Romania (Romanian: România) is a country on the western shores of the Black Sea; except for Dobruja, it is north of the Balkan Peninsula. It is a country of great natural beauty and diversity and a rich cultural heritage, including a variety of ethnic, linguistic, and confessional groups. Romania enchants visitors with its scenic mountain landscapes and unspoilt rural areas, but also with its historic cities and busy capital. There has been significant development, especially since it joined the European Union in 2007. Still, it may surprise some of its visitors who are used to western Europe. It has six cultural and one natural UNESCO world heritage sites.
Romania is a large country which can sometimes be shocking with contrasts: some cities are truly modern, while some villages can seem to have been brought back from the past. While it has significant cultural similarities with other Balkan states, it is regarded as unique due to its strong Latin heritage, reflected in every part of Romanian society from its culture to its language. Things for which Romania is famous include: the Carpathian mountains, wine, medieval fortresses, Dacia cars, Dracula, stuffed cabbage leaves (sarmale), the Black Sea, sunflower fields, painted monasteries and the Danube Delta.
With a Black Sea coast to the east, it is bordered by Bulgaria to the south, Serbia to the southwest, Hungary to the northwest, Moldova to the northeast and Ukraine in both the north and the east. While its southern regions are usually seen as part of Southeastern Europe (Balkans), Transylvania, its largest region, is in Central Europe.
The country is enjoying better standards since the Communist periods, with foreign investment on the rise.
- See also: Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, World War II in Europe, Cold War Europe
The area between the Southern Carpathians and Danube had been inhabited since the dawn of mankind. The human remains found in Peștera cu Oase (“The Cave with Bones”), radiocarbon dated as being from circa 40,000 years ago, represent the oldest known Homo sapiens in Europe
In ancient times the territory of present-day Romania was inhabited mainly by Dacian tribes, which were a remarkable, although not very well known, culture. The Dacian kingdom reached the height of its power in the 1st century BC, when their king Burebista ruled from his power base in the Carpathian Mountains over a vast territory stretching from Central Europe to the Black Sea. The intriguing network of fortifications and shrines built around the Dacian capital Sarmisegetuza, in today’s south-western Transylvania, has been relatively well preserved through the ages and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
In 106 AD, after two fiercely fought wars, the Dacians led by king Decebalus were defeated by the Roman legions under Emperor Trajan and most of their homeland became part of the Roman Empire under the name “Dacia Felix”.
Being very rich in natural resources (especially gold), the region prospered under the Roman administration: cities developed rapidly, important roads were built and people from all over the Empire settled here. That’s why, although Roman rule lasted only 169 years (106-275 AD), a population with a distinctive Latin culture, character and language emerged.
In the Early Middle Ages Hungarians began to settle in the area today known as Transylvania, which would eventually become part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Germans also settled in that area (in several waves) and in Banat, some coming as early as the 12th century. In order to protect themselves from the frequent Tartar and Turkish invasions they set about building fortified cities and castles, many of which remain standing. South and east of the Carpathians the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were created in the 14th century. Starting with the 15th century, they (and for a while Transylvania too) fell under the domination of the Ottoman Empire.
For a short period in 1600, Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazu) ruled over all three principalities, thus briefly becoming the de facto ruler of a unified Romania. His union fell apart a short while later.
A Romanian national revival movement started in Transylvania in the late 1700s and swept across the Carpathians, inspiring the 1859 union of Moldavia and Wallachia, thus creating the prototype of a modern Romania. In 1918-1919 Transylvania and Eastern Moldavia (present-day Republic of Moldova) were united with Romania.
In 1940, after losing part of its territory (Eastern Moldavia and northern Bukovina) to the USSR as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Romania joined the Axis powers and participated in the 1941 German invasion of the USSR. 855,000 Romanian soldiers, airmen and sailors fought all the way to Stalingrad and Caucasus Mountains and then retreated alongside the German Army while suffering more than 30% casualties. Three years later, overrun by the Soviets, Romania signed an armistice. From August 1944 until 9 May 1945, two Romanian armies, 540,000 strong, fought on the side of the Allies against the Axis powers and liberated parts of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria while suffering over 160,000 casualties. Except for Germany, Romanian armed forces exceeded all other combined Axis military on the Soviet front, and became the fourth largest Allied European contributor after the August 1944 armistice was signed (after USSR, USA and Great Britain).
The post-war Soviet occupation led to the formation of a communist “people’s republic” in 1947 and the abdication of the king. Between 1947 and 1965, Romania was led by Gheorghiu Gheorghiu-Dej, who had a pro-Soviet stance throughout most of his administration. In 1965, he was succeeded by Nicolae Ceaușescu who was less enthusiastic towards the Soviet Union and maintained a more neutral foreign and domestic policy than his predecessor; but his Securitate police state became increasingly oppressive and draconian through the 1980s. Ceaușescu was overthrown and executed in late 1989.
Former Communists, regrouped around the Front of National Salvation and later the Romanian Party for Social Democracy, dominated the government until the 1996 elections, when they were swept from power by a fractious coalition of centrist parties, the Democratic Convention of Romania (DCR). After failed reforms and internal infighting the DCR lost the elections in favour of the Social Democratic Party (PSD). Both groups attempted to amend ties with Hungary, which were deeply fractured in the 1980s, when Ceaușescu either encouraged the large Hungarian community to leave the country or exiled them outright (5,000 Hungarians left Romania per year).
When the economic, social and political development is concerned, Romania is doing well in comparison to its neighbors (with the exception of Hungary), but it still has some ways to go to reach that level of development that is enjoyed by the Western Europeans.