Romania has always been a crossroads for culture. Once an ancient Roman province, Romania still feels the imprint of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, the culture, religion, traditions, language and mindset of Romania preserve various cultures and values.
Situated between two major empires that have dominated the history of Europe, the Romanian provinces have been taken successively by the Byzantines, Ottomans and the Habsburgs. The influences of western culture, especially German, but also French and Italian can be felt throughout Transylvania, in cities such as Sibiu, Sighisoara or Cluj-Napoca. South and east of the Carpathians, the eastern influences are more prevalent, leaving behind traces in the religion, paintings, architecture and music.
Over time, especially towards the end of the 8th century, the influence of Western Europe, especially that of the French and German cultures, began to be felt throughout the Romanians. The French lifestyle of art, architecture, fashion and luxury was adopted by the residents of Bucharest during the early 20th century. This influence has earned the city the nickname “Little Paris”.
The culture of the Romanians is a huge topic that cannot be easily summarized. However, in the categories below, we offer a brief summary of the splendor of this culture.
The various ethnic groups of Romania each have their own unique culture, which makes for a plethora of different types of buildings around the country.
Many military buildings are scattered around the country, mainly in the Carpathians, where the borders were once located. The original structures were often made of wood, and were later reinforced by voivodes such as Vlad Dracula (Transylvania), Mircea I (Moldavia), and Brancoveanu (Wallachia).
In the big cities of Moldavia and Wallachia (Bucharest, Iasi, Galati), communist architecture dominates the landscape. This is especially so in the capital, which features buildings in a neoclassical style also. The communist style clearly changed the faces of these cities throughout the 70s and 80s.
The main architectural asset of Romania, however, is the village. The structures in the villages of Romania are often modest, but always neat, and feature a keen attention to detail!
Moldavian architecture is certainly some of the most interesting in the country. It was developed in the 15th century, during the golden age of the region, and various monasteries of Bukovina were built during this period. Oriental influences, as well as those of the western world can be found inside the houses of Moldavia, which are always in harmony with the local environment.
The appearance of Transylvania is marked with Saxon and Hungarian flavor. The Gothic style is also found in many cities of the region, while the villages are usually organized around a fortress. Further north is Maramures, another region of Romania, which is famous for its woodworking. There are eight wooden churches in Maramures that are classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Wallachia is also littered with monuments, mainly the princely residences of the Wallachian rulers in Curtea de Arges, Sinaia, Targovishte and Mogosoaia. Constantin Brancoveanu (ruler of Romania from 1688 to 1714) had a major impact on the regional architecture, even spawning a new style of monasteries, churches and palaces known as the “Brancovenesc” style.
Most of the minorities in Romania also have their own unique styles. The architecture of the Lippovan people (Old Believers who fled to Bukovina and the Danube Delta in order to escape persecution in Russia) is unique, featuring bright blue houses with small yards for livestock. Similarly, the Roma population also has its own style, mainly in Wallachia, with very large buildings on the outskirts of cities.
Byzantine traditions can be seen in the paintings created in 14th century Wallachia. There are also some great examples of such paintings in the monasteries of Bucovina and northern Moldavia, created during the 18th century. These works represent the last great period of Byzantine artwork.
In 1840, the first Romanian artists educated in the west began gaining some recognition. These artists depicted French culture, as well as customs and traditions of the Romanian people. The main examples of this academic style were the artists Theodor Aman and Gheorghe Tattaresku, while Nicolae Girgorescu and Ion Anreesku represent the Barbizon style in their works.
During the communist period, the regime wanted the art style to focus on socialist realism. However, the fantasy and symbolism expressed by Ion Tukulesku, the dramatic realism of Corneliu Baba and the style of Alexandru Ciucurencu were contrary to this vision.
Although Romania is a melting pot of various cultures, such as Turks, Saxons and Moldavians, there artworks are generally alike. These arts began gaining recognition during the 19th century, when the intellectual elite had more of a tendency toward French culture. The Romanian villages decided to express themselves through local arts. Their works are often characterized by great finesse.
The production of ceramics has brought pride to Romania for centuries, and is inspired by the Dacian and Saxon cultures. The main areas of production are located in Horezu (UNESCO), Korund and Marginea. Each region has developed its own methods of production and decoration, but the finesse and aesthetic of the products is a constant.
Weaving is generally used for the production of clothing and interior decorations. Everyday clothes and traditional outfits were made by hand for decades in the villages of Romania. As in many societies, these traditions have disappeared, but it is still possible to see people wearing traditional costumes on Sundays and holidays in some rural areas (Maramures, Marginimea and Sibiului, for example).
This is a typical activity of the Bukovina region, as well as an internationally developed art. During Easter, in many rural areas of Romania, the locals create these beauties, utilizing a lot of decterity and skill.
In the areas with large forest areas, such as Maramures, woodworking is an art practiced since ancient times. The works vary depending on the region, but is most likely seen in the construction of houses, doors and even churches. It is important to note, however, that many wooden churches were burned easily by the Tatar invaders, which sharply reduces the remaining total.
This tradition still lives on in Romania, thanks to the high number of Orthodox Christians in the country. The production of glass icons is mainly practiced by villagers. These icons can be used for decoration or as a prayer object.
The earliest forms of Romanian literature are religious works, translated from Greek and Slavic in the 17th century.
A lot can be said about the Romanian literature of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when western standards of writing gradually began to appear in Romanian works.
A substantial effort to develop the literature of Romania was made during the 19th century. It was during this time that the most famous Romanian authors, such as Mihai Eminescu, Ion Kreanga and Ion Luka Caragiale began to appear. Thanks to these authors, Romanian literature began to rise in importance.
By the end of World War I many authors began to appear, some of which showed expressed their discontent in their works. Others, such as Lucian Blaga and Liviu Rebreanu wrote poetic prose.
From 1945 – 1989, the censorship of the communist regime forced authors to seek refuge abroad, especially in France. Such was the case of Emil Cioran, Mircea Eliade and Eugene Ionescu (a famous playwright of the French avant-garde theatre, whose most famous work is the play “Rhinoceros”).
Editorial work is mainly in the translation of foreign literature, translation of works previously banned from publication and the publication of Ceausescu’s memoirs.
Romanian music originated in part from rural traditions, from classical music developed in the larger cities by composers such as George Enescu, and also from foreign influences.
George Enescu, a musical genius, received significant praise and popularity for his national spirit and artistic integrity. His work is an example of innovation and progression, combining classical European music with Romanian folk music. His compositions, which drew influence from over 100 years of music, went through several stages in the history of music.
In the rural areas, the traditional folk musicians often produce rhythmic music of a high artistic quality. Once they pick up their flutes, violins or trumpets, the musicians, often of the Roma ethnicity, will invite you to dance to their eastern-influenced songs. Bands like Taraf de Haidushka, Tsiokalaia, and to a lesser extent the Mahal Rai Band are the main representatives of this musical style, which can only be heard on Sundays or at weddings in Romanian villages.
The current style of music is based largely around “Dance” rhythms, with influences from American culture. Many artists are able to break through with this type of music, such as Zdob si Zdub from Moldova. This group is very popular in Romania, and combines traditional rhythms with modern rock culture.
The first theater performances (with amateur artists) were held in 1814 in Iasi and 1818 in Bucharest. The theater schools in Iasi (1836) and Bucharest (1833) laid the foundations of theater education in Romania. Ion Luka Caragiale was one of the principal founders of contemporary Romanian theater. Romanians often frequent the theaters, and the walls of Bucharest are filled with posters of the productions taking place in the city.
Romanian cinema is undergoing a process of change and development. This form of art was largely used during the communist era, in order to give value to the historical figures of Romania. The goal was to entertain the people, and to put the “heroes” of Romanian history, such as those that fought against the Ottoman Empire, into the public consciousness.
After the revolution, Romanian cinema began to develop slowly, due to the small amount of resources. Over the past several years, it has become more professional and gained recognition internationally. Directors such as Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest), Cristian Mungiu ( 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), and Cristi Puiu ( The Death of Mr Lazarescu) have recently received acclaim at the Cannes film festival, and have paved the way for the revival of Romanian cinema.