Romania is situated in the South-Eastern part of Central Europe, between Eastern Europe and the Balkan Peninsula.
Its frontier of 3,185 km separates it from Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro (W & SW), Bulgaria (S), the Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova (NE & E). Lying at the crossroads of the major routes between the Western and Eastern world, Romania has always played an important geopolitical role for the stability of the whole continent. With a surface area of 238,391 sq km (4.8% of Europe ), Romania ranks 11th in continental Europe and 79th in the World.
Romania’s natural landscape is almost evenly distributed between mountains (31%), hills (33%), and plains (36%). These varied landforms spread rather symmetrically from the Carpathian Mountains, reaching over 2,400 m altitude (maximum altitude – the Moldoveanu Peak of 2,544 m), to the Danube Delta, which is just a few meters above sea level.
The range of the Carpathians extends over 1,000 km through the centre of the country, covering an area of 70,000 sq. km. These mountains are of low to medium altitude and are no wider than 100 km. They are cut by deep valleys and crossed by several major rivers. Another distinguishing feature are the many eroded platforms that provide tablelands at relatively high altitudes. There are permanent settlements here at above 1,200 m.
Romania’s Carpathians are differentiated into three segments: the Eastern Carpathians, the Southern Carpathians or the Transylvanian Alps, and the Western Carpathians.
Enclosed within the great arch of the Carpathians lie the undulating plains and low hills of the Transylvanian Plateau – the largest tableland in the country and the heartland of Romania. This important agricultural region also contains large deposits of natural gas and salt. To the South and East of the Carpathians, the Carpathian foothills form a fringe of rolling terrain ranging from 396 to 1,006 m in altitude. The symmetry of Romania’s landscape continues with the Getic Tableland to the South of the Carpathian foothills, the Moldavian Tableland in the East and the Dobrogea Tableland in the South-East between the Danube and the Black Sea.
The Carpathian foothills and the tableland areas provide good conditions for human settlement and are important areas for fruit growing, viticulture, and other agricultural activities. They also contain large deposits of brown coal and natural gas. Beyond the Carpathian foothills and tablelands, the plains spread South and West. In the Southern parts of the country lies the Lower Danube Plain.
Romania’s lowest land is found on the Northern edge of the Dobrogea region, in the Danube Delta. The delta is a triangular swampy area of marshes, floating reed islands, and sandbanks, where the Danube ends its journey of almost 3,000 km. The Danube Delta provides a large part of the country’s fish production, and its reed is used in the production of cellulose. In August 1990, UNESCO declared the Danube Delta a reservation of the biosphere. It includes the delta, the Razim-Sinoe complex of lagoons and the Danube valley up to Cotul Pisicii, covering an area of 591.200 ha. This represents 2.5% of Romania ‘s territory.
Virtually all of the country’s rivers are tributaries of the Danube, either directly or indirectly, and by the time the Danube’s course ends in the Black Sea, they account for nearly 40% of the total inflow.
The most important of these rivers are the Mureş, the Olt, the Pruth, the Siret, the Ialomiţa, the Someş, and the Argeş. Fed by rainfall and melting snow, there is considerable fluctuation in inflow and occasionally catastrophic flooding. In the East, the Siret and the Prut collect the other rivers’ waters. In the South, the rivers flow directly into the Danube , and in the West, waters are collected by the Tisa on Hungarian territory.
The Danube is an important water route for domestic shipping, as well as international trade. It is navigable for river vessels along its entire Romanian course and for seagoing ships as far as the port of Brăila. An obvious problem with the use of the Danube for inland transportation is its remoteness from most of the major industrial centres. Moreover, marshy banks and perennial flooding impede navigation in some areas.
Located half way between the Equator and the North Pole, on the South-Eastern part of the European continent, Romania enjoys a temperate-continental climate with hot summers and fairly mild winters. Climatic conditions are somewhat modified by the country’s varied landscape.
The Carpathians serve as a barrier to Atlantic air masses, restricting their oceanic influences to the West and centre of the country, where they cause milder winters and heavier rainfall. The mountains also block the continental influences of the Russian Plain, which bring frosty winters and less rain to the South and South-East.
In the extreme South-East, maritime influences bring a milder climate. The average annual temperature is 11°C in the South and 8°C in the North. Rainfall, although adequate throughout the country, decreases from West to East and from mountains to plains.
Romania’s main resources are agricultural, given the rather fertile soils, but the country also has significant mineral deposits, particularly oil (in the Southern part of the country), natural gas (in the Transylvanian Depression), salt (in the Transylvanian Depression and in the Carpathian foothills), hard coal, lignite (brown coal), iron ore (in the Western Carpathians – the Apuseni Mountains and in the Northern part of Romania), copper, bauxite, chromium, manganese, lead, and zinc. Timber is also an important natural resource.
Population and settlements
In 2004, Romania had a population of 22,271,839. The birth rate is of 10.79%, the death rate – 12.25%, the infant mortality rate – 18.4 deaths/1,000 live births and life expectancy at birth – 70.62 years. (According to the 2003 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency).
Romanian 89.5%, Hungarian 6.6% (in Transylvania), Romma 2.5%, Ukrainian 0.3% (in the Northern part), German 0.3% (settled in Transylvania – Romania’s once thriving German population has declined since the 1990s as most of the Germans have emigrated to Germany), Russian 0.2%, Turkish 0.2% (in the South-Eastern part – the region of Dobrogea), other 0.4% (in 2002).
Eastern Orthodox (including all sub-denominations) 87%, Protestant 6.8%, Catholic (Roman- and Greek-Catholic) 5.6%, other (mostly Muslim) 0.4%, unaffiliated 0.2% (in 2002).
The urban and rural population (55% and 45% respectively) is concentrated in 262 towns and 13.000 villages. The main cities are: Bucharest, the capital and the largest city of Romania, is the commercial and industrial centre of the country; Constanta, the most important Romanian port on the Black Sea; Iaşi, a cultural and manufacturing centre; Timişoara , a textile, machinery, and chemical manufacturing centre; Cluj-Napoca, a commercial, cultural and administrative centre; Galaţi, a naval and metallurgical centre; Braşov, a transportation and industrial centre; Craiova, a centre of food processing and locomotive manufacturing.
Romania is a parliamentary republic governed under the constitution of 1991, revised in 2004. The president is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president appoints the prime minister and the prime minister appoints the cabinet. The bicameral parliament consists of a senate and a chamber of deputies. The country is divided into 40 counties and the municipality of Bucharest. Settlements are organized in villages, communes, towns and municipalities.
Beside the beautiful mountain landscapes, there are some other tourist attractions that are worth mentioning:
The Black Sea
Romania’s main sea resorts are all located on 45 miles of fine sandy beaches and include Mamaia, Eforie, Neptun, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Mangalia. The Black Sea coast has long been known for cures of arthritic, rheumatic, internal and nervous disorders.
The Danube Delta
It’s a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. The waters of the Danube, which flow into the Black Sea, form the largest and best preserved of Europe ‘s deltas – The Danube Delta (Delta Dunării). It is also the only delta in the world stretching from west to east instead of north south. The Danube Delta is home to more than 300 migratory and permanent bird species, to 160 kinds of fish that include caviar-bearing sturgeon, and to 800 plant families. This wetland preserve covers more than 1,678,000 acres (2,622 sq. miles) with channels and canals widening into tree-fringed lakes, reed islands, numerous lakes and marshes, oak forests intertwined with lianas and creepers, dunes and traditional fishermen villages.
Romania’s numerous castles best illustrate the country’s medieval heritage. Many castles and fortresses in Romania feature unique architectural elements and styles that reflect local traditions and customs. While castles built between the 14th and the 18th century are strong and austere fortresses meant mainly for defence against invaders, those erected beginning with the late 1800s are commanding and luxurious residences.
World literature found valuable sources of inspiration in some of Romania’s castles, the most famous novels written about them being “The Castle from the Carpathians” by Jules Verne and “Dracula” by Bram Stoker.
Romania’s best-known castles are:
Considered by many one of the most beautiful castles in all Europe, Peleş Castle is a masterpiece of German Neo-Renaissance architecture. Commissioned by King Carol I in 1873 and completed in 1883, Peleş’ interiors are an opulent display of elegant design and historical artefacts. Its 160 rooms are adorned 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.
Almost adjacent to Peleş Castle is Pelişor (“Little Peleş”). King Ferdinand, who succeeded Carol I, intended to use Peleş Castle as a summer residence. Supposedly he found Peleş too big and overwhelming, so he commissioned the smaller, Art Nouveau style Pelişor Castle. Pelişor’s 70 rooms feature a unique collection of turn-of-the century Viennese furniture and Tiffany and Lalique glassware. Peleş and Pelişor are located 3 miles northeast of downtown Sinaia.
This fortified medieval castle, often referred to as Dracula’s Castle, was built in 1377 by the Teutonic Knights to protect nearby Braşov from invaders. It also served as a customs point. The castle’s rooms and towers surround an inner courtyard. Some rooms are 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.
Bran is home to a rich collection of Romanian and foreign furniture and art produced between 14th and the 19th century. The castle sits atop a 200 ft. high rock overlooking the picturesque village of Bran. On the grounds below there is an open-air ethnographic museum of old village buildings exhibiting furniture, household objects and costumes.
Hunedoara – The Castle of the Corvinus family
Built in the 14th century, on the place of an old fortification, on a rock at whose bottom flows a little river the castle is a commanding building, with high and diversely coloured roofs, towers, windows and balconies adorned with stone carvings.
Being one of the most important properties of John Hunyadi, the castle was transformed during his rule. It became a sumptuous home, not only a stronghold. With the passing of the years, the masters of the castle modified its look, adding towers, halls and guest rooms. In the wing of the castle called the Mantle we find a painting regarding the legend of the raven which gave the name of the descendants of John Hunyadi: Corvini (Latin for raven “corb”)
The castle was restored and transformed into a museum.
Braşov, Sibiu and Sighişoara are some of Europe’s best-preserved medieval towns. They are the living symbols of Transylvania. Visitors can find here unique architectural treasures, ancient tiny houses that line narrow streets, cobblestone passageways, and covered stone steps.
Tiny shops offer a range of antiques and fine handmade products of artisans and artists who have established little communities in the countryside.
Sighişoara is one of the most beautiful towns of central Transylvania. German architectural influences are visible throughout the entire city. For several centuries Sighişoara was a military and political centre. One of its most famous attractions is the Clock Tower ( Council Tower ), built in the 14 century. Highlights include: the Guild Tower, the Venetian House (built in the 13 Century), Vlad the Impaler’s (Dracula) House, the Antler House, the Wooden Covered Staircase, the Hill Church, the Hermann Oberth Square.
The Painted Monasteries
Among the most picturesque treasures of Romania are the painted churches located in Bukovina, many of which are protected by UNESCO as part of the world heritage. These richly decorated houses of worship are feature exterior paintings that have survived the elements since the 15th century.
The Voroneţ Monastery in Bucovina, founded in 1488 by Stephen the Great, is widely known throughout Europe as “the Sistine Chapel of the East,” because of its interior and exterior wall paintings, frescoes featuring a colour that has come to be known as Voroneţ blue. The frescoes of this church and of many other painted churches in the Bucovina region illustrate biblical scenes, prayers, and episodes of sacred hymns and themes such as The Last Judgment and The Ladder of St. John, with the colourful and detailed rich representations of apostles, evangelists, philosophers, martyrs, angels and demons.
Beside their vivid frescoes, the painted monasteries are famous for the original way of depicting beliefs or events: Suceviţa Monastery with its unique “Ladder of Virtue”; Gura Humorului, featuring the devil amusingly depicted as a woman, and Moldoviţa, where a monumental scene of the Siege of Constantinople is displayed. Easily accessible from the cities of Suceava or Câmpulung Moldovenesc the “painted” monasteries’ area is also known for its traditional villages, its spectacular scenery and for the nearby vineyards of Cotnari.
The Maramureş Region
Quiet villages and gentle, welcoming people may be the words that best describe the Maramureş region, situated in northwestern Romania. Centuries-old traditions are still alive in the rural areas of Maramureş.
In late afternoon, old women sit outside their gates coaxing coarse wool onto spindles. Many still favour the traditional dress, white flounced blouses and striped woven aprons covering full black skirts, headscarves and “opinci”, a sort of leather ballet slipper from which heavy yarn criss-crosses over thick socks. On Sundays, even little girls wear this garb.
Winter Sports Resorts and Facilities
Due to the pressure of Carpathians, the tourist potential of Romania is quite considerable. That’s why the number of mountain resorts has increased constantly and major improvements of the facilities have taken place.
Stâna de Vale ( Bihor County ) and Semenic ( Caraş-Severin County ) are two smaller resorts located in the west of Romania, in Apuseni Mountains and Banat Mountains . Even if they do not benefit from a good infrastructure, nature and the hospitality of local people compensate for these lacks. The altitude of those resorts is between 1,100 and 1,400 m, ensuring a mild climate (especially in Semenic) and huge quantities of snow (especially in Stâna de Vale).
Poiana Braşov, Braşov County, is located in the southeast of Transylvania, 13 km away from Braşov (elevation 1,030 m). Both beginners and advanced skiers can enjoy the large number of slopes of various degrees of difficulty. The apres-ski facilities, namely hotels, cottages, restaurants and shopping areas brought the fame of this resort. Trips can be made to the nearby medieval town of Braşov, the “fortified churches” of Prejmer, Harman, the Castle of Bran or the Peasants’ Stronghold at Raşnov.
In the same Braşov County, 145 km north of Bucharest, between Postavaru and Piatra Mare Mountains, lays Predeal. It is the highest urban settlement in Romania with an elevation of more than 1,000 m. It offers good conditions for skiing both day and night. The resort also has artificial snow. The neighbouring chalets offers the best trips to the historic landmarks located less than 25 km away (Sinaia with the Peleş Castle and George Enescu Museum, Braşov with the Black Church and the Schei district), Bran or Raşnov.
In the North and Centre of the Eastern Carpathians, you can find Borşa (Maramureş county) and Durău (Neamţ county). The climate is rather harsh, with impressive quantities of snow every winter. The resorts are also located deep into one of the most picturesque regions of Romania.
Close to Bucharest (around 125-135 km away), in Prahova County , three famous resorts are located. Sinaia is the most important, with ski slopes up to 2,000 m altitude for both advanced and beginners; Azuga has two ski slopes opened in the recent years; Buşteni is already becoming a classic destination for snow-lovers, having one of the oldest slopes in Romania. Recently, work has begun on a new slope. All these resorts are located between altitudes of 800 and 950 m, while the slopes reach even 2,000 m in length. There are many hiking tracks starting from these resorts, leading to famous natural monuments like “Babele” and the “Sphinx”.
Păltiniş, a resort located at an altitude of 1,400 m, in Sibiu County, in the north of Cindrel Mountains, offers the best conditions for skiing and snowboarding, as well as hikes in the environs.
Vatra Dornei (Suceava County) gained fame as one of the best tourist resorts in the north of the country, being also well known as a spa.
Beside these resorts, skiing facilities are to be found in different corners of the country: Aries Valley or Băişoara Mountains in Apuseni Mountains; Bran in Bucegi Mountains, Sugas near Sfântu Gheorghe (Covasna County), Harghita , Mădăraş and Izvoru Mureşului in Harghita County etc.