by the former regime, the Museum has not only succeeded in carrying on a legacy, it has also made important progress.


                New Village Museum development directions, based on multiple criteria, were employed:  historically (the representation of vernacular habitat – implicitly, popular culture – as spatial development, between the XVII and XX century), socially (a questionable matter today, the initial approach has been to offer a reflection to the situation of the exploited peasant), geographically (the grouping of monuments in historical provinces – this particular plan, generally relevant today, is intended to reproduce the land map of Romania by grouping architecture and technical monuments under the principle of geographic vicinity of villages of provenance, into sectors representing the main historical provinces of Romania), economically (typology of the household as related to occupations and crafts), artistically (the aesthetic value of exhibitions), authenticity and specificity.  


                Based on these criteria, that implicitly led to systematic research and acquisitions campaigns, have also led to the waive of the sociological component, the physical presence of peasants. Objects and buildings featured in the open-air expo undergo a paradigm shift, and turn the site from a „sociological reservation” to an ethnographic Museum.


                The new architecture and folk technique expo, consequently, the particular inventory of ethnographic objects, as well as a new curatorial organization concept, enable the Museum to showcase to the public a systematic layout of the authentic villages from Romania, regarded in their heyday, representativity, unity and diversity. At the same time, respecting and applying the concept of – unity in diversity – has allowed the ethnic profiling of other cultures and nationalities in Romania, ethnical differences and interferrences are evident considering the Székely household from Bancu village, Harghita County, and Russian-Lipovan household from Jurilovca village, Tulcea County, transferred on Museum premises.


                The development of new strategies to expand the patrimony, in relation with the necessity to enlarge the Museum area, has led to encompass additional property to showcase the monuments, from 4.5 hectars, owned in 1936, to 9 hectars, also to an increase in the number and diversification of inventory collection pieces. The open-air patrimony gains new showpieces, reaching to number of 62 ensembles of vernacular architecture (as compared to 33 back in 1936), with a number of 223 buildings (40 houses, 165 household annexes, 3 churches, 15 technical installations and craft workshops), summarizing an inventory of over 17.000 units. Among the previous, the newly acquired field monuments, houses and households from the regions of Suceava, Vaslui, Vâlcea, Constanța, Alba, Hunedoara, Maramureș, are beautifully represented.  


                Other objectives upheld by the Museum specialists during this time have focused on diversifying institutional activities, the scientific valorification of patrimony, field and collection research results, as well as museographic experiments materialized by periodical publications and cultural public relations, formative activities to bridge a connection with different types of visitors (temporary exhibitions, shows and folk festivals, folk costumes presentations, literary circles, catalogues, brochures and flyers, guides, philately, slideshows etc.).

The aging of documents, conservation and restauration issues, microbial attack, and inherent natural damage compelled the development of a service specialized in patrimony art conservation science and research for cultural heritage: The Conservation - Restauration Laboratory. In the year 1978, The Village Museum merges with the Popular Art Museum of the old RSR (English: Romanian Socialist Republic) under the institution name of „The Village Museum of Popular Art”. It will run under this appellation until March 1990.


                During the period leading up to the Revolution in 1989, the Museum has been menaced multiple times with relocation on a site outside the city of Bucharest, the present premises having been part of larger residential plan sketched out by the communist rule. Although the plan is never carried, the Village Museum is ventured into risk by the end of the 8th decade, with unfortunate consequences, similar to other Museums, the lack of funds for research, acquisitions, patrimony restauration, also with a ban on self-funding policies. Heedless difficult conditions, the Museum specialists have managed to find means of finance credited to research ethnographic contracts with other cultural and scientific institutions in the country.


                Following the Revolution of December 1989, the Village Museum regains its individuality, first separating from the Museum it has merged with, known presently as the Museum of the Romanian Peasant (Romanian: „Muzeul Țăranului Român”). All Village Museum activities are reconfigured and redeveloped. A systematic program of priorities concerning the improvement of patrimony and the development of certain thematic segments yet not exhibited on the open-air expo, as well as finding new fundaments and orientations for scientific research, to address all Museum activities, initiatives such as curatorial pedagogy and interactive ways of communication with the public.      


                The demands needed to be met for the rejuvenation of the Village Museum image, in order to successfully showcase new pieces in the open-air expo, made it impossible to develop the Museum in its former location, thus the administration managed to obtain from the municipality the grant for a relocation on a property situated between the Arc of Triumph and Elisabeta Palace, still under improvement. The new space measures 3.5 hectars. The arrangement plans are structured thematically, constructions are transferred on the premises and a village civic center is developed, also featuring an alley to perambulate among households pertaining to national minorities. The new Museum premises are ideal for civic activities and entertainment.


                Recent research and acquisition campaigns have led to the development of patrimony featured in the open-air expo and the collections. Presently, the permanent expo displays 123 distinct ensembles, a total of 363 monuments, with a mobile patrimony of over 50 000 objects. The initiative not only meant more patrimony, it also meant a more diverse patrimony. Of note among the recently transferred monuments on Museum premises, a church from Timișeni Village (Gorj County) is conveyed in 2003, exhibiting most valuable religious rural architecture (1773) and remarkable religious paintings.


Another recent acquisition (2010) is the strong-bounded household particular to Huțul people in Bucovina. Apart from the open-air expo patrimony and the collections, the Museum also hold a generous documentary archive of cherished historic and ethnographic value. The library consists of manuscript collections, studies, sketches, drawings, surveyance plans, glass stereotypes, films, black-and-white, color negatives, photographs collected in field research, an archive which contributed to the establishment of the Village Museum as an institution. 


                A multifunctional building, inaugurated in November 2002, has constituted the solution to carefully solve the issue of spaces to exhibit patrimony objects, the library, the documentary archive, also to host Museum social activities. All spaces benefit of modern utilities, especially the Conservation-Restauration Laboratory, together with the spaces for cultural activities: thematic expos, animations, dioramas, interactive Romanian village thesaurus. 

                Present demands concerning the development of collections, the cover of new patrimony segments insufficiently or unsystematically represented, problems created by changes in contemporary rural societies, the necessity to investigate traditions from a stand point of identity traits, to establish links between regional, national, European similarities and differences, areas of ethnic collaboration or interconfesional communication etc. have led to a reevaluation of emergency ethnological objectives.


                New demands call for new specifically designed research programs to study inter-ethnic relations in the areas where rural Romanian communities live together with other ethnies (inside and outside of the country). A numerous series of research projects have been undertaken, and are still running with help from investments or partnerships with specialized institutions and Ministries. On an annual basis, the „Dimitrie Gusti” National Museum edits and publishes scientific research, reports and literature. The editorial activities that engage the Museum have also succeeded in publishing speciality books and archive series.


                Curatorial pedagogy programs and public activities acknowledge the fruition and lifework of people that believe The „Dimitrie Gusti” Village Museum is a genuine – museum vivum – able to value authentic vernacular Romanian culture. Already established as Museum traditions, the Folk Masters Fair, the Creation Camp „Vara pe uliță”, the Wintertime Habits Festival, the Ethnographic Days, the Culture Days that celebrate different countries, organized by Embassies of respective countries, draw our community together, bringing in visitors from all over the world.


                We issue a wide variety of publications in the Museum library: guides, brochures, albums, postal stamps, slideshows, CDs, video and audio cassettes etc. for the enjoyment of the public, a means to educate people into ethnographic values, traditions, customs; a means to cherish Romanian culture. Folk art objects, contemporary creations of folk masters are made available to visitors in the Museum store, destined to carry on popular craft as mementos.


                The last years have led the Museum to manage a substantial relationship with multiple institutions with a similar vocation across Europe and yonder. Foreign specialists frequently participate at colocviums organized by the Dimitrie Gusti National Museum or sessions held by the Association of Open-Air Museums; notedly, our Village Museum researchers and curators frequently attend scientific congresses in other countries.                 


                During the years, the Dimitrie Gusti National Museam has awarded support for the development of new museums and ethnography sections in the country (Ethnography Section of Alexandria Museum and Union Museum in Alba Iulia). The Village Museum has also made a contribution to the development of the Open-Air Museums network in Romania and helped establish the first similar museum in the Republic of Moldavia at Chișinău City.


                Most terribly, recent history has also brought about two dramatic events: the fires of September 5th 1997 (in the Transylvania sector) and February 20th 2002 (in the Moldavia and Dobrogea sectors), ordeal which damaged a series of monuments and inventory pieces. Efforts made by Museum staff, with the help of other Museums from our country, and the financial support granted by the Ministry of Culture a National Patrimony, restauration works made for the damaged construction have been fixed in a short period of time to be exhibited again for the public.


                Recent changes in the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum organizational structure have created new work teams and departments to carry on the vision of its patron founder and the hard work devoted over the years by its gentlefolk.