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Review: Romania

City/Town/Region/Island

Romania

Some history

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2341 reviews

    Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon Ribbon

  • May 2017
  • On your own

67 people found this review helpful

I spent ten days in Romania with Cox and Kings. I wrote a separate review about the trip and itinerary here.

To begin to understand Romania, you need to know a little about its history. The area was originally settled by nomadic tribes from Asia on their way to central Europe. Small family groups settled, moving from a nomadic existence to a more settled farming one. The country was divided into small areas ruled by a local chieftan.

The Romans arrived in 105AD and settled most of Transylvania, Wallachia and a small part of Moldovia. This was a period of prosperity and local culture integrated with the Latin one. Romanian language is based on Latin. Although the Romans were only around for about 170 years and left very few remains, the Romanians are very proud of their Roman ancestry and the statue of Roman wolf is found in many towns.

After the Romans left, the area was inhabited by nomadic tribes, the Goths, Huns, Slavs and Bulgars. Little is known about this period of history as there is no written record in Romanian until the C13th by which time, the area had been settled by Hungarians. Romania was divided into three main areas, Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania, each with their own ruler or prince.

The area was subjected to repeated attacks from the east by Mongols, Tatars and Turks. It functioned very much a buffer zone to the Hungarian Empire. By the C11th, King Stephen of Hungary invited the Teutonic knights to settle and help defend the eastern frontiers. In the C12th, King Geza II of Hungary invited Saxon Germans to settle the area of Transylvania. They were granted numerous rights including self governance, and benefits in exchange for their help in defending the lands from attack from the east. They established the seven Saxon towns of Sibiu, Sighisoara, Brasov. Bistrita, Cluj-Napoca. Medias and Sebes. These became important merchant cities with wealthy merchants and important guilds who were responsible for the upkeep of the walls and towers.

They fortified the towns by building walls around them and fortresses. In the villages, they fortified the churches with defensive walls. These were intended for defensive rather than attack. The villagers and their animals could retreat inside the church until the raiders had left.

At the beginning of the C14th Romanic herders who had previously lead a nomadic life began to settle in the upland areas only sparsely populated by the Hungarians. Unlike the Hungarians who were Roman Catholics, the Romanians were Orthodox Christians. They were very much regarded as second class citizens by the Saxons and not allowed to settle or enter the Saxon cities unless they paid a toll.

At the end of the C15th, Stephen the Great of Wallachia wanted to establish Moldavia as a strong independent principality was successful in many battles against the Ottoman Turks. He commemorated victory in battle by building a new monastery and to show his people he would never give up the fight against the infidels. These were painted during the reign of his illegitimate son, Petru Rares.

In the C16th The Ottoman Empire had seized control of Hungary. Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia came under Ottoman suzerainty and had to pay tribute to the Ottomans to preserve the peace. They only gained their independence in 1881.

There was continuing unrest in Wallachia and Moldovia in the mid C19th. After the Crimea War, Wallachia and Moldovia formed a union in 1859 and were ruled by a single government with the capital in Bucharest. Peasants were given land. Educational reform made primary education compulsory and free, Universities were founded in Bucharest and Iasi.

Restriction on Romanians entering and living in the Saxon towns were eased at the end of the C19th. Many new Orthodox churches were built.

There were elections for a ruler and National Assembly. Alexandru Ioan Cuza was appointed ruler but only lasted six years. He began a series of reforms but found it difficult to make changes as he was thwarted by continuous power struggle. He abdicated in 1865. The European powers decided that a foreign prince should become king as he would be impartial and above local power struggles. Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen a cousin of the German Emperor, was crowned Carol I with his wife Elisabeth. In 1881, Wallachia and Moldavia gained their independence from the Ottoman Empire and proclaimed themselves as the Kingdom of Romania.

Carol was followed by his nephew Ferdinand in 1914, who he adopted as Carol and Elisabeth only had one child, a daughter who died aged three. Ferdinand was married to Marie, a grand daughter of Queen Victoria.

Romania remained neutral in the First World War until 1916 when France asked it to join the Allies in support of Romania’s territorial claims to parts of Transylvania. Romania declared war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Fighting was fierce and the Romanian army suffered devastating losses during the war. After the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, Transylvania along with Bucovina and Bessarabia joined Wallachia and Moldavia as part of a Greater Romania. There followed a period of modernisation and industrialisation. Romania was the fourth largest exporter of grain in the world and a major exporter of oil.

Romania was left isolated after the fall of France in 1940. Although they tried to remain neutral, the USSR reoccupied Bessarabia which they had owned before it became part of Greater Romania. The northern part of Bucovina was annexed by the Ukraine. Romania was forced to cede part of northern Transylvania to Hungary and part of the south east of the country to Bulgaria. This led to widespread demonstrations and Carol II was forced to abdicate in favour of his son Michael. German troops entered Romania in 1942, as they wanted to secure the Romania oil fields for Germany. Thousands of Jews and Roma were massacred. In 1944, the Soviet Red Army crossed the border into Romania, who then changed sides and fought with the Allies against Nazi Germany.

The Paris Treaty in 1947 returned northern Transylvania to Romania but not Bessarabia or the south western part lost to Bulgaria. King Michael was forced to abdicate in 1947 and into exile. His properties were seized and he was stripped of his Romanian citizenship. Romania was proclaimed a republic and remained under direct and military control of the USSR. After the negotiated retreat of the Soviet troops, Nicolae Ceauşescu took over as General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party and leader of the country from 1965 until his overthrow and execution in 1989.

He imposed a harsh rule of no freedom of speech or thought, no religion, arts or tradition. Ceauşescu wanted to turn Romania from an agricultural community to an industrial based one. The state seized ownership of the land and set up large communal farms. Factories were built on the outskirts of the towns. He encouraged to move from the country to the towns and had a black list of villages he thought unimportant. As part of a policy of egalitarianism, he began to demolish many houses and replaced them with large apartment blocks.

One sixth of Bucharest was demolished to build the Palace of Parliament as part of his megalomania to bring all the different government ministries under his direct control. The houses and palaces of the rich along with their contents were seized. Many like Peles Castle were turned into state museums. Others like the Cotrocenti palace were put to other uses.

To help pay for his excesses, Ceauşescu, allowed nearly 50% of the Saxon Germans to return to Germany in return for a cash payment. Romanians and Roma moved into their houses.

After the fall of Ceauşescu and Communism in 1989, the economy was in free fall. Many factories and industry went bankrupt. Unemployment soared. Many Romanians left the country in search of work. State farms were broken up and the land returned to its former owners where known. Farm machinery was not maintained and became unusable when it broke down. Replacements could not be afforded. Many land holdings are small and barely sufficient to support a family. From being one of the richest agricultural countries in Europe at the start of the C20th and one of the largest grain exporters, Romania now has to import grain and much of the farming is at the level of subsistence farming. Nearly 90% of the remaining Saxons left to go to Germany. Since then, emigration has continued and there are now very few Saxons families left in Romania.

There were frequent elections and change of government in the 1990s. Romania has gradually embraced democracy and increasing links with the rest of Europe by joining NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007. Foreign investment is gradually reopening some of the closed factories and improving farming, although life is still tough for many families.

My full trip report with all the pictures can be found here.

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