Every country in this world has its own individuality, even if we often use direct comparisons with other places we’ve been. We do that when we talk with other travelers, but also as a way to remember by association places we’ve seen and things we’ve done. The truth is sometimes we might upset locals who of course know the differences between their country and the one we’re comparing with, so it’s best to keep these comparisons for ourselves, if we don’t want to appear shallow and insensitive to foreign cultures. Or, better yet, do a little bit of research before heading into unknown territory and surprise those inhabitants with your knowledge about their birthplace.
That’s why we’ve got the idea of initiating a new series of articles on Travelue with interesting facts about countries we’ve visited, facts that will help you strike a conversation with the natives. We’ll of course start with Romania, our birthplace and country of residence.
It became immediately apparent to me there are a lot of things I didn’t knew about my homeland. I’m not ashamed to admit it, now that I know more interesting bits about Romania. Better late than never, I guess. So here are a few interesting facts about Romania, useful if you plan to travel here (which I highly recommend you do), but also interesting to know.
1. Romania is the only country in Eastern Europe with a latin derived language. This means we’re closer to Italians, French and Spanish people than Russians, as some people think, at least when it comes to the language we speak. Romanian language is around 1700 years old and the meaning of the word “Romania” comes from the latin “romanus” which can be translated as citizen of the Roman empire.
2. There are 7 UNESCO world heritage sites in Romania. The entire list can be found on Wikipedia, and includes sites like Danube Delta natural site (best preserved delta in Europe), fortified churches of Transylvania, wooden churches of Maramureş, painted churches from Moldova, historic centre of Sighişoara and old Dacian fortresses of the Oraştie mountains, including the renown Sarmizegetusa Regia. Lots of things to see, even if you’re not into churches, which are amazing by the way, if you consider they’re at least a few hundred years old. You should especially visit Voroneţ, which is advertised by some as the Sixtine Chapel of Romania and is known for a special shade of blue, called “Voroneţ Blue”, of course.
3. Tallest Rock Sculpture in Europe: Statue of Decebalus, the Dacian king. This is an homage to Decebalus, the last king of Dacia, before it was conquered by the Roman empire. It’s an impressive 41 meters (135 feet) tall stone sculpture on the bank of Danube river, near Orsova, made by 12 sculptors. It was paid by the Romanian and Italian business man and historic writer Iosif Constantin Dragan. The work was quite difficult considering that they had to cross the river by boats and then to carry 40-50 kilograms sacks on their shoulders. One tonne of dynamite was used to shape the rock and the workers suffered a few accidents during constructions, one of them being bitten by a viper, as poisonous snakes are common in the area.
When looking at the big statue one can notice that Decebalus nose and moustache have a different color. That is because the rock from what they were made dislocated and they had to find an alternative solution, so they made it from concrete.
4. Danube to Black Sea canal: third largest man made navigation route. A lot of sweat and blood from political prisoners of the communist era went into building the 95.6 km long canal that’s now a very important part of the European canal system linking the North Sea to the Black Sea.
5. People’s Palace/Palace of Parliament: world’s largest civilian building with administrative function. This one is in the record books also as the most expensive administrative building and the heaviest one. It’s located in Bucharest and was built in the communist Ceauşescu regime after being designed by no less than 700 architects. It’s an impressive place to visit, even if it has almost no cultural value. If you plan on visiting make sure you take a photo ID with you, or else you’ll just watch it from outside.
6. Count Dracula was inspired by Romanian ruler Vlad The Impaler (Vlad Ţepes). Yeah, vampire stories started by Bram Stoker are inspired by 15th century ruler Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia. I honestly don’t know how someone can make the link between impaling someone and drinking their blood to stay young, but I guess Hollywood stories need to be interesting first, accurate second. Anyway, in a time where there was no Romania from a political point of view, and these lands were regularly “visited” by Turks, Vlad’s cruelty manifested mainly by vertical impalement of his enemies was probably a good way to keep ill intended people away. Oh, and he was a resilient guy, ruling not once, not twice, but three times. There are a few legendary Dracula’s Castle locations to pick from, if you want to pay your respects.
7. Carpathian mountains are home of the largest population of Brown Bears. 60% of European brown bears are located in the virgin forests of the Carpathian mountains. You may want to watch them through a pair of binoculars, as they could mistake you for dinner.
8. Astra Museum is world’s second largest outdoor museum. The Astra museum in Sibiu is probably the best place to step back a few hundred years in a blink of an eye. It features more than 300 old restored or replica buildings with various functions, from windmills and giant wine presses to hydraulic forges. The museum complex gathers under its wings four ethnology and civilisation museum, laboratories and research, conservation and a documentation centre.
9. World’s happiest resting place: the Merry Cemetery. Death is usually treated as a solemn matter in European societies, but there’s one notable exception, the Merry Cemetery in Săpânţa, Maramureş. At this tourist attraction you’ll find colorful tombstones, painted with various images from the characters and lives of the people buried there.
10. Bucharest public transit system is world’s 4th largest. I’m not sure if this should be a tourist attraction, but I think it beats walking in Romania’s largest city, Bucharest. It’s comprised of Metrorex, home to more than 50 subway stations and RATB, the ground network reaching also outside the city limits. Tickets are inexpensive and recently night buses were introduced.
I think this list could be extended even more, but it’s enough for now to get you started if Romania is on your destinations list. If you want to learn more interesting stuff about Romania, not all linked to travel, I suggest to take a look at this article. It helped me a lot with deciding which things to list in this post.