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Country of the Week: Romania

In Countries by Continental Staff Comments

Often associated with the horror genre, Romania has a long and rich history, full of conflict, castles, culture, and yes, maybe even a vampire or two…

  • Capital of Romania (and Largest City): Bucharest
  • Population of Romania (2015): 19,511,000 (59th)
  • Total Area of Romania: 238,391 km² (83rd)
  • Official Language of Romania: Romanian
  • Currency of Romania: Romanian leu (RON)
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Peleș Castle near the town of Sinaia

History of Romania

Prior to Roman incursion into the land, what is now Romania was mostly populated by Thracian peoples – namely the Dacians (who formed a kingdom of their own). Around the year 100 CE however, the Empire made inroads into the region, turning half of the Dacian land into a Roman province – Dacia Felix. After slightly over 150 years however, the Romans pulled out and left the land to the mercy of regional tribes until the Middle Ages.

Medieval and Early-Modern Romania

By the Middle Ages, Romania was divided between three different principalities – Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania. The fortunes of the different regions that make up modern Romania rose and fell over the centuries – though for much of it Transylvania was beholden to the larger Kingdom of Hungary. By the 16th century the majority of Romania was under the control of the powerful Ottoman Empire. Though they maintained a degree of autonomy, Ottoman rule continued in most of the region until the mid 1800’s.

The Road to Independence

By the late 1840s, Transylvania was under the sovereignty of the Austro-Hungarian Empire while the other two principalities of Romania remained under Ottoman rule. Revolutions in both in 1848 failed, but did lead to a closer union between the regions. Finally, in the late 19th century, Romania was recognized as an independent state.

The World Wars

While Romania began World War I as a neutral country, it joined the Entente Powers (Britain, France, Russia) two years later. This resulted in a large-scale occupation of much of the country by the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire).

Though the interwar period brought economic concerns, the country was able to expand its territory greatly. Unfortunately, this also contributed to the rise of fascist and authoritarian regimes. After initially attempting to remain neutral during WWII, Romania was compelled to join the Axis powers – under the leadership of Ion Antonescu. He presided over a brutal regime where many suffered and were killed in the Holocaust. The country also contributed a vast amount of troops and oil to the German war effort. Finally, in 1944, a coup led to a change of leadership and the country joined the Allies for the remainder of the fight. Scholars suggest that the coup and subsequent changing of sides shortened the war by half a year.

Communist Romania

Following the war, the Soviet Union occupied the country, and the Romanian communist party won, shall we say, a suspect election. The early years of the region were characterized by a harsh, autocratic regime. In 1965 under Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romanian politics shifted when he sought to retain a degree of autonomy from the USSR. They didn’t take part in the invasion of Czechoslovakia and retained diplomatic relations with Israel and West Germany. Despite this degree of independence from Moscow, Ceaușescu controlled a brutal regime – including an increasingly potent cult of personality and powerful secret police. This came to a head in 1989, where the Romanian Revolution saw Ceaușescu and his wife executed after being accused of genocide.

Modern Romania

After the violent end to communism, former communists seized power – though they soon splintered into separate parties. In 1996, an election was held and democracy has taken root in the country since then. Romania has also sought closer relations with the West, joining both NATO and the EU in recent years. Despite some problems facing the country, economic success does appear to be on the cards and the country is looking in good shape for the future.

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The massive Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest

Romanian Culture

Romania has a unique culture, which is a product of its central location in Europe and proximity to Asia. Slavic, Greek, Byzantine, Ottoman – all have had an effect on the Romanian way of life over the centuries. In recent years, Western European culture has rubbed off on the Romanian people.

Romanian Folklore

Traditional folk culture is a hugely important part of the country’s way of life. Arts and crafts, architecture, music, and dance are all ever-present in Romanian society. This can also be seen in mythology and folk tales, many involving heroes, villains, dragons, and beasts.

Romanian Cuisine

Romanian cuisine has seen influences from all nearby countries permeate its food over the years. The Turkish, Greeks, Bulgarians, and others all brought their own culinary traditions, to which the Romanians added their own unique spins to the dishes. The national dish is called Sarmale, and is generally minced meat wrapped in vine leaves with rice.

Sports in Romania

Soccer is the most popular sport in Romania. While the national team is not historically one of Europe’s strongest, they have had periods of success – such as quarterfinal appearance in the 1994 World Cup. The club team Steaua București has been successful in past decades on the European stage. Handball, basketball, and rugby are also popular.

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Bean soup in bread – from Transylvania

Geography of Romania

Romania was historically divided into four different regions. There’s Dobrogea in the east, which stretches from the Danube to the Black Sea. Moldavia rests between the Prut River and the Eastern Carpathians close to the Moldovan and Ukrainian border. Wallachia is situated between the southern Carpathians and the Danube. Finally, Transylvania is bounded by the Carpathians on the east and south – and is known for its picturesque and mountainous landscape.

Cities in Romania

The biggest city in Romania (by far) is Bucharest – the capital. It is the centre of life in every way in Romania, dominating the political, cultural, and commercial spheres. It is the 6th largest city in the entire EU – larger than well-known municipalities such as Vienna, Barcelona, Munich, Warsaw, and Prague.

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View over Bucharest – Romania’s capital and largest city

Facts about Romania

  • The famous vampire, Count Dracula, resides in Transylvania. He was inspired by Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia – a 15th century noble dubbed ‘the Impaler’
  • Romania is one of the world’s larger wine producers
  • Bucharest has Europe’s 4th largest mass transit system
  • The Winter Soldier himself (actor Sebastian Stan) was born in Romania
  • Romanian gymnast Nadia Elena Comaneci was the first to achieve a perfect score (during the 1976 Montreal Olympics)
  • The Palace of Parliament in Bucharest is the 3rd largest building in the world
  • The Transfagarasan Highway was named the most beautiful road in the world by British show Top Gear
  • Transylvania means ‘the land beyond the forest’
  • Romania has more gold resources than any other European country
  • The Statue of Decebalus is Europe’s largest rock sculpture
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The mountains and fields near Bran

Last Word

That’s all for now! Check back later as we continue to explore this fascinating country throughout the week!


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