How did Romania Get Its Name?
The name Romania comes from the Latin word, “Romanus” meaning, “Citizen of the Roman Empire.” The people who inhabited the area of modern Romania were called Getae (Geti) by the Greeks and Dacians (Daci) by the Romans. The name Romania was first used when the three regions (Walachia, Moldavia and Transylvania) of the country were united in 1859. Transylvania, which is part of Romania, means “the land beyond the forest” and the capital city, Bucharest, is often called, “Little Paris” due to its elegant arch that was built in the time between the two World Wars. Legend says the name Bucharest stems from the shepherd who founded the town on the Dambovita River. His name was “Bucor” which means, “Happiness” in Romanian.
Where is Romania Located?
Romania is located in the southeastern part of central Europe. It is the 12th largest country in all of Europe. Her neighbors are: Hungary to the northwest, Serbia to the southwest, Bulgaria to the south, the Black Sea to the southeast, Ukraine to the east and the north, and Moldova to the east. She also shares a maritime border with Turkey.
Romania is made beautiful by its rolling hills, verdant plains and foreboding mountain peaks. The Carpathian Mountains, although not quite as high as the Alps, extend over 600 miles in the shape of an arch. They are divided into three major ranges known as the eastern or Oriental range, the southern range, known as the Transylvanian Alps and the Western Carpathians.
The Danube River which begins its journey in the Black Forest of Germany, ends its journey of 1864 miles through Europe, in southeastern Romania. It is the second longest river in Europe. The Danube is an important waterway for domestic shipping, international trade and tourist cruises. Here, the river divides into three frayed branches and forms the Danube Delta. It creates new Romanian beaches that extend almost 65 feet into the sea each year. The swampy delta, made of marshes, floating reed islands and sand banks, is a UNESCO Biosphere reservation and is a protected area for rare species of plants and animals. Romania is home to 3700 species of plants and almost 34,000 species of animals, including the 6000 brown bears that live in the forest; the largest population in Europe.
The Black Sea’s wide and sandy beaches are a major tourist attraction from May to September, with a pleasant water temperature of 77 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer.
A Brief History of Romania
Romania’s history is complicated and dates back to ancient history, with evidence from the carved, stone tools unearthed there, that the land was inhabited since the Paleolithic Age. Cave paintings dating back to 10,000 B.C. were recently discovered in northwest Transylvania. Over the centuries, various migrating groups invaded Romania. There are five distinct periods in Romania’s history: the Roman Period, from 3600 BC to 500 AD, the Byzantine Period, from 500 AD to 1500, the Ottoman Period, from 1500 to 1750, the Mid-modern Period, from 1750 to 1914, and the Contemporary Period, from 1914 to present day.
Romania’s post WWII history as a communist-bloc nation is more widely known. This is likely due to the excesses of the former dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife. For 25 years, they ruled a struggling Romania, all the while building a palace/residence of grotesque opulence. The palace, which now houses the Parliament (but is still 70% empty,) is about four million square feet in size and has 1,100 rooms, including a bathroom plated in gold. There was an uprising of the Romanian people in 1989 which resulted in the ousting of Nicolae and his cabinet and ultimately the execution of Nicolae and his wife on Christmas Day. As of 1991, Romania is a republic with a multi-party system, market economy and individual rights of free speech, religion and private ownership. In 2007 Romania became part of the European Union.
Romania is home to nearly 20 million people. Almost 90 percent are Romanian, 7.5 percent are Hungarian and the balance are Germans, Ukrainians, Armenians, Croatians, Serbians and Turks, including a group of gypsies, known as Romas. The main religion, for nearly 80 percent of the population, is Eastern Orthodox. Catholics and Protestants make up most of the balance, with a few Jewish and atheists as well. Many of the holidays celebrated in Romania are based on the Orthodox religion. Nearly every day of the year is dedicated to the memory of a saint or martyr. If someone is named after the saint, that day is celebrated as his or her “name day.”
The official language there is Romanian, which is a Latin based language. Hungarian and German are also spoken and many elders understand Russian. Most Romanians speak at least one other foreign language and many speak two or three, with English, French and German being the most prevalent. The literacy rate in Romania is 98 percent.
The economy used to be mainly based on agriculture and still today, nearly 25 percent of the land filled with pastures, orchards, vineyards, forestries and fisheries. Today they also produce coal, natural gas, iron ore, and petroleum. Tourism is a growing industry as well.
The distinctive culture of Romania is a result of its historical evolution. One way in which the people of Romania showcase their tradition is by wearing brightly, colored costumes and ornaments and performing their traditional dances at their many street festivals. There you will also find beautiful, woven carpets, wood hand carvings and pottery. They are also known for their intricately, decorated Easter eggs, painted glass, and painted wood icons.
Why Visit Romania?
There are numerous UNESCO sites in Romania, which include rugged stone and wood churches. One of these churches is the tallest, wooden church in the world, standing at 257 feet tall and topped with a 23 foot cross, weighing 1000 pounds. You will also find dazzling monasteries with hand painted frescoes. Transylvania has no shortage of awe inspiring castles. However, there is none quite like their most famous attraction, the spooky, Bran Castle, with its connection to Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.
In the capital city of Bucharest you’ll find a burgeoning, metropolitan city with a vibe that is simply explained as “energetic.” The palace built by Nicolae, the communist dictator, is now a huge tourist attraction there.
Thanks to the bucolic landscape, there is just about every outdoor activity you can imagine along its numerous rivers, lakes and Black Sea shore.
Another interesting attraction lies in Sapanta Village and is called, the Merry Cemetery. It is famous for the elaborate, bright blue, hand painted wooden crosses that adorn the tombstones. They are hand made and depict the person’s life in pictures and verse, with no secrets left untold. Visitors marvel at the gentle and sometimes dark humor of the epitaphs. It is said to be the happiest cemetery in the world.
As true in many places, it is the people who provide the best reason to visit Romania. They are known to be incredibly hospitable and friendly. They love to show their hospitality by offering food; a place after my own heart.
Romanian cuisine is influenced by its own food resources as well as its neighboring and occasional occupying cultures. Turkish, Greek, Hungarian, Austrian, Russian, Germanic and Slavic influences are all reflected in Romanian cuisine. Their food is hearty and comforting, with homemade flavors built around staples like pork, chicken, beef and lamb but also combining many local fruits and vegetables into their dishes.
Soups, called ciorba, of all styles, are ubiquitous, as is the famous side dish called, Mămăliga; a polenta made from corn meal. It is served with stews and gravies and sometimes made into bread with a dab of sour cream on top. The soups can be a meal by themselves, as they are very filling and typically made with meat or fish. The meat soups are often served with a hot red or green pepper that can be nibbled along with a spoonful of broth, as opposed to adding into the soup itself. The fish soups, especially those made near the Danube Delta, use freshwater fish and are served with a side of garlic sauce.
Cabbage rolls stuffed with spiced pork, called sarmalutes, are considered to be the de-facto national dish. Other dishes such as pork stews are made with tomatoes and wine and add to the richness of the cuisine. Fresh salads made with tomatoes and cucumbers are always found on Romanian menus.
We cannot complete the Romanian cuisine without the mention of sweets. They are famous for strudels, cakes and crepes filled with chocolate or fruit. However, the national treasure is a classic fried dough, with sweetened curd cheese, jam and cream, called Papanaşi. I am convinced it is worth a trip to Romania, just for this dessert alone. (If you can’t wait to go to Romania, than be sure to check out the recipe below.)
Alongside a Romanian meal, wine is served. Romania is the one of Europe’s top producers of both red and white varieties. Beer is also widely loved there. However, if you are looking for something a bit stronger, look no further than their plum brandy called, tuica. In Romania you will find tuica sold in plastic bottles at roadside fruit stands, right next to the apples and watermelons. Many Romanians take pride in making their own, homemade version of tuica.
So let’s enjoy a Romanian meal:
We set the table with the colors of the Romanian flag; red, yellow and blue, which signify the three areas that now make up the Republic of Romania. Small pink flowers called “dog roses” were placed, as it is the national flower. We used a back drop of the painting by Leroy Neiman, called “The Olympic Mural” which featured Romania’s Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast in history to score a perfect 10 in the Montreal Olympics in 1976. We also placed fangs to represent “Count Dracula” and a wooden wine glass to represent their viticulture. Finally, we added a cross to designate the widespread Orthodox religion there.
We began with a toast of plum brandy and said “Noroc” which means “Cheers” in Romanian. Our first course was a deviled egg called, Ovă Umplute. Although Romania does not take credit for creating the original deviled egg, they love them. These treasures are made a little differently than we are used to, by adding a hint of horseradish which gives it a lovely kick. They also add bits of ham in them, as well.
For the main course, we served a traditional Romanian soup called, Ciorbă de Perişoare. It is a sour, meatball soup that calls for an interesting herb called “lovage.” I had never tried this herb before and ended up growing it in my garden because all I could find was a dried lovage, or the seeds. Lovage tastes bitter when raw but when its cooked in broth, something magical happens. It adds a unique flavor, like none I have known. The closest thing I can recommend to substitute for lovage, would be a combination of parsley and celery leaves. Here is a link to the dried lovage. Although, I think fresh is best. This soup is hearty and perfect for a cold winter day, especially when served with Mămăliga. I made this in the bread form, as opposed to the typical polenta. It is made with corn meal and went perfectly with our sour, meatball soup. We also totally recommend the bite of hot pepper along with the soup, as is their traditional.
For our final treat, we dove into the dessert called Papanaşi, which is a fried cheese, donut, topped with sour cherry preserves and cream. I am not kidding when I say this dessert alone is worth a trip to Romania. It is easy to see why it is considered a national treasure.
After dinner we sat down to read what was once the longest, love poem ever written, penned by the famous Romanian Poet, Mihai Eminescu. It is called, “The Evening Star” or “Luceafarul”. You can read it here.
Until next time,