A short story about Romania
For most people Romania means Dracula, Nadia, maybe Hagi, if you are into football (or soccer, for Americans) and more recently Simona Halep, if you are into tennis, or Mădălina Ghenea, if you are into modelling and film industry. You can also think of Romanian immigrants, or gypsies begging on the streets of European capitals.
Before travelling to Romania, you need to know some basic facts.
Romania is part of the European Union. Most people say Romania is part of what is called Eastern Europe, but we always say that Romania is located exactly at mid distance between the Atlantic Ocean and Urali Mountains, the two borders of Europe, our continent.
Romania is a medium size country, with a population of about 20 million people. It has an area of 238,500 square kilometers (92,085 square miles), slightly smaller than Italy, in Europe, or Oregon, in the US. And it is the 7th country in Europe in terms of population and the 12th in size.
The capital city is Bucharest(before WWII it was also known as Little Paris), the 6th largest city of Europe. With a 500 year history, it has at least two landmarks
The Palace of the Parliament, formerly known as the House of the People, built during the communist regime, and considered the second largest building in the world, after the Pentagon. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the palace is not only the heaviest, but also the most expensive building in the world. A small section is open to the public. The former team of presenters from Top Gear have raced through the basement tunnels to show how huge the building is.
The Village Museum opened in 1936, the first open-air ethnographic museum in the world, together with the similar museum from Skansen (Stockholm). The museum has an area of about 10 hectars and containes several hundred tradition peasant houses and farms from all over Romania. Good to know that there are several other Village Museums in various other cities of Romania.
Romania has a roundish shape, and it has roughly equal percentages of mountains, hills and plains. Almost half of the territory is covered with natural and semi-natural ecosystems. It has one of the largest areas of virgin forest in Europe, around 50% of Europe’s brown bears and 20% of wolfs (with the exception of Russia).
The center of the country is dominated by the Carpathian Mountains, with its highest peak of 2544 m (Moldoveanu Peak). There are three major mountain passes built in the mountains: Transfăgărășan is made famous by the Top Gear former team; the other two are Transalpina and Transbucegi. They are closed in winter, and very crowded with tourists in summer.
The river Danube – the second one in Europe, after Volga – springs in Germany, flows through 10 countries into the Black See forming the Danube Delta. The Danube Delta – also the second delta in Europe, after the Volga delta – is a Biosphere Reserve, and part of it is a completely protected area. In 1991, the Romanian part of the Danube Delta became part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
The fore fathers of Romania are the Roman emperor Trajan, and the Dacian king Decebalus.
This is why Romania takes pride in its Romance language and its Latin heritage. Basically, Romanian is in the same language family with Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, all coming from the Latin.
The story of Trajan conquering Dacia can be seen in Rome, on the Trajan’s Column, located in Trajan’s Forum – the bas-reliefs on the column describe the epic wars between Romans and Dacians. After the Roman conquest, part of Dacia’s territory became a roman province, called
The tallest rock sculpture in Europe is the 40-m high face of Decebalus, carved between 1994-2004 on a rock on the river Danube, near the border with Serbia.
But human remains discovered in Peștera cu Oase (The Cave with Bones) were found to be 40.000 years old, making present day Romania one of the first European territories inhabited by Homo Sapiens.
Two other significant discoveries are the tablets of Tărtăria and the Cucuteni culture.
- The three tablets discovered in the small village of Tărtăria, and dated to around 5300 BC, bear incised symbols and have been the subject of considerable controversy among archaeologists. Some of them claim that the symbols represent the earliest known form.
- The Cucuteni culture is a Neolithic–archaeological culture (ca. 4800 to 3000 BC) in Eastern Europe, from the Carpathian Mountains, covering north eastern Romania, present day Moldavia and eastern Ukraine. The culture was initially named after the village of Cucuteni and among other things, is famous for pottery elaborately decorated with swirling patterns and intricate designs.
Fast forward to the Middle Ages, Romanians live in three principalities that will later on form the national state of Romania: Moldavia (north east of present day Romania), Wallachia (south of present day Romania) and Transylvania (north west of present day Romania). In 1600, all three principalities were ruled simultaneously by the Wallachian Prince Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul), who was considered, later on, the precursor of modern Romania.
The period featured several significant rulers. Snapshots about the three principalities below:
Stephen the Great (Ștefan cel Mare) has been one of the most important rulers of Moldavia, with a reign of 47 years. The painted monasteries that are today part of UNESCO heritage are part of his heritage. He managed to keep his country independent from the most important empires of the period: the Ottoman Empire, Hungary or Poland.
The famous Dracula is a fiction based on one of the rulers of Wallachia, Vlad the Impaler. He is revered as a hero in Romania. His Romanian patronymic, Drăculea, is a diminutive of the epithet Dracul carried by his father, Vlad II, who was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order founded to protect the Christianity. Vlad’s nickname of “Impaler” identifies his favourite method of execution but was only attached to his name posthumously. Several authors and historians believe that the bad image built in the West after his death may be the result of a campaign initiated by the Transylvanian Saxons who were actively persecuted during Vlad’s reign. The name of the vampire Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula was inspired by Vlad’s patronymic and reputation.
For several centuries, the region of Transylvania is a largely autonomous part of the Hungarian kingdom and later on of the Austro-Hungarian empire, with various degrees of independences. During the period of the Austro-Hungarian rule in Transylvania most Romanians were given few rights in a territory where they formed the majority of the population. This is why the Romanian elite started to underline the continuity of Romanian presence on these territories since Romans, and the Latin heritage. On the other hand, the Austrian emperors will send Saxon settlers to guard the borders of the empire, therefore we can find today the Saxon heritage in the cities they built and the fortified churches.
Two of the three principalities – Moldavia and Wallachia – will reunite in 1859, when Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected ruler of both. Seven years later, in 1866, after the overthrow of Cuza, Carol I from the German house of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, is elected Ruling Prince and The complete unification of all Romanian principalities will happen after the First World War, in 1918. The National Day of Romania is the Unity Day, on the 1st of December.
After the Second World War, Romania remains part of the Communist part of Europe. There is an entire history of resistance in the mountains, during times when the entire Romanian elite died in communist prisons. After the fall of communism, two Romanian writers founded The Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance.
There are two moments worth mentioning from the communist period:
– communist Romania was the only Warsaw Pact country who refused to participate at the Soviet-led 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia (Ceaușescu even publicly condemned the action as “a big mistake, a serious danger to peace in Europe and to the fate of communism in the world”)
– Romania was the only communist state to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War
The communist regime ended in 1989, as it happened in all communist countries.
As of 2007, Romania is a member of the European Union.
The current president – Klaus Werner Iohannis – is a member of the German minority.
Romania has a temperate-continental climate, which means it has four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Summers are hot, with day temperatures of over 30 Celsius degrees, and winters are cold, with day temperatures below zero Celsius degrees.
On the right you can see the real-time weather in some of the main cities of Romania
Most people think that Romanian language is similar to Russian or any other east European Slavic language. As we already explained above, Romanian is actually a Romance language, related to other Latin languages like Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Here you can find a useful YouTube explaining the Romanian language to foreigners:
Most Romanians are Christian Orthodox. There is also an important Catholic community. The other religios or Christian denominations are present but in smaller numbers.
What is interesting about Romania is the large number of Orthodox monasteries that can be found all over the country.
Although a member of the European Union, Romania has its own currency – Leu (short sign RON). Besides banks, tourists can find exchange shops in central areas of all cities and towns.
Nadia Comăneci was the first female gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event, during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. You can watch Nadia’s performance on YouTube below
Gheorghe Hagi is known as the greatest Romanian footballer of all time, and was considered one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe during the 1980s and 1990s. Romanians call him “Regele” (The King)
Simona Halep is our rising star tennis player who is currently ranked world No. 2. She won her first 6 WTA titles in the same calendar year in 2013 and was named the WTA’s Most Improved Player.
There are also a number of extraordinary Romanian artists, who made the history of culture richer:
The famous Brancusi was one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century. He was born in a small village in Romania, in a family of peasants, and today is considered the patriarch of modern sculpture.
George Enescu was a composer, violinist, pianist, conductor, and teacher, regarded as Romania’s most important musician. He was the teacher of the famous Yehudi Menuhin. Every other year, Bucharst hosts the George Enescu Festival, where the most important orchestras and musicians of the world are invited to perform.
The website of the Festival is here: Festival Enescu
And here are Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsodies
Conductor Sergiu Celibidache is another personality with a career spanning more than five decades, principal conductor of Munich and Berlin Philharmonics, and of many other orchestras.
On the list of writers, we can find Eugene Ionesco, an important figure of French Avantgarde theater, or Mircea Eliade, historian of religions and professor at the University of Chicago. Herta Müller, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009, is a Romanian-born German novelist, poet, essayist best known for her works depicting the effects of violence, cruelty and terror, usually in the setting of Communist Romania.
But the Shakespeare of Romania is the poet Mihai Eminescu, probably completely unknown outside the country. Here you can read Eminescu’s poems, translated into English.
Romania is the home of numerous scientists who contributed to the advancement of different fields of knowledge. Here are some of them:
Three Romanians are famous for their work in the aeronautics field. Traian Vuia is the inventor of the first plane to take off by its own power, Aurel Vlaicu built some of the first successful aircrafts and Henri Coandă discovered the Coandă effect of fluidics. Hermann Oberth, born in Sibiu, is considered one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics.
The biologist Nicolae Paulescu was the first to discover insulin and Emil Palade, received the Nobel Prize for his contributions to the research of cell biology.
The Romanian mathematician and physicist Petrache Poenaru is the inventor of the fountain pen.
The Romanian engineer Aurel Persu was the first to lace the wheels of a car inside its body in order to create a more aerodynamic shape.
More recently, the child prodigy Ionuț Alexandru Budișteanu won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for the self-driving car he invented.