There comes a time in the history of a country when a radical change is the best thing that can happen. In the history of Romania, the year 1866 was a turning point that greatly shaped our people’s evolution, as the first monarch of the Romanian Principalities took the Oath of Allegiance to the laws of the country on May 10th. His name was Prince Carol of Hohenzollern – Sigmaringen and he was only 27 years old at that time.
Carol I had ruled the country for 15 years before being crowned king in 1881, the official date of the instauration of the monarchy in Romania. In the meantime, he personally led the Romanian army to obtain the country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. But Carol was not only successful as a military leader. During his 48 years long reign, the country’s economic stability was redressed and numerous important edifices were built, such as the Peles Castle (in Sinaia), the first bridge over the Danube (between Fetesti and Cernavoda) and the Roman Arenas (in Carol Park in Bucharest). King Carol I was also a protector of the arts, displaying the Romanian Crown’s art collection in a specially arranged space inside the Royal Palace in the capital. His wife, Queen Elisabeta, was also an important figure in the cultural and artistic field, publishing numerous original works under the pseudonym of Carmen Sylva. King Carol I and Queen Elisabeta had only one daughter who died as a child, so after the king’s death in 1914 the throne was left to his nephew, the future king Ferdinand I.
Ferdinand was mostly loved by the Romanian people as he, although part of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty, drew the sword against the German Empire during World War I. Banished by his family, Ferdinand created a new dynasty, that of the Royal House of Romania. Under his rule, on December 1st 1918, the regions of Bessarabia, Bucovina, Banat and Transylvania were officially united with the mother-country, giving birth to what was to be known as Greater Romania. Three years later, on October 15th 1922, King Ferdinand and his wife, Queen Maria, were crowned at the Alba Iulia Orthodox Reunification Cathedral during a spectacular ceremony. Just like Queen Elisabeta, Queen Maria was a talented writer, her autobiographic novel “The Story of My Life” showing a special sensitivity.
The royal couple’s elder son, Carol, the future king of Romania, was a notorious personality of his time, known for his passion for beautiful women. In 1925, four years after marrying Princess Elena of Greece and having a son, the future King Mihai I, Carol renounced the throne for his mistress Elena Lupescu. After King Ferdinand’s death in 1927, the country was left with a 6 years old king, Mihai, who ruled under the guardianship of a regency. Carol II returned to the throne in 1930 and under his rule Romania faced a period of great economic development and cultural bloom. The country’s decline came in 1940, when USSR, Hungary and Bulgaria occupied Bessarabia, northern Transylvania and southern Dobrogea. King Carol II abdicated and 19 years old Mihai was given back the crown.
Romania started World War II fighting against USSR, but on August 23rd 1944 King Mihai declared war on Germany, just as his grandfather had done in World War I. This move led to a retrieval of Transylvania inside Romania’s borders, but also to a transfer of power to the Russians, who installed a pro-Soviet government in 1945. This eventually led to the king’s abdication two years later, when the country became a popular republic. King Mihai I regained his Romanian citizenship no sooner than 1997. Nowadays, even though the king’s permanent residence is in Switzerland, he and his wife, Queen Ana, make often visits to their Elisabeta Palace in Bucharest or to the Royal Castle of Savarsin.
Another important place that reminds of the special atmosphere of the monarchy is the Curtea de Arges Monastery, the place where all the kings and queens of Romania are buried (except for Queen Elena, the wife of King Carol II). The body of Queen Maria lies heartless, as her wish was to have her heart buried in Balcic (nowadays in Bulgaria). After the region was lost during World War II, the queen’s heart was moved to the Bran Castle, a gift received by the queen from the community of Brasov.
The short but stormy years of monarchy have left important marks and landmarks throughout Romania, ready to be discovered by those in search of the atmosphere of the golden years. After 81 years of fabulous ups and downs, monarchy in Romania came to an end. But this does not mean the end of the Royal House of Romania, whose members are still widely respected, cherished and loved.