Official name: Romania
Area: 237,500 square kilometers (91,699 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Moldoveanu (2,544 meters/8,346 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 2 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 789 kilometers (490 miles) from east to west; 475 kilometers (295 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 2,508 kilometers (1,558 miles) total boundary length; Bulgaria 608 kilometers (378 miles); Hungary 443 kilometers (275 miles); Moldova 450 kilometers (279 miles); Ukraine (east) 169 kilometers (105 miles); Ukraine (north) 362 kilometers (225 miles); Serbia and Montenegro 476 kilometers (296 miles)
Coastline: 225 kilometers (140 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
The southeastern European country of Romania is the largest country on the Balkan Peninsula. It shares borders with Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, and Hungary. It also has a very short southeastern coastline on the Black Sea. With a total area of about 237,500 square kilometers (91,699 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Oregon. Romania is administratively divided into forty counties and one municipality.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Romania has no outside territories or dependencies.
Romania has a transitional continental climate with moderating influences from the Black Sea and variations due to altitude. In general, winters are cold and summers are warm. Temperatures are lower in the more elevated Transylvanian Plateau in the northwest. Temperature extremes are greater in the plains of the east and south, where the continental influence is strongest. Average temperatures in the capital city of Bucharest are -3°C (27°F) in January and 23°C (73°F) in July. Average annual rainfall ranges from about 38 centimeters (15 inches) in the eastern lowland region of Dobruja to 125 centimeters (50 inches) or more in the Carpathian Mountains.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
The Carpathian Mountains, Romania's major physical feature, define the country's overall topographical pattern. Roughly forming an arc in the center of the country, their various branches separate the Transylvanian Plateau in the center from a wide band of lowlands on the edges, extending to the country's eastern, southern, and western borders.
Romania is traditionally divided into several distinct regions. Transylvania, which forms a large wedge in the north and northwest and makes up one-third of Romania, is by far the largest region. It encompasses the central Transylvanian Plateau, all of the Carpathian Mountains except for the most southeastern section, and the hilly terrain in the northwestern part of the country. Walachia, which curves around Transylvania in the south and southeast, is the country's major lowland region, encompassing the plains of the Danube River to the south of the Transylvanian Alps. The part of Walachia west of the Olt River is a subregion known as Oltenia. Dobruja occupies the southeastern corner of Romania, bounded by the path of the Danube where the river flows northward for about 160 kilometers (100 miles) before it again turns to the east for its final passage to the sea. Moldavia, in the northeast, constitutes about one-fourth of the country's area. Much of this region is hilly or mountainous, and it is heavily forested. To the southwest, in the opposite corner of the country from Dobruja, is the Banat region.
Romania is located on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
Romania borders the western end of the Black Sea, which is an inland body of water lying between Europe and Asia. The Black Sea contains calm waters that are free of tides and dangerous marine life. Called the "Hospitable Sea" by the ancient Greeks, the Black Sea is half as saline as the Mediterranean Sea and has gentle sandy slopes, making it ideal for swimming.
The floor of the Black Sea is composed of a shallow shelf that extends about 10 to 11 kilometers (6 to 7 miles) from the coast of Romania. On this shelf, the average sea depth is 100 to 110 meters (330 to 360 feet). This shelf then drops steeply to the sea floor, which is unusually flat and reaches depths of 2,195 meters (7,200 feet). Romania claims the continental shelf off its coast to a depth of 200 meters (656 feet).
Sea Inlets and Straits
At the central part of the coastline, two large saltwater lagoons, Lake Razelm and Lake Sinoe, open onto the sea.
The marshy delta of the Danube River makes up the northern third of the coast. To the south, steep cliffs extend to the sea, fringed by white sandy beaches whose popularity with tourists has given this area a reputation as the "Romanian Riviera."
6 INLAND LAKES
Romania is said to have 2,500 lakes, but most of them are small and lakes occupy only about 1 percent of the country's total surface area. The largest lakes are along the Danube River and the Black Sea coast. Some of those, including the largest, the 390-square kilometer (150-square mile) Lake Razelm, are saltwater lakes, or lagoons that are open to the sea. These and a few of the freshwater lakes are commercially important for their fish. The many smaller ones scattered throughout the mountains are usually glacial in origin and add much to the beauty of the resort areas.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
All of Romania's rivers and streams drain to the Black Sea. All of the rivers also join the Danube River, except for the minor streams that rise on the eastern slopes of the hills near the coast and flow directly into the sea. Those flowing southward and southeastward from the Transylvanian Alps drain to the Danube directly. Those flowing northward and eastward from Moldavia and Bukovina reach the Danube by way of the Prut River. Most of the Transylvanian streams draining to the north and west, including the Mureş and Someş Rivers, flow to the Tisza River, which joins the Danube in Serbia and Montenegro, north of Belgrade.
The Danube rises in the southwestern part of Germany and follows a winding, generally eastern course through Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro, and Romania before finally emptying into the Black Sea, 2,850 kilometers (1,771 miles) from its source. It is the second-longest river in Europe and a vital commercial and transportation route.
As the Danube approaches its delta, it divides into a number of channels. It also forms several lakes, some of which are quite large. At the delta it divides into three major and several minor branches. The delta has an area of about 2,590 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) and grows steadily as the river deposits billions of cubic feet of sediment into the sea annually. Its main tributaries flowing through Romania include the Siret, Ialomiţa, Argeş, Olt, Jiu, and Timiş. The Argeş has an important tributary of its own: the Dîmboviţa River.
The Dobruja region provides Romania's access to the Black Sea and contains most of the Danube River delta. Much of the Danube River delta, as well as a belt of land up to 32 kilometers (20 miles) wide along most of the river's length, is marshland. The majority of this land is not easily exploited for agricultural purposes, although some of the reeds and natural vegetation have limited commercial value. The delta is a natural wildlife preserve, particularly for waterfowl, and is large enough so that many species can be protected. Willows flourish in parts of the delta and there are a few deciduous forests in the north-central section.
There are no desert regions in Romania.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
Much of the original grassland vegetation of the steppe-like lowland area in the eastern and southern parts of the country has given way to human settlement and cultivation. Nearly all of the Walachian Plain and Danubian Plain to the south, except for the marshes along the Danube River and the seriously eroded foothills, is cultivated. Where the original vegetation remains, short grasses grow in the drier areas; taller grasses grow closer to the rivers.
Hills cover much of Romania, as parts of both the mountain and plateau regions as well as the transitional regions between the mountain ranges. The hills are mostly rolling plains with well-watered and fertile soil.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Balkan Peninsula, the southernmost peninsula of Europe, lies between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas to the west, the Black and Aegean Seas to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. The countries of this region are collectively called the Balkan States: Albania, Bulgaria, continental Greece, southeast Romania, European Turkey, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
The mountain ranges in the eastern part of the country are referred to as the Moldavian Carpathians. They have maximum elevations of about 2,286 meters (7,500 feet) and are the most extensively forested part of the country. Their highest peak, Mount Pietrosu (2,303 meters/7,556 feet), rises in the Rodna Mountains in the far north at the border with Ukraine. Two volcanic ranges, the Oas and Harghita Mountains, extend for about 400 kilometers (250 miles) along the western edge of the Moldavian Carpathians. They contain Romania's only crater lake, the St. Ana Lake, as well as roughly two thousand mineral water springs.
The slightly higher southern ranges, called the Transylvanian Alps, form the southern border of Transylvania and have the highest peaks and the steepest slopes in the country. Romania's highest point, Mount Moldoveanu, rises to a height of 2,544 meters (8,346 feet) about 161 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of Bucharest. Among the alpine features of the Transylvanian Range are glacial lakes, upland meadows and pastures, and bare rock along the higher ridges. Some of the mountains are predominantly limestone, with caves, waterfalls, and underground streams.
The ranges in the west are generally lower and, unlike those in the east and south, they are not an unbroken ridge of mountains. The northernmost group is the Bihor Mountains, originating south of the city of Oradea. The southernmost is the Banat Mountains, in the extreme southwestern corner of the country. In between these two ranges are the perpendicular ranges of the Poiana Ruscăi Mountains and the Apuseni Mountains. These four ranges are not as rugged as those found to the south and east, and average elevations run considerably lower. Only a few points in the Bihor Mountains approach 1,828 meters (6,000 feet), compared to maximum elevations of nearly 2,286 meters (7,500 feet) in the Moldavian Carpathians and over 2,438 meters (8,000 feet) in the Transylvanian Alps.
The various mountain groups of the western Carpathians are separated by a series of structural depressions, called "gates" because they provide gateways through the mountains. The best known is the Iron Gate on the Danube, in the southeastern corner of Romania.
On the outer fringes of the eastern and southern Carpathian Mountains is a band of lower, but still elevated, terrain called the Sub-carpathians, which rises to elevations between 400 to 1,000 meters (1,300 and 3,300 feet).
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
Romania has many mountain caves scattered throughout the country. Two of the most popular show caves (open to tourists) are Bear's Cave and Women's Cave. Bear's Cave (Peştera Urşilor), located in a northwest group of mountains, is best known for the large number of cave bear fossils found there. The particular species of bear (ursus spelaeus) that lived there fifteen thousand years ago is now extinct. Researchers believe that a rockslide closed the entrance to the cave thousands of years ago, trapping over one hundred bears inside. Research indicates that these bears, which were generally herbivores, ended up killing and eating one another until the last bear died, either from hunger or from the wounds of a fight.
Women's Cave (Peştera Muierii) is located in an area known as the Getic Depression of Oltenia, on the territory of Baia de Fier village, in Gorj county. The Galbenul River carved the four levels of the cave. Women's Cave was so named because it was an ancient hiding place for the women and children of the region during times of war and invasion. Today, visitors can walk through several large galleries and see wonderful stalactites. There is a cupola-like chamber in one gallery that is called Little Dome. This chamber houses a large colony of bats.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
The Transylvanian Plateau, at elevations averaging 365 meters (1,200 feet), lies in the center of Romania, ringed by the three branches of the Carpathian Mountains.
Its terrain includes valleys and rounded hills, and it is bordered on the west by an area of the eroded limestone known as karst.
The Moldavian Plateau is marked by hills and narrow valleys and extends across the eastern region of Moldavia between the Subcarpathians and the Prut River, rising to between 488 and 610 meters (1,600 and 2,000 feet). Farther south, in the northern inland part of the Dobruja region, is a plateau that rises to a maximum height of 467 meters (1,532 feet).
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
Hydropower from the rivers flowing down the Carpathian Mountains provides an important energy source.
The two Iron Gate Dams on the Danube, located in the southeastern corner of Romania, were built not only to generate hydroelectric power, but also to supply irrigation waters and to serve as a reservoir site for farm fishing. The Vidraru Dam on the Argeş River provides hydroelectric power as well as water for irrigation and part of the drinking supply for the city of Bucharest. The Gura Apelor Dam on the Raul Mare River, near the town of Hateg, is specifically used for hydroelectric power.
DID YOU KNOW?
Bran Castle in the Transylvanian Alps is believed to have been the home of the fifteenth-century Romanian prince Vlad Tepes, who was born in the Transylvanian village of Sighisoara (central Romania, northwest of Bucharest) in 1431. He was known as "The Impaler" because of his cruelty in mass executions. He was also called "Dracula," which means "Son of a Dragon," because his father was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a group of knights established by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to fight the Turks. British author Bram Stoker made Transylvania and Dracula famous when he chose the personality of Vlad Tepes as the basis for the vampire in his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula.
14 FURTHER READING
Burford, Tim. Hiking Guide to Romania . Old Saybrook, CT: Globe Pequote Press, 1996.
Dennis-Jones, Harold. Where to Go in Romania . London: Settle Press, 1994.
Richardson, Dan. Romania: The Rough Guide . New York: Penguin, 1995.
Williams, Nicola. Romania and Moldova. Hawthorn, Victoria: Lonely Planet, 1998.
Willis, Terrie. Romania . New York: Children's Press, 2000.