Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Photo: Bran Castle
Bran Castle—"Dracula's Castle—is spectacularly situated in the Transylvanian Alps.
Photograph by Jose Fuste Raga/CORBIS
Yes, the mind reels first to Transylvania and Bram Stoker's Dracula. • In truth, the Gothic, fairy-tale castle at Bran is unforgettably spooky, but it's only one of several such castles in mythic Transylvania worth paying a call on. • This storied eastern European nation that suffered so long under the brutal Ceausescu regime today offers a rich tapestry of attractions, from the first-class Black Sea resorts to the majestic Carpathian Mountains to the unforgettable painted monasteries in Bucovina. 

Photo: Piata Mare in Transylvania, Romania.

Piata Mare

Photograph by Catherine Karnow
In the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, many baroque buildings rim the expansive Piata Mare (main square). Sibiu was named European Capital of Culture in 2007.

Photo: Sheep in Transylvania

Shepherds and Sheep

Photograph by Catherine Karnow
If there's one thing you'll see in Transylvania, it's sheep. Here, a shepherd tends his flock in the mountains above the town of Bran. The marks on the sheeps’ backs identify their owners. Rich, wildflower-filled pastures make for flavorful sheep's milk cheese, such as the strong-tasting, salty brinza de burduf.

Photo: Pub in Szarazajta, Transylvania

Village Pub

Photograph by Catherine Karnow
Early on a Sunday morning, a local in the Transylvanian village of Aita Seaca/Szarazajta (pop. 900) stops at the pub for a beer before heading off to church. This area of Transylvania is known as Szekelyfold (Szekely Land), where many people are ethnically Hungarian, reflecting a time when Transylvania used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Photo: Wedding in a Romanian Orthodox church

Romanian Orthodox Wedding

Photograph by Catherine Karnow
In the spa town of Baile Tusnad, a couple gets married in the Romanian Orthodox tradition at the intimate and ornate church Biserica Adormirea Maicii Domnului.
Photo: Sibiel, Transylvania

Village of Sibiel

Photograph by Catherine Karnow
In the village of Sibiel, houses often sport colorfully painted facades in shades of salmon, hospital green, and Donny-and-Marie-Osmond purple. Sibiel, located in the Marginimea Sibiului region, is particularly known for its museum of painted glass icons.

Photo: Atrium Café in Sibiu

Atrium Café in Sibiu

Photograph by Catherine Karnow
Locals enjoy jazz music at the Atrium Café in Sibiu. With its smoky bars, chic restaurants, polished museums, and outdoor rock concerts, Sibiu is one of Eastern Europe's liveliest cities.

Photo: Brasov, Transylvania

Town of Brasov

Photograph by Catherine Karnow
Cradled on three sides by mountains, Brasov made for an ideal medieval fortress-town. German-speaking Saxon settlers influenced the architecture, from the orange-tiled roofs to the steepled churches.

Photo: Simon, Transylvania

Village of Simon

Photograph by Catherine Karnow
The strength of old traditions and an unchanged landscape give this scene of an old woman in the village of Simon a medieval feel.

Photo: Wedding party in front of Evangelical Cathedral in Sibiu

Romania Wedding Party

Photograph by Catherine Karnow
Wedding guests gather in front of the Evangelical Cathedral in Sibiu. A variety of faiths worship in Transylvania, including Romanian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran.

Fast Facts

Bucharest; 1,853,000
238,391 square kilometers (92,043 square miles)
Romanian, Hungarian, German
Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic
Life Expectancy:
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $7,600
Literacy Percent:
Flag: Romania
Map: Romania
Romania lies on the Black Sea coast of southeastern Europe. The Carpathian Mountains and the Transylvanian Alps divide the country into three physical and historical regions: Wallachia in the south, Moldavia in the northeast, and Transylvania in the country's center. The majority of the people are Romanian (89 percent), but the Hungarian minority, living in the Transylvanian basin, numbers some 1.7 million.
Communists took power in 1947 and installed a Soviet-style government. Under President Nicolae Ceausescu, however, Romania steered its own course, refusing to participate in Warsaw Pact maneuvers and conducting half its trade with the West. Police arrested dissidents and monitored contacts with foreigners.
A producer of grain and oil, Romania—so named because it was a colony of imperial Rome—is also a favored Black Sea vacation spot. But Romanian citizens enjoyed little of the bounty under communism. To help repay bank loans, petroleum and agricultural produce were exported during the 1980s, while imports were restricted, electricity was rationed, and shop shelves lay bare. With decline in production, basic commodities remained scarce and exports slowed.
In 1989 government security police killed demonstrators in Timisoara and Bucharest, igniting a revolution. The ensuing execution of Ceausescu and his wife ended their reign of repression, deprivation, and ethnic discrimination. The governments that followed have been laboring under massive foreign debt. Significant levels of public and private corruption impede economic growth and undercut public trust in new democratic institutions. Romania joined NATO in 2004 and became a member of the European Union in 2007.
  • Industry: Textiles and footwear, light machinery and auto assembly, mining, timber
  • Agriculture: Wheat, corn, barley, sugar beets; eggs
  • Exports: Textiles and footwear, metals and metal products, machinery and equipment, minerals and fuels
—Text Adapted From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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