Romania is the 12th largest country in Europe and one of the largest states in south-eastern Central Europe. Fun fact: Romania is located halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.
Mountains, hills and plains shape Romania’s landscape to an equal proportion. Romania stretches from the Carpathian Mountains to the Danube Delta at the Black Sea. The Moldoveanu Peak is Romania’s highest mountain peak with an altitude of 2,545 m. The Danube Delta, however, is just a few meters above sea level. The River ends its 2,857 km journey through ten European countries in south-eastern Romania.
The Delta is a UNESCO Biosphere Reservation and is a protected wetland and natural habitat for rare species of plants and animals. In fact, the Danube has shaped Romania significantly and continues to do so. All the rivers that cross Romanian territory have their springs in the Carpathians and flow into the Danube and through its three branches (Chilia, Sulina, Sfântu Gheorghe) and into the Black Sea.
During summer time, more precisely from May until September, the Romanian Black Sea coast becomes a major tourist attraction. If you like silent sandy beaches or clubs that are open until the early hours of the morning, you should plan your next holiday in Mamaia
, the most well-known luxurious resort in the region.
Why is Romania called ‘Romania’? What we know today as Romania was the national and political project of Romanian political and cultural leaders. The name ‘Romania’ neither encompassed Wallachia or Moldavia (two of modern Romania’s biggest regions, situated East and South of the Carpathians) until 1859, nor the region of Transylvania, which remained part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918.
Ancient Romania was inhabited by Thracian tribes. The Greeks called them the Getae, the Romans called them Dacians, but they were actually a single Geto-Dacian people. In the 1st century BC a strong Dacian state was established by King Burebista to counter the Roman threat. The last Dacian king, Decebal (r AD 87–106), consolidated this state but was unable to repell attacks led by the Roman emperor Trajan in 101–102 and 105-106 AD, and Dacia was made a Roman province in 106. After the roman retreat of 271 AD waves of migrating tribes, including Goths, Huns, Avars, Slavs, Bulgars and Magyars (Hungarians), swept across this territory.
By the 10th century a fragmented feudal system ruled by a military class appeared in the context of a powerful Hungarian presence in Transylvania.
Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries Wallachia (the southern part of current Romania) and Moldavia in the east offered strong resistance to the northward expansion of the Ottoman Empire. At that time Transylvania was already part of the Hungarian kingdom. In this period the first ideas of uniting the Romanians in a single state emerged.
Romania seized the First World War as a chance to unite in a single state all the regions inhabited by Romanians and to create the “Greater Romania”. After World War II the Romanian state lost a number of territories (like northern Bucovina) and got its actual size and spread.
Cultural heritage and Architecture…?
Romania is strongly connected to the legend of Dracula. The name conjures up images of a landscape filled with dark and cheerless castles. At least one castle is very famous: Bran Castle. Often referred to as Dracula's Castle, this fortification was built in 1377 by the Teutonic Knights to protect nearby Braşov city from invaders. The castle's rooms and towers surround an inner courtyard, some rooms being connected through underground passages to the inner courtyard. In 1920, the people of Braşov who owned the castle offered it as a gift to Queen Maria of Romania, and the castle soon became her favourite residence.
The most well-known castle from Romania’s modern period is the ‘Peleş’ castle, built by the royal family near Sinaia, in the Carpathian Mountains. Commissioned by King Carol I in 1873 and completed in 1883, Peleş is a masterpiece of German Neo-Renaissance architecture, with 160 rooms that are decorated with the finest examples of European art, Murano crystal chandeliers, German stained-glass windows, walls covered with Cordoba leather, Meissen and Sevres porcelains, ebony and ivory sculptures.
The highest concentration of palaces, castles and fortifications can be found in Transylvania, one of Romania’s biggest regions. As a result of almost nine centuries of Saxon presence, Transylvania claims a cultural and architectural heritage unique in Europe, being home to nearly 200 Saxon villages, churches and fortifications built from the 13th to the 15th century.
How to get along
Romania can be one of the best destinations for your holiday. If you consider visiting the Black Sea resorts, Transylvania’s castles and fortresses, the Danube Delta, medieval towns or the Carpathian Mountains, take into account some advice: first of all, be sure you know that Bucharest (the capital city of Romania) is not Budapest (the capital city of Hungary), that Romanian trains can be very, very slow and that you may have problems finding a highway. Nevertheless, Romanians smile quite a lot, so if you don’t want to meet Dracula on your journey, remember to take your smiley face with you... and some garlic.