Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A mini guide to Romania

Tim Dowling
The Guardian

Romanians are descended from the ancient Dacians, and the Romans who conquered them in 106AD. Dacia remained a Roman province for 200 years.

Romania became a member of the EU on January 1 2007, along with Bulgaria.

The country of Romania was formed through the merger of Moldavia and Wallachia in 1859, which both sought independence from the Ottoman empire. Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia were added in 1918. Bessarabia was annexed by the Soviet Union after the second world war and now comprises the Republic of Moldova.

Wake Up, Romanian!, written in 1848, is the official national anthem of Romania, although from 1947, when the communists seized power, to the mid-1970s, it was forbidden even to hum it.

The Romanian language is so similar to Italian that Romanian speakers can more or less understand someone who is speaking Italian. For some reason it doesn't work quite so well the other way round.

The Danube runs for 40% of its length inside Romania, before emptying into the Black Sea.

Former president Nicolae Ceausescu rose to power in 1965 and ruled Romania until the revolution of 1989, when he was overthrown and executed along with his wife, Elena. To add insult to injury, on the day before his execution Ceausescu was stripped of his honorary knighthood by the Queen.

Under Ceausescu's brutally repressive dictatorship, Romania's secret police force, the Securitate, boasted 11,000 agents and more than 500,000 informers. At their instigation, some 80,000 political prisoners were detained in psychiatric hospitals.

The People's Palace in Bucharest, begun in 1984 and still incomplete at the time of Ceausescu's death, is officially the world's heaviest building, and the largest government building apart from the Pentagon. Its construction occasioned the demolition of 22 churches, six synagogues and 30,000 homes.

Mamaliga is a strong contender for the title of Romania's national dish: it's an ancient peasant staple made by boiling cornmeal with salt in a special cast iron pot called a ceaun. Actually, it's pretty much just polenta with a different name.

The oldest human fossils ever found in Europe were discovered in a Romanian cave in 2004.

Vladisav Dracula, the ruthless 15th-century Wallachian ruler who inspired Bram Stoker's vampire, was known as Vlad the Impaler for his preferred method of execution, although the nickname is somewhat unfair. He was equally fond of burning, drowning, skinning, boiling, cutting off limbs and nailing people's hats to their heads.

Romania now has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, with average growth around 5.8% annually.

60% of all European brown bears live in Romania.

According to legend, the children who disappeared with the Pied Piper of Hamelin re-emerged from a cave in Transylvania, after being led through a tunnel that ran all the way from Germany to Romania.

Famous Romanians include the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, the playwright Eugene Ionescu, the tennis player Ilie Nastase and the gymnast Nadia Comaneci. The actor Edward G Robinson was born in Bucharest in 1893.

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