Romania, land of… Castles
If you’re a history lover, then I bet you would love Romania. The place is filled with it and every little rock has its own personal story. You’ll like it even more if you’re a fan of castles. There are plenty of them… over 150, some say.
Romanian castles and citadels can generally be split into three categories, depending on how old they are: there are ancient Greek and Dacian fortresses, medieval castles and modern palaces spread all over the place.
So… if you’re into gods, myths and funky religions, best go and visit the old Dacian fortresses spread around the Western part of the country, high up in the mountains of Southern Transylvania. Sarmisegetuza is the old Dacian capital city (Dacia is an ancient kingdom roamed by the ancestors of Romanians, that existed on the now territory of Romania, before being conquered by the mighty Romans) and the most known of these places. You can find there examples of both Dacian and Roman architecture and houses, roads and temples. If you like a good old- fashioned treasure hunt, you should know that it’s the place where archeologists found several solid gold Dacian bracelets, worth a couple of million dollars each… Good luck with the metal detector!
If you don’t like obscure ancient people, take a dive into the old Greek civilization by visiting the ruins of the former Hellenic colonies near the Black Sea, Histria, Tomis and Callatis. The former is the best preserved and is worth a visit. It’s situated on the beaches of the Black Sea, a bit North of Constanta (Romania’s major sea port). Though ancient, the place still resembles the old Greek architecture and atmosphere – it’s worth a visit; guarantee it!
Moving on, medieval castles make up the large majority of this type of constructions. The most well known and spectacular examples are obviously in Transylvania. Bran Castle, near Brasov, is the place that people traditionally call the Castle of Dracula, because it was the home of Vlad the Impaler. Trap doors, magnificent scenery, interesting stories… definitely worth a visit.
Other interesting examples of medieval castles are the Hunyad Citadel, in Hunedoara, with its interesting XVI-th century architecture, the Rasnov Citadel, placed on a snowy hilltop in the Carpathians, a great place to enjoy spectacular views and Sighisoara, the only still inhabited medieval citadel in Europe.
Coming to the last category (in my opinion, the best), a visit to the Peles Castle, in the Prahova Valley, is strongly recommended if you come to Romania. Not far from Bucharest, it was built in the XIX-th century as the summer residence for Romania’s kings and queens and it saw important events in Romanian history (the decision to enter WWI, for e.g., was taken there). It is regarded as one of the foremost examples of the luxury that royal families in Europe enjoyed before WWII. Other examples of modern palaces worth a look are the Banffy Castle in Cluj (still in a bad state and in dire need for renovation), the Mogosoaia Palace, near Bucharest, and the Palace of Culture, in Iasi (the capital of the historical region of Moldova).
Finally, a few practical tips: though most of them are well signaled on the road and on tourist maps, best do a bit of research online before you head on your way; some of them are free for visiting, some of them sell tickets (prices usually vary between 3-5$ per person); check the visiting schedule in advance, because some of them are closed for the public for various events (or you might be lucky and take part in the event yourself), and, to end, they are very touristic places, so food, lodging and shops around these objectives might be a bit more expensive than elsewhere in the country. Nothing more to say except: Castle away!!