Where Does the Name Romania Come From?

  • The name “Romania” comes from the Latin word “Romanus” which means “citizen of the Roman Empire.”

A (Very) Brief History of Romania

  • The earliest Homo sapiens fossils, up to now, were discovered in 2002 in southwestern Romania, in the Cave of Bones. The fossil’s age is estimated at 37,800 to 42,000 years old.
  • The Romanian language is 1,700 years old.
  • Modern Romania was formed in 1859 through the union of Moldavia and Wallachia. The new state, officially named Romania since 1866, gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1877. At the end of World War I, Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia were incorporated into the Kingdom of Romania.
  • During World War II, Romania was an ally of Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union, until 1944, when it joined the Allied powers and later faced occupation by the Red Army forces. Following the war, Romania became a socialist republic until the 1989 Revolution.

Facts and Factoids

  • The first ever perfect 10, awarded in the Olympic Games, went to Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, for her performance on the uneven bars, in Montreal, Canada in 1976.
  • Bucharest’s vast Palace of the Parliament, begun during the final years of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s rule and not finished until 1997 (seven years after his death), is the world's heaviest building (and the second largest after the Pentagon..
  • Romania is inextricably linked with Count Dracula, created by Irish author Bram Stoker. But it's a tenuous link, supposdedly based on infamous ruler Vlad the Impaler. (Read more here.)

Is Romania a Poor Country?

  • Romania is a developing country and one of the poorest in the European Union.
  • 45 percent of Romania's population lives in rural areas and 70 percent of this population lives in poverty. 

Is Romania Safe to Visit?

  • Romania is considered to be a relatively safe country to visit, but there are warnings about pickpockets and road accidents.
  • The roads are not in great condition.

What are the Highlights of Romania?

Bucharest, the Capital of Romania

Bucharest, the capital of Romania since 1832. According to legend, it was named after a shepherd called Bucur who was in love with a young lady named Dâmboviţa, (the river that flows through the city). Bucharest has contradictory reviews - drab and dull or modern and bustling. It turns out to be a mix of elegance and communist excess, if a little faded in parts.

Bucharest is situated on the Danube Plain, set amidst a series of lakes and spacious gardens. I’m not convinced its alternative title (yet another claimant) ‘The Paris of Eastern Europe' or 'Little Paris' is warranted, despite its copy of ’The Arc de Triomphe’. It’s not the only city to have done that. The main excess comes in the form of the Casa Poporului, ex-President Ceausescu’s extraordinary parliamentary palace. This is the second largest building in the world, behind only the Pentagon. The building is eighty four metres high. It is also the heaviest building in the world.

Transylvania -Where are the Bears?

The main part of my short trip is spent in central Romania – Transylvania. It's known for medieval towns, the Carpathian Mountains, brown bears - and Dracula. The mountains are home to one of the largest virgin forests in Europe. There are, supposedly, 400 unique species of mammals, including the Carpathian chamois and sixty percent of the European brown bear population. There’s a lot of pre-tour hype about bears and it’s supposed to be 'very active preparation for hibernation' season However, our guide doesn’t seem optimistic that we will see one on our walk in the Bucegi Mountains and sure enough we don’t. Though there are some large paw prints in the mud. The locals say that here are plenty around - they forage in the bins, leave a trail of garbage behind them and are generally regarded as a nuisance. The mountains are suitably picturesque to compensate.

Peles Castle

After our walk we drive to nearby Sinaia, renowned as the 'Pearl of the Carpathians' because of its stunning scenery. The first of a series of fantastical fortresses is Peles Castle. It was built for an imported Hohenzollern monarch called Carol and so resembles a Bavarian chateau, decorated with a riot of stained glass, Persian carpets, Renaissance weapons, ebony and mother of pearl. It was the first European castle entirely lit by electrical current. Next, adjacent, equally extraordinary art deco and art nouveau Pelisor Castle, largely the creation of Carol’s wife Marie.

Sinaia Monastery

The Sinaia Monastery, located close by, was founded by Prince Mihail Cantacuzino in 1695 and named after the great Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt. It is inhabited by 13 Christian Orthodox monks and has epic murals and ceiling paintings.

Bran Castle and Vlad the Impaler

The fortress highlight of Romania, however, the much touted fourteenth century castle at Bran. This is supposedly the home of the archetypal vampire Count Dracula, created by Bram Stoker. Stoker was inspired by the Romanian prince Vlad Tepes, the fifteenth century ruler of Wallachia. He was also known as Vlad the Impaler, because, so the story goes, he was fond of impaling his enemies and standing them along the roads. However, it seems that there is no evidence whatsoever that the infamous Vlad ever actually lived here. And Bram Stoker never even came near Transylvania.

Bran’s contents are mostly devoted to the British born Queen Marie of Romania, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who lived here in the early twentieth century. The castle is perched on a crag in a valley between two high mountain ranges, and so, more prosaically, controlled the border and was a customs post.

Brasov, Romania

Medieval Brasov is picture card perfect, an architectural delight of half-timbered Baroque buildings, cobbled streets, churches, cafes and inns all clustered within Saxon bastions. Highlights are the Casa Sfatului (the former mayor's office), the St. Nicholas Church), dating back to the 14th century, the First Romanian School, a museum with the first Romanian printing press, Rope Street, the narrowest street in Romania, the Old City Watch Towers. Black and White, Catherine's Gate, the only surviving medieval citygate, with pointy turrets (see up top) and the Brașov Citadel Fortress.

There's even a Hollywood style Brasov sign, as well as numerous umbrellas proclaiming that this is the best city in the world. It's all presided over by a magnificent fifteenth century Gothic cathedral, the so called Black Church. The building dates from 1477 and it acquired the name after being blackened by smoke from a fire in 1689.

Read more about Romania here.

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